Olympic Weightlifting For Sports Performance

jace


Article written by Jace Derwin for LiftBigEatBig.com
Being how this is America (cue eagle scream), it is safe to say that the vast majority of serious strength athletes did not come to find their love for the barbell directly, but were rather introduced to it in an effort to increase their performance in another sport. I want to take the time to address the beautiful symbiotic relationship of hard practiced o-lifting and the pursuits of athleticism off the platform.
Olympic Weightlifting is not only an incredible sport in and of itself, but its use as a training aid to other sports may be the most transferable form of time spent in a weight room. The point of emphasis for athletes shouldn’t have to be within the competition standard (though it doesn’t hurt) but instead on the RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT.  RFD simply means the speed at which force can be produced. Stronger athletes can produce more force, but the SPEED at which this takes place is the more important figure, specifically in sports where sprinting, jumping and throwing are used. This is where O-Lifting reigns supreme, for it is the best way to move the most amount of resistance in the fastest way possible. You have to train fast to be fast.
As an added benefit, the mechanics to the lift are nearly paralleled to athletic movements in other sports. O-Lifting recruits tremendous amounts of force rapidly through the hip extensors, which is fundamental for high level athletics. Think of the last athletic thing that you saw on Youtube that was awesome, and chances are, force driven through hip extension was needed.
 

In all four examples above, powerful extension of the hip is the key to the desired action. Hip extension is the point of transfer where dynamic leg action makes its way through the rest of body, and better speed and power through that transfer will only make your desired action easier to accomplish. Increasing the force and timing of hip extension can benefit sprinting, jumping, swinging, throwing, kicking, and just about anything that’s worth watching on ESPN. O-lifting not only trains powerful hip extension, but it NEEDS it to be performed. By training O-lifting properly, you will increase your athleticism whether you want to or not. Does that mean you’ll be able to take LeBron in a game of one-on-one? Absolutely not, but you will be more capable of transferring force than if you didn’t Olympic lift.
A good example found here: http://i.imgur.com/Guz5YHL.gif

Now, there are inherent risks that go into O-lifting, and it is really up to the athlete and coach to determine the costs and benefits. It is incredibly time consuming to develop the proper skills and mobility needed to snatch and clean and jerk. Dedicating hours upon hours just to learn how to snatch 135 lbs. may not be the best time spent when you can be working on you jump shot or fielding grounders. The early stages of learning such complex motor skills can be awkward and won’t transfer to field as quickly as someone who has a decent understanding of the lifts. This is where box jumps and kettlebell swings can be a viable alternative. The loads can be kept relatively low while still recruiting quick and powerful hip extension to accomplish the movement. Athletes new to lifting should put in a decent amount of GPP prior to picking up the O-lifts with serious intent. If developing explosive hip action is all we are looking for to benefit our performance, we may draw the line at dumbbell snatches and high pulls to minimize time lost on the field. The main point is to find what is effective, and to progress accordingly.
 A reasonable progression for athletes who compete outside Olympic weightlifting is to train up your hang power clean first prior to pulling weight from the floor or dropping into the bottom of cleans and snatches. The hang power clean will train the importance of hip mechanics in the second pull while limiting the stress that can be picked up on the low back when pulling from the floor. The weight can also remain light enough that any issue with front rack mobility can be seen and addressed as need be. Once the hang power clean is developed so that the athlete delivers force predominantly from the hip and has good mechanics receiving the bar in the front rack, they can progress to the power clean. Progress slowly in a manner that the most force can be produced without losing quality in the movement. Typically, an athlete can just train power variations and benefit from training explosive hip drive, but learning how to accomplish the full lifts can reinforce good joint mechanics, and allows the athlete to lift even more weight at faster speeds.  The joint mobility utilized in the full lifts can help keep a high end athlete strong through positions usually not reached come game day, and provide a more holistic approach to athletic development and injury prevention.  

Alternatively, it may be wise to only do full lift variations in the off-season, where there is no repeated stress of practice and games to add to the demands of the intensity that the snatch and clean and jerk provide. Lifting should be secondary to daily practice and participation in developing the skills of the game, but not excluded all together.
If you are involved with a form of competition outside the world of strength sports, consider adding in Olympic variations to your training to help optimize your performance.   Whether you are a high school athlete, weekend golfer, or just want to experience running faster and jumping higher, use Olympic lifting to help maximize your athleticism. Don’t treat O-lifting as a means to an end, but choose to get better at it and develop the skills of the sport to reach a new potential.  Weightlifting is one of the few skills that nearly every top athletics organization uses with its best athletes. To be very clear, being good at weightlifting won’t make you and all-star at any sport, but it will give you more tools to work with and open your potential to be better at what you do as an athlete. 

Jace Derwin, CSCS

BS Exercise Science, Seattle Pacific University

Sports Performance Specialist at VoltAthletics.com

Co-Captain of AJAX Weightlifting Team