Those of you who are familiar with my coaching style know that I base almost all of my programming around the Olympic weightlifting movements--and not just for my weightlifters and throwers. The majority of the clients at my gym will learn to perform the snatch, clean, and jerk during their time here. I thought it might be helpful to outline some of the “why’s” behind using weightlifting as the basis for athletic development here at Garage Strength.
First, these movements are fast. Athletics requires individuals to be explosive, and being explosive with hundreds of pounds on the bar will usually transfer to being explosive in your sport. The snatch and clean and jerk see the weight accelerate through the entire strength curve, so the weight only moves faster and faster after it breaks off of the floor. This sort of speed demands fast recruitment of motor units in muscles, which is exactly what all athletes want. The weightlifting movements can be great at not only developing these muscles to be faster, but teaching individual athletes how to actively recruit these motor units. This can be very important for a sport like throwing, where the athlete has to accelerate an object as quickly as they can in a very small amount of time. The aspect of bar speed is also very helpful for me as a coach when it comes to peaking athletes. I can take a look at how quickly an athlete is moving a particular weight and understand how their fatigue levels are, and when I need to change volume and load parameters accordingly for them to have a great peak.
Next, these movements are technical. Many coaches and athletes get scared off by the technical proficiency required to be great at the weightlifting movements, but I often find that these same people are the ones who preach and practice poor technique in the circle and on the field. The technical aspects of these lifts improves several things. They ask athletes to improve their inter- and intra-muscular coordination, as muscles learn to fire quickly both on their own and as part of a kinetic chain. This is obviously very important for sports performance. Perhaps most important, the technical requirements demand that the athletes performing these movements acquire the skill of learning skills. Learning things is a skill that needs to be taught and perfected over time, just like any other skill, and weightlifting forces people to learn how to learn. Particularly for athletes involved in another technical sport like throwing, these two forces can have sort of a mutually positive effect, where the athlete slowly learns how to adapt their technique and how their technique is impacted by various outside factors. This is by no means easy, but it is paramount for athletic greatness. The patience that an individual needs to have to become technically proficient at the weightlifting movements will carry over into any other part of life.
Finally, the snatch and clean and jerk do wonders for force absorption and mobility. Training the body to absorb and then reapply the force of catching weight can help when shrugging off a defender in football, soccer, or basketball. Almost every sport asks its athletes to apply force and have force applied, and these lifts do a great job of making the body do this with progressive loads. The mobility aspect of these lifts is fairly straightforward. There is a baseline of movement capability that a person must have to effectively perform these movements. It just so happens that many of these requirements--mobile hips, back, shoulders and wrists--are important in numerous sports as well. So not only will performing the movements improve on mobility, as individuals try to improve their technique and positions for the lifts, they will further speed mobility gains. The lifts are also great for identifying mobility issues. When someone catches a snatch in a strange position, it becomes immediately apparent to me where some underlying mobility issues could be. With lifts that demand great mobility throughout the body, an athlete lacking in some areas will get exposed very quickly.