Should Athletes Olympic Lift for Sports Performance?
In the world of strength and conditioning, in the world of sports performance training, there are multiple different camps. There are the camps that say do bodybuilding, and then there are the camps that are anti-bodybuilding because isolating joints is somehow bad. There are also the powerlifting camps that are all about the box squats and want to make sure the knees aren’t passing the toes, keeping the shins nice and vertical. Then there is the Olympic weightlifting group who think that doing powerlifting and bodybuilding makes coaches horrible people. Not true.
We tend to be in the Olympic weightlifting camp, but we don’t think coaches who have people deadlift are horrible people. Off the bat, we want to say that the Olympic weightlifting movements are incredibly valuable for sports performance. Let’s start by saying that Olympic weightlifting is the snatch, clean and jerk--the competitive movements. In addition, any variation of those movements fall into that realm as well: no brush snatch, 2 box snatch, power clean, hang clean, behind the neck jerk, push press, power jerk, and a slew of other movements. Reflexive work such as a power snatch to a box to try to train a specific reflex, such as the stumble reflex or cross extensor reflex, are all movements and aspects we consider part of the Olympic weightlifting realm. It is the competitive movements, but the variations and reflexive movements are included under this umbrella.
Why are the Olympic movements so effective?
Coaching In Uncomfortable State And Rapidly Understanding A Means Of Learning
Coaches are able to rapidly understand how athletes learn by teaching and watching them coordinate the Olympic weightlifting movements. Coaches hate to repeat cues because it creates an uncomfortable state; it becomes mundane. It is hard. A key behind developing champions is saying the same things over and over again. Being persistent with technical advice is a key component.
If we are teaching an athlete how to perform a snatch or clean, whatever it is, coaches can rapidly understand how they learn. Instead of being self-conscious about an athlete’s struggles with the movement and the cues, take a step back and engage with the skills of understanding people and internal reactions to seeing how the athlete is struggling. Notice the mobility issues the athlete is demonstrating. Notice the means of coordination the athlete is struggling with. Notice if the athlete learns through an auditory, visual, or through a manner of feeling.
Now, within one or two sessions, the coach can learn how the athlete learns. This is a key component behind developing athletes long-term. As a coach, devise a program with personal cues based on individual athletes. The Olympic lifts are technical lifts and are hard. But, using it as a teaching tool to help with learning as a strength coach, it can expedite the process of all of the training.
When we hear Division 1 strength coaches say they don’t use Olympic weightlifting because “It’s too hard,” is pathetic. They’re not good coaches. It’s a travesty. In essence, coaches who say the Olympic lifting movements are too hard are admitting they are not good enough. It’s absolutely absurd at that level.
Realize that rapid technical coordination is paramount. With the Olympic lifts, there is a static muscle action, an isometric muscle action right off the floor--the athlete will get tension into the bar. Next, there will be dynamic muscle action with the pull. There is concentric muscle action as the bar makes contact off the hips. Now the athlete goes to catch and has to absorb a ton of energy. Absorbing a ton of energy transfers very well to the athletic realm. The athlete learns how to absorb force and reuse it. So the athlete is in an eccentric state for a brief period and they create a stretch-shortening cycle out of the bottom position, using absolute strength to stand up. That is technical coordination. Technical muscular actions firing from all these different means of recruitment all at once. It transfers tremendously well because the body’s skills are being trained to absorb force, utilize the stretch-shortening cycle, to be reflexive.
The body is learning skills that are very difficult to learn. The body struggles if it is not trained enough. Technical coordination is paramount.
Mobility & Positional Explosiveness
Training mobility using the Olympic lifts is easy. For instance, when catching a clean in-the-hole, athletes have to have their knees travel past their toes. It has to happen. Let’s face it, human beings who run, go up hills, up and down steps, their knees track over their toes. It is okay for the knees to track over the toes. It improves ankle mobility. It improves hip mobility and thoracic spine mobility. It teaches positional explosiveness.
We can train positional explosiveness based on sports. For instance, training a linebacker with a two-block clean is an excellent variation of the Olympic lifts to be utilized to train positional explosiveness.
Development Of All Populations
A lot of athletes and coaches love to pick one-off situations. They see this one successful athlete doing a one-off movement. It is not effective to pick one-off situations. What is more effective is to understand the development of the general population. So if we can take John or Jane, who is in 6th grade, and develop them to go play at the Division 1 level, that is a general population. Being able to repeat that and do it over and over again, like how we here at Garage Strength have gotten over 300 athletes to the NCAA, by taking a general population and developing people of various different degrees of athletic capability through Olympic weightlifting because we can maximize their potential.
Now as a coach, we can see how normal people can get developed through Olympic weightlifting. Coaches can see that if they can get a standard athlete to a certain level, they can get a superior athlete even further.
Transfer Of Training
Having athletes for an hour or seventy-five minutes isn’t a ton of time. Coaches have to think about the key element to most sports. Most sports demand athletes recruit rapidly, absorb a ton of force, have a lot of mobility and positional explosiveness. Educating athletes and their bodies on how to move by training difficult skills, their dynamic reactiveness, dynamic trunk control, absolute strength, and their mobility we can see a great amount of transfer of training.
What happens is that the Olympic weightlifting movements set athletes up for a great transfer of training. It creates rapid rates of coordination. Doing fast movements teaches the nervous system how to fire rapidly allowing the athlete to recruit high threshold motor units faster.
The key concept here is that Olympic weightlifting is the foundation. Coaches can pull from bodybuilding, powerlifting, plyometric work, the mobility realm, and trunk training. The core, the basis, is all around the foundation of Olympic lifts in which coaches learn how athletes learn, train technical coordination, learning how to be uncomfortable to keep making improvements to the training system, improving mobility, understanding the development of all general athletes, and then considering the transfer of training based off of the time spent with the athletes.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.