Tip: Muscle Building Exercises for Weightlifters

Love the Olympic lifts but also want to look like you lift? Add these accessory moves to your plan.

Just Not Jacked Enough

Louie Simmons said that if a weightlifter was put on trial for lifting weights, the judge would dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

This gets a smile every time it's repeated. There is a grain of truth there and all weightlifting (Olympic lifting) fans know it. The competition lifts in weightlifting simply don't build muscle as readily as the training performed by powerlifters or bodybuilders.

And while the popularity of weightlifting has soared recently, the fact that top weightlifters don't look as "jacked" as their brethren in other iron sports is still an issue. I think this keeps the sport that I love from being as popular as it could and should be. Many, maybe even most, teens or 20-somethings not only want to BE strong, but they also want to LOOK strong.

Fans of the sport will spot the extra mass in the spinal erectors, upper back, thighs, and glutes that are the stamp of a weightlifting physique, but how can a weightlifter develop a little more of the muscles that tell the world at large that you lift weights?

Simply picking the right assistance exercises goes a long way. While weightlifters typically don't need to sport 20-inch guns like bodybuilders, there are some assistance moves that will improve your total while also making sure your arms don't look anemic.

Pull-ups and rows both build the back, which is never a bad idea for a weightlifter. Pull-ups hit the biceps and the long head of the triceps, and are actually one of the best bicep developers in existence.


Lifters following the PendlayWOD typically do between 2 and 4 sets of pull-ups once or twice a week. Rows usually hit more of the upper back. The traps and all the little muscles involved in retraction of the upper arm are used when performing Pendlay rows, which lifters that I coach do once or twice a week. We normally do the rows and pull-ups after the main exercises for the day.

Successfully catching the snatch or the jerk depends on your arms being strong enough to hold the weight overhead, but builds almost no size in the arms or shoulders. But a certain amount of strength and muscle in the arms is crucial if for no other reason than injury prevention. And lockout strength certainly won't be hurt by having more muscle in the shoulders and arms.

It can also help immeasurably if your lockout just happens to not be spot-on perfect. The military press or push press are assistance exercises that most believe positively effect a lifter's ability to jerk. I prefer the push press from either the front or behind the neck because it builds strength near the top of the movement where it's needed in the jerk.

Push presses can be done with either a clean or snatch grip, but the snatch-grip variety is usually done with the weight behind the neck.

So if your goal is to clean and jerk double bodyweight but you also want to look like you lift weights, make sure that you do push presses, pull-ups, and rows.

Typically 2-4 sets of each will add to your weightlifting total while also helping to make you actually look like you lift weights.

Glenn Pendlay is a Level-5 USA Weightlifting Coach, the USA's highest accreditation for Olympic lifting coaches. In 1992, Glenn met Russian coach Alexander Medvedyev while attending the Junior World Powerlifting championships in Moscow. Medvedyev invited him to remain in Russia where he would personally train him on the Olympic lifts. Glenn has produced over 90 national champions, over 20 medalists in international competition, and his athletes have broken as many as 10 American records in a single year. Follow Glenn Pendlay on Facebook Check out Glenn Pendlay Seminars