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  • Mylan Clairmont

Should You Incorporate Olympic Lifts Into Your Training

This training methodology has its origins in the sport of Weightlifting and its variations have been used by high performance athletes for decades. Olympic lifting (OL) has come into the limelight in recent years due to functional fitness brands such as Crossfit popularizing these moves for the masses. Before I get into how to incorporate these lifts into your training (or why you shouldn't) I'll go through the basics of what OL is.

This article is targeted towards anybody looking to incorporate OL into their training or those who already do OL that are looking for a bit more insight into why we use it. This won't be a training manual for sets/reps for OL or a technical model of individual exercises. This article will allow you to get a good grasp of what OL is and if it is right for you. It should be noted, I'm writing this as a strength coach who has performed OL himself since 2012 and coached athletes in OL since 2013. However, I also coach running mechanics, powerlifting, bodybuilding exercises, off feet conditioning, plyometrics, etc... I by the nature of my profession am a jack of all trades. There are TONS more qualified people to discuss the nuances of olympic lifting - this article is simply meant to be an overview and not an exhaustive explanation.


The Basics - What Is Olympic Weightlifting?

Weightlifting - the sport you see at the olympics - is a competition where there are medals awarded for the heaviest lifts in the snatch, clean and jerk, and combined total. Olympic lifts (OL) is a broad category that covers the snatch, clean and jerk and all their variations. Moves such as power cleans, hang snatches or other variations have been training methods used by elite athletes for some time. The reason olympic lifting is so popular is that these movement patterns emphasize powerful hip extension, recruit almost every muscle in the body and can train power from every end of the force-velocity curve. i.e. you can do snatch jumps with light weight fast, or complete clean pulls with over 100% of your clean 1RM.

Why You Shouldn't Do Olympic Lifting

You should always be questioning why you're spending time, energy and risking injury to complete a certain exercise. Before you begin training with OL ask yourself: is there a safer or more effective way to achieve my goal? If you're looking to kill your next season off road cycling, and you can only lift 2x/week, is spending 30% of your time on olympic lifting going to be your go-to? If performance isn't your goal and you just enjoy the movements - that's totally okay! Just make sure you're conscious of all the risks of performing power training.


Due to how technical these movements are and the speeds at which they are lifted, the amount of weight lifted in the initial stages will be heavily impacted by technique and there won't be a large crossover to performance until there is solid technique. Meaning: if you aren't invested in practicing the movements over weeks/months/years, the actual crossover to your sport will be limited.


If you are looking to implement power training and don't have the time/will to learn these movements there is still a LOT of benefit in doing weighted jumps, med ball exercises, explosive sled work, jammers, etc... That said, OL is one of the most effective ways to develop full body power. As such - it is a great training tool if you have the time and resources to do it safely.


How to Get Started

To begin OL you'll need to be comfortable with several positions:

-> Lifting the bar from the floor

-> Squatting

-> Jumping

-> Front Rack

-> Overhead Pressing


So if you are just getting into barbell training you should comfortable completing the following exercises before dabbling in olympic lifts:

-> Deadlift

-> Front Squat

-> Push Press

-> Box Jump / Countermovement Jump / Broad Jump

-> Overhead Squat


If you are just getting into training I would recommend consistently including the above exercises for at least 12 weeks prior to jumping (pun intended) into olympic lifting. Completing technical exercises with a dowel, training bar or empty bar would be great to include in this initial stage to help with the learning curve. But you shouldn't be power cleaning before you can safely deadlift.


Adding Olympic Lifting to Your Training

So you've decided OL is something you're going to add into your training. You're competent in the core movements and you'd like to get going - where do you start? I'm a big fan of learning components of the lifts then combining them together over time. For most people cleans are more enticing and require less mobility. So I will focus mainly on examples of how to build up to cleans, but a similar logic applied to snatches.


Below are some movements you can begin with before combining them together.


Technical Warm Up: below is a great video demonstration some movements you can go through. Overall a warm up for an olympic lifting session with cleans should include:

- Tall Cleans

- Front Squats

- RDLs

- Push Presses

- Rows

- Deadlifts

Clean Pull: This movement is focused around bringing the bar from the floor to your hips. It covers first, second and third pull while working at a weight that prevents the bar from reaching the shoulders. The key points for this are:

- Shoulders over the bar

- Hips and shoulders rise at the same rate until bar is past the knees

- Arms straight until bar is shrugged

- Violent shrug and triple extension at the top of the movement


Although pulls are still done with maximum effort, because there is more weight on the bar the speed of the bar is lower. This allows you to work out the technique of the bar passing the knees a bit easier than during a clean from the ground.

Hang Power Clean: This exercise is the bread and butter of sports performance training. Squatting range of motion isn't an issue, the need to address the bar from the floor isn't present. It is a great starting place for power training for athletes. The key points are:

- Shoulders over the bar when hinging

- Arms straight until bar is shrugged

- Violent shrug and triple extension at the top of the movement

- Keep bar close to your body

- Pull yourself under the bar

- Catch in a front rack position

These principles can be applied to snatches as well. Working on your pulls from the ground, your hang power snatch and your overhead squat in three different sections then piecing them together later on is a great way to approach your OL training.


As with most things, when training we do our fast moves before our heavy moves. In your sessions you would perform power cleans/snatches first, clean/snatch pulls second.


Common Mistakes

So you're now adding in OL a couple times per week to your training. Below are some common mistakes to avoid when training:


Maxing out every session: It can be very tempting when the weight is feeling good to just build up to max sets to failure to see how you're progressing. Although maxing out can be fun and helpful feedback as to how training is going, it's important to allow yourself to have repeated success and attempts at the movements.


Not enough power: OL is first and foremost a method of power training. The common adage "Weightlifting is just jumping with weights" holds true. To truly benefit from this method of training an athlete needs to put maximal effort into the bar on each rep. Half assing reps with sub-optimal bar speed will just lead to wasted time/energy.


Not including variations: Eventually you are going to hit a bump in the road with your lifting where you'll need to focus on developing a weak point in your lift. Lifting from blocks, hang, hang below knee, deficits, pauses above knee, pauses below knee, and so on. There are hundreds of ways to vary your olympic lifting to A) suit the goals you're trying to achieve and B) avoid injuries. For example, in rugby and football we have lots of athletes who have broken their wrists in the past and can't catch a bar. However, they can complete high pulls without any pain while still benefiting from the power development.


Cycling reps: Touch and go reps can be useful for lifters who are looking to increase their work capacity, grip strength, patience, or any number of reasons. But again - we need to understand why we're cycling our reps. Usually, when performing touch and go reps our hips don't lower to our normal starting point. This means that without resetting between reps we slowly creep those hips higher and higher, losing our form and putting more strain on our back. Unless you're cycling reps with a purpose - perform a quick reset between each rep.


Not receiving feedback: Weightlifting is an incredibly technical sport. Elite weightlifters complete between 9-13 training sessions/week for decades and still have coaches offering feedback. Whether it's your training partner, a coach or just looking at yourself on video it's important to analyze your movements. It's easy to form bad habits when you aren't reviewing your form.


Wrapping it up

To conclude - should you incorporate olympic lifting in your training? If you ask me...maybe? I think if developing power and becoming more athletic are on your to-do list then go for it! If you have tried in the past and haven't found your groove, reach out to a club in your area or an online coach. There are tons of great weightlifting clubs around with knowledgeable coaches ready to help you out. If you have specific questions just shoot me a message and I will point you in the right direction.


Until next week!


Mylan Clairmont MSc, CSCS



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