Should Powerlifters Do Olympic Lifts? (In Some Cases, Yes)

powerlifters can do the olympic lifts if they have already mastered the powerlift, but are not in a peaking phase

Weightlifting is another barbell sport where the goal is to move as much weight as possible, but requires a faster application of force than powerlifting. Will powerlifters benefit from using the weightlifting movements? Will all weightlifting movements have the same carryover for powerlifting? 

Should powerlifters do the olympic lifts? Yes, powerlifters can do the Olympic lifts if they have already mastered the squat, bench press, and deadlift, but are not in a peaking phase. Weightlifting exercises can be used by powerlifters to encourage hypertrophy, increase strength and stability, and develop more powerful movements of the upper and lower body.

Although there are benefits to performing some olympic lifting movements, not all of the movements will be beneficial and instead, could be a waste of time with little carryover. In this article, we’ll discuss which movements are beneficial for powerlifters, who they are beneficial for, and how to include them in your program.

Olympic Lifts For Powerlifters: Beneficial Or Not?

olympic lifts for powerlifters

The main lifts for olympic weightlifting, which are the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, may not be as beneficial for powerlifters because of the technical requirements of these lifts and the speed at which they must be performed.

Olympic lifting is a more power-dominant sport and relies on the speed of the bar to achieve certain positions, whereas powerlifting is purely focused on maximal levels of strength regardless of the speed of the bar. 

In other words, weightlifters need to move heavy weight fast, whereas powerlifters can take as much time as they want to grind out a max attempt.

Olympic lifting also requires more mobility and stability in the ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders in order to achieve the optimal positions for the sport. 

For these reasons, it is unnecessary for powerlifters to perform the Snatch and Clean & Jerk to become more successful in the sport of powerlifting.

With all that said, powerlifters can benefit from certain variations of the weightlifting movements by incorporating them as accessories to their main powerlifting movements. 

The accessories that have the most carryover are those that are more similar to the power lifts and do not require additional levels of mobility and stability that are required for other weightlifting movements.

If you’re thinking about switching from powerlifting to weightlifting, check out these 9 Steps To Switch From Powerlifting To Weightlifting.

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

Which Weightlifting Exercises Will Benefit Powerlifters?

The exercises that are more specific to weightlifting but can be beneficial when implemented in a powerlifting program are:

  • Snatch Grip Deadlifts
  • Clean Pulls
  • Push Press
  • Front Squats

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

The snatch grip deadlift is often used as a powerlifting accessory for lifters who struggle with upper back tightness and grip strength

The wider grip required for the movement encourages us to create tension in the upper back to prevent upper back rounding, it challenges our grip strength through a larger range of motion, and requires us to push the floor away more aggressively through the quads to break the floor due to the lower hip position compared to the conventional deadlift.

The snatch grip deadlift can help to create upper back tightness to address lack of upper body tension, which is a key contributor to leaning forward in the squat. To learn more, check out our other solutions for How To Fix Leaning Forward When Squatting.

Clean Pulls

Clean pulls can be used for powerlifting as an accessory movement for the deadlift. 

It is important to note that a well-executed clean pull and a deadlift will be different in terms of overall positioning, but nevertheless clean pulls can be used for powerlifters to practice speed and power off the floor and extension through the hips at the top of the movement for a quick lockout.

It is important to note that although incorrect for weightlifting execution, we can set-up for the clean pull in a more similar position to the deadlift (hips higher, shoulders over the bar) to still get the explosiveness from the movement, while making it more specific to our deadlift movement pattern.

Clean pulls can help us improve our deadlift lockout by emphasizing a powerful extension of the hips and knees. To learn more about Improving Your Deadlift Lockout, Try These 10 Tips.

Push Press

The push press is a weightlifting accessory that is used by powerlifters to build upper body hypertrophy, strength, and power. 

This movement is often incorporated because of the demands it places on the shoulders, triceps, scapular stabilizers, and wrist positions which is additional volume for these muscle groups with more intensity, because of the assistance given by the lower body to move heavier weights in this movement.

This exercise requires us to transfer force from the legs to the upper body by using a dip and drive of the lower body to elevate the barbell. To finish the lift we must use the shoulders and triceps to lock the weight out overhead with control.

The push press is one exercise that powerlifters use to increase upper body strength and hypertrophy. Check out our article on How Powerlifters Train Their Shoulders for other exercise variations.

Front Squats

Powerlifters can benefit from incorporating front squats into the training program because it places more emphasis on the quadriceps due to the increased angle of the knee in the bottom position, and requires additional support from the upper back and core to prevent rounding throughout the movement.

Lifters can benefit from increased loading for the quadriceps because they are an important muscle in the powerlifts as it is required to stand up out of the bottom of the squat, and break the floor in a deadlift. When these muscles are weak, our technique will fall apart in both of these lifts – which can be seen as the hips rise faster than the shoulders which we call a good morning squat and the hips shooting up in the deadlift.

Are you struggling to get the in the right position to grip the bar in a front squat? If so, check out our article on How To Front Squat With Straps to minimize strain on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.

Who Are The Olympic Lifting Accessories Good For?

The olympic lifting accessories can be incorporated by powerlifters who are farther out from a competition and are looking to improve deficiencies in their technique. 

The olympic lifting accessories can help those who struggle with creating tightness in the upper back, maintaining rigidity through the thoracic and lumbar spine in the deadlift, lack strength from the quadriceps out of the bottom of a squat or off the floor in a deadlift, and require additional strength and stability of the shoulders and wrists for the bench press.

The olympic lifting accessories are for athletes who are experienced in the powerlifts already and have the body awareness to be able to effectively incorporate the weightlifting variations. These variations will only be as effective as our ability to perform them correctly.

Choosing the right accessories for your program is important to improve technique, address muscular imbalances, and decrease the risk of injury. To learn what accessories we recommend, check out our article for 9 Squat Accessories To Improve Strength and Technique.

How To Program The Olympic Lifts For Powerlifting

how to program the olympic lifts for powerlifting

The way we program the olympic lifts for powerlifting will look different than if we were programming them for Olympic Weightlifting.

In a powerlifting program the weightlifting movements are supplementary to the squat, bench, and deadlift; therefore, the competition lifts will be trained first, and the weightlifting movements will be trained afterwards as accessory movements. 

In contrast, if our primary goal was weightlifting performance we would train the olympic lifts first, and strength movements secondarily.

These movements will be performed in a powerlifting program when we are further out from a competition. Therefore, these movements can be used in a General Preparatory (GPP), Hypertrophy, or Strength phase but will not be utilized in a peaking phase when specificity increases.

Sample Training Day #1:

Snatch Grip Deadlifts and Clean Pulls can be programmed as a deadlift accessory in our training routine. If we are squatting and including a deadlift accessory it may look like this:

  • Squat – 4×6 @ 75% of 1RM
  • Snatch Grip Deadlift/Clean Pull  – 4×8/4×3 @ 45-50% of Deadlift 1RM
  • Lower Body/Core Stability Accessories

Sample Training Day #2:

Front squats can be performed as a squat accessory on a training day when we are not performing the competition squat (or can be programmed after competition squats at lighter intensities, depending on training frequency).

  • Front Squat – 4×5 @ RPE 7
  • Bench Press – 3×6 @ 75% of 1RM
  • Row Variation
  • Unilateral Lower Body Exercise

Sample Training Day#3:

The Push Press can be programmed as an upper body accessory following the bench press or as a main movement on a separate day, depending on a lifter’s training frequency.

  • Wide Grip Bench Press – 4×8 @ 65%
  • Push Press – 3×5 @ RPE 6-7
  • Unilateral Pull/Row
  • Shoulder/Core Stability Exercise

Whenever we are thinking of including new movements in our training program, it is important to consider the benefits and desired outcome of including said exercise. If there are exercises in our program that serve no direct purpose, then perhaps we could better allocate our time and efforts to other movements that will address deficiencies in our performance. 

When Are The Olympic Lifting Accessories Not Beneficial For Powerlifters?

The olympic lift variations are not for beginner powerlifters who have not fully grasped the technique of the squat, bench, and deadlift. These lifters should first become proficient in the competition lifts before adding these variations that could potentially just confuse them further. 

The olympic lifting accessories should also be avoided by those who do not possess the mobility or stability to perform the lifts properly. If the movements are causing more harm than good, then the consequences will far outweigh the benefits.

How Much Carryover Is There Between The Sports?

While having a solid foundation of strength is an excellent prerequisite for both sports, the movement patterns are different enough that when transitioning from one sport to another we must start from the foundation movement patterns and work our way up from there.

Performing the competition lifts for weightlifting (snatch, clean & jerk) will not make us better powerlifters and vice versa. However, developing these abilities can build up our physical literacy, make us all-around more athletic, and more resistant to injury. But if our primary goal is to be the best in one sport, then we should allocate more time to one sport or another.

Another difference between weightlifting and powerlifting is that weightlifting is an olympic sport. Check out our article to find out Why Powerlifting Is Not In The Olympics and when we could expect that to change.

Final Thoughts

When used correctly and under the right circumstances, weightlifting movements can improve powerlifting performance. However, it is important to understand that in order to be the best as a given sport, we must train with the specificity of that sport in mind.

One famous powerlifting program, The Texas Method, incorporates the use of Olympic lifts. You can learn more about the Texas Method here:

About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.