Introducing Olympic Lifting For Athletes: Part III

Introducing Olympic Lifting For Athletes: Part III

This is a guest post from Matt Wichlinski

Starting with the press, the athlete will eventually learn to press behind neck. It requires more shoulder flexibility, but it automatically puts the head and shoulders in the best position to support a heavy load overhead. Dip squats are basically a quick quarter squat, and can be done with the bar on the back or in the rack like a front squat. They introduce speed and aggression on the bar, while maintaining a tall, rigid torso. Next you put the dip squat and the press together for the push press. Incorporating a foot transition drill is good to teach the athlete to move their feet from a pushing position like the start of a clean, snatch, jump or deadlift, and quickly move to a receiving position as in a squat or landing from a jump.

You could, and should, also teach a split receiving position, where the athlete receives the bar in a lunge position. This is beneficial for those athletes with less shoulder mobility, but requires more foot speed. There are a few drills you can do to help acquire the necessary speed and aggression to perform the jerk well, like tall jerks or jerk balances. Each of the drills train you to either push down under the bar or transition your feet to an optimally stable position. However, if the athletes are not planning on competing in olympic lifting, these drills may not be all that necessary and may only over complicate the training while providing little benefit for their sport for the time invested in their training.

The first phase of the snatch is much like the clean, where you push hard in to the ground and pull the bar up and in to your body. The final phase of the snatch where you transition from pulling under the bar to pushing under the bar, is much like the jerk. This part seems to be a bit tougher for many athletes to grasp. The finish is an extremely aggressive push under the bar, not merely a long pull that lands over your head.

In my opinion, the jerk is the most violent and aggressive movement of the all Olympic lifts, and possibly in all of barbell training in general. Surely there will be many who disagree, largely due to individual strengths and weaknesses. Some people clean more and others jerk more. The balanced athlete will be damn close in both lifts at 100%. Having discrepancies can actually be a good thing, as it provides clues as to how you should structure your training. Bringing up your weakness is more important than perfecting your strengths. I’m not saying you don’t need to squat if you already have a good squat, but you’ll always be limited by your weak link, so you better get that thing fixed and prioritize your training accordingly.

The main reason why I like Oly lifting for athletes so much is because of the integration of all of the natural major movement patterns of our body. The clean and snatch begin by squatting down, grabbing the bar, and pushing your feet into the ground as hard as possible, while maintaining a rigid torso. This dynamic movement of the hips and legs, integrated with an isometric hold of the back, develops superior strength, explosive power and general athleticism. Following the initial pull from the ground, the athlete jumps hard, but not high, because he instantly transitions to pulling his body under the bar. He then pulls the bar aggressively into his body by bringing his elbows high and outside and pulling the body around the bar.

There is a powerful hinging movement of the hips that occurs while bringing the barbell up past the thighs, constantly pulling on that barbell. After the jump the athlete then pulls his body down because he is no longer connected to the ground. There is constant tension being applied from the body. The force is either going into the ground as the anchor, or applied to the bar as the anchor, there is never a slack instant during the lift. Once the athlete pulls under the bar and receives the weight in the squat position, he must apply maximal force pushing into the ground to stand up from the squat which puts the hips through a full range of motion, again while isometrically contracting the torso. After standing from the clean, the athlete adjusts, dips and drives the bar upward as aggressively as possible and jumps his feet into a receiving position.

While the feet are not connected to the ground, the bar is the anchor and the athlete uses that anchor to push down under that bar as fast as possible. After receiving the bar overhead in the jerk, the athlete must recover by again holding a solid isometric contraction with the upper body while dynamically pushing his legs in to the ground to return to a standing position. There is a perfect blend of pushing, pulling, squatting and hinging, as well as constant use of isometric strength and dynamic strength involved in the olympic lifts. That is what makes it perfect for athletes.

While I think the Oly lifts are great for athletes, if they are all you ever did for your training, you would always be training with full integration. That is not bad, but it is incomplete. Remember, we need isolation and integration. You must isolate each of the movements, the pulls, pushes, squats and hinges, to maximize your strength in each which can be expressed with your Oly lifting as an integrated movement which improves your agility, speed, strength mobility, stability and general athleticism simultaneously.

In conclusion we have a few key points. Prioritize strength, mobility and stability in your training, especially early on in the athletes training career to build a solid foundation. Strength and stability is best developed with a barbell using basic exercises like squats, deadlifts and presses. Progressive bodyweight training is outstanding as well, but I’ll save that for another article. It makes perfect sense to begin light and progress to heavier weight, but many people lose focus when it comes to training complexity. Always begin with simple movements, focus on mastering the basics, and gradually introduce more complex movements over time. Knowing the progressions is good, but not every athlete needs every progression. Knowing what drill is appropriate for which athlete is the golden ticket. You can’t buy that ticket, you must train and learn with experience.


The good news is, qualified experience is only 10,000 hours away. So, you better be passionate about what you’re coaching or training, because spending that much time doing something you don’t enjoy is as fun as an eternal conversation with your annoying ex who made your ears bleed and brain hemorrhage every time she opened her fat mouth. Following a solid program is important, but you need to be smart enough to know when to make adjustments. Be humble, there’s going to be a lot of detours on your journey. Injuries, holidays and hangovers are a part of life, and as such, they will take their toll on your training. Enjoy the road, train hard, be aggressive, floss daily and get strong because it’s always better lifting bigger weights. But not right away.


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