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Two Exercise Workout

Hi CT,

I was reading your article on the two exercise workout for size with my favourite lifts being the deadlift and overhead press.

You mentioned that those lifts would neglect the chest, biceps and quads, so would a trap bar deadlift be a good replacement for the straight bar as it is more quad dominant?

And I guess dips and chins could take care of the chest and arms.

Thanks for your knowledge.

Yep, trap bar deadlift (or deadlift), overhead press as primary and dips, chins as secondary is a solid program.


Wouldn’t you think that cleans would be a better single exercise developer than the deadlift or trap bar?

You won’t build much muscle with cleans and they don’t provide much stimulation to the quads if that’s important to you. Very little eccentric component.

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As it was mentioned, the clean/power clean is not a great muscle-building movement. Especially not when someone is not super technically efficient and is limited in how much weight he can lift by his technical efficiency, or power, rather than strength.

A good illustration is to go to an olympic lifting meet. You will not see many muscular physiques on the platform. Heck, even in international competitions less than 10% of the physiques are above what you would consider average in most commercial gyms. Sure, most have muscular legs, but it comes mostly from all the squatting that they do.

The main triggers of muscle growth are:

  1. having the muscle fibers under a lot of tension while they are lengthening than contracting (shortening). In the olympic lifts, you simple do not maintain the high tension in the primary muscles for most of the rep and you do not really lengthen/stretch the fibers under a high level of tension, especially if you do a power clean instead of a clean.

  2. Having the muscles reach a high level of stretch under tension. This only really happens in the quads and traps when you do the olympic lifts, and only if you do the full squat lifts (for quads).

I’ll go back to my competitive weightlifting analogy. Even on the world stage, very few lifters have impressive physiques (Xiaojun and a few chinese lifters, Klokov a few years back and some lifters in the lighter weight classes who give the illusion of size by coming absolutely shredded to make weight). But for each of these physiques you have 10 that barely look like they lift while the can clean 400-500lbs… and many are on steroids! How much muscle will you build by cleaning 150-250?.

By the way the Chinese lifters, who sport the most muscular physiques among lifters, are known for doing a of bodybuilding work on top of their weightlifting training. Dips, chins, curls, lateral raises, rowing, etc. They also do a lot more pulls and deadlifts than most other lifters. This is most likely the cause for their muscular physique.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE the clean and snatch. I competed in weightlifting. But the olympic lifts are a poor choice for hypertrophy. I’m not saying that they have no effect. When you first start doing them at a decent level it can lead to some muscle gain simply because of the novelty of the stimulus. But that doesn’t last long.

Please allow me to explain a little further why I saw cleans as a great exercise:

With about four years of weightlifting under my belt, I joined a gym that had Olympic weights. The guys I worked out with started doing the Olympic lifts. I was 6’0" with long legs and did a horrible version of a front squat. We did this for about six weeks and we lost interest, but I continued with the clean as part of my shoulder routine (the second exercise after the overhead press).

The clean I used was what we called a hanging clean. Once I pulled the bar off the floor for the first rep, it never touched the ground until I completed the set. As you know it is power that gets the bar high enough to get your arms under it. (I did no version of a squat or split during the movement, though I did use calves as part of the explosion.) The negative was pretty much plyometric in action.

By the time I got my weight up to 225lbs for 8 reps, I was weighing around 200lbs. Then our little group decided to powerlift. One of the guys had competed in some powerlifting meets, therefore he was pretty much our coach.

This was the mid-1970’s and training was much different than it is now. When I say nobody deadlifted in any gym I had been to, I mean NOBODY deadlifted, apart from pulling the weight off the ground to do another exercise, e.g., press, curl, row, or in my case clean.

Our “coach” showed us the traditional style deadlift, and he warned that we might not do too well at first. On that day I pulled 455lbs. I believe that it was the power I obtained doing hanging cleans that gave me that initial strength.

I tend to believe that the plyometric “negative” of the hanging clean built size. I will admit it might have been everything else that I did.

I should add that could see no situation where I would limit my weight training to 2 or even 4 exercises. But if I could do only 3, they would be squat, bench press, and hanging cleans.

The hang clean is a bit better than a regular clean and I absolutely agree that the “explosive/plyometric” lowering is a stimulus for growth (which is something that I said when I recommend snatch-grip high pulls from the hang for hypertrophy).

I also agree that doing the olympic lifts can strengthen the muscles involved in the deadlift and help you get decent numbers there.

When I competed in weightlifting I could hang power clean 345 x 5 reps and deadlift 600lbs without training the deadlift.

But it is not an exercise that I consider a great. way to build size.

And as I said, I LOVE the exercise. I’ve used it when I was playing football, then competed in weightlifting (best snatch of 142.5kg/315lbs and best cleab & jerk of 165kg/363lbs). I also used it with hundreds of athletes,

It’s a great lift for athletes, builds a lot of power, some strength and some hypertrophy (mainly in the traps, some upper mid back and some arms) but I would not put it high on the list of the most efficient lifts to develop muscle size.

I wrote this article about why the olympic lifts are not efficient for size:

And this one about how you can make the olympic lifts a bit better for size development (including doing lifts from the hang instead of from the floor).

This one is related too…

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