We Are Not Training Weightlifters

Have you ever heard the following statement, or a variation thereof?

“You should be building better <insert athlete type here>, not weightlifters”

I have. Many strength and conditioning coaches have heard it, and will probably continue to hear that statement. Strength and conditioning coaches might even use that statement.

On the surface I suppose, it seems logical. We are not trying to build better weightlifters. Due to reasons related to specificity (and if you read last week’s post, context), we want to tailor our training to specific athletes, in specific sports, in specific positions.

Great Britain's Zoe Smith

However, there is a TON of generality between different sports that matters a whole lot. This generality between sports is much more substantial than many people realize.

To illustrate this generality, let’s examine a few of the characteristics of good weightlifters.

  • High maximum strength (Stone et al., 2005)
  • High lower-body rates of force development against high loads (Haff et al., 2005)
  • High lower body power development with high loads (McBride et al., 1999)
  • High lower body power development with low loads (McBride et al., 1999)
  • Good starting strength in unloaded and loaded conditions (McBride et al., 1999)
  • Great jumpers (Vizcaya et al., 2009)
  • Good braking/yielding strength (they have to catch and negatively accelerate some seriously heavy barbells)
  • Good inter/intra-muscular coordination (they must rapidly develop force to elevate the bar, and immediately relax to get under the bar)
  • Good flexibility in ankles, hips, thoracic spine, shoulders
  • Good overhead stability in shoulder girdle
An example of both poor stability and flexibility... just kidding.
An example of both poor stability and flexibility… just kidding.

Can you name a single sport in which development of these characteristics in an athlete wouldn’t help?

I doubt it.

Athletes from all kinds of different sports benefit to a large extent from training somewhat similarly to weightlifters. Athletes should:

They should also be doing other more specific strength and conditioning work, but this should be in addition to the big lifts. The basics (see the list above) should make up the big rocks, the meat and potatoes, the bulk (whatever metaphor works for you) of an  athlete’s training. This is especially true with less trained athletes (translation: weak), who generally need a whole lot of basic development of strength and muscle mass.

The super-special unique snowflake sport stuff should be a small part of the whole training volume, especially so in the early part of an athletes exposure to strength and conditioning work.

Weightlifters can’t jump… or was it Woody Harrelson? I can’t remember.

To sum this all up: we are not training weightlifters. No siree. We are trying to build strong, fast, resilient athletes, and it just so happens that a lot of the training that weightlifters do helps us get there.



Haff, G. G., Carlock, J. M., Hartman, M. J., Kilgore, J. L., Kawamori, N., Jackson, J. R., … Stone, M. H. (2005). Force-Time Curve Characteristics of Dynamic and Isometric Muscle Actions of Elite Women Olympic Weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res, 19(4), 741–748. doi:10.1519/00124278-200511000-00004

McBride, J. M., Triplett-McBride, T., Davie, A., & Newton, R. U. (1999). A comparison of strength and power characteristics between power lifters, Olympic lifters, and sprinters. J Strength Cond Res., 13(1), 58-66.

Stone, M. H., Sands, W. A., Pierce, K. C., Carlock, J., Cardinale, M., & Newton, R. U. (2005). Relationship of maximum strength to weightlifting performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 37, 1037–1043.

Vizcaya, F. J., Viana, O., del Olmo, M. F., & Acero, R. M. (2009). Could the deep squat jump predict weightlifting performance? J Strength Cond Res, 23(3), 729–734. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a04dc3