The Unique Value Of Olympic Lifts For Athletes (Excerpted from Appendix 3 - Training on the Snatch and Clean and Jerk: A Key to Athletic Excellence)

The truly remarkable abilities of Olympic style weightlifters are certainly due in part to genetic qualities of these athletes and to their outstanding physical condition. However, they are also due in no small measure to the kind of training that weightlifters do: performing the snatch and the clean and jerk (C&J).

Almost any form of resistance training can improve an athlete’s strength, but the snatch and C&J are unique in their ability to develop strength and explosive power at the same time. And the benefits of practicing the Olympic lifts are hardly limited to developing strength and power. Here is a partial list of other added benefits:

1. The mere practice of the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete how to explode (to activate a maximum number of muscle units rapidly and simultaneously). Part of the extraordinary abilities of the Olympic lifters arises out of their having learned how to effectively activate more of their muscle fibers more rapidly than others who are not so trained (in addition to having developed stronger muscles).

2. The practice of proper technique in the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete to apply force with his or her muscle groups in the proper sequences (i.e., from the center of the body to its extremities). This is a valuable technical lesson which can be of benefit to any athlete who needs to impart force to another person or object (a necessity in virtually every sport).

3. In mastering the Olympic lifts, the athlete learns how to accelerate objects under varying degrees of resistance. This is because the body experiences differing degrees of perceived resistance as it attempts to move a bar with maximum speed through a full range of motion. These kinds of changes in resistance are much more likely to resemble those encountered in athletic events than similar exercises performed on an isokinetic machine (which has a fixed level of resistance or speed of resistance throughout the range of motion).

4. The athlete learns to receive force from another moving body effectively and becomes conditioned to accept such forces.

5. The athlete learns to move effectively from an eccentric contraction to a concentric one (through the stretch-shortening cycle, the cycle that is activated and trained through exercises that are often referred to as plyometrics).

6. The actual movements performed while executing the Olympic lifts are among the most common and fundamental in sports. Therefore, training the specific muscle groups in motor patterns that resemble those used in an athlete’s events is often a byproduct of practicing the snatch and C&J.

7. Practicing the Olympic lifts trains an athlete’s explosive capabilities, and the lifts themselves measure the effectiveness of the athlete in generating explosive power to a greater degree than most other exercises they can practice.

8. Finally, the Olympic lifts are simply fun to do. I have yet to meet an athlete who has mastered them who does not enjoy doing the Olympic lifts. While making workouts enjoyable may not be the primary objective of a strength coach, it is not an unimportant consideration in workout planning. Athletes who enjoy what they are doing are likely to practice more consistently and to be more highly motivated than athletes who do not enjoy their workouts as much.

Other than the abilities of Olympic style weightlifters, is there any proof that practicing the Olympic lifts actually helps athletes? There is an enormous number of examples of athletes who have benefited dramatically from practicing the Olympic lifts. Presenting these cases would require a very large book. I will provide just three examples to make the point. I have chosen those particular examples because they come from athletes who participate in sports which would not normally be expected to benefit very much from ordinary weight training.

Steve Bedrosian recently retired at the age of thirty-nine after a very successful career as a professional baseball pitcher, most recently as relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. His career had very nearly ended five years earlier. When he was thirty-four, Steve lost some of the feeling in two of the fingers of his pitching hand. As a result he had lost the ability to pitch effectively and was forced to take a year off in an effort to rehabilitate his hand. Many baseball experts felt that after this kind of setback his career was over. It was at this point that he met Ben Green, athletic director at the White Oak Athletic Center in Newnan, Georgia (Ben’s accomplishments as a weightlifter and coach were discussed earlier in this book). Ben put Bedrosian on a program of Olympic lift training during his year off . After six months of such training, Bedrosian added eight miles per hour to his fast ball and was able to dunk a basketball (something he had often tried but had never in his life been able to do). Steve made a triumphant return to the mound during the 1993 season.

A second example is professional golfer Cindy Schreyer. She was introduced to the Olympic lifts by Ben Green in 1993. After approximately eight months of training, Cindy increased her drive by a full forty yards, a staggering improvement for a person already highly skilled at golf. Cindy won her first PGA tournament shortly after this dramatic improvement in her drive occurred..

Derrick Adkins was a sophomore at Georgia Tech when he began to work with Lynne Stoessel-Ross, then the school’s strength coach. Lynne has been a national champion and a national record holder in weightlifting and has represented the United States in the Women’s World Weightlifting Championships. She has a strong academic background in physical education, having earned a Masters degree in that field. She currently works as and educator and strength and conditioning coach in Lubbock, Texas. Derek had already reached the international level as a 400 meter hurdler when he began training with Lynne in 1990, having won the Atlantic Coast Conference championships and placed sixth at the World University Games. His best time was 49.53 seconds. In less than a year of training on the Olympic lifts, he shaved nearly a second off his already outstanding time (reducing it to 48.6 seconds). An injury sustained during an unfortunate running accident hampered his training for more than a year after that. However, after recovering from his injury and resuming training on the Olympic lifts, he reduced his time by another .9 seconds and went on to win the U.S. Nationals and the Goodwill Games. More recently Derek won the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Needless to say, if a baseball player, a golfer and a hurdler have benefited so much from practicing the Olympic lifts, football players and other athletes who participate in sports in which power is acknowledged to play a more critical role can enjoy and have enjoyed even more direct benefits.

In order to enjoy the myriad benefits that arise from training on the Olympic lifts, there is a significant price that every athlete must pay. He or she must commit to learning the requisite skills. Most weight training exercises can be learned in one session, and the athlete’s technique can be refined to the point where the athlete can train with little supervision (with regard to technique) in a few practice sessions. In contrast, mastering the Olympic lifts requires a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the movements (which are somewhat complex). Moreover, considerable practice under supervised conditions must take place before competency is attained. People who say that the Olympic lifts are dangerous are very wrong in most of their arguments, but they are correct in one very important sense. The Olympic lifts can be dangerous if an athlete does not learn how to perform them properly. An athlete who is not willing to learn proper technique is better off not practicing the Olympic lifts at all.

Copyright 1998 A is A Communications. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 15, 1998