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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth

Olympic lifts for other sports?

Weightlifting is an olympic sport for a reason. The Snatch and Clean & Jerk are the supreme discipline in lifting weights (weightlifting coach speaking here...). Olympic lifts are very complex movements and especially performing them with max. weights require perfect technique, an extremely high level of mobility, strength and coordination and a strong mental game. I mean, it takes a lot of balls to throw double your bodyweight or even more over your head. Weightlifters take years to master the both main lifts and those who want to reach an elite level train multiple sessions a week trying to improve and perfect their technique and all the other variables constantly.

But the olympic lifts and their variations are also found in many gym programs for athletes of different sports. Many Strength & Conditioning coaches see these whole body compound movements as an opportunity for athletes to increase strength and especially power. A power clean is definitely a good exercise to develop explosiveness. Hori et al. (2008) concluded, that the performance of a hang power clean is significantly related to jumping and sprinting performance. Hackett et al. (2016) show that olympic weightlifting improves the development of vertical jump height similar to plyometric training. This sounds great. We should incorporate more olympic lifting into our athlete´s programs according to these studies (and many more, that I won´t mention here). But the thing about these kind of studies is, that you have to look into the data and not into the conclusion of the researchers to decide if it´s applicable to your athletes or not. It mainly won´t be.

I´m a weightlifting coach, but I do not recommend incorporating Snatches or Clean & Jerks into a rugby, basketball, football, … tennis players´s physical development program if he or she hasn´t had enough time to learn the techniques properly. This will be the case most of the time. If those players haven´t been through an athletic development program that included learning olympic lifting techniques, then it´s a waste of time to teach them how to do these lifts effectively when they are already on an elite level in their sport. I would admire the time management and patience of a S&C coach that can take weeks or even months to teach one or probably multiple players how to do a Snatch or a C&J from scratch. Let´s face the reality, the time S&C coaches get with players in the gym is limited, so effectiveness and training economy are key.

I do not wish to offend any S&C coach here, but coaching the olympic lifts properly is as complex and difficult as doing them. You don´t learn doing or coaching them in a weekend workshop, seminar or by watching a few videos on YouTube.

Again: Weightlifting is an olympic sport for a reason.

This leads me to the next point: Shaky snatches, starfish power cleans or ugly jerks are not safe and not effective at all. I see many athletes from all kinds of different sports performing olympic lifts or their variations with horrible technique and put themselves on a huge risk for injury. If athletes throw weight over their head incorrectly, they put a lot of stress on their knees, back, ankles, wrists and shoulders. Players in collision sports like rugby or american football already do that almost every day in training, so we do not need more uncontrolled stress on the upper body. The main goal of Strength & Conditioning is preparing the athletes for performing well in their sport and preventing injuries.

Most coaches want to replicate movement patterns in their programs to target the physical demands of the sport. The reason behind programming olympic lifts for many coaches is to practice the triple extension, which is mainly defined as full extension of the ankle, knee and hip to produce max power. (A discussion about the myths of the triple extension in weightlifting is another blog topic though.) There are many other exercises in the S&C tool box, that target a triple extension and can be done loaded. Most S&C coaches and their athletes will probably be more familiar with all variations of jumps or medball throws and they are comparatively effective for power development, too. Another option is to break down the olympic lifts and just include pull variations into an athlete´s program. A clean pull is much easier to coach and much easier to learn for an athlete, you don´t need a full clean to train explosive power.

Well, the olympic lifts are a viable option for S&C program design, but always keep in mind that they are still sport-specific skills for an olympic sport. I have incorporated cleans or pulls into a rugby player´s gym program, but after assessing his technique and knowing that he would be able to perform these lifts with an appropriate load. It´s a waste of time to let a 100 kg rugby player do cleans with 50 kg, cause anything above that weight lacks technical and physical ability. Then just let him do other exercises, that are suitable from an efficiency and time economy point of view.

But I do recommend teaching at least cleans and clean variations in athletic development programs in the younger age groups. If you add the olympic lifts to a young athlete´s skill repertoire, you give yourself or other S&C coaches a pretty cool tool for designing a program for this athlete later at elite level. However, that would be ideal, but I´m realistic and it won´t happen in most athletic development programs, so stick to the basics and let weightlifters do their thing!



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