Are Olympic lifts the best choice to improve performance?


The Olympic lifts are very popular for athletic development (especially in the USA). And, as many other exercises, there is always pros and cons.

It seems that conventional strength and power (back squat and loaded jumps) and machine-based strength and power (“Smith” machine squat and loaded “Smith” machine jumps) training both outperform Olympic weightlifting for improving jumping and sprinting performance in athletes with strength training experience (this study included high-level athletes with experience of Olympic lifting as well – but came from a mixture of sports).

Stability-specific strength training (i.e. free weights) is much less important for transfer when the athlete is also doing plenty of athletic movement training (i.e. jumping), so machines can be used quite effectively. I realize that this is against the “functional training” dogma of many popular coaches, but the research is pretty clear on this. Furthermore, athletes could feel fatigue if using free weights only / too much (a lot of muscles included non-stop). Yes, stabilizers can be rested pretty “quick” but still…

Workout frequency depends a lot on sport and time of year. Soccer athletes often do little strength training in-season (maintenance phase), for example, as they have many matches and soccer training sessions to fit in. Certainly, 2 sessions per week would be normal.

With the steep learning curve of OL lifting for some, I feel loaded jumps, squats and deadlifts can produce better results with less learning curve. There is so much to gain from loaded jumps, and they are so easy to perform! You can consider Hex bar deadlift Jumps as well (found to yield greater power output than power cleans in average athletes, and it’s probably the safer option for spine compared to back loaded jumps). Problems with lifting overhead safely (or similar)? KB swings could be a safe replacement, and so forth…

Loaded jumps, Hex bar deadlift Jumps, KB swing…

“I’m going to say it right now: you don’t need the Olympic lifts to reach your genetic potential in sprinting and jumping.”Joel Smith

There is one study that compared just loaded jump training with training using the hang high pull weightlifting derivative, in athletes. Although the two programs produced statistically significant and similar improvements, there was a trend for the loaded jump program to be better. Overall, I suspect that Oly derivatives would produce similar results to loaded jumps if the subjects were extremely familiar with both types of training.

Olympic lifting is a sport and requires coaching and hours to master. Coach a squat jump over an Olympic lift derivative! Coaching a squat jump would take less time and develop a valuable stimulus (power/RFD) for our athletes. Remember, we are looking for the stimulus out of the lift! For years, I have been a big believer in using traditional strength (squats and deadlifts for example) and explosive training (static-squat jumps for example) over OL (clean, snatch, jerk) to maximize jumping (power) and sprinting (speed) improvements in athletes. So, OL is a sport – you don’t need to program OL to develop jumping and sprinting ability.

“Stop and think – not sure I understand the infatuation of teaching the power clean with a bar to young developing athletes in youth soccer and rugby academies. The power clean is not a fundamental movement skill. You can safely and effectively improve explosive power and coordination through jumps and throws, you don’t need to do the power clean.”Vern Gambetta

There is the technical aspects, complexities, and functional requirements for athletes to perform these movements safely and effectively.

“Unless you’re a competitive Olympic lifter there’s no reason to do O-lifts from the floor. Doing them from the hang position can prevent injury. You can get all the benefits you want from O-lifts by starting from a hang. Competitive weightlifters are the only ones who need to start from the floor.” – Nick Tumminello

Don’t get me wrong, Power = Strength x Speed, and OL can be a valuable thing, but not for all sports. So if you’re a basketball or volleyball athlete, O-lifts would probably be a smart addition to your training program (and some modifications that make moves more sport-specific). If you’re playing a sport in which you need to jump (including arms a lot), or coaching an athlete in one of those sports, you’ll probably get great results… But make sure to teach your athletes all the basics before (hip hinge, squat, overhead press, rack pull, deadlift…). Don’t be in a hurry and start on time. Athletes need to be properly prepared for complex moves like OL (it could take years).

Most athletes need to be able to express explosive rotational power. O-lifts won’t help, but rotational med-ball exercises will (for example).

Generally speaking, the Olympic lifts have greater benefits for athletes who are more experienced with them, and have good technique. Take time to learn the lifts, there’s no rush to get to the point where you can clean more than your body weight.

Oly lifts are also great for the full body development (almost every single muscle works). The photo below shows how Oly snatch important is for shoulder health (great example).

For the love of movement,


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