Otto Arco, age 53
Olympic Assistance Movements For Size and/or Strength
by Anthony Ditillo
There is a very large segment of our lifting and training population which neglects a very important facet of athletic training which, for want of a better name, we will entitle Olympic Assistance Movements. Why these muscle building and power building movements have become ignored by so many otherwise interested trainees is beyond me, unless the reason lies somewhere within the confines of basic ignorance and a repulsion of hard work. To be sure, the basic movements used by Olympic lifters in their quest for Olympic lift proficiency will cause an almost immediate increase within the musculature and the power potential of just about any interested trainee. All that is necessary is a basic understanding of the principles at work and a desire to make use of these facts in order to improve.
To save time and a bit of your patience, I will endeavor to outline the basic movements and how to perform them for the proper training results. But before we get into the actual training movements and the routines used to utilize these movements to greatest advantage, I would like to digress for a moment if I may, on just why this type methodology will work for you in ways impossible for any other.
First of all, it is the intensity of the movements involved which results in such dramatic development and strength increases. You see, in order to perform movements to aid a lifter in Olympic lifting, the movements themselves must be of the dynamic type for best results. This means that not only must the weights be heavy enough to require adequate exertion for correct style of performance, but the movements must be performed dynamically and explosively or the lifting value of such movements is completely lost. This means that the muscles are developed not solely through the muscular overload of the training itself, but also through the intensity of the physical exertions required to move the weights fast, dynamically and explosively with speed and technique being of paramount importance. This is basically why so many other trainees will not incorporate these movements into their routines: they fear the intensity and hard work required.
There is a world of difference between training on basic slow movements in which the trainee “grinds” through each repetition of each set with very little speed or techniques involved, and in the type of speed of movement necessary when utilizing these Olympic movements in your training regime. There is just no way can “grind” up a Power Clean or a High Pull or a Power Snatch. These movements must be performed with the utmost speed and explosiveness or the entire effect is lost. It is for this reason that they are so effective as a training medium when combined with basic power movements; they compliment one another and they enable the trainee to develop speed, coordination and a sense of timing and balance possible through no other way. Also, somewhere along the line, they also develop quite a bit of muscle and quite a bit of strength.
For years we have put up with “old wives tales” concerning the incorporating of Olympic lift training within a basic power format. We have heard from one “authority” after another that these movements will not develop any real strength, that they are “all technique” and this has caused many a trainee to overlook these otherwise very effective training mediums. Yet, if one uses sheer objectivity in assessing the value or worthiness of these previously discussed movements and the technical aspects concerning correct performances of the involved lifts and assistance movements, in general, we cannot overlook the apparent fact that such training must help us in acquiring greater muscle, greater muscle density and size, and quicker reflexes and athletic ability.
In order to incorporate these useful movements into your present training routine it is of the utmost importance to outline for you just what is required as far as training methodology is concerned, in order to solidify your understanding of just what you will be doing and how you will be doing it, and for what ultimate goal or purpose such hard intensity work will be done.
For any Olympic assistant movement to be used correctly, it is necessary to realize that with these movements style plays an important part in the ultimate outcome of the training motive. To try and force up the weights when using these movements will not give you the effect you are looking for. In order for these movements to develop you correctly, you must pay paramount attention to exercise style!
When an Olympic lifter performs a Back Squat, he is not solely interested in how much weight he can “shift” up, he is interested in working primarily his frontal thigh muscles without utilizing the muscles of his lower back and hips. What he tries to do is perform the Back Squat in such a way as to localize his exercise so that the developmental value of the movement is intensified within the muscles of the thigh. By placing the bar high on the traps and using the knees as the axis of the movement, by way of rotating the body around the knee and not rotating the body around the hip, he is able to utilize the isolation principle of training and the end effect is a pair of very muscular, impressive legs! Also, he is not apt to become poundage happy in his leg training since his leg work is a means to an end (increased lifting performance) and not an end in itself. This will enable him to train quite comfortably within his present physical capabilities without the constant urge to see how much he can lift for one repetition. This also will alleviate most training injuries, since the brunt of the work done will be done with weights not too difficult to handle.
