We had a great group with people from many backgrounds and experiences, which of course gave us an insightful debate on the Oly's.
For those of you that know us here at BBA know we don't use Olympic lifts, something that surprises many athletes and coaches when we tell them.
We explain why we feel they aren't necessary, why we avoid them and the severe short-comings of strictly performing Oly's. Below we outline why we don't perform them and our reasoning.
1. Why Are You Doing Them?
The first question I always ask is why are you performing Oly lifts? Is it because you've seen other people do them, or they look cool, or is it for a specific purpose. I could go and ask High School programs why they are programming Olympic lifts and I wouldn't get a very good answer other than it's what everybody does - unfortunately that's not a very good answer.
If you are going to perform them, then have a concrete reason. If it's because of the power production you can get from them, great. There are many ways to skin a cat and we'll dive into what we think are better ways to develop power in a more time efficient and safe manner. But if you honestly can't answer that question or aren't qualified to answer that question, then you shouldn't be performing Olympic lifts.
2. Assessing Your Athletes
Going hand-in-hand with the question, "why are you performing them", comes this question - Are your athletes qualified for them? Contrary to belief not everyone is suited or ready for the various Olympic lifts.
If you answered no to any of these questions, then sorry to break it to you, it's wise to avoid Olympic lifts until these are resolved.
In my practice and experience it is very uncommon to be find an athlete who is clear of all these issues. If you continue to use Oly's with these athletes you risk potential shoulder impingement, rotator cuff strains/tears, elbow dislocations, UCL strains, excessive lumbar stress, on and on. The clean, jerk and snatch require great deals of mobility, stability, and joint integrity to be performed safely and many athletes do not possess these qualities.
3. Wear and Tear
Being an athlete is a tough life and the body takes a beating. All sports, but especially contact and collision sports, put tremendous amounts of stress and beating on the bodies joints. If you look at sports like football, baseball, rugby, volleyball, basketball, wrestling - these sports beat the crap out of an athletes wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine.
Olympic lifts do the same, they bang up these joints and as a coach I'd rather not put more stress and beating on them. The catch of a clean, jerk, and/or snatch is extremely tough on the body and it's not uncommon to see these joints get gunky, bruised, and beat-up when performing these lifts. My job as a Performance Coach is to keep my athletes healthy and reduce their joint issues, not compound them.
The goal of Olympic lifting is for power production, and they do a good job at that, specifically in high level performers. Unfortunately the nature of Oly's is strictly a sagittal plane movement and specifically axial based. This is fine and dandy for this specific movement, but athletics require a athletes to produce force and movement in many different planes. For success on the field, plane specific movements are needed.
The point being, strictly sagittal based power training vs. multi-directional power training is that sagittal plane movements may not produce the most efficient carryover to sport.
In a recent article we showed how throwing and hitting velocity is associated with power in the frontal and transverse plane, NOT the sagittal plane. The point being, how many times in a game does an athlete perform a strictly sagittal planer movement? Vary rarely, and I could argue, depending on the sport, this type of movement occurs the least compared to lateral, rotational, multi-directional, and horizontal movements.
Instead, we choose to perform our power work in many different forms and fashions to get the greatest transfer to the athletes given sport. We feel this approach is much more sound and specific to the needs of our athletes rather than just the strict path Oly's provide.
The classic argument against Oly's is the amount of time it takes to teach and learn. The fact is Olympic lifts are an actual sport, with all the details and intricacies that come with a sport. Athletes that compete in the Olympic lifts take years and years to learn and master the movements, and here we are trying to teach athletes of another sport to master these same movements?
Depending on the setting, age of the athlete, and how good of a coach you are, it can take 2 weeks (being generous here) to 1 full year before an athlete is proficient enough to actually load and perform an adequate Olympic lift. In a 1-on-1 setting, sure an athlete can learn faster but in a team setting with 30-40 athletes to 1-3 coaches - the logistics just don't make sense. In my opinion, to coach the Oly's well and have them executed well, every single rep should be monitored and critiqued - that's how much attention to detail there needs to be, if not, movement inefficiencies will happen galore and even worse - injury.
Now on the other hand, I can teach a med ball throw and have the athlete loading and performing this movement in 30-seconds. So while the other athlete is taking weeks or months to learn a movement before getting any real benefit from it, I can have this other athlete getting hundreds, if not thousands of repetitions in practically the same movement. Plus all the time saved means I can focus on other plane specific movements or any other skill/quality I want.
Another point that can made is the goal of Oly's is power production. Well, research has shown that power is maximized at around 80% of 1RM; 80% is a pretty intense weight and a weight that most can probably perform only 2-4 times at most. The stronger athletes get in Oly's, typically, they can only perform singles, maybe doubles, with weight 80% and above. So it's not like a squat or deadlift where 80% can be performed 5-8 times in a single set.
Where I'm going with this is a typical Oly session will consist of 6-8sets x 1-2reps. This means only 6-16 total reps in the span of 20-25 minutes, if you're taking adequate rest to maximize training power production. Instead, I could get 25-40 med ball throws/kettlebell swings/bounds/jumps in 5-10 minutes. The peak power output of these movements may be slightly lower than Oly's, but I also performed 9-31 additional reps and saved 10-15minutes. Long story short, our thought process is - not only is time taken to learn and teach longer, but total time during sessions is also longer to potentially perform less work and volume. Again I can take this time on work on other skills/movements that would otherwise be neglected.
6. Coaching and Execution
Maybe my biggest qualm with Olympic lifts is my lack of 100% comfort in teaching them. I can admit that I don't feel comfortable teaching the ins and outs of Olympic lifts, and that's a major reason I don't have my athletes perform them.
I can admit to this, yet the same can be said for most High School coaches and even college coaches. I actually have plenty of experience not only performing Oly's but teaching them to many different populations and I still don't feel competent in teaching them. This leads me to question why so many programs include them yet the coach teaching them has no business teaching them. When you go to the doctor, you definitely want a Dr. that has gone through med school and passes his/her boards; well shouldn't it be the same for learning the Olympic lifts? If a coach doesn't hold a USAW certification, they probably shouldn't be coaching them. Compound this with what we mentioned earlier, most settings involve a ton of athletes to very few coaches. The overall logistics don't make sense to us and we aren't one to over step the scope of our abilities.
7. Risk Isn't Worth the Reward
The health and safety of our athletes is our number 1 concern and with this in mind, Oly's don't fit into this philosophy. The number of times we've seen athletes doing cleans, snatches, or jerks despite not having full shoulder flexion ROM is difficult to comprehend. Add in seeing athletes who present valgus signs at the elbow performing OH Oly's is another concerning subject. Then add in athletes who can't even perform a quality squat or hip hinge and are trying to perform Oly's is common place.
I just don't find the risk worth the reward. I question where the benefit of Oly's is over jumping, bounding, KB swings, jump squats, etc in terms of both power production and safety.
Go Your Own Way
The biggest takeaway we had from our debate is that there isn't necessarily a right or wrong way. As a coach you have to weigh the pros and cons of your situation and figure out what's best for your athletes. At BBA we critically think about everything we do, and when we critically think about performing Oly's it just doesn't fit our philosophy. The important thing is to do what you believe in and what fits your philosophy; not just what you see others doing.
Hope this information helps your created your own path and philosophy and where the Olympic lifts fit into that scheme.
Go Get 'Em!