By just doing snatches and cleans can you really improve them significantly (30 lbs.) or is the Olympic squatting, etc. what will bring them up? I guess what I'm kind of asking is how much can you really improve your power without increasing absolute strength.
I depends on how strong you are.....
If you have an 80kg Back Squat doing only snatches and cleans might be a massive waste of time.
If you have a 200+ BS your plenty strong but if your technique on the lifts is off getting a bigger back squat might be a massive waste of time.
Like anything it depends on where the lifter is.
Yes you improve power output by not increasing absolute strength.
Take a 40kg-50kg power Snatch. Get on a forceplate and measure your power output. Do this after 3-6months training and you will be significantly more powerful. The Power Snatch has the highest reading out of any lift on a force plate in terms of power.
But if you train like an OLifter you will be squating and you will increase absolute power.
Also for a beginner it's a lot easier to improve power, speed and in the OLifts due to them being a new exercise and a lot of power will come through CNS adaptation.
You could also improve overall power by training to squat with speed. Most people grind up squats without any real speed and attack. They should be fast on the way up, but most just grind it up and they aren't use to accelerating the bar.
A beginner should be able to stack on at least 20-30kg on to their Snatch in the first year of training imo. I have a lifter (Regieski) who's gone from 57kg to 80kg with only 14 coaching sessions. His absolute maxes in his big 3
Back Squat: 160
are probably about the same, his back squat will be better for reps, but he hasn't done anything over 146kg front squat, not gone heavy back yet, more focus on his fronts, but a 146kg front squat is more impressive then a 160kg back squat any day of the week...his DL will probably less due to him not actually going heavy...he is starting to do Clean pulls with about 110kg, he's Cleaned 105kg. Not had him do any BP due to his flexibility issues at the start.
I don't see any reason why he can't do 90-95kg by the end of the ear.
It's all physics
Power = force * distance / time
To increase power you'd have to increase distance, reduce time, or increase force output in the same amount of time. Since the bar path should be consistent, distance remains unchanged. Therefore the only variable you can change is time and force.
This means to increase power, you must otuput a larger amount of force in a given amount of time, or move faster with the same force output. For example, my backsquat and deadlift have not gone up, but my clean has moved about 30kg. So my absolute strength has not increased, but the force outputted in the time span of the hip drive has gone up dramatically (a simplistic example).
To increase power the simplest way is to increase absolute strength. Since the force outputted during a movement is just a percentage of your absolute strength, you would have a higher force output in the same amount of time if your absolute strength went up. Another way is to just practice the movements themselves. The increased power in this case is the result of neural adaptions. Your brain can fire more muscle fibers in the same amount of time due to practice.
So there are two ways to increase your power. But to address your question, the first case would be ruled out since it is increasing absolute strength. How much you can increase power output with a fixed absolute strength would be a question of genetics at this point. Given practice is a neutral variable, then your CNS will ultimately determine how much power your body can output.
I've only done power cleans/squat cleans some. Did some in high school but never really trained them a whole lot. I had an Olympic lifting class last fall that we did some training in, but that was months ago and I don't know if it was really a "strenuous" class. We did cleans and all, but I don't think we trained them very hard.
I've been back into lifting for about 5 weeks now (after like 8 months of nothing) and my numbers are probably
300-310 1RM squat, ~330 1RM deadlift at 5'4" 145 lbs, ~10% BF
The most I've ever power cleaned is like 165 about 4 years ago (with similar maxes) and in the Olympic lifting class I squat cleaned 175. My form isn't really great (have trouble getting the hips fully extended and some other problems), but its better than some of the stuff you see in high schools (people spreading their feet really wide, etc.). I'm a pretty slow sprinter too, with about a 5.5 give or take 40 yard sprint.
Specifically for me, how much do you think I could add to my power clean (I'm guessing it's probably around 145 maybe 155 right now with mediocre form) in 3 months? 6 months? This isn't really realistic, but let's assume I have good enough form and I don't improve my absolute strength over those time periods. Really all I'm asking for is a guesstimate of how much I could increase my power just by doing cleans, like if it were a significant increase in power or if it would do some but I'd get more drastic improvements just by getting generally stronger. I've heard different arguments about this and want to see what the consensus here is. As I understand it, there are people that say that you can drastically improve your power by training the power lifts and that this is the best way to do it, while others say that the best way to improve power is to just improve absolute strength.
(I don't really know if I'm going to bother doing snatches, although they're a good movement. When doing 90%+ on them in that class my right shoulder, which is kind of a disagreeable shoulder anyway, kept subluxing at the top when I was holding the weight)
The easiest way to increase the olympic lifts would be increase absolute strength, but you can certainly add poundage by simply working on technique. Work closely with a coach on your weaknesses and you can greatly improve your lifts. Also consider that most accessory work can assist lifts while not technically contributing to absolute strength.
...while you are a beginner the weights in the Snatch/C&J will be light compared to what you are truly capable of doing. And you will sub-par weights for a while to learn the technique, but squat heavy to keep increasing your strength. Once your technique is decent and your maxes are actually heavy for you, then you move to do the Snatch/C&J with 80%-90% for sets (and if you feel good one particular day take the %'s higher). NEVERTHELESS you keep squatting heavy.
A coach will pin point your weak areas and put you on a program to get you strong and explosive fast. Note that it is the programing, consistent heavy lifting, and full recovering that progress is made. (2008 was a slack year for me so I didn't progress, and in 2009 I got lifted heavier but got stupid with injuries and lost weight the wrong way so my progress halted mid-year. It wasn't until January 2010 that I got with a new coach, plus I grew more consistent as a lifter. The result was progress was made once again)
So in conclusion....
...don't ever skip on Back squats/Front Squats. If you are short on time one day, do the squats and do them heavy for several sets.