2 Best Olympic Weightlifting Programs

Barbell Medicine
November 4, 2023
Reading Time: 13 minutes
Table of Contents

    Olympic weightlifting is the only competitive lifting event in the Olympic Games. In this sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), competitors perform the snatch and clean and jerk at heavy weights and high speeds. Performance depends on more than just strength and power, with factors such as technique, positioning, and weight distribution are also important.  This is why it’s crucial to train right.

    While everyone could benefit from improvements in strength and power, not every type of training does this.  Compared to traditional strength and hypertrophy training, Olympic weightlifting programs include exercises that require high speed movements and athleticism. [1] In this article, we will share with our readers the science behind advancing in Olympic weightlifting, explain how Olympic weightlifting differs from other types of lifting programs, and go into some of the health benefits of taking up an Olympic weightlifting program. 

    In our opinion, the best Olympic weightlifting programs are the Olympic Weightlifting Template for those looking to specifically improve their Olympic lifts and the SuperTotal Template for those who’d like to combine elements of Olympic weightlifting with powerlifting.

    Olympic Weightlifting Program Comparison Chart

    ProgramOlympic Weightlifting TemplateSuperTotal Template
    Duration12 weeks16 weeks
    Required Equipment-Barbells -Bumper plates -Chalk -Jerk blocks -Squat stands-Barbells (Powerbar & weightlifting bar) -Rack -Bumpers -Steel plates -Bench -Blocks
    Workouts Per Week4-66
    Main FocusOlympic weightliftingStrength
    Best ForAdvanced lifters (6+ months of experience)Advanced lifters (around 12 months of experience)

    Why Should You Train With Barbell Medicine?

    Olympic weightlifting is a demanding sport that requires strength, speed, and efficient technique. If any of these elements are out of balance, results may suffer. While some may take one look at Olympic weightlifting and assume the injury rate is very high, it is virtually the same as other forms of resistance training at 2 to 4 injuries per 1000 participation hours. [2]

    Still, the snatch and the clean & jerk movements are executed quickly in a manner that loads the body differently than other forms of resistance training, leading to unique adaptations in the body and how it performs.  They’re also programmed differently than traditional forms of weight training, as the technical demands typically require less reps per set, lower total volume, and higher loads. On top of all that, lifters have different levels of fitness, training experience, and preferences, all of which must be considered when developing an exercise program. 

    We developed our templates with this in mind. Users can customize their exercise selection and there’s multiple levels of oversight baked into the templates to make sure the person is getting the right dose and formulation of training for their goals. 

    Nevertheless, some folks will need an even more individualized approach. If you’re looking for a team with previous experience in training Olympic weightlifting, look no further. Here at Barbell Medicine, we employ the help of health and sports experts from many fields, including licensed doctors, dietitians, and strength coaches. Our science-based approach to nutrition and training is backed by evidence, and we adjust your personalized program according to your changing needs. We continually measure our clients’ development and we are always on call if any assistance is needed. 
    Not only that, we’ve also got a growing community of fitness enthusiasts training with us. If you can’t take our word, hear out what they have to say.  Log onto our forum or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to join our community of fitness enthusiasts and see what others have to say. You could also check out our YouTube channel, where we keep our viewers up to date with the latest developments in sports science.

    Best Olympic Weightlifting Programs

    To achieve the best results with an Olympic weightlifting program, the training must match the individual’s current fitness levels, preferences, and training resources like available training time, equipment, and more. 

    While Olympic weightlifting is a competitive sport where the main goal is to increase the weight lifted in the snatch and clean and jerk, signing up for a meet is not a prerequisite to doing the lifts in training. Rather, the competition lifts and supporting exercises can be done by more seasoned trainees who would like to focus on improving strength in the Olympic lifts. For trainees who are just starting, we recommend completing our Beginner’s Template and following that up by training for nine to twelve months to build the required amount of strength to take on these programs in advance. 
    If none of these programs seem to provide quite what you’re looking for, reach out to us for a personalized Olympic weightlifting program, which we can design according to your needs and preferences.