What all this means for the average trainee is that by utilizing these movements we “free” ourselves from overtraining and overstraining which usually happens with powerlifts as a rule of thumb, followed for any length of time and with any regularity. By using the assistance movements to supplement our training, we are given an emotional break so to speak, with the end result being a rekindling of training desire, after a sweet respite incorporating these movements. We must also mention that these movements will strengthen us for practicing the powerlifts, since they basically take the different powerlifts and make you perform a close “cousin” of a sort, with speed, technique, and explosion. Then, when we revert back to the usual lax method of performance, the lifts improve since they gave been strengthened through the full range of motion with a style which usually borders on the ridiculously strict side!
What the end result of this situation usually is, is a change in the ability of the trainee to utilize explosiveness when he is called upon to lift his maximum in a powerlift and also, his musculature usually is greatly changed and developed.
By now, you are probably wondering just what kind and how large a variety of movements we have to choose from when deciding to utilize this training medium. There are usually a few movements for each bodypart and also, there are usually quite a few deviations of the basic powerlifts, done in specific ways, with the results being a much harder workout for the affected muscles due to the strictness of the style of the movements employed.
There is no way you will be able to learn good operational technique in these movements without having an experienced Olympic lift trainee coaching you for quite some time, watching your performances and keeping track of your style improvement and your over-all progress. For from it being helpful, such coaching is necessary if you are to reap much muscle-stimulating value from these types of exercises. However, since most of you are not that interested in having yourselves be coached to any great extent, and since the aims of most of you are not to become proficient at the Olympic lift competition, it will not be necessary to go to such extremes in your training in order to obtain much in the way of benefits such training will bring out in you.
By studying the basic explanations as to how to best employ the various movements, you will develop a certain amount of training style and technique, enough to utilize these movements with great success in your musculature and in your basic lift training proficiency. By remembering that the training ideology of these movements lies not within the amount of pounds lifted for each set, but within the quickness, explosiveness and dexterity of each exertion, you are already part way home, so to speak. By continually trying to improve your lifting ability through proper technique, without the constant forcing and forcing heavier and heavier exertions, you will learn that these movements must be performed correctly for the best of results to take place and when you have learned this, you have learned practically all you have to know!
When attempting to utilize the proponent theories of such Olympic lift assistance movement training you must keep uppermost in your mind that this system of exercise movements are primarily athletic in nature and their chief value for you as an all-around trainee lies in their mode of performance and their strictness and intensity.
While discussing these assistance movements we should at this time list most of them for you, along with the particular powerlift they have the most effect of strengthening. For the squat we have the Olympic Back Squat and the Front Squat. These two leg movements when utilized in the way I will outline for you later on in this section of Chapter 5, will literally revamp your entire lower body musculature while at the same time increase your overall squatting proficiency when the laxer power style of squatting is once again employed.
For the deadlift, we have the various High Pulls, with close and wide grip. Shrug Pulls with both style grips also, and finally we have the Stiff Legged Deadlift from the floor, from the knees, and from the standing block. making the bar closer to the floor. We should also mention the Prone Hyperextension, which will thoroughly congest the lower back as well as develop for you a strong tie-in between the lower body and the upper body, which is necessary to be successful at heavy squatting and deadlifting in the conventional manner. We have not even begun to mention the various kinds of cleaning movements from the floor, from the hang, off of blocks, etc., and by now you should be able to see that it is the pull which is of primary importance in Olympic lifting.
For increasing the bench press, there is also quite a list of assistance movements which can be utilized for good training effects. The Seated Incline Press at 45 degrees, the Steep Seated Press at around an 80 degree angle, the Push Press from a Rack, and the Jerk From the Shoulders all make up a pretty good selection of exercise movements to choose from. What these movements do is work the muscles of the shoulder girdle and the triceps muscles quite hard and quite completely, and when coupled with heavy bench work, success is almost guaranteed. The strictness of performing the Steep Seated Presses will strengthen your shoulder girdle muscles like nothing else under the sun, and it will take a very strong man to handle over three hundred pounds in this movement, utilizing a pause at the chest and no bouncing and heaving and keeping the body solid and rigid under the weight with the back flush against the back support of the bench. This movement is paramount in developing frontal deltoid power and we all should know by now that bench pressing success relies upon having strong deltoids!
The physical results of utilizing these assistance movements , borrowed from the Olympic lifters, are varied and many. By incorporating these movements into your routine you are sure to see a difference in your musculature, given enough energy and training time. I would say that the lower thighs and the entire lower and upper back musculature will be the first areas to develop a difference, both in appearance and in density and power. This is quite simple to explain, as it is due to the complexity and intensity of the different exercise movements and how they develop the involved muscle masses.
