Olympic Lifting for Athletic Development
Olympic lifting is a sport consisting of the Clean and Jerk as well as the Snatch. The clean is two movements, pulling the bar from the floor and catching it in a front squat position and recovering to a standing position followed by the Jerk. At this point a consolidation of the grip is allowed as part of the recovery. The Jerk is a short dip and drive accomplished by flexing the knees and driving the bar overhead to a locked out press position. The catch in the Jerk is usually a split squat stance in which the athlete pushes back from the front leg before moving the rear leg in the recovery. The Snatch is a wider grip lift (so the bar does not have to be pulled as high) with essentially the same mechanics as the clean, the difference is that the bar is racked or caught overhead in a wide grip, fully locked out press position in a deep squat. Recovery is accomplished by standing up out of the squat and moving the feet into a comfortable standing position. Some of the key technique cues are to pull the bar by pushing the feet through the floor, not pulling or jerking the bar as this generally disrupts the flat back, pillar core needed to execute the lift safely. Always maintain pressure on the bar by either pulling or pushing. In heavy loads the breath must be large and locked and held in order to support the spine as the loads are on the shoulders and transferred through the spine to the legs, feet and floor. The arms do little other than hold the weight. For novices, it is easy to cue them that they are jumping with weight and speed and technique are the keys, not strength.
Weight lifters in the lighter weight classes generate some of the greatest power outputs measured in sport.
Why Include Olympic Lifting as a Part of the Training Process
In Olympic lifting, the athlete is jumping with weight. In other words, Olympic lifting can be viewed as loaded, in-place plyometrics. In athletics, rate of force development (RFD) is the key to power. Jumping is the key for lower body RFD. What is sprinting other than jumping from foot to foot? The greater the variety of drills imposed on the athlete that optimizes the RFD at varying loads, speeds, angles and directions, with consistent dosage, will increase the athletes ability to be explosive, quick, fast and powerful. Olympic lifting is one tool that can be used to increase vertical plane RFD in the extensors of the lower body and in creating “triple extension” at the hip, knee and ankle in a parallel stance. Single leg power is generally developed by agilities and plyometric drills. In order to measure actual power output abilities and adjust the prescription for an athlete for any given workout the use of the Tendo unit is currently the only practical device that can be utilized to quickly determine an athletes’ ability to generate force at that moment.
The clean is a pull from the floor, a re-bending of the knees (or scoop) for the explosive second pull to lift the bar above the hips as the body is pulled under for the catch or rack. During the second pull, great hip extension will result in the bar brushing the mid to upper thigh. Pressure is kept on the bar at all times by either pulling or pushing. The depth of the squat during the rack is determined by the load. The lighter the load, the higher the squat during the catch phase as the bar is pulled higher. Cleans can be classified in a number of different ways. Olympic clean is usually executed by going deep in the hole (deep squat) to catch the rack, a power clean is usually caught higher as the athlete lacks the squat skills to go low, a hang clean is executed above the scoop from just above the knees/mid-thigh and a muscle clean is executed by using more back and upper body than legs. The snatch is essentially the same with the exception that the grip is wider, there is more flexion at the hip, the weight is lighter, the amplitude of movement is greater and the speed of the bar is faster. For athletic development, the snatch is rarely if ever loaded above 70 – 75% of max as speed is essential in the snatch. Remember, it is being prescribed to enhance RFD.
Teaching Olympic Lifting
Olympic Lifting is taught backwards or from the top down. The athlete is generally taught with a dowel rod before moving to a bar. Many times the snatch is taught before the clean as it is the more technical of the lifts. The general techniques are to teach, in order the following cues:
Stance Feet 7-15 degrees external rotation
Legs Knees Knees bent to kneecaps even with toes
Posture Chest Pull shoulder blades back or lift chest up
Grip Wrist Turn wrists down/flex forearms for wide elbow pull
Now the athlete has two techniques to execute one at a time, a slight to moderate RDL followed by a jump. The arms at this point do not bend at the elbow as posture and jumping are the keys. After this is mastered, the athlete will be allowed to repeat (with verbal feedback of each cue from the athlete to you) and add a shrug to the jump. After this is mastered a standing, medium grip upright row is executed followed by a standing medium grip upright row with an elbow whip to a front squat position, holding the bar on the front shoulders for the clean. In the snatch, the techniques are the same but the bar is pulled with a wider grip upright row, the whip occurs to move the elbows under the bar and it is pressed overhead as the body is pushed under the bar for an elbow extended, overhead catch.
