|Weightlifters are some of the world's most amazing athletes.|
By Oliver Whaley
This article is based on a more general audience than just the throwing community, but I still think anybody, including throwers can benefit in performance from doing the full lifts and also from just plain old having the ability required to do them. I know there is alot of opinion out there in this area and there have been many people in high levels of performance that have moved away from the lifts, such as Reese Hoffa. But I don't think there is a thrower out there that has reached some high performance level without including these lifts or at least building a good strength and power base with them.
This is the second article to, “A basis for using the Full Olympic Lifts in training.” In it I would like to discuss some of the common arguments in the world of sport training for not using the Olympic lifts in athletic training and why I think they should be a common base for any athletic training program.
I have it heard it been said that it takes too long to teach the full Olympic lifts correctly and an Olympic lift with poor technique isn’t safe or effective. Well I agree that poor technique in any lift isn’t very safe or effective for anyone. That is why we teach correct technique to our athletes from the beginning in anything we have them do (some may think this is a subjective statement, but their is a right way to do things and everything has a purpose and an end goal result). But let us remember that we are dealing with athletes here. Is it really that hard to teach an athlete a very simple, quick precision movement? We can’t seem to teach them how to do a proper clean or snatch but we can teach them how to do a proper deadlift? Or a proper front squat? In simplistic terms, my understanding is that a deadlift done correctly closely parallels a clean pull and the mechanical technique is largely the same. You want the athlete to have a rigid lumbar arch, a tight core, loose arms, and to initiate the movement with the legs, etc. The major difference here is one is done much more explosively than the other and with full hip and leg extension at the top of the lift. Also the deadlift is often done with an alternating grip where pulls and cleans are performed with an overhand grip.
So which is the more athletic movement here and which do you think might transfer more directly to an athletic event or game situation? I mean come on, if an athlete can learn how to rotational spin and throw a shotput, or learn the proper footwork and mechanics of a three step drop pass, then they can learn how to do a full clean or snatch in a shortened period of time. If we think otherwise wouldn’t we be underestimating the ability of our athletes? Or maybe we just underestimate our ability to teach the lifts correctly? I would argue that anyone who is seriously engaged in the strength and conditioning field would have some self mastery (were not all Olympic champions and not everyone comes from an Olympic Lifting background) of the Olympic lifts and would be able to correctly teach them and quickly see results in an athlete’s proficiency in performing them.
Each year in the small town of Kayenta, Az. Ollie Whaley, CSCS, gets around 200 new incoming students into his weight training classes at Monument Valley High School. Here they are taught the basic movements of the full Olympic lifts, which is the base of their training as most of these kids play sports. Here they get feedback on correct technique, especially being emphasized is the importance of starting each lift with a rigid low back arch and tight core. They receive help and guidance not only from himself as coach, but also positive feedback and influence from the upper classmen who have been in the program for a few years. Just watching the proficient upper classmen creates a great learning environment and atmosphere for the new students. By the end of the first semester most of these kids can perform the lifts pretty proficiently, getting better and better each year they are in the program. The weight room may be located in a small unknown town on the Navajo Indian reservation, but anyone who steps in it would be amazed at what is being done there. This type of system could be implemented on any level whether collegiate or professional.
I have also heard it been said that most athletes aren’t strong enough in the right places (posterior chain) or have the flexibility to execute the lifts properly. Well of course this would be true if they have never done the lifts before, that’s why we do them! To make them strong in the right places and to develop flexibility. If your athlete could not properly do an overhead squat that would be a good indicator that they have weaknesses that need to be worked on. Some of the biggest causes of injury are inflexibility, joint immobility, muscle and connective tissue weakness, and muscle imbalances. The inability of your athlete to perform the full Olympic lifts would be a good indicator they are lacking in these areas. Your athletes will be far better off for being able to perform the full Olympic lifts proficiently than avoiding them and trying to replace them with other lifts.
I have also heard it been said that the Olympic lifts put a lot of undue strain on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Again this would probably be true for an athlete who has never done the lifts before and a very good indicator that they are lacking in necessary flexibility and joint mobility. For a younger athlete the movement and positions of the Olympic lifts come naturally. For an older athlete, some discomfort is natural at first until the flexibility to do them is achieved. But any athlete would benefit from the flexibility and joint mobility it takes to do the lifts. Again if I had an athlete who could not perform an overhead squat correctly I would work with them until they could.
Well what about a college lineman or someone with a lot of upper body mass? Athletes like football lineman are already banging up their bodies on a daily basis and don’t need to place more stress on their joints in the weight room (Really the only time anybody puts undue stress on their joints and body in the weight room is when they lift too heavy, or lift too heavy too often. Any type of lift done heavy and too often will lead to some kind of bodily breakdown or injury eventually. But volume, intensity, and training load are not something I wish to address in this article as this time).
Well let’s take a look into the sport of weightlifting. Serge Reding, the Belgium weightlifter. At five foot eight he weighed close to 140 kilos with arms measuring 52 cm around. I don’t think there have been very many people to have walked this earth with as much mass packed on their frames as he had. And he had no problem hitting rock bottom to catch a snatch or clean.
The list of large mean who could proficiently do the full lifts from Russia’s Vasily Alexeev, to America’s Shane Hamman, to Iran’s Hossein Rezazadeh, goes on and on. (some may argue these guys have been doing it along time and have alot more experience than a college lineman who has never done them. That is true! But if that is your thought process right now you missing the point. The point is that even with as much upper body mass as say a college lineman may have, they can still achieve the flexibility to do the full Olympic lifts and they will be better off for having that flexibility.)
Our own American heavyweight lifter Shane Hamman has a standing vertical jump of 36 inches and at five foot nine can dunk a basketball with two hands. He can also easily touch his toes and even do a standing back flip. How many college or NFL linemen do you think can do that?
So you can’t tell me that a football lineman wouldn’t benefit from being able to do the full Olympic lifts! And for that matter any athlete would be better off for having the ability to do them.
Another great reason for having an athlete do the full Olympic lifts is they teach an athlete how to absorb impact. Which we know is a huge part of any sport, particularly football, and another good reason for a football lineman to be doing the full Olympic lifts.
In reference to power output, the amount of force your body can produce runs directly in correlation to how much force the body can absorb.
Muscle imbalances as stated earlier are another great cause of injury. One that should be avoided and never happen as a result of weight room training. With the correct performance of the full Olympic lifts, there is no chance for an athlete to develop muscle imbalances in the weight room. The Olympic lifts work an individual’s whole body through a full range of motion while both strengthening and stabilizing. Working partial movements, such as partial box squats, can set you up for muscle imbalances. The body was made to move through its full range of motion. While it is detrimental to push beyond the normal range of motion, it is also detrimental to chronically work in a restricted range of motion. Connective tissues shorten, improper firing sequences become ingrained, and strength imbalances develop. To develop optimal strength and mobility, full range training through the natural range of motion is best. The Olympic lifts provide this full affect.
In part one of this article, we already discussed the physiological affects these lifts generate far better than any attempt to duplicate them so we don’t need to touch on those topics again.
So in reality, any attempt to duplicate them another way is really just that. The Olympic lifts are not some intricate and complicated movement; they are simple, precise, and athletic. Any athlete would benefit from their proper performance and use in a training program.
Injuries and other circumstances can lead to reason for adaptation. We also lack greatly in qualified individuals to teach the lifts correctly in all levels of performance. Meg Ritchie Stone, throwing and coaching legend says, “There are no dangerous lifts, only dangerous coaches.” But in an ideal world, these should be the lifts of choice for any athlete in any power sport.