History of Olympic Weightlifting!
Weightlifting was practiced both by ancient Egyptian and Greek societies to measure strength and power. It developed as an international sport primarily in the 19th century and is a few sports to have featured at the 1896 Athens Games. The Olympic weightlifting program has significantly evolved. Today, weightlifters compete in snatch and clean and jerk and are placed according to their total combined result.
In weightlifting competitions, athletes have three attempts to lift the maximum amount of weight in both lifts, with athletes placing within their respective bodyweight class as determined by the sum of the highest completed lift for both movements. Some of the highest absolute and relative peak power outputs reported in the literature have been achieved in the weightlifting movements, with national lifters producing a relative peak power output of 55.8 Watts/kg (6981 W/125 kg) during the second pull of the clean.
Power outputs for athletes of similar bodyweights have been found to be 2 to 3 times higher in the weightlifting movements than in squats and deadlifts. Maximum strength, identified as squat one repetition maximum, and peak power output derived from vertical jumping have been found to strongly correlate with weightlifting performance among national-level male and female lifters. Such findings highlight the importance of maximal force and rate of force development for weightlifting performance.
Where do we fall?
The Olympic lifters are, without a doubt, the world’s strongest athletes. These lifts train athletes to effectively activate more muscle fibers more rapidly than through any other modality of training. The explosiveness that results from this training is of vital necessity to every sport. There are two Olympic lifts, the clean and jerk, and the snatch. Mastery of these lifts develops the squat, deadlift, power clean, and split jerk while integrating them into a single movement of unequaled value in all of strength and conditioning.
Practicing the Olympic lifts teaches one to apply force to muscle groups in proper sequence, i.e., from the center of the body to its extremities (core to extremity). Learning this vital technical lesson benefits all athletes who need to impart force to another person or object, as is commonly required in nearly all sports. In addition to learning to impart explosive forces, the clean and jerk and snatch condition the body to receive such forces from another moving body both safely and effectively.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the Olympic lift’s unique capacity to develop strength, muscle, power, speed, coordination, vertical leap, muscular endurance, bone strength, and the physical capacity to withstand stress. It is also worth mentioning that the Olympic lifts are the only lifts shown to increase maximum oxygen uptake, the most important marker for cardiovascular fitness. Sadly, the Olympic lifts are seldom seen in the commercial fitness community because of their inherently complex and technical nature. We use Olympic lift often with our program and recommend patience and being persistent to learn.
What are the benefits and dangers of including Olympic lifts in programming?
Considering the high strength and power expression during competitive weightlifting movements, weightlifting training methods are commonly used to develop and improve physical qualities required in many sports. Such benefits are especially transferable to explosive movements such as sprinting and jumping. Furthermore, the performance of the snatch, clean and jerk, and derivative lifts (i.e., clean and snatch shrug, clean and snatch pull from various positions, power clean and snatch, and push jerk) typically use moderate to high external loads, with minimal to no deceleration in the propulsion phase of the movements.
In contrast to typical resistance training exercises, the ballistic nature of these movements is advantageous to strength-speed adaptations, which are beneficial for all sports hence its popularity as a training method; for example, 95% of National Basketball Association, 88% of National Football League, and 100% of National Hockey League strength and conditioning coaches reported using weightlifting as part of the training.
In addition to the development of force-generating capacities, the high skill complexity required for the weightlifting exercises also facilitates motor control improvements, improving coordination of activation of muscle groups and motor units. These adaptations can also aid in developing more complex sports movements, which is why weightlifting in long-term athletic development (LTAD) programs could also benefit coaches in other sports who adopt weightlifting as a training model for their athletes. At present, long-term approaches to athlete physical development seem especially important, given the declining levels of muscular strength and overall habitual physical activity.
How would we use Olympic lifts and for what purpose?
Achieving weightlifting expertise requires a systematic approach to develop both the skills and strength to complete complex lifts under heavy loads. Although general models of LTAD (long-term athletic development) exist together with sport-specific and training mode-specific models, there is little published material regarding how to approach the long-term development of weightlifting ability from a young age.
