This is the first in a series that I've wanted to write for a while, and was finally pushed over the edge to do it. I just finished reading an article on CrossFit and was frustrated beyond words as a strength and conditioning coach. Olympic lifts are not meant to be done for dozens of reps!!! They are a POWER exercise, not to mention the incredible amount of technique that is required to perform them properly (and safely). I won't go into detail on my thoughts towards CrossFit (I'm not entirely against it, just parts), but I want to explain how athletes and coaches should use the Olympic lifts and why.
First off, a little basic information on the Olympic lifts - there are only two, the snatch and clean & jerk. Both start with the weight on the ground and end directly overhead, arms and legs locked out, and have several criteria to meet to be considered a completed lift (most of which I won't discuss here because they only matter in competition). There are several supplemental lifts, which for training purposes can be grouped together so long as they are used in the proper manner, such as hang cleans, power cleans, push press, jerks, etc. These can all be used to increase power and force production, IF they are used properly. Dozens of reps in a fatigued state is (surprise!) not a productive use of these exercises.
So, how are the Olympic lifts and their derivatives best used to maximize power development? Low volume, high velocity, and a variety of loads. The main consideration for improving power and force production is time, specifically using as little of it as possible to complete a rep. Time is precious commodity in sports, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between an effective jam at the line of scrimmage and a DB getting burned for a long touchdown. As important as strength is, the ability to utilize that strength quickly is far more important to an athlete’s performance.
John Garhammer, PhD, who has conducted some of the best research in the world on the Olympic lifts, provided some amazing statistics regarding power development. Garhammer’s research shows the absolute power of the 2nd pull of Olympic lifts (when the athlete begins an explosive acceleration of the weight) is approximately 5 times as much as power developed during back squat or deadlift, and over 18 times as much as a 1RM bench press!
That’s great, but why is it bad for CrossFit type gyms to use these lifts? I mean, if less is more, just think how much more MORE is! The answer is, of course, too much. There’s a reason you don’t see drag cars going thru residential areas, that much power can only be safely utilized in short bursts. The Olympic lifts are very technical and require a lot of practice to be able to safely utilize, especially when moving heavier weights. As I said before, trying to navigate these technical lifts during a fatigued state is not only difficult, but very dangerous. Use these lifts properly, and you have an excellent tool for your athletes. If used recklessly, you’re risking your athletes’ progress and safety.
With that said, the Olympic lifts are not for everybody or every sport. In part 2, I’ll show some other methods of developing power when Olympic lifting is contraindicated. Let me know any questions, comments, or requests you have. As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES