The Olympic lifts (the clean and jerk and the snatch) and associated lifts like the high pull, hang clean and power clean are used by a multitude of athletes from numerous sports in the belief that they will improve performance.

But do they?

1) You’ll recruit a great deal of your muscle mass and in particular your fast twitch strength and power fibres if you perform them

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It is increasingly being argued that heavy weight training is key to making you a speedier, stronger and an even more enduring athlete. A typical session would be 6 x 2 reps at 90% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM) with 4-5min between sets.

Although, in relative terms the velocity of the lift will be slow compared to, for example, a tennis smash, it’s argued that the ‘effort’ used by the athlete to recruit the largest bundles of fast twitch fibre will ultimately (through a specific periodised conditioning programme) deliver enhanced sports performance.

Basically you’ll be able to command more power from your muscular system.

The dynamic nature of the Olympic lifts and their derivatives seemingly makes them ideally suited to this maximum strength for enhanced sports performance methodology.

2) The development of triple extension and triple flexion

When you perform a snatch for example, you’ll use what’s known as triple extension and triple flexion of the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Triple extension and flexion is key to virtually all sports performance – it’s the key component of running and jumping.

When you clean a bar your ankles, knees and hips forcibly extend to create the momentum needed to get the bar up. When the bar is caught – in the racked position, as is the case with the power clean, for example – the same muscles of the ankle, knee and hip need to flex to absorb the now downward movement of the bar.

olympic lifters_2Why is this important for sports performance?

Let’s consider sprinting. When you extend to drive across the running surface the leg and hip joint muscles undergo triple extension, when you land between strides (what’s known as the stance phase) these muscle flex on impact.

3) Proven ability to enhance sports performance

Numerous research studies have looked at the transference of the Olympic lifts to sports performance. One interesting study considered the contribution of the Olympic lifts to vertical jump performance compared to traditional weight training methods (1).

Twenty-six males participated

Nine were placed in a group that did the Olympic lifts, nine in a group that carried out traditional weight training and eight acted as controls.

The two experimental groups did three sessions a week for eight weeks

Data was collected as it pertained to EMG (electromyographic) activity in the quadriceps, knee joint stability and maximum height and power when jumping, for example.

In terms of EMG, the more buzz there is in your muscles the more muscle fibres are being recruited.

The results of the study

It was discovered that the Olympic lifting group displayed better vertical jumping ability than the traditional weight training group. The traditional trainers however, displayed greater stability around their knee joints. The latter could be attributed to exercises such as leg extensions and leg presses, which are known to improve knee joint stability.

Discover more about Olympic lifts and whether they should be used for power training in tomorrow’s Part 2 article.

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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