Should Athletes Perform the “Olympic” Lifts?

Updated: May 1, 2019

There is a growing community of strength coaches that do not believe athletes should be doing the Olympic lifts. Before I get off track – here are some of the main reasons I teach athletes how to perform them.

· Develops explosive power/triple extension (duh, we all say that)

· Performing the full movements (from the ground, catching in the bottom of the squat) improves flexibility

· Teaches the muscles how to decelerate and take an impact (many acute muscle injuries happen during the deceleration phase of a movement)

· Teaches muscles/CNS to turn on, shut off, and turn back on at a rapid pace

· Teaches the athlete how to effectively fire multiple muscle groups at the same time

· The snatch and jerk are great for shoulder stability (scapular) and mobility (glenohumeral)

· Bang for your buck – show me another set of movements that can train as many qualities as the Olympic movements and their variations

While I am a believer that there are many ways to skin a cat, I am not sold on many of the arguments I have heard against the weightlifting movements.

They are not specific to the sport

Not valid. Then neither are squats, deadlifts, lunges, RFE split squats or nearly anything else you do in the weight room. Unless the sport is a barbell sport then 99% of movements done in the weight room are not truly “sport specific”. However, the qualities trained through weightlifting are valuable across nearly all sport.

They are dangerous

Yes, if done with poor technique and/or with a load the athlete cannot handle – then yes, they are indeed dangerous. However, this goes for anything. Tackling someone with poor technique or going against a physically superior opponent can also be dangerous. That is what we are there for, to teach proper movement and dictate the load the athlete uses.

They are hard to teach

You are lazy. Sure, it is much easier to teach a medball throw, but if I have an athlete for 4-5 years I will gladly sacrifice 10-15 minutes at the beginning of their lift for the first 6 weeks to 6 months in order to have 3 ½ to 4 ½ good years of training with them. I’m sorry if actually teaching something to your athletes requires you to put down your coffee at the start of your group.

There is little carryover to the field of play

This may be your best argument yet, because it is so tough to measure. Sure, we have all seen athletes who are great weightlifters who couldn’t play dead in a western. This does not necessarily mean these lifts don’t carryover, as carryover is individual. Just like putting 100lbs on someone’s squat. This may be a tremendous improvement for the formerly weak offensive lineman but won’t make a lick of difference for the lineman who already has enough strength to dominate in the trenches. If an athlete needs more explosive power, better coordination, mobility, etc. then these movements can have a high degree of carryover.

You can get just as much from a medball throw

No, you fucking can’t! While you may display more power in a medball throw, that is one quality. It is not helping mobility, deceleration, stability, etc… Nothing against medball throws, they’re great, but pulling 300+ pounds off the ground, dropping under it, catching it in a full squat position and standing up with it is a little different than tossing a 20lb medicine ball in the air.

With those things said, do I believe all athletes should perform the Olympic lifts?

No. These movements do take time to learn. If a coach has a limited amount of time with an athlete i.e. training an athlete for the combine, then no, they are probably not going to be worth your time.

If the coach does not have the skillset to teach these movements, then no. There is little benefit to performing a hip thrust-reverse curl combo. They do not have to be world-class competitive weightlifting good, but they do need to have “good enough” technique to reap the benefits.

Athletes with past injuries that inhibit getting into proper positions – go do variations of the movements or do something else entirely. This is part of coaching, there will always be athletes that need modifications, adjust.

Does not fit the needs of the athlete. While I could argue that every athlete in the world could benefit from at least one thing these movements have to offer, sometimes they need to focus their energy elsewhere. There are plenty of athletes that do not yet possess the strength base or proper mobility to safely execute these movements. Focus your attention elsewhere, and program these lifts in when they fit the goals and abilities of the athlete.

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