Turn to combination training for max power conditioning
By Buck Blackwood MS, CSCS

Is your workout stale and in need of a change of pace?  Or not enough time in the day to train?  If your answer is yes, combination training may provide the solution.  Combination lifts have had wide use among weightlifters but has received little attention elsewhere.  This relatively unknown method of training can benefit all strength and power athletes by providing explosive, sport-specific movement patterns that are efficient and produce results

By definition, combination lifts are the summation of two or more multi-joint exercises or movements trained in one set.Combination lifts differ from traditional lifting in that you perform two or more exercises without any rest for the set.For example, a traditional workout may call for 4x4 in the squat clean, then 4x4 in the front squat. By performing a combination lift you perform a squat clean followed by a front squat without putting the bar down. This would account for one repetition and you would complete four more to complete a set.

In the execution of a combination lift, then, a set of four in the squat clean-to-front squat combination would actually turn out four squat cleans and four front squats.Make no mistake about it; this style of training is for the highly motivated and serious athlete who's looking to increase his or her conditioning to the highest level.


You can see where this type of training can be of immense benefit to not only an athlete like a football player or wrestler because of the recurring explosiveness of this type of training that's similar to the sport, but also strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongman competitors. In the sport of powerlifting, particularly at high-level meets, you take your attempts very quickly and once you're done with the squat you have to almost immediately get ready for the bench press and the same holds true for the deadlift. It's not uncommon that you'll be done with warm-ups and competition in three hours. And for the strongman competitor, this type of training is maybe even more beneficial because so many of the events are based not only on strength, but also on endurance. Imagine walking with an 800 pound yoke for 100 feet in the fastest time possible or pulling a truck. You can see where applying the concept of specificity makes sense and where combination lifts is a sport-specific method of training.

Power athletes also require explosive dexterity to be successful in their respective sport.Combination lifts train synchronous movement patterns involving the whole body and thereby significantly enhance overall coordination, timing, and the all important element of ground reaction force (1). For example, a combination like the snatch + back squat + push press requires you to perform multiple exercises in a coordinated and powerful manner.By combining explosive pulling, pressing, and squatting movements, this style of training simulates fluid explosive movement patterns that are essential for sporting success.


Before you jump into combination training, you need to give some thoughts as to why you want to incorporate this type of training into your existing program and what the goals of combination training should be. In general, the goals include (2)

  • Improved neuromuscular coordination
  • Increasing the workload and intensity of your training
  • Stimulating your muscles to the max
  • Increasing cardiovascular benefits of free-weights
  • Creating a dynamic and efficient workout

In your selection of lifts choose those that emphasize basic explosive, pulling, pressing, and squatting movements. The basis for these combinations is the explosive Olympic-style movements, the snatch and clean and jerk.Other exercises may be substituted, but it's important to always include ground-based total body movements that are performed explosively. And by varying exercise selection and combination of patterns, you can design a dynamic and challenging workout. Here are but two examples of combination lifts with technique tips (4).

Clean + Front Squat + Jerk

First: Execution of the clean requires you to first extend the legs, then the body upward in an explosive movement, finally shrugging the shoulders and rising up on the balls of your feet before pulling under the bar and receiving it at the shoulders.Upon catching the barbell continue into the bottom position followed by returning to a standing position.

Second: Maintain a good rack of the barbell with your elbows high and torso erect, then descend into the bottom position of a front squat and return to a standing position.

Third:Return to a hip-width stance, maintain or adjust the racked barbell if needed, your chin should be tucked in, bend your knees to a quarter squat position and explode by extending your knees and getting onto the balls of your feet, followed by pushing under the barbell and landing in a split position. That's your rep; you should re-set to the start position of the clean and continue with the prescribed reps until the set is complete. Then you can rest.

Snatch + Back Squat + Push Press

First: The width of your grip in the snatch is wider than in the clean.Execution of the snatch requires you to first extend the legs, then the body upward in a powerful movement, finally shrugging the shoulders and rising up on the balls of the feet before pulling under and pushing up hard against the barbell.Upon catching the barbell in an overhead position, continue into the bottom position followed by returning to a standing position.

Second: Lower the barbell with control into a back squat position and complete a deep squat.

Third: Return to a hip-width stance and maintain a snatch grip, keeping your trunk upright, dip and bend the knees followed by a powerful extension driving the bar vertically as high as possible. That's your rep followed by re-setting to the start position of the snatch and continue with the prescribed reps until the set is complete. Then you can rest.

Both combination examples detail an overly simplified progression of movement patterns.As with any highly technical athletic skill, proper performance of the exercises is essential to both the safety and success of the combination.Hands-on coaching of the Olympic-style lifts is mandatory.Finally, any successful system of training requires consistent implementation to produce results.


The equipment required for combination training can be found in any well equipped facility for weightlifting: platforms, bumper plates, and high quality "Olympic" bars.Dumbbell combinations may also be used to train around certain upper-body injuries or improved unilateral training.

Especially useful during the competitive phase of training or high volume training cycles, combination lifts should be limited to three or four complex movements per workout.This is carried out 2 or 3 days a week using no more than 6 repetitions per set.Do not implement more than 6 repetitions per set because the movements should be explosive.Sets should range 2-4 depending on how many separate combinations are being trained.Manipulate intensity by selecting a resistance that allows completion of the full number of required repetitions using perfect technique.Always make technical proficiency the determining factor when increasing the weight.

The choice of different combinations is limited only by your imagination to match the movements in the weight room to those performed in competition.Initially, an athlete's physical condition and technical proficiency will limit the degree of difficulty.

First, practice the Olympic-style lifts separately (i.e., clean, jerk, and snatch).Then, add basic exercise combinations with no more than two complex movements like the clean and jerk.As with any strength training program, adaptation will occur, thus progressive combinations with multiple complex movements are needed to challenge an athlete's skill and physical condition.Again, always make technical proficiency the determining factor when designing complex variations.Last, program design should avoid training combinations exclusively; include specific exercises to address muscle balance and injury prevention.

Combination lifts are ideal for in-season training or a new approach to that stale workout.Time, effort, and acceptable strength levels can be maintained with this style of training.However, be warned combination training isn't for the faint of heart.


Armstrong, D.F.Combination lifts for in-season training.National Strength and Conditioning Journal 16(4):14-16.1994.

Javorek, I.S.The benefits of combination lifts. National Strength and Conditioning Journal 20(3): 53-57.1998.

Javorek, I.S.General conditioning with complex I and II. National Strength and Conditioning Journal 10(1): 34-37.1988.

Jones, L.Club coach manual.Colorado Springs, CO.U.S. Weightlifting Federation 1994.

Morris, B.Practical experience of multiple weightlifting competitions. National Strength and Conditioning Journal 10(4):44-45.1988.

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