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  • Pyry Salmela

Athlete development - with or without weightlifting

We practitioners love the confrontation set-ups whether one training modality or exercise should be part of the training regime or not. One hot one is Olympic weightlifting (OL) and its derivates, which have been a popular training modality for decades to improve athletic performance. Therefore, I thought to write an honest and experience-based opinion about the OL and how it applies to the training regime for athletes that are non-weightlifters. The literature covers a broad range of articles about weightlifting and its derivates (DeWeese et al. 2012; Hori et al. 2005; Neumann, 2019; Stone et al. 2016; Storey, & Smith, 2012; Suchomel, Comfort, & Stone, 2015; Takano, 2013; Wilson, 2014; Zawjeja-Koch, 2005a; Zawjeja-Koch, 2005b). However, I aspire to demonstrate my own viewpoint about the OL and leave the science secondary. For those who are unfamiliar with the OL, but have an interest, I strongly recommend reading at least one of the references that are listed above. For instance, the study by Hori et al. (2005) provides a comprehensive overview about OL, which is a good overview of the OL. I emphasize that the purpose of this article is not do an in-depth analysis of the OL kinematics and kinetics, instead provide views on why it may or may not complement an athlete training regime.

My personal relationship to the OL dates to a couple of decades back. I made the most of my athlete career in Ice hockey; however, I also competed in Weightlifting from the age of 14 to 15. Secondly, the OL was an essential part of my training regime throughout my career and has remained ever since even post-career. Therefore, I can say that I have built a personal viewpoint over the years on the topic.

In short, Olympic weightlifting movements; Clean & Jerk and Snatch can be classified as complex compound movements, where all the muscular actions, concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions are experienced. For non-weightlifting athletes, the lifts are often used to develop an athlete power production ability such as low and high-load speed-strength (Hori et al. 2005). The peak power production is experienced in the explosive triple extension motion, which is apparent in many athletic movements such as sprinting and jumping. Hypothetically, if an athlete has a good non-weighted vertical jumping ability but relatively weak weighted jumping ability, it could be predicted that an athlete may lack the high load power production ability. In this kind of scenarios, the high load OL could be seen as an appropriate strategy to increase high-load power production ability. On the other hand, one could question why not just apply weighted jumps, since it can be seen kinematically easier and closer to the real-life athletic movement. However, weighted landings can add unnecessary loading for the joints, particularly if not executed with appropriate technique. Secondly, let’s imagine a volleyball athlete who jumps plus 1000 contacts in a week. Adding more jumping load in the weight room may not be the strategy to strive for. On the other hand, OL lifts get controversial noise among the practitioners due to the fact that it is a complex movement and if not effectively executed, it may not serve the purpose and as a consequence increase the risk of an injury and the unhappiness of the athlete.

Indeed, it can be said that OL lifts are complex and biomechanically challenging exercises to master. That is why many practitioners consider the cost efficiency between the time spent on learning and its effectiveness on enhancing power production ability of an athlete. Secondly, a common error detected with non-experienced lifters is the poor second pull that lacks full extension motion. Thus, the peak power production potential is compromised, which can be counterproductive for the targeted adaptation. Lastly, practitioners have added some debates that the catch phase of the lift is maybe unnecessary, since the catch phase may cause unnecessary load and not provide great benefit for the rate of force development characteristics.