    Olympic Weightlifting Template

    Olympic Weightlifting Template

    The Olympic Weightlifting Template by Barbell Medicine is a strength-focused program for experienced lifters with more than nine months of experience in strength training. Being a specialized template, it is designed for individuals who would like to improve their strength and skills in the snatch and clean and jerk.  

    This 12-week strength program includes four days of full-body strength training and up to two general physical preparedness (GPP) workouts, that include conditioning and direct arm, upper back, and core work. The GPP workouts can be performed after a lifting session or on separate days. The GPP workouts can be performed after a lifting session or on separate days.
    As it is a program designed for more experienced lifters, we do not recommend those who have just started lifting to follow this program. We recommend beginners complete the Beginner Template and follow that up with the Strength I or General Strength and Conditioning Template before starting this program.

    >>> Get Supertotal Template <<<

    SuperTotal Template

    SuperTotal Template

    If you’d like to go with something a bit more challenging and improve your skills in both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, then Barbell Medicine’s SuperTotal template is the right one for you. 

    This template is designed for advanced lifters with at least 12 months of lifting experience. It combines both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting training using existing scientific evidence and professional experience to blend both disciplines together. 

    The SuperTotal Template is a 16-week-long program divided into three training blocks. The exercise selection is completely customizable, giving lifters total control of the lifts they do. The program’s volume and intensity are also adaptable to the trainee’s current fitness level and preferences. 

    This program includes  four days of resistance training and two GPP workouts that include conditioning and direct arm, upper back, and core work. The GPP workouts can be performed after a lifting session or on separate days.
    The training will include exercises to improve strength in both the Big Three (squat, bench press, and deadlifts) and the Olympic lifts (the snatch and clean and jerk). To be clear, this is a blend of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. If you’d like to focus solely on Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, we recommend that you go with our Olympic Weightlifting Template or one of our powerlifting templates instead.

    >>> Get Supertotal Template <<<

    What Is Olympic Weightlifting?

    In essence, Olympic weightlifting is a sports branch where lifters perform two lifts, the clean and jerk, which entails picking up the weights from the ground to shoulder height (the clean) and then lifting them higher to an overhead position (the jerk), and the snatch, which entails lifting the weight from the floor to overhead in one motion. Both of these movements require the lifter to generate high amounts of muscular force explosively with great skill and technique. 

    Make no mistake, Olympic weightlifting is not just for competitive lifters, as athletes participating in other sports and general strength enthusiasts alike can benefit from this type of training. For example, Olympic weightlifting tends to produce greater improvements in muscle power or high velocity strength compared to traditional resistance training, which is associated with greater improvements in jumping, change of direction, and sprint speed. [3]

    While they differ from many strength-training or powerlifting programs, Olympic weightlifting programs are an excellent choice for individuals who are looking to improve their strength and power. Let’s look into a few ways in which Olympic weightlifting can help you achieve your goals. 

    Full Body Engagement

    Much like most other strength training methods that also use multi-joint or compound exercises, large amounts of muscle mass are used in a coordinated fashion while performing Olympic weightlifting movements. Especially when performing the clean and jerk and the snatch, multiple muscle groups are put into action, such as the core, legs, and a combination of upper body muscles. The question is, does Olympic weightlifting build more strength than a traditional strength program? 

    In simple terms, probably not. Most Olympic weightlifting programs including Barbell Medicine’s include “accessory strength work” such as squats, presses, deadlifts, and other exercises besides just the Olympic lifts, e.g. the snatch and clean and jerk.  A 2022 meta-analysis showed that Olympic weightlifting programs improve strength in non-Olympic lifts to similar levels as traditional strength training, though the Olympic lifting programs improved performance in the snatch and clean and jerk to a much higher degree. [3] 

    Progressive Overload 

    Building strength in the Olympic lifts requires continually challenging our muscles, and this is achieved through what we call progressive loading. As people increase their fitness and get stronger, the weight must increase in parallel. By matching the training to the individual’s current fitness level, we can be sure that the body is receiving the right signal to improve strength and size. Simply put, matching the weight on the bar to the individual’s current fitness level triggers adaptations at the level of the muscle, nervous system, and bony skeleton. In turn, as the individual gets stronger, they are required to add weight to the bar to keep driving the desired adaptations. 

