Olympic Weightlifting is a common tool used by many S&C professionals with their athletes, but why? What is it focussed on, and is it the key to success? First off, it’s important to note there is a clear distinction between Olympic style lifting for sport, and Olympic Lifting as a sport; although the whole movements in their entirety are, identical, the focus, approach, and even variations can be very different – and with good reason.
All lifts can be broken down into constituent parts or combinations of for the purpose of highlighting a specific movement/position/range of the lift as a whole. As a sport, it is for the purpose of that exact movement – a small part of a linear, sequential open chain movement. Applied to training for sport, and we may take the same little chunk of that whole movement, but this time it is with the intention of a broader cross-over to a movement or trait elsewhere – sometimes for an ‘event’ sport like athletics, or in a chaotic, closed chain group of events. For example: mechanically, the main speed producing portions of a clean (pull from between knee and hip, and into the ‘triple extension’) are similar to that of a sprint start, so it’s easy to see how one can be used to benefit the other (and many instances in which high power movements like running acceleration are required). With other sports in mind, more subtle physiological demands of lifting may come more into focus – rapid eccentric force production in receiving the bar applied to absorbing external forces; the effective use of the stretch-shorten cycle in the jerk applied to jumping against resistance; or the energy demands of repeated explosive lifts with short rest applied to defence in rugby.
The tendency to lean towards Olympic lifting as a training modality for sport is in no small part down to it’s versatility and potential to be adapted. It demands many desirable physical qualities like mobility, coordination, and balance before you’ve even reached the strength development aspect. However, it can also be tricky to coach, and due to demands of other physical factors (mobility etc) it can become a sub-par or mis-placed use of your time with an athlete. It’s down to you as a coach to weigh up the pure benefits of the lifts in relation to the athletes’ sport, the investment in time and effort it may take to teach those movements, the time of year and programme phase, the developmental age & experience of the athletes, even the type of sport they are involved in – some sports may benefit taken at face value, but the type of athlete may not work well in controlled and repetitive environments.
By Sam Kelvey
Strength & conditioning coach & tutor
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