Are The Olympic Lifts Muscle Builders? Can you gain slabs of muscles by doing the clean & jerk?

Olympic weightlifters are known for having decent physiques which provokes great interest among the muscle worshipers who are always looking for ways to get bigger. As a result there are lifters who start performing the Olympic lifts in the hope to gain some serious mass.

Question is, how effective are the Olympic lifts when it comes to building muscle mass?

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Olympic Weightlifting Is A Hip Dominant Sport


Both Olympic lifts are hip dominant. The power is generated through the hips so that the lifter can get under the bar. That’s why Olympic weightlifters have extremely well developed lower bodies and modest upper body mass. There is no part of Olympic lifting which is heavily dependent on upper body strength.

Of course, when the weight is supported overhead the upper body is under stress but supporting a heavy weight and lifting it are completely different actions. People can hold a ton of weight overhead while only being able to press a small portion of it.

The majority of the work Olympic weightlifters do is meant to improve power and lower body strength. A heavy clean & jerk and snatch require tremendous squatting prowess and that’s why Olympic weightlifters with weak legs do not exist.

The Olympic Lifts Were Never Meant To Be Done For High Reps

Regardless of what the CrossFit masters say, the Olympic lifts were never meant to be done for high reps. Anything over 3 in a row is excessive.

The two Olympic movements are skill elements rather than exercises. Back in the day it was unheard of to do the clean & jerk or the snatch for sets of 10 or more.

Olympic weighlifters are usually doing a few reps in a row with plenty of time in between to reset and assume proper position before each rep.

The Olympic Lifts Don’t Have A Negative Portion

With the invention of the bumper plates the lifters were allowed to essentially drop the bar once it’s been lifted. As a result there is no eccentric/negative portion. This allows the lifters to train for longer periods of time, but could also be considered slightly negative when it comes to building mass, since the eccentric element is also a stressful stimulus that can cause growth.

Which Muscles Are Worked During The Olympic Lifts?

The Olympic lifts work all muscles in your body, albeit not with equal intensity.

The power muscles are the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and the whole back. The muscles with supportive function are the triceps and the shoulders. The least work is done by the biceps and the chest, especially the second one.

The Muscular Bodies Of Olympic Lifters Are The Result Of Complex Training

All Olympic weightlifters are doing a ton of bodybuilding work besides the Olympic lifts. In the video below you can see the Russian weightlifter Evgeny Chigishev bench press 495 lbs.

That’s why it would be incorrect to conclude that the impressive physiques presented by Olympic lifters have been built solely through the main two lifts.

The Olympic lifts have, of course, contributed to the final result but are only a part of the growth factors.

It’s also worth noting that weightlifting is one of the sports where steroids help tremendously. We have no doubts that all professional weightlifters are juicing their brains out. It’s been going on for decades and those are not caught usually have a political umbrella. It’s safe to assume that most of the “jacked” weightlifters did not achieve their looks by eating French cheese and tomatoes.

Built For Performance, Not Looks

With that being said there are plenty of weightlifters who don’t have an impressive physique. Some are really fat and look like your lazy beer gutted uncle.

Weightlifters don’t get points for looking like a bodybuilder. Having a more favorable body composition definitely helps, especially in the lower weight classes, but is not needed to succeed.

Also, having a really low body fat is not all that great in this sport. When you are really ripped the joints are exposed to more stress. You may look amazing at 6% BF, but your joints could feel better when you are at 10-12%.

Please, shut the fuck up already and tell me: Will I get huge by doing the Olympic lifts?

The Olympic lifts will certainly help you develop power, muscle mass and strength, but are not the most optimal approach when it comes to hypertrophy. Performing squats and power cleans/snatches separately may be the better option, if you are looking for mass through Olympic style of exercising. The squat will obviously take care of the lower body while the power cleans/snatches will develop your back.

If we go back in time, there is evidence suggesting that Olympic weightlifting produces bodybuilding material. Back in the day the legendary weightlifter Tommy Kono won many physique competitions. He was Mr. Universe in 1955,1957 and in 1961.

image via: davedraper.com;

image via: davedraper.com;

Back in the day bodybuilding and powerlifting were under the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) which required bodybuilders to earn athletic points. That’s why they usually competed in weightlifting as well.

However, as we’ve already said a more balanced approach, including a variety of exercises such as the bench press, the overhead press, pull-ups and other typical bodybuilding elements, is recognized as more beneficial for building a bodybuilding physique.

Tommy Kono and other physique competitors did exercises such as curls and close grip bench presses. The Olympic lifts and their variations were also done but were not the only exercises at all.

Kono doing curls. image via: bodybuilding.com;

Kono doing curls. image via: bodybuilding.com;

In conclusion

Regular lifters can benefit a lot from doing the Olympic lifts, but counting on them to somehow produce crazy amount of muscle mass and create a proportional physique is too much.

Trying to achieve hypertrophy by doing the Olympic lifts only is like trying to become a weightlifter by doing deadlifts. They help, but dedicated work is where it’s at.

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