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Olympic Lifting: do you need it?

One of the things I find the most frustrating/confusing in high level sport is the pre-occupation with performing the Olympic weightlifting movements (clean and jerk, snatch, and the variations) for power development.

It has gotten to the point at which Power development in athletes is now almost synonymous with weightlifting.

If your sport is NOT Olympic weightlifting, please understand that your time could be better spent on other exercises that are far easier/quicker to learn, carry less injury risk, and that require far less coaching supervision.

There are several high-level athletic development coaches (Joe DeFranco, Louie Simmons, Tony Gentilcore to name a few) who don’t utilise the Olympic lifts in the training of their athletes, for various reasons, many of which I’ll outline below.

Now, if for some reason, you are an athlete that has superb technique in the snatch and clean and jerk, go ahead and use these movements and their variations to develop powerful triple-extension, (hip, knee, and ankle) move high loads with high velocity, and develop eccentric strength, co-ordination and stability in the catch phase.

However, if your technique isn’t superb, (yes I’m talking to you 99% of non-weightlifters I’ve ever known) then you aren’t developing powerful triple extension, in fact double extension is more accurate. You also aren’t able to move high loads with high velocity because technique is the limiting factor, and your catch phase is generally one of the least graceful things I’ve seen an athlete do.

So, if we aren’t actually getting any of the benefits we are purported to get from Weightlifting, what is the point? More importantly, what is the alternative?

Let’s look into what Power Development actually is to paint the picture better.

Power = Force x Distance/Time

So what we are trying to do by developing power in athletes, is to increase the force that we can produce, or reduce the amount of time it takes us to produce that force, or preferably both.

Simply put; more power means we do more work in less time, what this means for an athlete, is faster acceleration, higher jumps, faster changes of direction etc.

Now that we know why it’s important for athletes, what are the simplest and most effective ways to develop this quality?

Despite what some coaches would have you believe, there are a multitude of ways to increase power output.

Here are a few:

  • Jumps

  • single leg

  • for height

  • for distance

  • Weighted

  • Unweighted

  • Static

  • Plyometric

  • Individual

  • In series

  • Throws

  • Single arm

  • For height

  • For distance

  • Static

  • Plyometric

  • Individual

  • In series

  • Rotational

  • Sprints

  • Short sprints (10,20,30m)

  • Long sprints (100,100,400m)

  • Resisted running (pulling/pushing sled, band resisted, parachute)

  • Hill sprints

Within these there are also subgroups and variations, with nearly endless choices for variation and modification to suit your specific needs for power development.

The most common rebuttal I hear is that these exercises are too difficult to load safely, but I would wholeheartedly disagree.

Firstly with the notion that olympic lifts performed with average form are ‘safe’, and secondly I have personally seen and experimented with multiple effective methods of adding load, such as

  • sub-maximal squatting and deadlifting with accommodating resistance (using bands and chains on the bar) which will allow for high levels of acceleration and greater loads to be used far sooner than the olympic lifts.

  • loaded jump variations (hex bar jumps, dumbell jumps). These are teachable in about 10 minutes, and yield an almost identical if not superior triple extension (jumping) pattern to that of the snatch or clean.

In conclusion, I am not anti-olympic lifts, I think that olympic weightlifters are amazing athletes who display some of the most impressive levels of speed, power, strength, mobility, and muscularity seen anywhere in the sports realm.

The issue is, if you are reading this you probably aren’t an olympic weightlifter, you’re probably an athlete or a coach trying to figure out the best way to become more powerful on the field or court, or help your athletes do the same.

This is actually good news for you! It means you don’t have to spend 6 weeks working on technique with an empty bar before you can start moving enough weight to yield power development. You can start today, practicing skills that you already know how to perform (jump, throw, sprint) and start seeing results very quickly.

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