Olympic Weightlifting for Sport: 3 Questions you need to ask

Olympic weightlifting is a controversial subject in strength and conditioning. Some coaches love the lifts and base a large part of their programmes around them, some use derivatives like hang cleans and pulls in their programmes and other coaches are against them completely and don’t seem to use them at all.

For me, like many questions in our industry, the answer always depends on a number of factors.

Here are 3 of them off the top of my head:

– Do your athletes possess the basic movement patterns such as squatting, lunging, pressing, pulling to a good level of competency?

If so, you could consider putting Olympic lifting into the programme in some form. When I think about the populations I work with, I tend to go through a basic strength phase which emphasizes movement competency in exercises such as front squats, deadlifts, jumping and landing efficiency and upper body pushing and pulling as well as general bodyweight efficiency. During this process, I usually have one or two basic Olympic lifting progressions in there such as pull to catch or stiff legged deadlifts to shrug often in the warm-ups purely to learn the movements.

Once competency has been achieved in these areas I may look to incorporate loaded  low and high pulls, some kind of loaded jumping movements such as hang cleans or jump squats in there and progress on towards power cleans. The key for me is earning the right and this comes with time.

– How much time do you have to work with the clients/athletes in question?

Is the goal to get a training effect NOW? Or do you have time to work with people for some time. My elite badminton players do power cleans and derivatives most weeks in their S&C programme. My pro MMA fighters may do some basic hang cleans if they’ve been with me for a while and have gone through the phases of development. Most of them will not though, and the reason for this is that they are paying me for instant results (rightly or wrongly) and I can get similar results using jump squats or other loaded jumping exercises. Or they are working through the development programme and towards the competencies I outlined above.

– Do you know how to coach the lifts to achieve the training effect you want form them?

This is by far the most important question of them all for me. Do you know how to get results from the lifts? What are you using them for? For me the lifts are great for developing total body explosive power/strength, eccentric strength through the catch and all round  motor control and co-ordination which are all valuable qualities for many athletes. However this can only be achieved with a solid understanding of the movements, quality coaching progressions, experience doing them yourself to pass on the info to your athletes, and the confidence to go out and put the progressions into your programmes.

It’s really not race

These are just 3 of the questions that need to be considered in your S&C programmes. The main point for me is that it really is not a race to get your athletes doing cleans and snatches. They need to earn the right and go through the progressions. towards that goal. There are other factors to consider as well as the three above such as injury history, logistics of the gym session itself (large groups might be tough to supervise etc), chronological and training age of the client etc etc so bear these in mind too.

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  1. William Wayland January 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Great points! I feel time constraints are probably the biggest issue! Its too precious to be spent unwisely.

    The Value of Olympic lifts is undoubted, a excellent tool for building power in the right circumstances, but the method must be kept in context and reconciled with the overall aim of the training program. Ive seen trainers largely at EIS centers seem to have an Olympic lifts or bust approach, having athletes spends months of precious time doing technical work on a lift that could be spent doing less complicated exercises and getting stronger, it depends on the coach too I suppose.

    That said I use hang clean and power cleans alot in my programming. And generally avoid the snatch, I just feel the carry over vs roughness on shoulders isnt worth the time.

    1. Brendan Chaplin January 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Thanks Will agree that some coaches spend far too much time on the lifts, it seems to be a race to get a good power clean but everything else is neglected many times.
      I do use some power snatches but only with those athlete who have good mobility and have been screened, use DB snatches more than power snatch, little more shoulder friendly I think.
      Thanks for your feedback good stuff 🙂

  2. Gav January 2, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Do you have a list of all the progressions as I would like to go through them with my son.


    1. Brendan Chaplin January 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Good stuff Gav, start off with basic bodyweight stuff and go from there, a list is on the agenda!