    Neuromuscular Adaptations

    When an individual goes through a specific kind of training, certain physiological changes occur in the nervous system that aid in enhancing motor skills to execute the movements more easily. This is what we refer to as neuromuscular adaptation, and it is a crucial component of building strength.

    Specifically, neuromuscular adaptations include increasing the frequency of the electrical signal traveling from the brain and spinal cord to the muscle, which makes the muscles create more force. Additionally, more muscle fibers are called upon to create force, a process known as motor unit requirement. Finally, the efficiency and coordination by which the motor units create force during complex movements also improve with the high velocity training seen in Olympic weightlifting. [4]

    Olympic weightlifting helps individuals improve their strength, but also has the added benefit of helping muscles produce force at high speeds for more explosive movements. [5]  The need to produce force quickly in order to successfully complete a snatch or clean and jerk drives unique adaptations for high velocity strength, which isn’t trained nearly as well with traditional, slow resistance training.

    Core Strength

    Most sports require some degree of core strength to participate in, and Olympic weightlifting is one of those that rely on core muscles. [6] Due to the dynamic nature of the full-body movements, Olympic weightlifting develops high levels of core strength needed to successfully perform the exercises. However, the core strength developed from Olympic weightlifting is not universal and additional ab training is likely to be beneficial, particularly for non Olympic lifting tasks. 

    Additionally, while many Olympic weightlifters look jacked, Olympic weightlifting is not an ideal option for those who are trying to grow muscle mass, as the lifts don’t trigger the mechanisms of hypertrophy to a maximum level. This is mainly due to the distinct elements of the Olympic lifts and their programming compared to other types of resistance training.

    For example, the Olympic lifts are predominantly performed via concentric (muscle-shortening) muscular contractions, whereas the paired eccentric (muscle-lengthening) and concentric exercises performed during traditional resistance training is better for increasing muscle size. 

    Olympic lifts are also performed very quickly, which reduces time under tension compared to slower movements and, in turn, reduces accumulation of metabolic byproducts that appear to be involved in signaling muscle growth mechanisms in response to mechanical tension. Olympic lifting also appears to preferentially hypertrophy the high-force, high speed type II muscle fibers and maintain the size of the lower force, low speed type I muscle fibers. By comparison, bodybuilding training increases the size of both type I and type II fibers. [7] 

    It’s currently unknown if the differences in muscle fiber type hypertrophy is mostly a result of training or due to genetics, e.g. the sport choosing the individual or the individual choosing the sport. Nevertheless, Olympic lifting programs tend to produce less hypertrophy than bodybuilding programs when studied. 

    The Benefits of Following an Olympic Weightlifting Program

    Following an Olympic weightlifting program will have the obvious benefit of helping lifters build strength in the Olympic lifts, but that’s not all. Those who follow an Olympic weightlifting program will be able to enjoy the health benefits that many weightlifters do, as well as some additional ones. Let’s explore a few. 

    Full-Body Strength

    Olympic weightlifting trains force production in muscle groups across the whole body, including legs, glutes, core, back, arms, and shoulders, which increases full-body strength. Again, due to the lifts being performed at high speeds, muscular power is also improved compared to traditional strength training. [3]

    The question is, does Olympic WL build strength – maximal force production measured in a specific context- faster or better than other forms of resistance training? Probably not, especially if the context or “test” does not require high velocity. When it comes to high velocity strength or power however, Olympic weightlifters rule to roost. When tested through jumping or other lower body high velocity strength tests, weightlifters have 13 to 36% more power than other strength athletes. On the other hand, upper body power is not as well developed, with weightlifters showing similar results to handball players. [8]

    Improved Athletic Performance

    Olympic weightlifting programs are great for improving one’s overall athletic performance, making them popular among athletes competing in different sports branches [9]. This is mainly because Olympic lifts help build both strength and speed that are similar to other sporting movements like jumping, sprinting, and changing directions.

