Olympic Weightlifting and Sports Performance Review

A Review by Spencer Arnold

Spencer is the owner of Power and Grace Performance and coaches multi-world team level athletes for USAW.

I love weightlifting and I love sports performance and I also love Dane Miller. So, when I saw that I could get all three things in one book at one time I was elated. Dane’s book on Olympic Weightlifting in sports performance gives a myriad of different coaches a different perspective on the application of the Olympic lifts to specific sport development. There are few coaches more qualified in the world to write this book than Dane. He is the rare breed of coach who works with world championship level athletes in multiple different sports. Personally, that’s a feat I’m still flabbergasted by. It’s hard enough to work with high-level athletes in one sport but multiple different sports is a different level of genius. His book does a good job of taking the finer points of the Olympic lifts and specifically creating variations for sports application. Dane applies the physiological benefit of Olympic Lifting in specific variance to meet sport demands and does so with a creative flair that only a multi-sport coach could accomplish. In this review I’m going to take a look at what’s good in the book, what’s bad in the book and where the quickest application points are from the book.

The Good:

The Olympic lifts can be an opportunity for coaches to flex their vocabulary and their overly technical approach to training. I’m just as guilty of that temptation as anyone. Dane has done a great job here of being coach-minded and practical in his approach to writing. There is not a ton of overly technical terminology and the book is not full of scientific research-related references. While each of those elements have their place in sports literature, this book specifically aims at practicality. Dane made sure to leave the technical and overly analytical jargon behind. That is not to say he does not know it nor could reference it at any time to back up his main points in the book but he chooses to be coach-minded instead. In a world full of coaches with big egos and overly technical language it’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t flex the author’s brain power but instead chooses to stay intentionally ground level.

Secondly, every single sport addressed in the book is done so with a specificity that I’ve seen in no other Olympic Lifting material. The way he addresses the demands of each specific sport and applies variations of the Olympic lifts to those demands has not been produced in literature to my knowledge. Let’s take swimming for example. I coach a few really high-level swimmers and my job as a strength and conditioning coach. However, I have never considered the elimination of the stretch-shortening reflex in a swimmers turn off the wall. Dean specifically addresses that sport demand in the way he forces swimmers to pause in the bottom of their cleans. His reasoning is simple. When a swimmer comes off-the-wall in a turn, they do not have the added benefit of utilizing the stretch reflex in their hips. Thus, they need to produce massive amounts of force to push from the wall but cannot use their hips like a sprinter or jumper would. This means a fast bounce out of the bottom of a clean, while massively important for other sports, lends very little benefit to a swimmer as they make turns each lap. So, Dean addresses this sport specific demand by having his swimmers pause in the bottom of their clean and stand up from a dead stop. Much like a swimmer has to apply force from an almost dead stop off-the-wall, this clean variation has great application to their performance.

Dean’s practicality combined with this level of sport specific variance makes the book worth the read all by itself. I could go on and on about each sport and ways in which he modified or tweaked exercises to meet sport demand but I think you get the picture. The best part of Dane’s book lies in that sport specific application. This creativity and keen awareness of sport demand makes the book worth the read all by itself.

The Bad:

Honestly it’s a bit of a stretch to find things that were necessarily bad with the book. However, no book is perfect. Likely the two things I found negative about the book come from my specific sports context. If you are an Olympic weightlifting coach, coaching in a private facility that utilizes all the Olympic lifts this book has absolutely zero downside. However, if you are a ground-based, Olympic biased strength and conditioning coach who operates inside an environment with multiple different sports in large group training some of the application of the book can be impossible. Both my reservations around the book revolve around that arena. I’m a high school strength coach with 175 athletes through my doors in a day. My first reservation to the application of the book revolves around trying to get 175 athletes to master a clean at all. That’s far more important than adding variance. We are much less concerned with the pause than getting fast, high elbows at the bottom of the squat or to move their feet than any other specific technical variety. While Dane’s variance makes sense and in relation to sport specificity seems to be dead on, they are impossible in a large group training environment with athletes who are not overly familiar with the Olympic Lifts. This is not a crack on the book, it just means the application of the book is bent and intended for specific scenarios in which the coach can have a much more hands-on daily approach to training.

The 2nd “negative“ portion of the book revolves a little around the programming aspects at the end of each chapter. Notably, Dane works with high-level, elite athletes. Specifically, he works with world championship and Olympic quality groups. That’s not the grouping of athletes I spend most of my time with. Therefore, a yearly plan that is geared towards the National Championships or Olympic qualifiers is miles away from what the yearly plan looks like for a high school multi-sport athlete. Further, his progression in and out of muscle size and strength work makes perfect sense for the developed athlete. However, the ninth grade boy who wants to grow into a college level football player needs a little different plan than that. Again, this is not really a crack on the book just a note on application. There is no possible way Dane could have fit into that book yearly training plans for every single scenario but for my scenario much of the programming and yearly planning doesn’t make much sense. That said, it’s my job as a strength and conditioning professional to take what is useful for the programming segment and apply it to my context. I assume Dane knows that.

Practicality:

At bare minimum, reading through this book will help weightlifting coaches think differently about the application of the Olympic lifts. This book challenges the strength coach to apply the grossly

beneficial element of the Olympic lifts in a far more sport specific manner. Understanding the demands and needs of your sport as well as the benefit of the Olympic lifts requires some creativity. Dane has done a lot of that thinking for you in this book.

Fundamentally, the Olympic lifts makes sense in most programs. There is just too much good to be had from them when performed well. That is the first step. If you are not using and applying the Olympic Lifts to your sports performance program start there. Find a great weightlifting coach near you, sit underneath that person and learn. Then take what you learn and apply it to your sports context. After that base is fundamentally rooted in the culture of your program this book becomes extremely useful. Dane challenges strength and conditioning coaches to step outside the lines of the normal in-season and out-of-season template training. He presses on strength and conditioning coaches to use their creative juices and apply the fundamentals in a far more specific manner.

I would recommend this book to all strength and conditioning professionals regardless of your philosophy. At a minimum he does a good job of challenging the everyday strength coach to be creative. At a maximum it can transform how you apply the fundamentals of the Olympic Lifts to your daily programming.

 

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