When individuals are at an age at which they can follow coaching instructions and handle a training program’s attention demands, weightlifting techniques should focus on early interventions to acquire competent technical skills in the early stages of development. Lifting maximal loads should not be a training goal as the athlete develops weightlifting literacy. Errors in technique may become engrained, making attempts to modify technique at later stages more challenging, if not impossible; given that performance may temporarily deteriorate when the athlete changes technique, this correction can be frustrating for the athlete and coach, with the potential to limit future development.
From a training perspective, if an athlete acquires a sound and robust technique at an early stage, there will be more opportunities to use progressive overload stimuli (e.g., heavier loads) to target intended training effects, such as strength-speed capacity. In addition, technique when performing the weightlifting movements may affect training adaptations. Movement positioning and timing, or “lifting technique,” can influence an athlete’s ability to produce force, especially relevant in weightlifting, given the importance of the magnitude and temporal sequencing of force production and absorption in successful lifts. Poor technique, therefore, has the potential to impair force production and subsequent improvements in motor control, coordination, muscle activation, and motor unit recruitment.
To ensure the proper technique is established in the early stages of development, we follow appropriate coaching progressions. This approach helps implement a structured and systematic approach that progresses logically based on technical competency to ensure athletes can learn the movements in a timely yet effective manner. Consideration of training focus, exercise selection, and training prescription for LTAD helps us periodize training more sequentially and progressively to facilitate optimal technique and overall wellness and reduce injury risk.
We recently started using the below exercise order pyramid where we increase movement complexity and technical specificity from the bottom of the pyramid, working upward (As indicated by increased color depth, progressing upward from AMSC (Athletic Motor Skill Competencies) to foundation strength, weightlifting derivatives level 1, weightlifting derivatives level 2, and full lifts).
Clean, jerk, and snatch, and exercise progressions (RDL = Romanian deadlift; BHN = behind neck; OH = overhead; CMJ = countermovement jump; BW = bodyweight; SG = snatch grip).
If we do not include Olympic lifts in our programming, what do we do instead and why?
With our programming, we are always progressing athletes towards technical proficiency for Clean and Jerk and Snatch; however, sometimes, our athlete does not have access to Olympic weightlifting equipment. In such conditions, we must improvise with substituting another alternate movement with readily available equipment such as Box Jumps, KB Swings, DB Snatch, DB Clean and Jerk, etc. Our overall goal stays the same with any substitution to ensure the proper technique is established in the early development stages.
İnce, İ. (2019). Effects of Split Style Olympic Weightlifting Training on Leg Stiffness Vertical Jump Change of Direction and Sprint in Collegiate Volleyball Players. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 7(1), 24–31.
Kipp, K., Harris, C., Sabick, M., Kuhlman, S., Redden, J., & Adams, K. (2006). Lower Extremity Joint Power Production during Olympic Weightlifting Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(Supplement), S296.
Lloyd, R. S., Oliver, J. L., Faigenbaum, A. D., Howard, R., De Ste Croix, M. B. A., Williams, C. A., Best, T. M., Alvar, B. A., Micheli, L. J., Thomas, D. P., Hatfield, D. L., Cronin, J. B., & Myer, G. D. (2015). Long-Term Athletic Development, Part 2. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(5), 1451–1464.
Morris, S. J., Oliver, J. L., Pedley, J. S., Haff, G. G., & Lloyd, R. S. (2020). Taking A Long-Term Approach to the Development of Weightlifting Ability in Young Athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(6), 71–90.
Pichardo, A. W., Oliver, J. L., Harrison, C. B., Maulder, P. S., & Lloyd, R. S. (2018). Integrating models of long-term athletic development to maximize the physical development of youth. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 13(6), 1189–1199.
Stone, M. H., Sands, W. A., Pierce, K. C., Ramsey, M. W., & Haff, G. G. (2008). Power and Power Potentiation Among Strength–Power Athletes: Preliminary Study. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3(1), 55–67.
Ulareanu, M. V., Potop, V., Timnea, O. C., & Cheran, C. (2014). Biomechanical Characteristics of Movement Phases of Clean & Jerk Style in Weightlifting Performance. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 137, 64–69.
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