I can personally relate to some of those of debates. The OL lifts are technically complex and can be time-consuming to master. Secondly, if the lifter has no technical proficiency to complete the full extension motion, the lift may not serve its purpose. It is also true that when catching the bar, it adds up a load and is more fatiguing compared to its derivates such as hang pulls. So, did I waste a valuable training time at mastering the lift, whereas I could have used some alternative strategies to achieve the same target of enhancing my power production ability? Perhaps, perhaps not. Firstly, learning the complex multi-joint exercise helped me enormously to learn other complex exercises. Therefore, I believe that lift like the Snatch also had secondary benefits by enhancing my motor-learning abilities. Secondly, moving a barbell at a rapid rate with a high load enhanced my skill to control forces at fast speed. Thirdly, in terms of force-time characteristics, the time of the force propulsion phase in the second pull with 70 % to 80 % of 1RM max is relatively close to the skating contact times which is approximately 0,3 s in Ice hockey (Silverman, Perry, 2011). Lastly, I used to complete the lifts always until the catch phase. Whereas it could have been wise to use also derivates, the catch phase served similar characteristics with the impact forces experienced in Ice hockey. Science does not support very well that claim. However, that is also the dilemma of science. Force plate data isn’t fully equivalent with the real-life scenario. Catching a heavily loaded bar is relatively close to the feeling of sudden impact forces that are experienced in Ice hockey and other contact sports. A sudden load absorption in Ice hockey can be seen as an essential factor, for instance, from an injury prevention point of view. Therefore, even up until today, I believe that learning and using the OL consistently in my regime were useful training strategy to enhance my athletic abilities in the given sport. However, looking back now, I could have used more variability and use some of the derivates or alternative strategies to increase especially my low load speed-strength qualities. If I was asked, could I have been able to achieve the same level of power capacity with alternative methods, most likely yes.

In summary, the OL lifts are not the one and only strategy for enhancing the power production ability of an athlete. Strategies such as explosive medicine ball throws and plyometrics are effective alternatives to enhance an athlete rate of force development. In the end, it all comes down the basic principles, what are the needs of a sport and the athlete. For instance, I haven’t used the OL lifts for the motorsport athletes, due to the fact that the OL doesn’t complement the sport-specific needs in Motorsport or if when it does, alternative strategies have been applied.

References:

DeWeese, B. H., Serrano, A. J., Scruggs, S. K., & Sams, M. L. (2012). The clean pull and snatch pull: Proper technique for weightlifting movement derivatives. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 34(6), 82–86.

Hori, N., Newton, R. U., Nosaka, K., & Stone, M. H. (2005). Weightlifting exercises enhance athletic performance that requires high-load speed strength. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Allen Press Inc.

Neumann, D. L. (2019). A Systematic Review of Attentional Focus Strategies in Weightlifting. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1.

Silverman, J. P., & Perry, S. D. (2011). Force measurement during a stride in hockey skates. Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

Stone, M. H., Pierce, K. C., Sands, W. A., & Stone, M. E. (2006). Weightlifting: A brief overview. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 28(1), 50–66.

Storey, A., & Smith, H. K. (2012). Unique aspects of competitive weightlifting: Performance, training and physiology. Sports Medicine.

Suchomel, T. J., Comfort, P., & Stone, M. H. (2015, June 26). Weightlifting Pulling Derivatives: Rationale for Implementation and Application. Sports Medicine. Springer International Publishing.

Suchomel, T. J., Comfort, P., & Lake, J. P. (2017). Enhancing the force-velocity profile of athletes using weightlifting derivatives. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 39(1), 10–20.

Takano, R. K. (2013). Weightlifting in the development of the high school athlete. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(6), 66–72.

Wilson, G. (2014). From the Editor’S Desk: Olympic Agenda 2020: Is the Youth Olympic Games Facilitating the Long Term Development of Elite Weightlifting Athletes? Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning, 22(2), 9–14.

Woods, B. (2006). Youth Weightlifting - a Review on the Risks, Benefits, and Long-Term Athlete Development Associated With Weightlifting Amongst Youth Athletes. Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, 24(3), 53–68.

Zawieja-Koch, M. (2005). Weightlifting in training for athletics - Part I. / L’halterophilie integree aux entrainements d’athletisme (1ere Partie). New Studies in Athletics, 20(1), 7–23.

Zawieja-Koch, M. (2005). Weightlifting in training for athletics - Part II. / L’entrainement des athletes base sur l’halterophilie- 2e partie: planification des seances d’entrainement. New Studies in Athletics, 20(2), 37–43.


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