68 Assistance Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting

In this article I want to offer coaches and athletes a comprehensive approach to addressing some of the most common issues seen with developing weightlifters, CrossFit members/athletes, and general fitness and sports enthusiasts.

The below sections detail over 60 exercises geared specifically toward Olympic weightlifters and the development of positional strength, muscular development, and better movement integrity to enhance their lifting abilities and injury resistance.

Coaches and athletes can use the below exercise recommendations and workout programs in addition to their own programming. If you are a coach or athlete interested in being part of a community that discusses many topics of this nature, join me for more awesome articles and workout ideas in my community.

68 Assistance Bodybuilding Exercises for Olympic Weightlifters

The below sections will offer coaches and athletes a wide variety of exercises to specifically:

  1. Improve positional strength and muscle mass for the snatch, clean, and jerk
  2. Increase muscle hypertrophy using weightlifting-specific bodybuilding exercises to develop the chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, abdominals, and lower back

I wanted to let you know that I am nearly concluded with an eBook that includes these, and 70+ other exercises for Olympic weightlifting. You can pre-register for your copy my eBook, “100+ Olympic Weightlifting Exercise” here.

Snatch-Specific Assistance Exercises

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The below exercises place a high emphasis on building muscle mass and positional strength, with little emphasis on high degree of technique (however, some do involve specific technique to the snatch).

It is important to note that these do not replace the clean and its direct variations within a training program and should not be the primary solution to common technique issues in the snatch.

  • Snatch High Pull: This can help to increase upper body strength in the pull, pattern better elevation of the elbows, and force a lifter to maximize leg drive for fuller extension before the turnover phase of the snatch. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps at light to moderate loads.
  • Narrow Grip Overhead Squat: This can be used to increase upper back strength and overhead proper positioning while having the barbell locked out in the overhead squat/snatch positioning. Perform 3-5 sets of 5 reps with moderate loads. Focus on keeping elbows locked, hands closed, and trapezius muscles activated.
  • Snatch Press in Squat: This is done to help strengthen the upper back and body positioning at the bottom of the squat, which is helpful for lifters who press out snatches and/or fall forward at the bottom of the squat. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with moderate loads.
  • Behind the Neck Snatch Push Press: This is helpful for increasing muscle mass in the upper back, traps, shoulders, and arms specific to the snatch. This exercise mimics the exact dip and drive mechanics of the jerk, while also helping to instill proper barbell overhead mechanics necessary for the snatch lockout and receiving position.
  • Snatch Grip RDL: This can be done to strengthen the hamstrings, hips, lower back, and upper back specific to the snatch. The wider grip will force greater back arch (extension) and strength. Perform 3-5 sets of 5 reps with moderate to heavy loads.

Clean-Specific Assistance Exercises

The below exercises place a high emphasis on building muscle mass and positional strength with little emphasis on high degree of technique (however, some do involve specific technique to the clean).

It is important to note that these do not replace the clean and its direct variations within a training program and should not be the primary solution to common technique issues in the clean.

  • Clean High Pull: This can be done to increase upper body pulling strength and assist in the third pull/turnover phases of the clean. This can be helpful for individuals who fail to secure a strong front rack in the clean and/or fail to elevate the barbell high enough in the pull. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with moderate to heavy loads.
  • Sots Press (front press in squat): This can be done to increase upper back and positional strength in the front squat, especially with those who collapse in the bottom of the clean. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with light to moderate loads.
  • 45 Degree Bent Row: This can help to increase lower/middle back, grip, and arm strength specific to the angles found in the second pull of the clean (explosion phase). Perform 3-5 sets of 5 reps with moderate to heavy loads.
  • Close Grip Overhead Press: Building bigger space for the barbell to sit in the front rack is key for proper positioning and comfort in the clean. This exercise builds out the anterior deltoid to aid in that growth. Additionally, this exercise can help improve tricep strength, which is key for lockout in the clean and jerk. Perform 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps with moderate to heavy loads.
  • Clean Grip RDL: This can be done to strengthen the hamstrings, hips, lower back, and upper back specific to the snatch. The wider grip will force greater back arch (extension) and strength. Perform 3-5 sets of 5 reps with moderate to heavy loads.

Jerk-Specific Assistance Exercises

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The below exercises place a high emphasis on building muscle mass and positional strength with little emphasis on high degree of technique (however, some do involve specific technique to the jerk).

It is important to note that these do not replace the clean and its direct variations within a training program and should not be the primary solution to common technique issues in the jerk.