    For example, subjects using Olympic lifting programs improved strength to similar levels as those using traditional resistance training. However, those using Olympic weightlifting improved their countermovement jump performance, sprint speed, and change of direction to higher levels. It is thought that the mechanics and continual acceleration required during the Olympic lifts is similar to jumping and sprinting, thereby producing adaptations that transfer well to sport. It should be noted that plyometric training also produces these adaptations, meaning that Olympic lifting isn’t the only type of exercise that can be used if these adaptations are desired. [3]

    Accelerated Resting Metabolic Rate and Fat Loss

    While not as good as bodybuilding or other hypertrophy-focused training, Olympic weightlifting does increase muscle size. Like other forms of resistance training, an Olympic lifting program can reduce risk of weight regain and reduce waist circumference by reducing abdominal fat. [9]  Exercise training also appears to increase many individuals’ sensitivity to feelings of fullness when eating, thereby potentially helping with weight maintenance or loss. [10]

    Another oft-reported mechanism relating to fat loss is that the increase in muscle mass from lifting weights increases someone’s resting metabolic rate, which in turn increases their total daily energy expenditure. However, this relationship is probably overstated. 

    One kilogram of muscle uses ~ 13 Calories per day, whereas one kilogram of fat uses 4.5 Calories per day. [11] In order to make a significant difference in total daily energy expenditure, someone would have to gain a lot of muscle mass. For example, gaining 10-kilograms of muscle typically takes years and would increase total daily energy expenditure by less than 100 Calories per day. 

    Olympic lifting and resistance training in general likely produce a healthier body composition through a variety of mechanisms, though the majority of health benefits are likely independent of body weight, which is mostly determined by the individual’s dietary pattern and genetics.

    Improved Power and Speed

    Speed and explosive power are essential components of Olympic weightlifting, which require trainees to both move quickly and generate adaptations that improve power production. The strongest Olympic lifters move heavy loads, e.g. greater than 250 kg in the clean and jerk  and over 200k g for snatch with barbell velocities greater than 2 m/s. [12] Due to the combined requirements of muscle force and speed, Olympic lifting relies heavily upon training fast-twitch muscle fibers (type II) to get bigger, stronger, and contract faster. A recent study showed that in elite level weightlifters, fast-twitch muscle fibers made up an average 67% of the subjects leg muscle. [13]  Developing fast-twitch muscle fibers is one of the ways we improve our speed, which is why it’s no surprise that many athletes competing in speed-focused sports, such as track and field or sprinting, include Olympic weightlifting in their training programs. 

    Improved Bone Density and Joint Health

    Olympic weightlifters put a lot of stress on various parts of their bodies, including their legs, hips, backs, and arms. This added stress not only helps tone up the muscles around these body parts but also allows the bone to adapt to the stress and grow. Olympic weightlifting is one of the best types of weightlifting to increase bone density, producing much better results than some other types of weightlifting. [14] The increased bone density could be a massive perk for many trainees, as it allows our bones to stay healthy and keeps diseases like osteoporosis at bay while also helping avoid sports injuries. 

    Is Olympic Weightlifting Only for Professional Athletes?

    The short answer is — no! Any type of athlete may enjoy the many perks of following an Olympic weightlifting program, which includes but is not limited to increased strength and enhanced athletic performance. As we’ve mentioned, Olympic weightlifting elements are often incorporated into the training of athletes competing in various sports, so we could say that the benefits are plentiful — possibly even greater than that of a traditional strength training program.