By properly using the various pulling exercises, your upper and mid back will grow and become more dense by leaps and bounds. The trapezius muscles will begin to fill out and the overall appearance of your upper body musculature will take on a new, rugged look which will amaze and impress both you and your friends. This will give mute testimony as to the effectiveness of the new movements in your workouts and this should instill in you a desire to continue this type of training for yet more time and energy with a look to the future as to further physical gains.
By incorporating Olympic back squatting into your present squat routine, the lower thigh will take on a new, exciting shape and fullness which will allow you further advances in strength due to the greater musculature developed as well as the stronger frontal thigh muscles which this strict style of squatting will develop. There is no Olympic lifter on the platform today with weak, underdeveloped legs. for strong legs and back are prime requisites for successful lifting. By copying their exercise choices and style of performance, you too will be assured of continued progress as well as increased muscular development. Finally, we come to the shoulder girdle muscles. By far, the most severe type of pressing is the Seated Press on a Steep Incline, set at around 85 degrees. It is almost to cheat in this position and the brunt of the work is performed by the frontal deltoid muscles with secondary consideration being given to the muscles of the upper arms. There can be no cheating, shifting, or bouncing the way it can be done on the flat bench when bench pressing, so the amount of weight will be limited somewhat, but the overall results will speak wonders.
By utilizing these upper body movements within your present pressing routine, you will be developing such an immense amount of size and strength in the shoulder girdle that it will literally shock you! I know. I have experienced this myself. Of particular importance as an assistance movement to increase overall pressing strength is partial pressing on the power rack, with the bar positioned in front as well as behind the neck. This will develop all-around muscular size and power and when the regular routines are instilled once again, the carrying over of these overload movements will bring up your bench pressing power like nothing else will ever do. Finally, by combining these heavy partial overload movements along with the steep seated inline presses, your entire shoulder musculature and power potential will be redeveloped at such a quickened pace that it will be useless for you to purchase any new shirts, etc., for in no time at all you will most assuredly be outgrowing them!
By isolating the lower back while doing Stiff Legged Deadlifts, the legs are not brought into play and the back can be worked quite adequately without the legs combining into the movement thereby taking away somewhat of the developmental value towards the lower back with the thighs taking much of the muscle effectiveness. Also, by standing on blocks so that the bar is at the level of the toes. thereby making it much harder to begin the pull, and also performing this movement with somewhat stiff legs, the muscular effect is twofold, both in its severity and in its effectiveness. Then, when we begin to use the deadlift with the legs bent in the usual performance style, this pre-worked area of the lower back will make itself felt and the increase of the amount of weight capable of being handled will surely show an increase. With the trapezius muscles further strengthened through the heavy shrugs, and the heavy high pulls, it will help you in finishing the top part of the deadlift in the competition style and in the competitive situation. Many times we will see a competitor make the deadlift through the hardest positions (or so it seems) only to lose the lift at a point when the only thing necessary would be a standing erect with a pulling back of the shoulders, and for the life of him, the fellow cannot lock his shoulders back! This is due primarily to a weak trapezius muscle and a lack of power throughout the shoulder girdle. This painful situation can be remedied through the correct application of the described exercise movements of this chapter. With the shoulder girdle further strengthened, the lifter will never fail to get the shoulder back in the finished position of the competitive deadlift and with utilization of the various lower back pulling exercises, you can see how the entire pulling structures of the lower back will be retained, so to speak, to use in a more proficient manner, with the end result being a high lifting total. This then, is the true value of such training.
At this time, it will be necessary and helpful for me to outline for you a series of training schedules utilizing these important assistance movements in order for you to reap the utmost results from your training endeavors and the sweat and strain contained therein. It is my hope that by the utilization of these training aids and principles you will be able to see a difference in your training poundages and in the musculature of the use areas of the body with the end result being a new and improved you!
What we shall do first of all, is to develop for you a routine based around the three power lifts, with each of these lifts being trained on one day per week and on the other training day we will be utilizing the pertinent Olympic assistance movement. This means we will be training four days per week. We will be working the upper body on two days and the lower body on two training days with the emphasis being placed on registering higher totals in the three power lifts. Whether or not any additional weight is going to be gained at this time will depend chiefly upon the diet you choose to follow while on this routine. Therefore, the end result of weight gained or not gained will be left primarily up to you. By following the dietary suggestions of the last chapter, I am sure, for the most part, bodyweight can be gained quite easily with a little bit of experimentation on your part as to what to use for best results.