  • Strict Press in Split Stance
  • Lunge in Split Stance
  • Jerk Recovery
  • Double Overhead Kettlebell Hold/Carry

Abdominals, Lower Back, and Hamstring Assistance Exercises

General Strength and Hypertrophy

When looking to gain muscle mass, whether for the basis of strength development or to help a lifter gain muscle tissue for advancement in sport/weight classes, we typically want to train the largest muscle groups using compound lifts, like the exercises below.

Note that the below exercises include movements for the lower body; however, you should refrain from overindulging in excessive lower body bodybuilding, as squatting and pulling (including RDLs) are generally sufficient in most Olympic weightlifting programs.

In the event a lifter wants to add more leg mass and strength, they should focus on adding one additional day of squatting (front or back) and/or select 1-2 movements to do per week (2-3 sets of 12-15 reps with moderate weight). Increased leg training volume is acceptable as long as that addition does not hinder recovery or training of the snatch, clean, and jerk. 

The below movements can be done for 3 sets of either moderate reps (8-12) or higher rep-based training (15-20), using moderate to light weight. The emphasis should be on attaining “muscle pump” feeling to increase blood flow and accumulate metabolites within the muscle tissues necessary for hypertrophy.

Back and Traps

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Shoulders

Chest

Triceps and Biceps

Lower Body (Quads, Glutes, and Hamstrings)

Warm-Up and Corrective Exercises (Shoulders, Hips, and Core)

Sample 3-Day Assistance Bodybuilding Programs for Olympic Weightlifters

The below workouts are to be done after you complete your main Olympic lifting and strength lifts for that day. You may swap days to best match your current program (for example, I suggest not doing a lot of triceps and shoulders the day before a hard snatch or jerk session).

“Strength in the Snatch” 3-Day Program

The below program is geared for lifters who have a tendency to collapse in the overhead squat position, typically due to poor overhead mechanics and upper back mobility and strength.

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Day 1

  • Behind the Neck Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat: 5 sets of (3+1) reps at 80-90% of snatch, or more
  • Back Raises (bar on back): 4 sets of 8 reps

Day 2

Day 3

“Collapsing in the Clean” 3-Day Program

This program is for any athlete who has issues collapsing in the clean and jerk. It is geared towoard increasing your upper back strength, posture in the front squat, and overall muscular hypertrophy of the shoulders, back, and lower back.

Day 1

  • Clean Grip Overhead Squat: 5 sets of 4 reps
  • Wide Grip Pull Up: 5 sets of 8-12 reps (not kipping, strict with pause at top)

Day 2

Day 3

  • Tempo 2121 Front Squat: 5 sets of 3 reps (use lifting straps in front rack to ensure full grip on barbell, high chest, elbows, and head)
  • Sots Press (strict press in front squat) 4 sets of 3-5 reps (brief pause overhead, keep heels and hips down).

“The Bodybuilding Weightlifter” 3-Day Program

This program is best for gaining general size, strength, and fitness. This can be done to help lifters gain fundamental strength and size necessary for better pressing, pulling and athletic performance.

Note: this can interfere with some weightlifting programs if fatigue is not monitored correctly, or if the lifter does too much. Therefore, be sure to make notes on soreness and how it correlates with training sessions later in the week.

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Day 1

  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 5 sets to failure (Choose a weight that is near your 12-15 rep maximum for first set, and then do as many as you can across five sets with that weight).
  • Strict Pull/Chin Up: 5 sets to failure
  • Close Grip Push-Up: 100 reps for time

Day 2

  • Trap Bar Deadlift: 4 sets of 8 reps with 50-60% of max (focus on back tension and lats, do not lose tension at floor). Load should not be heavy for hips and lower back. High volume pulling may interfere with lifts later in week, so be sure to go lighter than you think. This is to focus on the back muscles, not heavy pulling.
  • Single Arm Row (Dumbbell, Meadows Row, Cable, etc.): 4 sets of 10-12 reps (slight pause at top of every rep, feel stretch, and minimize all momentum).

Day 3

  • Leg Press: 3 sets of 8 reps (slow and controlled on way down, feel quad stretch)
  • Calf Raise on Leg Press: 5 sets of 8-12 reps (slow and controlled on way down, feel calf stretch)
  • Nordic Curls: 3 sets of 8 reps

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About The Author

Mike holds a Masters in Applied Physiology from Columbia University and a Bachelors in Exercise Science from Bowling Green State University. He is an accredited Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCAS CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and an Advanced Sports Performance Coach from USA Weightlifting (USAWL2).

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