Do We Really Need Them?
I had my first introduction to Weightlifting (often referred to as Olympic lifting) in my high school football days using the Bigger Faster Stronger program. Power Cleans were a staple of this program and the Power Snatch was also introduced to us during a clinic our football coach put together. Over the last several years, weightlifting movements have made a comeback into many gyms. These movements include the Snatch (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in one fluid movement), the Clean & Jerk (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in two distinct movements), and their derivatives. Though there are several reasons to include these movements in programs, there are far more reasons, in my professional opinion, not to.
The primary reason one would or should be using Olympic lifting movements is to improve/maximize power output, or Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD is a primary determinant of success in many sports. This is what allows you to accelerate quickly, jump higher/farther, and change direction quickly. There are volumes of research on the Clean & Jerk, Snatch, and their variations which demonstrate that these movements work very well at improving power and RFD; however, these lifts are not the only means of accomplishing this. Moreover, there are multiple reasons not to incorporate them:
Weightlifting movements are incredibly technical and take massive amounts of time to learn and perform correctly. Most successful weightlifters at the international level have spent decades learning and perfecting their craft. It is not uncommon to see weightlifters performing upwards of 10-12 training sessions per week. The only other sport I can think of that takes this level of technical prowess is gymnastics. While this is admirable for those choosing to compete in these sports, the level of time commitment is not practical for the average fitness enthusiast.
Due to the speed and dynamic nature of the Olympic lifts, there is a much higher probability of something going wrong. Additionally, the vast majority of the fitness population lacks the requisite mobility and stability to safely get into the required positions to perform these exercises. In some fitness circles, you will see these movements programmed in for very high repetitions. When this happens, you are ramping up fatigue which makes proper technique/form nearly impossible and minimizes power/RFD adaptation which is the whole point of these exercises. These lifts should be programmed at 1-5 rep sets with 2-5 minute rest intervals between.
For most people, time is a constant barrier to improved fitness. For competitive athletes, they must balance the demands of sport practice, strength training, conditioning, skill practice, and recovery. For this reason, the primary goal of a quality program should be to maximize efficiency of training. Due to the mobility demands and speed of the movements, the warm ups required can take 15-20 minutes. Combine that with the longer rest periods required and you barely have time to get in enough quality work to see optimal adaptations. It is not uncommon for a weightlifter to take 90-120 minutes to complete a workout.
You may be asking yourself how to maximize power if you can’t perform the Olympic lifts. Many people feel these movements are imperative for optimal fitness and performance. In February of 2017, I traveled to Ohio State University where I heard the head Strength and Conditioning coaches for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals speak. None of them use Olympic lifts with their athletes. If arguably the top athletes in the world don’t need these movements, then I think the rest of the population can get away without using them as well.
Over the next several weeks, I will introduce fourteen exercises that you can use instead to maximize speed, power, and RFD with less risk of injury, less technical skill required, and more efficiency. Stay tuned for exercise descriptions and video demonstration.
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1