Problem Coaching Cue
Using too much upper body Use more legs, jump
Hit belly or belt with 2nd pull Too much back, too little leg, use more legs
Elbows too low in rack Either lazy elbow/forearms too long
Hitting knees in pull Trying to clean from floor, pull from floor, clean from the hang position
Jerking from floor Push feet through the floor – do not pull from the floor
Loss of posture/pillar core Lock in breath, retract shoulder blades, big chest
Lack of power Cover bar with shoulders until 2nd pull, then cover bar with hips by great triple extension. (FASTER!)
Soft rack/catch Put force into the floor – stomp your feet on the catch
Can’t get low Move feet wider after pull for rack/catch
Assist lift for the Olympic Lifts
The assist lifts for Olympic lifting include pulls from the floor and boxes or plinths; various deadlifts, various squats, various presses and jerks as well as a bendover back side chain movements.
Pulls – Pulls are prescribed for loading more than the athlete can catch or to train triple extension without the catch in order to save the athlete from getting beat up by catching rep after rep. However, the eccentric ability of the legs to absorb the force of the clean is paramount for translation to generating force at the tendon in plyometric, change of direction, sprinting type activities. In pulls, the technique is the same as in a clean from the floor, box or plinth but the bar is guided back down with no attempt at a rack.
Deadlifts – Deadlifts are executed from the normal squat stance, wide sumo stance, off of boxes/plinths or from the top down in the RDL (Russian or Romanian deadlift). The grip is either an overhand grip or an over/under alternate style grip. Usually the former grip is assigned. Deadlifts are utilized to stress the back, glutes and hamstrings of the back side chain. Reverse hypers and glute ham raises are other examples of this type of bendover exercise.
Squats – Squats are used to increase the ability of the athlete to catch or rack the load in a low position. Power squats are done with the bar low on the back and usually a wide stance. Power squats involve the back to a great degree. Olympic squats are executed with the bar high on the shoulders and the stance is usually somewhat narrow, thus putting less stress on the lower back. Front squats are executed with the bar in front of the neck with the bar supported on the shoulders and high elbows and is least stressful on the lower back. This squat may be difficult for long forearmed athletes. Overhead squats are executed with the bar extended overhead in a locked out position. Overhead squats put the greatest stress on the functional mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles as well as the core to support this squat. The Safety Bar squat is used to stress the thoracic spine more than the lower back. It allows the athlete to use greater loads on the hips and legs than normal squats, put less stress on the lower back, spot themselves for a great degree of safety with the handles and are generally a great addition to Olympic lifting. Single leg squats (Bulgarian squats) are executed with one foot elevated to the rear without rotation at the hips, so the load is supported on the front leg only. This puts greater stress on the loaded leg and much less stress on the low back. The Soviet Bloc coaches tended to prescribe many more single leg exercises to their lifters once they were able to back squat 500 pounds (225 kilos) in order to save their backs for the lifts and pulls.
Jerks – Jerks are overhead presses in which the bar is driven up by flexing (dip) at the knees and using the legs to drive the load overhead while assisting with the shoulders and arms. The feet will rapidly split forward and backward in order to lower the center of mass for the catch in a lunge or split squat stance. The push jerk is an overhead press in which the legs assist the press, the feet even leave the floor, but there is no split. The push press is executed the same with out foot movement off of the floor. The press is executed by just using the upper body, no legs.
Combination and Complex Lifts
Combination lifts are exercise in which two or more techniques or lifts are combined in order to create a series of exercises. For example, 3 hang snatches + 3 overhead lunges + 3 good morning to a press could be prescribed. This would include speed pulling, core stability, push back lunges for recovery and bendovers with speed to a wide grip overhead press. A complex lift is similar with the exception that each technique is executed in a row 3 times. For example, 1 hang snatch + 1 overhead lunge on each leg + 1 good morning to a press x 3 repetitions. The complex lift is more demanding on the strength fitness of the athlete. Combination and complex lifts are excellent for stressing technical aspects of the lifts, fitness of the athlete, build up sets, as well as increasing time under tension at light to moderate loads. In order to increase time under tension (TUT), prescribe a hold for a certain time at each change of direction, from eccentric to concentric, in the lift. Usually it is best to prescribe a three second hold as the athlete will count too fast. Three seconds is usually about 1 – 1.5 good seconds. Combination and complex lifts are excellent ways to prescribe corrective exercise for athletes that are time challenged and need/want results in measurables and are not as interested in screens, assessments and injury prevention.
Why assign or prescribe Olympic Weightlifting exercises as a part of the workout or training program?
In a word – POWER.
In addition, postural strength, work capacity and mobility/stability are all byproducts of good weightlifting exercises as a part of the training program.
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