This is a debate I’ve seen going for a while now between strength coaches and personal trainers. Some believe that Olympic Weightlifting (Clean and Jerk and Snatch) is a fantastic tool for developing explosive power in athletes and others believe they’re unnecessary or too complicated to teach to any athletes who are not competing in Olympic lifting. If you’ve read this blog at all then you’ll know that my brother and I are huge fans of Olympic lifting. Not only do I think they have a huge upside and benefit for athletes but I think it would be great to see more individuals get involved in the sport itself, whether it be kids or adults.
First off, I’m only describing the benefits to using Olympic lifts with athletes as long as you’re with them for a decent amount of time and if you have the facility for it. You’d be surprised how well they can learn within only a few sessions so it’s not like you need to be with these athletes for years. I’m also not saying that you definitely HAVE to do Olympic lifting, just that you’d be smart to include them in your programming with most athletes – assuming you’re qualified to coach/teach them.
One of the biggest (and worst) excuses as to why people don’t use the Olympic lifts is that they don’t have the positioning or mobility for it. I can’t stand that one. This should be a gift as a strength coach; it should be an opportunity to identify a weakness and correct it. If you’ve identified poor shoulder range of motion, the inability to hold the bar in the rack position, or God forbid, the inability to get to the bottom of a deep squat position then these athletes would benefit from addressing these things immediately. These things aren’t just benefits for Olympic lifters, these things are weaknesses if you knowingly allow them to plague your athletes. Using the Olympic lifts not only builds explosive power, but also reinforce good mobility and helps build shoulder stability. It’s also a great tool for building up the nervous system and developing coordination, in Olympic lifting you need to turn on that explosive burst at just the right time, not unlike many other sports.
Another common reason to avoid using Olympic lifts is that you don’t “Need” to do them to develop power in athletes. This is true, I can’t argue against that. One could include lots of Plyometrics in their programming and still develop power. The question is more about efficiency, why would you knowingly avoid an exercise when you know that it is one of the BEST ways to develop power. It’s also true that you don’t NEED to squat to develop leg strength, but you won’t see me take them out of my programs anytime soon. If you’ve ever lifted weights then you’ll know how much more work you do just by trying to lift the weights a little faster. Now think of the clean and jerk – I’m going to over simplify it here – you rip the weight off the floor and throw it as high as you can so you can catch it and then accelerate it over your head. How would that NOT develop explosiveness? Here’s a quotation from famous Olympic lifting coach Bob Takano, “Any Athlete or Coach interested in developing optimal power must look to the methods of the weightlifters for the most effective strategies in the training of explosive athleticism” (Takano, Bob, coaching optimal technique in the snatch and clean and jerk Part 1). In fact, many elite athletes do focus on the Olympic lifts for their power development. One of the most pure expressions of power in sport is bobsleigh, 4 (or 2) athletes push a sled as hard and as fast as they can for an extremely short distance. In their training, they incorporate the Olympic lifts quite a bit, just like skiers and sprinters to name a few more (eg., Cody Sorensen below).
You see, just because something is difficult to learn, doesn’t mean it’s not worth teaching. The whole point of teaching athletes the techniques and skills early is so they can progress and use large weights with these lifts. This is where the real benefit comes, moving high weights at high speeds. Any athlete can power clean or power snatch with tens on each side, but true power development comes with large weights – relative to your body mass. If you’ve done physics in high school then you’ll recognize the equation: F=MA (“Force equals Mass times Acceleration”). Let’s do a simple calculation, if you give the mass and acceleration an arbitrary number of 1, F=1×1=1 . If we double the mass and the speed, F=2×2=4, we can see that the force is 4 times higher. Thus, if we can have our athletes comfortable enough with the olympic lifts to really start to progress to heavier weights, we can have our athletes generating incredible forces during training which will then increase their output in competitions.
Let’s be smart coaches and start to utilize the athletic potential with our athletes. If we only do slow strength movements, our strength will increase but it wont necessarily give us more power output, utilizing the olympic lifts will increase power production and teach athletes to generate high forces.
(Graham and Candace ARE NOT Razor’s Edge Performance supported athletes, but their performances are none the less impressive. They both train at FITS.)
Now let’s get on a platform and go hit some new PRs!