Olympic lifting, its derivations, and its implementation within a training cycle
Let’s begin this article by stating that Olympic lifting, in its truest sense, is a sport within its own realms and whilst we utilize its modalities to improve high end performance, we aren’t necessarily looking to create an army of Olympic lifters. (unless of course you are??)
Olympic weightlifting is categorically broken into two main independent lifts: the Clean and Jerk, and the Snatch. These are both explosive dynamic movements that require great levels of both maximal speed and strength. Due to these requirements, it has been shown that these exercises, their derivations, and accessory variations are incredibly effective when looking to enhancing sport performance. This is due to not only force and power vector considerations, but also some of the biomechanical similarities and crossovers that occur throughout the sporting world.
As power is a key aspect of most sport performance, finding ways to enhance athlete power is of great importance and focus. It has been hypothesized that there are several qualities that contribute to an athlete’s ability to generate and reproduce power. These can be considered and seen when looking at the Force Velocity Curve (FVC) and where Olympic Lifting sits within that continuum.
Olympic lifting would normally sit within the Strength Speed components of the curve when looked at as a sport individually. This is because at its nuts and bolts, you move heavy loads as quickly as possible. However, depending on the rationale of why we are using Olympic lifts and the load % on the bar, we can positively affect all aspects of the force velocity curve, and resultantly improve sports performance. This is one of the many crossovers that Olympic lifting has within the sporting realm.
Pros of Olympic Lifts
- They increase capabilities for force and power.
- Due to the biomechanics, there is a linear crossover with jump and sprint performance.
- Due to the nature of the Snatch and the Jerk, balance positions and proprioception are also increased.
- Studies from Suchomel, T.J Et al 2017 & James, L.P et al 2020 have shown that there is a direct relationship with Olympic Lifting and Rate of Force Development (RFD).
- Increases in Bone Mineral Density (BMD) and hormone regulation.
- Increased tolerance to load.
When we begin to look, not only at the physiological adaptations that occur when utilizing Olympic lifts but also the Biomechanics of Hang and Catch positions, we start to see how holding an athletic posture (1/4 squat) and also then our triple extension (jump) have similarities with Olympic lifting.
We see here, the athletic phase before our triple extension.
We then can see in the catch phase of a power clean the positions are the same.
Further to this is the translation between our ability to absorb force via our Power clean, and our repeat sprint ability. Hitting the clean and creating triple extension has been shown to translate into linear sprint performance. When we begin to look further at our force absorption or eccentric loading component in the catch, we can begin to see further performance markers that receive adaptation, such as Range of Motion (ROM) at the ankle, knee, hip and thoracic spine. Again, having increased strength and movement through these ranges will allow for greater levels of athletic performance.
In addition to the considerations and the improvements above, we also begin to look at the internal physiological adaptations that can occur. Studies from Jeon et al 2020 have posited that there is an increase in Bone Mineral Density within athletes that utilize Olympic Lifting, which therefore can have large implications when we look at injury potential and bone bruising.
We now understand the pros of Olympic Lifting and why we as coaches should apply and integrate them into our programs at the right phase of the macrocycle. Let’s now analyse the cons.
Cons of Olympic Lifts
One of the biggest considerations for Olympic Lifting is the extreme level of technicality that both lifts require. This technicality requires a significant amount of time to develop the technical expertise for the lifts in order for them to be efficient, powerful, and repeatable. This is a key consideration when looking at developing a power phase: how long do we have, when do we need to be at our best and what exercises are going to be the most effective way of developing our key performance markers?
The learning phase for Olympic lifts has the potential to be very inefficient as we will often be operating at the wrong end of the FVC when compared with where we need to be to get maximum benefits. As a result, post-action-potentiation (PAP) and other loaded jump variations may be a smarter way of programming rather than utilising Olympic lifts, depending on desired outcomes. When we begin to look at efficiency of the lifts, we then need to further consider how we utilise them. As always, when considered from a training block standpoint, the how/why/when/what all need to be considered dependent on outcomes.
Yes, these lifts will have their place in a training program. However, due to the time duration of the phase specifics, there may be better, more efficient, more effective modalities. We acknowledge that there are key physiological crossovers and some minor crossovers in isolated environments, but they are not 100% movement specific.
I will finish this article with a reflection and a suggestion. One of digging deeper into your own programming, understanding why you coach the way you coach, and who your athletes and clients are. Will they truly benefit in the short term? Are your communication skills good enough? Are you the right person to be coaching them? If not, should you upskill & do you want to?
A macrocycle, much like the culture we try to instill here at Inspire, is one of constant progress. You may not be ready to apply Olympic lifts within your programming yet; but you will be.
Head down, learn, apply, succeed.
If you, or anyone you know, would like to learn more about Olympic lifts and how they might apply to you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – we’d love to help!
1.Garhammer, J.O.H.N., 1980. Power production by Olympic weightlifters. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 12(1), pp.54-60.
2.Jeon, W., Harrison, J.M., Stanforth, P. and Griffin, L., 2020. Differences in Bone Mineral Density at the Femoral Neck and Lumbar Regions across Female Soccer Players, Olympic Lifters and Power Lifters. In International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings (Vol. 2, No. 12, p. 17).
3. İnce, İ., 2020. Comparison of Training Effects of Split-Style Olympic Lifts and Squat-Style Olympic Lifts on Performance in Collegiate Volleyball Players. The Physical Educator, 77(3).
4. Gadiet, W. and Deutsch, J., 2020. A systematic approach to athletic development. Journal of Human Sciences, 17(4), pp.1014-1021.
5. Hornsby, W.G., Gentles, J.A., MacDonald, C.J., Mizuguchi, S., Ramsey, M.W. and Stone, M.H., 2017. Maximum strength, rate of force development, jump height, and peak power alterations in weightlifters across five months of training. Sports, 5(4), p.78.
6. James, L.P., Suchomel, T.J., Comfort, P., Haff, G.G. and Connick, M.J., 2020. Rate of Force Development Adaptations After Weightlifting-Style Training: The Influence of Power Clean Ability. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
7. Suchomel, T.J., Comfort, P. and Lake, J.P., 2017. Enhancing the force-velocity profile of athletes using weightlifting derivatives. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 39(1), pp.10-20.