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Olympic Lifts

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:

Time

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.

Safety

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.

Efficiency

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

Less Is More

Understanding The Requirements Of Rest

The weight room at my high school was small and had only basic equipment.  It consisted of two Olympic weight sets, some mismatched dumbbells, a squat rack, and a chin up bar.  In the gym, we had a pegboard and a rope for climbing.  No bench press, curl bar, or pulldown machine.  It was the ultimate blessing in disguise.  We did not have the temptation of exercise variety for variety’s sake.  What we did have was solid instruction on basic lifts.  We performed the same exercises repeatedly and became more proficient at squats, hang cleans, overhead presses, and pull ups.  Four simple activities performed consistently with an effort to add weight to the bar on a regular basis.  The results were magic.

The television fitness gurus have brought forth the latest craze of “muscle confusion”.  You change your exercise activity often in an attempt to stimulate a greater adaptation response.  The problem is that you never get the chance to practice the exercise long enough or with enough resistance to get stronger.  Getting stronger is the performance parameter that preserves muscle mass, speeds up your metabolism, and makes you more durable–less likely to get hurt.

I never want any of my muscles, nerves, joints, or any other part of my body to be “confused” when training.  I want the bodies of the athletes I train to perform better at every session.  My suggestion is that you pick five or six exercises and set a goal of getting better at each of them over the next six months.  The exercises you chose do not have to be a barbell or dumbbell exercise.  Bodyweight exercises will work just as well and are a better choice for most fitness clients.  Keep a record of your performance and work on improving the number of inverted rows, pull ups, or push ups you can perform.  Single leg strength training is a good choice for nearly everyone and works wonders for athletes. Athletes should choose exercises that not only improve strength, but also mobility—front squats.  Long term dedication to the mastery of an exercise will reward you with better body composition, enhanced mobility, less pain, and the strength you need to perform in athletics and daily activities.

This training approach requires mental toughness and a willingness to at times be bored.  Toughen up and get after the challenge.  Read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “We Need To Relax Like Roger Federer”.   Better yet, go out and buy the book Starting Strength.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

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