The Benefits of Training with the Olympic Lifts

Hopefully the first part of this series has given you an idea of why weightlifting could be beneficial to you. Today we’ll go into a bit more detail on this and demonstrate the potential application to different types of trainers.

The Obvious Benefits of Olympic Lifting

  • Improve power

Ask most people why they want to train with the Olympic lifts and this will probably be your top answer. The lifts replicate sporting movement patterns such as jumps and sprints in that they require explosive extension of the ankle, knee and hip (triple extension) together with emphasising the ability to produce force at rapid velocities. It’s also important to train across different points of the force-velocity spectrum (i.e. train explosively with different weights), the Olympic lifts serve well as strength-speed (moderate-to-heavy load) exercises.

  • Improve body composition

Power movements are great for body composition for a number of reasons. As we touched on last time, these exercises are associated with a preferential recruitment of type II muscle fibres and turbocharge the metabolism, but lifting with heavy loads will elevate testosterone too. Increasing testosterone is good news for protein synthesis (muscle growth) and lipolysis (breaking down fat stores).

  • Improve stability

Whilst the ability to decelerate is crucial in all aspects of sport, it is seldom taught or reinforced in strength and conditioning programmes. Regularly catching weights will help you learn how to absorb force correctly under both heavy load and rapid velocity.

  • Stay flexible and mobile

Once you’ve attained the level of flexibility and mobility required to perform squat cleans and squat snatches, performing the lifts regularly will work to cement this. As the old adage goes – use it or lose it!

The Perhaps-Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Olympic Lifting

  • Hypertrophy

It’s often thought that Olympic lifting isn’t compatible with hypertrophy training but that’s not entirely true, even ‘accidently’ you’ll probably see some muscles pop-up after a good cycle of lifting. Pulling off the floor, particularly with a snatch grip, is a fantastic stimulus for whole posterior chain and upper back-posterior shoulder musculature in particular. Then we get onto the second pull, a great building exercise for the upper traps and calves. There is another factor that could contribute to hypertrophy though…

  • Remove the eccentric component

If you’ve watched Olympic weightlifting then you’ll have seen the lifters drop the barbell after completing the lift. This isn’t just for show, dropping the bar removes the eccentric component that would be associated with lowering it under complete control. This is important because eccentric contraction causes significant damage to muscle fibres. Whilst this is generally a good thing if we’re searching for strength or hypertrophy gains, it means that the body needs longer to recover from training. So-called ‘eccentric-less’ training will allow you to perform far greater volumes of training and/or train with greater frequency – both good news for hypertrophy.

  • It’s hard to overdo them

The Olympic lifts are good examples of self-limiting exercises – if you can’t perform them with proper technique then you’ll be training nowhere near your limit. We’ve all had those days when we know that the body isn’t firing on all cylinders, rather than accept defeat I’m guessing that most of us will soldier on and find a way to get the weight up by whatever means necessary. You can’t cheat a clean or a snatch like you may with a squat or a press.

  • Power endurance

Generally we want to be performing Olympic lift variations in a fresh, un-fatigued state. This means performing them at the start of the session, using moderate to long rest periods and potentially clustering repetitions too (more on than here). However, the majority of sports are intermittent in nature – short bursts of intense activity repeated over a prolonged period of time. In these sports it’s not so much maximum power that determines performance, it’s the ability to minimise the reduction in power as you begin to fatigue. Breaking with convention and performing Olympic lifts with incomplete recovery is a good way to train for ‘power endurance’.

Summary

The Olympic lifts have a potential application to all types of trainer. Although these lifts will take longer to learn than other training modalities, they are well worth the initial investment. If you think you’re ready to step up and give it a go, be sure to check out my 8 week coaching course on offer here.

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