Why We Don't Do Olympic Lifts (Most of the Time)

Why We Don't Do Olympic Lifts (Most of the Time)

I want to set the stage for this article with the following quote:

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man, who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” - Harrington Emerson

In many strength and conditioning programs you will find that they have athletes doing Olympic Lifts (Power Clean, Snatches, Jerks) to develop power. If implemented right these exercises can help athletes develop power, but that doesn’t mean they are for everyone. Also, there are many other exercises that can successfully develop power. In this article we will address our training beliefs around the Olympic Lifts and why we don’t typically use them.    

Reason #1: Time Constraints

The first reason we don't typically utilize the Olympic Lifts is because of the learning curve. As someone who competed at a national level for many years in Olympic Lifting, I’ll be the first to tell you that it takes awhile to acquire efficient technique. For most, I would say the typical learning curve is 8-12wks. That means you will spend  8-12wks just learning efficient technique before you can ever begin using them to train/develop power. With athletes typically training with us 2x per week for 8-12wks, we need to use methods that have a quicker learning curve that we can train/develop power Day 1. Unfortunately, the Olympic Lifts don't check this box.

Reason #2: Not All Athletes Have Prerequisite Abilities

By the nature of movements, Olympic Lifts require a significant amount of mobility through the wrists, shoulders, t-spine, hips and ankles. As we’ve seen through our initial evaluations, most of our athletes come to us lacking the needed mobility to hit the positions to Olympic Lift safely and effectively. Because of this, it would either increase the learning curve to needed to perform these lifts safely and effectively, or you may be forcing athletes into compromised positions to perform an exercise they're not suited for. Athletes are not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and because of this, our training programs shouldn't be either. Based off our initial evaluation we pick exercises that train/develop power that always meet athletes where they’re at with their current movement abilities.  

Reason #3: Inefficient Technique = Inefficient Transfer

Building off of the first two points, it’s also important to remember that… inefficient technique = inefficient transfer. Just because you’re doing an exercise that “looks” like a power clean, snatch, jerk etc. doesn't mean you're going to reap the benefits of training/developing power. Inefficient technique may mean you’re overemphasizing the use of your arms or back instead of your legs leading to sub-optimal development of power in your lower body… which is the goal. Poor technique can be done to a rushed teaching process, unqualified coach to teach the lifts, lack of prerequisite abilities or lack of appropriate equipment.

Woman lifting weights with black suit

Reason #4: Other Methods to Develop Power

Now for the real question… if not the Olympic Lifts how else can you train/develop power? Remember the quote at the beginning of the article, as long as you understand the principles, there are many different methods you can use. In the context of training/developing power, if you understand the principles (volume, intensity, frequency, density, etc.) you can use a variety of methods. With that being said, we utilize the information we get for our evaluation process to determine which exercise we may want to use for an athlete to train/develop power. Below is a list of example exercises:

-    Jump/Plyometric Variations

-    Weighted Jump Variations

-    Med-Ball Throw Variations

-    Kettle-Bell Swings

-    Sled Sprinting Variations

-    Speed Squat, Deadlift, Bench Variations

-    Olympic Lift Variations  

When & Why We Use Them

So when do we use the Olympic Lifts? By no means do I want this article to come off as anti-Olympic Lifting, but instead highlight considerations to use Olympic Lifts and viable alternatives to Olympic Lifting. We at EForce do implement Olympic Lifts with some of our athlete. We primarily do so if we know they’re going to have to do them as part of their training program with the team they’re going back to or at the next level (college).  

Erik Jernstrom

Director of Sports Performance @ EForce


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