Ok, I’ve been gone for a loooooooooooooooooooooooong time, a month and a half to be exact. I really wanted to come back with something edgy or hilarious or really insightful. Something to remind you of why you love this site (or at least come to out of sheer boredom). I contemplated a follow-up to the Hey, chics, You’re Doin it Wrong post, a post about dealing with failures and how to turn them into learning experiences, and I even damn near almost divulged the meanings behind my tattoos (a topic of high interest amongst some of my friends). But, as I sit here decked out in my kick-ass khaki suit and mullet Halloween costume, I decided to throw my two cents in on a debated topic within the athletic development community on training explosive athletes with Olympic lifts. For my casual/weightloss readers, this may be boring, but for the handful of athletes and trainers that read this, hopefully I’ll invoke some new thoughts for you.
There is, has been, and always will be a debate between many a strength coach about teaching/training your athletes with Olympic lifts. For those of you that don’t know, the two Olympic competition lifts are the Snatch (yes, giggle all you want) and the Clean and Jerk (also giggle worthy and denoted as “C&J” from now on). Olympic lifts are hailed (and disowned) because they are the ultimate athletic movement. They combine strength, power, force production, mobility, stability, and flexibility into one mind-numbing, nut-popping, anus-clenching movement. I think they even count as kegel exercises for you ladies. For that reason, people choose not to do them because they are too hard (or the trainee is not coordinated enough). For that exact same reason, the real badasses of the world choose to do them exclusively and actually compete in the sport. Here’s some demos of each:
Here’s where the debate comes in…
The people against training athletes with these movements claim that:
They’re too dangerous.
– The risk of getting injured is higher than the reward of performing them correctly.
They take too long to coach.
– Olympic lifters spend their lives learning proper form and technique, how are you supposed to coach a kid that in 3 months during the off-season?
You can get the same results in a shorter amount of time (because you don’t have to teach them) using “simpler” and safer movements.
Let me first just say, I see their point. I even agree to an extent. And to be quite honest, if I’ve got (erm, I mean, “get”) a client that is just starting out or so completely uncoordinated, I will use those alternative methods in order to get results.
Also, let me remind you, that I would only prescribe Oly lifts to competing power athletes, “washed up meatheads” (a term from Joe DeFranco) that still want to train explosively, and those specifically asking to be taught. I would not prescribe these for the casual lifter/weightloss client.
Where’s the beefs (with all the nay-sayers)?
They’re “too dangerous”, eh?
Well, let’s take a look at the C&J and break it down. As the name implies, the C&J has two portions: the clean (from the floor to your chest) and the jerk (from your chest to overhead). Both movements have various ways of being accomplished. Since deadlifting should already be a staple in your programming, there’s no need to clean each rep from the ground. Instead, do Hang Cleans. It’s the same movement except that it starts at, or just below, the knees. You also don’t catch it in an ass to grass front squat position either. You catch it with your quads slightly above parallel. This saves on your knees and achilles tendon. The Jerk portion is even easier. All you have to do is set up the squat rack with the bar at chest height, where you catch the clean, unrack it, and perform the jerk as usual. Viola!
Now, as with any of the O-lifts, you can’t just go in the gym all willy-nilly and start busting these things out. Joint mobility and stability needs to be assesed by a qualified person prior to starting. That’s really where the danger is, performing these movements without the proper coaching/supervision. Kind of like the saying, “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, olympic lifts don’t hurt people. People that don’t know how to do olympic lifts hurt themselves.
“They take too long to teach.”
This is my main gripe with the nay-sayers. Listen, I already told you that I would only have power ATHLETES or ex-ATHLETES do these lifts. Do you smell what I’m steppin in? The key word there is “athletes”. Athletes tend to already have the base strength, mobility, and coordination necessary to perform these lifts. All they usually need is a little coaching. I’m willing to bet I can take a HS varsity football player or above (in skill and experience level) and have them cleaning and/or snatching with great form in 2 or 3 weeks. And in the meantime while I’m teaching them technique, we would be doing the “alternative” movements in order to not slow down there esplosive power development.
There are many very small intrecacies that need to be taken into account in order to perform the perfect O-lift, but those things are very minor and easily coached. The “big stuff” is what takes awhile and makes up 95% of the lift. So, if you can do an O-lift with 95% of perfect form as a non-olympic competitor, not only does it not take a huge amount of time, but you will be performing the lift well within the realm of safety and reap the same benefits.
Lastly, “I can get the same results doing other movements.”
This is true. You can. But here is my argument about those movements. Finding a gym with a legit area for olympic lifts is damn near impossible unless the gym is specifically set up for them. You need a platform, a better than average bar, and rubber bumber plates if you’re going to be taken seriously (as an “olympic style” gym, that is). As hard as that is to come by, you can still use iron plates to perform these lifts. You might get banned from your gym if you end up dropping them, because God forbid you make a loud noise in the weight room, but you CAN still do them. Two huge replacement lifts for the O-lifts are box jumps and medicine ball jumps/slams/tosses. I have yet to be in a gym that had boxes, much less boxes of various heights, and brick walls for you to throw med balls at. So, eventhough it’s hard to find a real olympic platform, it’s still possible to do the variations even at your shitty local chain gym.
On top of that, the overhead stuff with O-lifts really promote shoulder stability. Sure, you can also get it from doing overhead shoulder presses, but I have a hard time believing most of us will be overhead pressing 185+ lb. with any regularity and pausing at the top of each rep. And if you can, that’s all the more reason to want to do these. So, loading is another huge issue with the alternative lifts. I’ve never seen a 185 lb. medicine ball.
All in all, I’m a believer in these lifts because I’ve had extremely amazing results with them in the past. The year our strength coach implemented them into our program, I tested out with a 36″ vertical leap, 4.5 sec. 40 yd. dash, and 4.11 sec. 20 yd. shuttle run at a bodyweight of 190lb. Not too shabby for a white guy that comes from hippy parents.
And to this day, even after not performing these lifts with any consistency in over 5 years, I STILL think I have the explosiveness I developed over those two years. Why, you may ask? Because I can still do this….
Don’t Miss Your Chance
I was stuck in Corporate America for 9 years. I was miserable.
Then I took control.
You can too, and it starts right here.