Shock Effect: 3 Olympic Lifting Variations for Gains

Unexpected Hypertrophy Exercises

New Gains with Olympic Lifting

When it comes to hypertrophy, intelligently changing exercises is an effective way to spark new growth. And certain Olympic lifting variations work very well for this.

See, it becomes increasingly harder to keep stimulating adaptations (muscle growth) when your body becomes adapted to a type of stress. When you introduce a new exercise, a new type of muscle contraction, or a different way of training, your body has no choice but to adapt. Why? Because it's not efficient at that type of action yet.

At least for a while, the "shock effect" of a new training stress will set off the muscle-building process, even if that training stress isn't traditionally considered a bodybuilding exercise.

Why does this happen? Well, when you've become efficient in a movement, you develop good intramuscular coordination. The muscle fibers are better coordinated, and the load spreads over more of them. This results in less load per fiber, which leads to less muscle damage and growth stimulation.

But if your intramuscular coordination is bad, each fiber must handle a much greater load because they don't combine their effort efficiently. The result? More damage and growth stimulus.

If you're an experienced lifter, you're already efficient at most standard exercises. What you need now is a shocking new stimulus. Here are three snatch-related exercises that'll give you a novel stimulus. Do them for 4-6 weeks and you'll see renewed gains.

The three exercises below share one thing in common: they're derivatives of the snatch, which means they require you to use a snatch grip. A snatch grip is wider than the grip you typically use on exercises like the deadlift, bench, military press, and rows.

How wide? It'll depend on your arm length. And while there are many ways to measure the optimal length, I recommend using a grip that places the bar in the hip crease when your arms are straight. Those with very long arms will have to go collar-to-collar.

Snatching refers to lifting a bar from somewhere below your waist directly to the overhead position. It's traditionally an Olympic lift.

The muscle snatch is a good option for people who don't aspire to become Olympic lifters and simply want a novel growth stimulus. It'll teach you to use the whole body as one unit and help you develop healthier shoulders. Your feet never leave the ground, so it's easier to learn.

I recommend doing it from "the hang" or "from blocks" instead of lifting the bar straight from the floor, which is how you'd do a traditional snatch.

  • From the hang: Start in what looks like a finished deadlift position – standing up with your arms straight. Then lower the bar to anywhere from the hip (hip snatch), mid-thigh (high hang), around the knees (hang), or below the knees (low hang). From that position, lift the bar overhead.
  • From blocks: Instead of starting from the erect position and lowering the bar down to the starting position, the bar starts directly at the desired height, resting on blocks.

The muscle snatch from blocks or from the hang is the easiest Olympic lift variation to learn. It's even easier than the power clean because muscular, strong people tend to be more limited in the front rack position than in the overhead position, especially with the wide grip used in the snatch.

Don't allow yourself to do an improper rep if you want the most gains. Don't compensate with poor technique by hyperextending the back and punching the hips forward.

Also, don't turn it into a two-movement exercise – lifting the bar up to your face and then pressing it up. It must be one smooth motion with no grinding. For that reason, I like to use a higher volume. Don't go anywhere close to failure. Dominate each rep.

Do 4-6 sets of 5 reps with good form and acceleration.

Benefits

  • Great yoke builder
  • Gives you healthier shoulders
  • Trains the body to work as a unit
  • Trains explosiveness
  • Great introduction to the Olympic lifts

This will lead to impressive growth in the upper traps and upper back. Do it from the hang or from blocks if you're not an Olympic lifter. It's technically easier to learn and less neurologically demanding, yet you'll get the same results.

The hang variation will be slightly better for hypertrophy. The block variation will allow you to use a bit more weight and can be superior for strength and power development.

Do 4-6 sets of 5 reps with good form and acceleration.

How Will This Lift Get Me Jacked?

The main reason it works is through the stretch-mediated hypertrophy response. Stretching muscle fibers under load provides an effective growth stimulus.

This happens largely when you lower the bar in the high pull and when you initially explode with the weight. The latter is hard to see because the movement is so explosive.

In a proper high pull, this is the order in which the muscles make a significant contribution:

  1. Lower Back & Hamstrings
  2. Quads & Glutes
  3. Calves & Traps
  4. Delts & Arms

When the first two steps occur, there's a fast upward movement while the traps are in the lengthened position. This creates further stretch under high tension because the stretch reflex is activating the traps. Then they fire powerfully, creating a huge amount of tension from a stretched position.

That violent turnaround is the main reason the high pull produces a hypertrophy stimulus. In addition, you can't lower the weight slowly. So during the fast-lowering action, the traps once again become forcefully stretched while producing tension.

By the way, that's the reason why snatch-grip high pulls from the hang are superior for muscle growth, while the same exercise from blocks is more of a pure strength and power movement.

Benefits

  • Develops power like power cleans/snatches
  • One of the simplest whole-body power exercises
  • It's the Olympic lift variation best suited for hypertrophy
  • Builds traps

Let's first get one thing straight: a snatch-grip deadlift is not simply a traditional deadlift done with a wide grip. Here's the difference:

  • Traditional Deadlift: This is mostly a hinge pattern. The hips start a bit higher and further back, plus there's less leg flexion. You lift the bar up with a hinge motion, like in an RDL.
  • Snatch-Grip Deadlift: This is more of a squat than a hinge. If you have short legs and a long torso, it's almost exclusively a squat. If you have long legs, it'll become a hingy squat.

The point? The snatch deadlift uses different mechanics. In the starting position, your hips are low, and there's a lot of leg flexion. You lift the weight off the floor by extending the legs first and foremost. As you lift the bar off the floor, the torso angle shouldn't change until you pass the knees. When you do the snatch deadlift, control the eccentric and do it like a squat, not a hinge.

Some lifters might do it properly during the concentric, utilizing leg drive and a squat motion rather than a hinge. But then they bring the bar down to the floor as if doing a Romanian deadlift. Avoid this. If you need to reset on each rep, you're not lowering the bar down properly.

Because of the high postural component of the snatch deadlift, I don't like to use high reps. If you're using it for strength, sets of 3-5 reps are best. I don't like sets of 1-2 reps unless you can maintain solid form and not turn it into a hinge or a wide-grip traditional deadlift.

If you're using it as a hypertrophy tool, try 5-7 reps, but 8 is the most I'd recommend.

Benefits

  • Provides an alternative to the squat
  • Has a good carryover to the deadlift
  • Improves your snatch, power snatch, and muscle snatch
  • Give your traps some stimulation
  • Reveals your deadlift weak links
  • Strengthens your grip if you don't use straps

Use these three lifts if you're looking to maximize hypertrophy and power or athletic development. They'll spark new growth when more traditional approaches have stopped leading to significant progress. They can also be fun to do and reignite your motivation.

One thing is certain: If you take the time to learn them, you'll fall in love with at least one of them.

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.