    However, we should note that Olympic lifting programs are probably best reserved for those with previous experience in the gym. This is because the lifts themselves require a degree of strength, coordination, and training tolerance that completely new lifters don’t typically possess. Additionally, the unique adaptations to Olympic lifting, e.g. strength and power, are likely developed to similar degrees by traditional strength programs in newer lifters.  But switching over to an Olympic weightlifting program from a different type of strength training within the first year of lifting is very doable, and with a few months of dedicated training, you’ll be good to go! So, if building strength while improving speed and explosiveness is your end goal, an Olympic weightlifting program could be the right pick for you.


    1. Song, Y., Zhang, X., & Rong, K. (2018). Effects of long-term high-load exercise on the anatomy of the hip joints: a preliminary report. Journal of pediatric orthopedics. Part B, 27(3), 231–235. https://doi.org/10.1097/BPB.0000000000000454
    2. Roberts, Matt & DeBeliso, Mark. (2018). Olympic lifting vs. traditional lifting methods for North American high school football players. Turkish Journal of Kinesiology. 4. 91-100. 10.31459/turkjkin.439870.
    3. Plotkin, D., Coleman, M., Van Every, D., Maldonado, J., Oberlin, D., Israetel, M., Feather, J., Alto, A., Vigotsky, A. D., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2022). Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ, 10, e14142. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14142
    4. Sale D. G. (1988). Neural adaptation to resistance training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 20(5 Suppl), S135–S145. https://doi.org/10.1249/00005768-198810001-00009
    5. Young, Warren & McLean, B & Ardagna, J. (1995). Relationship between strength qualities and sprinting performance. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 35. 13-9.
    6. Calatayud, J., Colado, J. C., Martin, F., Casaña, J., Jakobsen, M. D., & Andersen, L. L. (2015). CORE MUSCLE ACTIVITY DURING THE CLEAN AND JERK LIFT WITH BARBELL VERSUS SANDBAGS AND WATER BAGS. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 803–810.
    7. Yoshimizu, Rikuto & Nakase, Junsuke & Mochizuki, Takafumi & Takata, Yasushi & Shimozaki, Kengo & Asai, Kazuki & Toyooka, Kazu & Kimura, Mitsuhiro & Kinuya, Seigo & Tsuchiya, Hiroyuki. (2021). Whole body muscle activity during weightlifting exercise evaluated by positron emission tomography. 10.21203/rs.3.rs-612816/v1.
    8. Hoffman, J.R., J. Cooper, M. Wendell, and J. Kang. Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players. J. Strength Cond. Res. 18(1):129–135. 2004. [PubMed]
    9. Stone, M.H., R. Byrd, J. Tew, and M. Wood. Relationship between anaerobic power and Olympic weightlifting performance. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness. 20:99–102. 1980. [PubMed]
    10. Zurlo, F., Larson, K., Bogardus, C., & Ravussin, E. (1990). Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 86(5), 1423–1427. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI114857
    11. Serrano, N., Colenso-Semple, L. M., Lazauskus, K. K., Siu, J. W., Bagley, J. R., Lockie, R. G., Costa, P. B., & Galpin, A. J. (2019). Extraordinary fast-twitch fiber abundance in elite weightlifters. PloS one, 14(3), e0207975. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207975
    12. Jeon, Woohyoung; Harrison, John Michael; Stanforth, Philip R.; Griffin, Lisa. Bone Mineral Density Differences Across Female Olympic Lifters, Power Lifters, and Soccer Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 35(3):p 638-643, March 2021. |
      DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003944
    Barbell Medicine
    Barbell Medicine
    The Barbell Medicine Website Editorial Team consists of Fitness, Health, Nutrition, and Strength Training experts. Our Team is led by Jordan Feigenbaum, MD, an elite competitive powerlifter, health educator, and fitness & strength coach.

    No products in the cart.

    25% Off Apparel, Templates & Supplements w/ MDW25