So, if the Olympic lifts are a better enhancer of jump performance compared to traditional weight training methods (at least from the findings of the piece of research mentioned in part 1)..

What about specific power training – such as plyometrics?

Plyometric jump training is widely embraced as another ‘must have’ in most conditioning programmes. Plyo’s utilise what’s known as the stretch/reflex capacity of muscles. Our muscles can generate great levels of power when an eccentric (lengthening) muscular action follows a concentric (shortening) one.

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Greek researchers (2) compared the effects of Olympic lifting with –

1) a plyometric; and

2) a combined weight lifting and plyometric training programme on vertical jumping performance and vertical jump biomechanics.

Thirty-nine men were randomly assigned to four groups – a) Olympic lifts (9),b) plyometrics (9), c) weights and plyos combined (9) and d) a control group (8).

The experimental groups trained three days a week for eight weeks. EMG activity (quadriceps), squat jump and counter-movement jump performance were tested. It was discovered that all interventions improved jump performance but the way that the participants jumped to achieve this varied in response to the parameters measured.

Crucially in terms of ‘take-home value’ from this article – the Olympic lifters improved the concentric contribution to their jump performance.

This obviously makes sense, as the movement to get a bar from the floor requires great concentric force application, as the quadriceps, for example perform a muscle shortening action.

Intensity of olympic lifts

Advocates of the Olympic lifts may also make claims about the intensity of these lifts. Rowers for example, need to generate great levels of power, whilst simultaneously combating increasing levels of lactate and lactic acid build up.

Researchers looked at the application of different rep and set volumes of power clean training (3).

They found that a high volume protocol involving 3 sets of 9 reps of the power clean at 70-75% of 1 Rep max, produced significantly higher levels of blood lactate compared to medium and low volume protocols (3x 6 at 85% 1 Rep max and 3 x 3 at 100% 1 Rep max respectively).

The team concluded that, “High volume explosive training may impose greater metabolic demands than low volume explosive training and may improve ability to produce power in the presence of lactate.”

Engaging the ankle, knee and hip muscles

The vertical jump (and similar jumps) as you will have noted features prevalently in the research featured in this article, in terms of the contributory relevance of the Olympic lifts to enhanced sports performance.

Vertical jumping engages the ankle, knee and hip muscles in that triple extension way that is very similar to how they engage in the drive phase of Olympic lifting. It therefore stands to reason that their contribution would be a positive one (as indicated by the research).

However, there are those who argue that the actual contribution Olympic lifts make to sports performance is actually relatively minimal or at best over-stated.

benefits of olympic lifting_2

Forget about the Olympic lifts…

Tudor Bompa is one of the world’s leading sports training experts. He is credited with being a leading light in the development of periodised training and specifically and relevantly in regard to the subject matter of this article – the periodisation of strength and its role in enhancing sports performance.

Bompa is firmly in the camp that’s critical of the Olympic lifts as a sports performance enhancer.

“On a trip to the UK in 2006, I realised that strength coaches are too captivated by Olympic lifting,” explained Bompa in an interview.

“Why? Don’t they know that a strength exercise should be selected in regard to targeting the muscles in the relevant way they are used in the sports activity itself? If this is understood then simply select the moves that target the specific muscle and movements and train them. Forget about the Olympic lifts!”

He added, “I recommend these exercises for sprinters (and any athletes) that want to become faster and more agile (in this order):

a) Calf (heel) raise
b) Squats
c) A lift that strengthens the hamstrings, e.g. leg curls 

The Olympic lift requires the extensor muscles of the arms to contribute to the pull on the bar, this is a requirement of very few sports (rowing is an exception) and most definitely not of sprinting.

Unilateral and bilateral movements

The Olympic lifts are unilateral movements, sprinting and most sports are performed bilaterally.

The speed of movement of  Olympic lifts is also that much slower than for example, the footstrike phase of the sprint action. Additionally the skill of learning the Olympic lifts, and the Snatch in particular, can take some time and lifts effected without proper technique can lead to injury.

Olympic lifting in a strength training programme

Olympic lifts could be used in terms of developing maximum strength as advocates of their use will claim.

However, I believe like Bompa, that it’s the load that is important and the selection of the most appropriate lifts for the sport in question and their placement and evolution in a systematically planned periodised strength training programme.

If you’re a sports conditioner or looking at a way to get the edge on your sports opponents then be ready to challenge some of their beliefs surrounding Olympic lifting and sports preparation.

Just because ‘you’ lifted that way and everyone else around you does, does not mean that it’s the way forwards for those you now work with or your self.

If you think that the clean and jerk and similar exercises do have a real relevance to you or your charges then by all means use them.

However, in truth, there are just as many other practical and perhaps more effective exercises that you could select. Never lose sight on the focus of your conditioning programme and the periodisation of its ingredients.

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References

1. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Oct 12 (Epub ahead of print)
2. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Sep(9): 2440-8 (Epub ahead of print)
3. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May 29

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