With this routine there will be listed for you a few basic muscle-shaping movements which can also be utilized with this routine along with the assistance movements already discussed within the section of this chapter, since there will have to be more to the program than four of five lifts, for best all-around results.
Here then is your first listed, four day per week training routine:
Monday and Thursday
Upper Body Work – Bench Press: utilizing a medium grip for all-around muscle stimulation, perform one set of ten reps for a warm-up and then jump to a set of five, a set of three, and finally three single attempts with around 90% of your one rep limit. Steep Seated Inclines: after two warm-up sets, with conservative weight jumps. work up to three reps using all the weight possible. Shoulder Shrug: take fifty or one hundred pound jumps and perform sets of five reps with each weight until you hit a heavy weight for five reps and you should stay with this weight for between five and seven sets of these five repetitions. Barbell Curls: this movement is used solely to bring some work into the upper arms. Perform five to seven sets of five to seven reps with a fairly heavy weight. Lying Triceps Extension: once again, five to seven sets of five to seven reps with a heavy weight.
Tuesday and Friday
Lower Body Work – Power Squat: one set of ten, one set of eight, one set of six, and finally, three sets of three reps using around 85% of your one rep maximum poundage. Olympic Squat: five to seven sets of three to five reps after a warm-up set of ten reps. On this movement you should concentrate on proper exercise form, not weight. Stiff Legged Deadlift: three to five sets of three to five repetitions using a fairly heavy weight and concentrating on proper exercise form and not weight lifted. Prone Hyperextensions: five sets of eight to ten reps using light weight and performing the movement correctly, fluidly, and slowly.
Another way of handling this amount of work is to perform the Bench Press by itself on Monday and on Thursday to work the Steep Seated Incline, once again working it by itself. Also, on the lower body training days, you can do the Power Squat by itself on Tuesday and the Olympic Back Squat by itself on Friday. This would be useful for you if you have a limited supply of training energy and a limited amount of time to train.
For those souls who are not afraid to work like two men to get the goals they have formed for themselves in their mind, I shall now outlined a six day per week training routine. However, we shall limit the amount of work therein in order for most men to gain on it.
On this training program we will be working six days per week and in this way we can incorporate adequate work for the entire muscular system without fear of overtraining or undertraining any particular body part, with the developing of a lopsided lifting proficiency or with the muscular development of a lopsided nature, also. For the lower back we will be utilizing two weekly workouts with the emphasis upon conditioning as well as complete muscular development.
Monday and Friday
Upper Body – Bench Press: one set of ten for a warm-up and then take regulated jumps to a weight you will be handling for three sets of three repetitions. Steep Seated Press: two sets for a warm-up and then jump to a weight you can handle for five sets of three to five repetitions. Press on Rack: five sets of three to five repetitions using an adequate amount of weight.
Tuesday and Friday
Thighs and Hips – Power Squat: five sets of three to five reps working up from a warm-up to the heaviest weight possible for three reps. Olympic Back Squat: five sets of three to five reps using an adequate amount of weight. Front Squat: after one set of ten for a warm-up, jump to all the weight possible for five repetitions and work for three sets of five reps with this weight.
Wednesday and Saturday
Lower Back – Stiff Legged Deadlift: one set of ten for a warm-up then work for rive sets of five to seven reps using a medium amount of weight for resistance. Shoulder Shrug: five sets of five to seven repetitions using heavy weight and good style. Prone Hyperextensions: five to seven sets of eight to ten repetitions using adequate resistance. Arm Work: six of seven sets for the biceps and six or seven sets for the triceps. You can choose whatever barbell movements which may strike your fancy at any particular time. This choice is solely up to you.
The final routine in this section of Chapter 5 will be a three day per week routine, in which we will attempt to utilize the Olympic assistance movements, solely throughout the training week, with the complete lack of other training exercises. In other words, we will be working solely with the Olympic assistance movements for a period of three or so months. In this way, this type of routine could be utilized for a short period of specialization within the non-competitive season of the year. This change of pace would be sure to give you a well-rounded look at these training exercises and training methods and in this way you will gain firsthand knowledge as to how these techniques will work for you.
Since you will only be using the Olympic assistance movements throughout these periods of intense specialization, you will be sure to have more than enough time to incorporate the wide variety of movements which would have had to be reduced somewhat when attempting to couple this work with the basic training exercise movements. This means that the muscles used will be further developed since they will be more than adequately worked from all the possible angles of exercise application. This should increase both the size of these muscles and their density and shape, because you will be using dynamic movements which will completely develop and fatigue the muscle fibers. The density aspect of this exercise methodology will be caused by the complete contraction and extension of the exercise movements and in the manner in which they are performed.
Here then is your final, three day routine:
Partial Press in Power Rack: take fifty pound weight jumps and work up to all the weight you can move from the chin to the height of the eyes, for five reps. Power Clean From Hang: these should be done in sets of fives. Take regular jumps in weight until you are at the maximum weight you can rack for five reps. Olympic Back Squat: you should be taking fifty pound weight jumps until you reach a maximum of weight for three sets of three to five reps. Stiff Legged Deadlift: perform five sets of three to five reps using a medium heavy weight, concentrating on style and not solely on weight used.
Steep Seated Incline Press: after a few light sets for a thorough warm-up, take thirty pound weight jumps until you are at a weight you can handle for three reps. Work with this weight for five sets of three to five repetitions. Jerk Press From Rack: take fifty pound jumps and do sets of threes. Work up to all the weight possible for one heavy triple. Be sure to use correct style. High Pull: take a grip between the Clean and the Snatch grip and perform sets of threes. Taking conservative weight jumps, work up to a poundage heavy enough for three sets of three reps using good style and explosiveness. Front Squat: after a set or two for a warm-up take conservative weight jumps until you are at the appropriate weight for five sets of five reps using good upright style. Prone Hyperextensions: five to seven sets using reps of between eight and twelve.
Seated Press: after one or two sets for a warm-up, take thirty pound jumps and use a five repetition scheme. Work up to a maximum weight for five sets of three repetitions. Shoulder Shrug: take the bar from crotch height in the power rack. Take fifty pound jumps until you reach a maximum weight for five set of five to seven reps. Snatch Grip Deadlift: five to seven sets of three repetitions. Take fifty pound jumps and work up to a maximum set of three repetitions. Partial Front Squat: take the bar from the three quarter position in the power rack. Take fifty pound jumps and work up to a maximum set of five reps.
Three-Day Training split using Olympic Lift Variations
Partial military press (from chin to eyes) - 5 reps, taking large jumps to top set
Hang Cleans - pyramid to top set of 5
SLDL - 5x3-5 (focus on form, not weight)
High Incline - 5x3-5
Jerks - Work up to heavy triple
Clean Pulls – Work up to heavy triple
Front squat - 5x5
Hyperextensions - 5-7x8-12
Seated Military Press - 5x3
Snatch-grip Deadlift - 5-7x3
Partial Front Squats (starting at 3/4 position & going up) - work to top set of 5.
As can plainly be seen, while this routine does not contain the actual competitive lifts which the Olympic lifter uses in competition, the amount of assistance movements are most complete with the exception of the two lifts themselves. In other words, although the competitive two lifts are not included, the workouts are most complete from a developmental standpoint, with emphasis being placed on the muscles which are usually neglected in the usual training schedule.
Whether you have particular aspirations for the lifting platform or whether you are a “dyed in the wool” home trainee, you should really give these Olympic lift movements a decent chance in your schedule to see what changes they can make both in your lifting proficiency and in your muscular development. I am sure, given enough time and training energy, you will be amazed at your rate of progress. Your muscles will be developed from different angles than you are customarily used to experiencing. This may at first seem quite a bit hard and unusual but with patience and practice, you should be able to persevere to a level of capability otherwise unavailable to you, with the customary training routine you have become accustomed to following.
These Olympic assistance movements should not be overlooked by you, though your goals may be somewhat different than the Olympic lifter. For the powerman, the new ways of working the thighs and the lower back will open up new developmental vistas. For the all-around trainee, additional muscle growth is most assuredly guaranteed, with the muscles taking on a new, capable look which will add to your overall physical ruggedness.
Do not sell these movements short by limiting their supposed usefulness to the Olympic lift specialist for nothing could be further from the truth. I am sure, with the addition of all the heavy pulls, shrugs, and squats, your entire physical conditioning and mental outlook towards the value of this kind of training will be greatly changed, for the better I might add.