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institute of iron
I’ve been thinking I should start doing some cardio.

My doctor told me I should. I think he said it would help me avoid death or something like that. But the whole idea doesn’t make any sense to me, because doing cardio makes me wish I was dead anyway. So what’s the point?

I probably wouldn’t need to do much of it. Absolutely anything would be an improvement over what I’m doing now. I could jog to the end of my yard and back, and that would be a dramatic increase over my current cardio routine. Jeez…that seems like a lot of work, now that I think about it.

There are a few reasons why I don’t do cardio, and they aren’t pain or laziness. I’m fine with pain and I’m sure as hell not lazy.

Cardio isn’t good for weightlifters, you see. Now, before you get your little twizzer tweaked, make sure you understand who I’m talking about when I say “weightlifters.” I’m referring to people who are full-time competitive Olympic lifters. I’m not talking about CrossFitters or strength generalists. These people generally do a lot of cardio, and that’s fine. It fits in with what they’re trying to accomplish.

If you’re an Olympic lifter, however, cardio shouldn’t be part of your training unless you’re in some kind of down-time phase when your squats and competition lifts aren’t going to be too challenging. Or if you’re trying to drop a weight class (which is rarely a good idea for a competitive lifter anyway), cardio might be a necessary addition. Aside from rare situations like this, cardio and OLifting don’t mix well.

I’m not just throwing out some random opinion, either. I’ve been an Olympic lifter for over twenty years and I’ve trained with several athletes who were world-level competitors, in addition to being a top national contender myself. I’ve never known a successful weightlifter who included cardio as any significant part of their program.

Cardio adds some fatigue to your body, usually your lower body specifically. Your squat workouts aren’t going to forgive this. Every step you run and every pound you shed when you’re doing cardio…you’re going to pay for it when you put your hands on that barbell.

Again, I’m not talking about people who are incorporating Olympic lifting into their CrossFit workouts or whatever. That’s a different situation entirely.

Some of you might be reading this and saying, “This is a bunch of crap. I go to weightlifting meets and see athletes who are hitting big weights, and I know they do cardio.” Yeah, okay. But you need to remember that you’re probably talking about local meets with local competitors. I’m not belittling anybody or disrespecting people who compete at the local level, mind you. I’m saying that when you move up to national-level meets (especially if you want to make a run at getting some medals at those meets), you have to do things differently.

Lifters who do cardio usually have a pretty close gap between their snatch and clean and jerk. I’m talking about guys who snatch 93 kilos and clean and jerk 115, something like that. Or 105/125 maybe. Since I’ve been going to local meets and seeing a lot of CrossFit guys competing over the last few years, I’ve noticed this quite a bit. A properly developed male athlete who trains specifically for Olympic weightlifting should have a minimum gap of thirty kilos between the snatch and clean and jerk. If you can snatch 110 kilos, you should be able to clean and jerk 140. If you can snatch 130, you should be able to clean and jerk 160. And thirty kilos is the minimum. It’s usually higher than that for elite lifters. You can look at national/world competition results and you’ll see what I mean. For women, it’s closer to twenty kilos. A woman who can snatch 60 should be able to clean and jerk around 80, etc.

You’ll see an occasional high-level lifter with a closer gap than this because some people are just much more talented in the snatch than the clean and jerk, and the lightest class lifters sometimes have smaller separations. But aside from these particular examples, the standard minimum gaps are around what I mentioned for full-time competitors.

If the gap between an athlete’s competition lifts is much closer than what I stated, it likely means they don’t have the strength level necessary for big clean and jerks. Snatches are a blend of speed, strength, and athleticism, so lifters who have these qualities can often snatch well. The clean and jerk requires these same traits, but it’s much more connected to plain old horsepower than the snatch is. You’ve gotta be a strong son of a buck to hit big clean and jerks. Lifters who devote a lot of attention to cardio just aren’t going to end up with the necessary lower body strength for this. Their lower body energy is going into running or biking instead of squatting.

Newbies and intermediate lifters don’t totally fit in with this analysis for two reasons: A) they’re going to make progress regardless of anything because they’re so new and B) they probably haven’t mastered the snatch yet anyway, so their snatch numbers will be down.

Am I dissing people who do cardio, saying that they’re not hard-working lifters with respectable lifts? No.

Am I saying it’s impossible to make progress in the OLifts while including cardio in your training? No.

Are there elite weightlifters anywhere in this world who include cardio as a significant part of their training? I don’t know, maybe. I’ve never heard of any.

At the end of the day, am I saying cardio is evil? No, not at all. I just think it’s something you have to avoid if you want to be an elite weightlifter. As I said, it all depends on the demands of your goals.

I figured this would be a timely post since Thanksgiving is coming up and we’re all going to eat until we hyperventilate. I guess that’ll be my cardio for the week…lying on my couch with a distended abdomen and sweat beads on my forehead, sucking in deep breaths like a carp on a sidewalk. Now that’s a workout I’m looking forward to.
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