T Nation

Olympic Lifts and Explosive Exercises!

It seems as though the topic of Olympic lifts comes up often on the forum especially if an article suggests using the Olympic lifts or their hybrids for speed and power.

However, the reality is that most people (especially beginners) do not need to focus their training using the Olympic lifts. They are usually not strong enough to use any appreciable amount of weight and more times than not, they don’t know how to perform the lifts correctly.

I will admit that I will use Olympic lifts in my training at certain times, however, I was coached on how to perform them more than 10 years ago. I also competed in Olympic lifting for a short period of time.

For everyone out there that has read Joe Defranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards 3 article (http://www.defrancostraining.com/articles/articles.htm), you know that he uses various explosive jumping exercises (and box squats) rather than Olympic lifts. He even addressed why he doesn’t use Olympic lifts in one of his old Q&A’s which I have posted below.

The take-home message is to get stronger first and then use explosive exercises like various jumps and box squats when you are at a point where the dynamic-effort method will benefit your training. You can use Olympic lifts and their hybrids in your training, but save them for when you’ve already built up a good base of size and strength.

Q:[i] Although I love your “training pics,” I noticed you don’t have any of your athletes performing any power cleans. Don’t you feel that the Olympic lifts are essential for athletes? If not, how do you get your athletes explosive?

Mike R.[/i]

A: Mike,
I train my athletes like athletes, not Olympic weightlifters. The reason why I’m not a huge fan of the Olympic lifts is that they take a long time to teach. That is, if you teach them correctly.

Also, most athletes are horrible at the Olympic lifts. The reason why most athletes aren’t great at the Olympic lifts is usually because they aren’t strong enough in the right places. After assessing an athlete’s power clean or power snatch form, I usually conclude that their technique flaws are due to a lack of hamstring, glute and low-back strength.

This assessment usually means that I end up prescribing more trap-bar deadlifts, reverse hyperextensions, glute-ham raises, etc. This is called the TRAINING ECONOMY.

Getting stronger in the deadlift, reverse hyper and glute-ham raise will improve your power clean, but it doesn�??t work the other way around. Basically, I choose the exercises that give my athletes the best “bang for their buck.”

You also asked me how I get my athletes “explosive” if I don’t do a lot of power cleans.

Here’s my answer: Most people say that they like the Olympic lifts because they are “fast.” Most coaches can’t accept the fact that any lift can be “fast!”

For example, one day a week I use box squats with sub-maximal weights as an “explosive” exercise for my athletes. For an athlete who can squat 505lbs, I might use 315lbs for multiple sets of 2 reps. The athlete would perform these reps as fast as possible. Since 315lbs represents about 60% of his 1-rep max, science has proven that the weight is heavy enough to produce enough force, yet light enough to produce enough speed. And we should all know that speed x strength = power.

This same athlete would probably only be able to perform power cleans with about 225lbs. So I ask you this question, “Would you rather be explosive with 225lbs or 315lbs?” I’d rather have my athletes move heavier weights faster.

In conclusion, it’s not that I don’t like power cleans or that I never do them, I just feel that there are usually quicker, more efficient ways to achieve certain goals.

Hope this clears things up a bit.

This is not a specific response just something to get people to think. If it is true that more force is produced against the ground/force plate when performing a hip snatch than any other exercise would it not then make sense to utilize such a lift if your training goal is to increase the amount of force that you apply against the ground i.e. sprinting and jumping.

The hip snatch is not a lift where a tremendous amount of weight is lifted but the force used to move it is great. Perhaps it is an instantaneous display of force however if you need speed (short time of ground contact and maximum force)it could be of value.

I agree that a stronger body is needed to generate more force so is their room in a beginners training session for oly technique development along with limit strength training? As a warmup perhaps?

When the warmup weights progress beyond warm-up status an adjustment would need to be made in the selection of exercises and their purpose.

Would a beginning bodybuilder need the oly’s? Would an athlete that is dependent upon speed and explosion benefit from them more so or the same as someone who utilizes box squats?

I have utilized both box squats and olympic variants and have found both useful. It is easier to learn to squat and deadlift than to olympic lift so the powerlifts could be a good starting point if you had to choose.

Technique is involved with all lifts the better technique you have the more weight, to a certain limit, you will be able to move. So if a person was to say that olympic lifting is all technique, well so is squatting, and benching to a degree. Don’t sell yourself short on learning a new movement.

I can remember reading in an exercise physiology text once that the athletes with the highest level of fast twitch muscle fibers were olympic weightlifters followed by shot putters. If someone knows of the list or one similar to the one I am referencing feel free to throw the quote in.

This may just go back to the argument of whether the training makes it this way or the people involved in the sport are naturually of the proper fiber type.

I think that if a lifting style applies to your goals, hopes, and dreams then find a way to utilize it and any other methods of training that may be of benefit.

Many advocate powerlifts, many advocate olympic lifts, many advocate a combination of the two for training athletes. It all works but everyone is different so one of the three options may work better for you than the others.

So, if you want to be an athlete you may want to consider all options. You can eliminate what doesn’t work for you but you have to give things a try instead of just having someone tell you what is best for you.

Good luck in training.