Weightlifting and Physique

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Let’s face it: you’re probably not that good.

I don’t mean that in a mean way, mind you. You’re probably average. That’s just how numbers work. On the upside, that already puts you way ahead of me as a weightlifter. On the downside, you’re probably not going to the Olympics.

So what does that mean for your training?

In my experience, most people who aren’t going to be internationally competitive weightlifters figure it out at some point, and sometime after that, they realize that maybe they should change something. That maybe there is a way to train that allows them to train the lifts they love, but also have a reasonable focus on a more common goal – to get jacked. They may even realize that training like this most of the time will let them stay physically healthier in the long run. And, something that is rarely brought up in articles like this one: it might make them happier, too.

If you haven’t reached that stage yet, this article is not for you. If you’ve figured out that you’re more likely to look like Klokov than lift like Klokov, keep reading.

This is not a bodybuilding program.

If I ever try to write you a bodybuilding program, slap me. Not because there’s anything wrong with bodybuilding programs. I’m just not a bodybuilding coach. I don’t know anything about the right balance of bicep to tricep, or symmetry, or, as you know if you have met me in person, tanning. What I do know about is exercises that will get you strong, and good at the snatch and clean & jerk.

Something else I know about, thanks to my penchant for turning down invites to social occasions to stay home and watch The YouTubes, is just how much variety there can be in a training program that still makes you good at weightlifting. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and we could bicker endlessly about which “system” of training is best, I think it’s at least safe to say that the Russians and Bulgarians have both produced amazing weightlifters, despite some very big differences in how their respective training schemes are generally perceived.

However, the Russians are definitely more jacked, and it seems reasonable to say that it’s due to the variety of exercises they do, and the much greater volume of assistance work.

First, we’ll discuss the role of our three principle modes: the classic exercises and their variations, major strength exercises, and assistance work.

The Snatch and Clean & Jerk

If you want to improve the snatch and clean & jerk, you have to snatch and clean & jerk, heavy and often. That’s no different here than in any other program I’d suggest. However, for the purposes of this template, I’m going to recommend training the snatch and C&J on separate days except for Friday, with multiple variations and assistance exercises. Complexes will be heavily utilized, as the time under tension lends itself well to hypertrophy. Training sessions will typically end with an assistance exercise for the day’s lift which will assist in physique development.

Major Strength Lifts

Nothing earth shattering here. Lots of heavy squatting, pressing, and pulling. A few differences you’ll see here from the type of template I would typically write for a pure weightlifter:

1) More common usage of higher reps. For obvious reasons, I think.

2) More heavy pressing. Particularly, more strict pressing than I would usually program, as I feel that a lot of strict pressing can interfere with the development of the jerk, especially if you’re unathletic like me.

3) More heavy pulling exercises. Typically the volume of lifts in my programs is high enough that I don’t feel there’s a need for a ton of heavy pulling. But,  if you want to be Backrocked Obama, it helps to pick up heavy stuff from the floor, a lot.

Assistance exercises

These fall into two categories: specific assistance and general assistance.

Specific assistance exercises are those which are designed for the purpose of improving strength, confidence, and position in the classic exercises. For this template, I have tried to choose exercises which will also help you catch a sweet pump.

General assistance is everything else. I don’t really organize things by muscle group, but this is where you would put those things. High rep kettlebell pressing (SICK delt pump, trust me,) rows, hamstring exercises, and the like fit into this mold.

Schedule and Template


Snatch variations

Snatch assistance

Back Squat

Pressing/Pulling Assistance


Clean & Jerk variations

Heavy Pressing OR Jerk from blocks

Heavy Pulling

Low back/abs/hams


Snatch variations

Snatch assistance

Front Squat

Pressing/Pulling Assistance



Clean & Jerk

Pressing/Pulling Assistance/Bro Session

Low back/abs/hams


Clean & Jerk variation

Back Squat

Heavy Pressing

Heavy Pulling

NOTE: By manipulating rep ranges and exercise selection, this program could be used to train and taper for a meet. However, that task exceeds the scope of this article. As such, the below recommendations are meant solely for someone who is just training the lifts for fun while trying to get Duplex Double Stacked.

Exercise Selection

This table is in no way all-inclusive. It’s just a list of the common exercises I use, for general strengthening and assistance, apart from the obvious (back squat and front squat.) Below the table, I have included descriptions and/or videos of exercises which may not be familiar to you.


Heavy Pulling

Heavy Pressing

Pulling Assistance

Pressing Assistance


Low Back


Back Squat, 3-5 second pause at bottom

Snatch grip Russian deadlift

Push Press (front or behind)

Pullup/Chin (vary grip width)

Kettlebell press in dip position (vary bilateral, unilateral,, alternating)

Glute Ham Raise

Back Extension

Planks (front and side)

Front Squat, 3-5 second pause at bottom

Russian deadlift from deficit


Pendlay Rows

Incline dumbbell press

The Death March

Back Raise

Hollow Rock

1 ¼ back squat

3 pause clean deadlift

Snatch grip push press

Dumbbell Row (any variation)

Bar or ring dip

One legged Romanian Deadlift

Snatch grip back extension

Weighted Situp (vary position of load)

1 ¼ front squat

3 pause snatch deadlift

Klokov Press (snatch grip press from behind-the-neck)

Supine Row

Standing dumbbell press (vary bilateral, unilateral, alternating)

Leg Raises (hanging and lying, all directions)

Back squat from pins

Romanian deadlift

Close grip bench press


Seated dumbbell or kettlebell press (vary bilateral, unilateral, alternating)


Front Squat from pins

Snatch grip Romanian deadlift

Plank Walk

Russian Deadlift: I didn’t come up with this name. It was called this by a friend of mine, who’s coach is an actual Russian, so.  Anyway, it’s stiff legged deadlift done with a very low chest, level with or even slightly below the hips. These can be done with a snatch or clean grip, and I really like doing them from a deficit.

Three Pause Snatch/Clean Deadlift: Starting from a deficit, pause for a 2 count at your start position (when the bar is level with the top of the platform you’re standing on – your weight should still be forward on your feet, shoulders more or less directly over the bar,) again when the bar is just below the knees (the weight has shifted to the heels, the shins are vertical, and the shoulders are in front of the bar) and again at the hip (snatch) or upper thigh (clean) BEFORE transitioning into the power position (the weight is still in the heels, the knees have not moved forward under the bar, the shoulders are still slightly forward of the bar.)

Kettlebell Press in Dip Position: Using one or two kettlebells, move into your dip position for the jerk, keeping a strong chest, flat back, and weight in your heels. Maintaining this position, press. I find this helps me feel strong in the dip with heavy weights. I’m also not a big kettlebell guy, but this is one exercise I actually prefer them for, because you can rack them deeper. I like alternating most, but all variations are good.

The Death March:

Snatch Grip Back Extension: Holding the bar in your hands with the width you snatch from, do a back extension, and use the lats to sweep the bar into the hips as you ascend.

Go forth, sling kilos, and get  jacked.

Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, and the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA.


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