The question around muscle and the Olympic lifts is often asked in one of two ways…
- By the women – “Will Olympic weightlifting make me bulky?”
- By the men – “Will Olympic weightlifting build muscle?”
We’re going to break down how Olympic weightlifting affects our muscles and our bodies. And, answer who should use Olympic weightlifting. If you like videos over text than you can see this breakdown below.
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First, we must answer: “How are you thinking about muscle?”
We must first make sure we are all on the same page regarding, “muscle.” If you’re asking if the Olympic lifts will make you bulky, than you’re probably concerned about adding mass to your body. Is this correct?
At the same time, if you’re asking if you can build muscle with the Olympic lifts than you must be clear on the type of muscle you’d like to build…
Are you looking for mass/bulk?
Are you looking for absolute strength? (yup, this can be different than mass)
Are you looking for explosive strength? (Again, this is different than absolute strength)
Muscle Building for Mass/Bulk
If your goal is to build muscle for mass/bulk than you’re looking to increase the size of your muscles and the mass of your body.
Would you want to make the Olympic lifts your main driver to build mass/bulk? No.
The Olympic lifts allow us to move heavy weight quickly and efficiently. However, to trigger the muscle growth response that many bodybuilders are looking for would require sets and rep ranges at weights that put you at more risk than it is worth. Especially as a beginner.
Bodybuilding will be more suited to add mass and bulk to your body.
So, if you’re worried about “getting bulky” than the Olympic lifts are in the clear.
Muscle Building for Absolute Strength
If your goal is to build absolute strength than you’re looking to increase the amount of weight you’re able to lift through a specific range of motion. You will grow muscle size during this time, however, absolute strength training is focused on the load over the muscle size. There are other forms of training that’ll allow you to grow more mass as said in the above section.
Would you want to make the Olympic lifts your main driver to gain absolute strength? No.
Olympic weightlifting athletes do gain strength from the Olympic lifts. However, there are other movements and formats that will allow you to gain more strength than the format of the Olympic lifts. Olympic weightlifting athletes often add these other movements to their training – lunges, squats, deadlifts, isometric work, etc.
Muscle Building for Explosive Strength
If your goal is to build explosive strength than you’re looking to increase the amount of force you can generate in a short period of time. Said another way, you’re looking to jump higher, throw farther, run faster and hit harder. Having mass/bulk and having absolute strength are not the same as having explosive strength.
Would you want to make the Olympic lifts your main driver to gain explosive strength? Yes!
Olympic weightlifting allows an individual to train their explosive strength. Much of this explosive strength lives in the nervous system, and utilizing the Olympic lifts you can hone your nervous system to be more explosive. This is the super power of Olympic weightlifting!
What does Olympic weightlifting do to our muscles?
Olympic weightlifting involves moving weight. There will be benefits to our muscles by taxing and breaking them down and with good recovery this does mean some muscle growth.
However, Olympic weightlifting movements are full body movements compared to isolated movements in bodybuilding. That means your muscle groups need to work in coordination with each other and that no one muscle group will be isolated over any other muscle groups.
Olympic weightlifting requires an explosive drive and change of direction in each movement. This is where the Olympic lifts can affect the nervous system, and hone it to be more explosive.
Where as you may feel uncoordinated and confused at first, as you train the Olympic lifts you’ll find yourself becoming “snappy.” The weight accelerating off your hip and you changing direction to receive the weight faster and faster. Than you’ll start to notice your jumping improves, running improves, throwing improves… you become able to apply more force in a shorter amount of time.
Olympic weightlifters are strong and explosive. In the sport of Olympic weightlifting there are weight classes, and athletes are successfully able to gain more explosive strength and more absolute strength without gaining a large amount of mass!
Who Should Use the Olympic Lifts?
In my personal opinion… Everyone! They are fun and a puzzle in themselves.
However, in my professional opinion… anyone who would like to run faster, jump higher, throw farther, hit harder, and be the best version of themselves.
I hope this helps you think about Olympic weightlifting a little differently and I wish you luck in training!
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This is a guest post from Drew Dillon, a coach and gym owner who is a personal coach to 2012 Olympian Holley Mangold. Drew is the creator of Olyeye – a teaching tool that has helped coaches and athletes understand “causes” vs “symptoms” when it comes to weightlifting technique.