Introducing Olympic Weightlifting to Athletes: Part I

Introducing Olympic Weightlifting to Athletes: Part I

This is a guest post from Matt Wichlinski

I am a fan of olympic weightlifting for many reasons, and I may have an affinity to train many of my athletes with this style of training. However, I realize not all athletes are ready for the full competition lifts immediately when they begin their training. Moreover, the full competition lifts really are not necessary for general athletes.

On the contrary, a foundation of simpler exercises is going to be much more beneficial for the novice and intermediate trainee. Once the athlete has developed a solid foundation of the most basic strength building exercises, they should gradually add slightly more complex movement patterns to their training over time. Adding these movement patterns will likely be a weekly or monthly process, not a daily one. Never be in a rush to increase the complexity of an athletes training, but increase the effectiveness of keeping things as simple as possible for as long as possible.

There really isn’t any need to try to invent new exercises, everything you need to know is already full public information. But it is hard to make a name for yourself as a coach by doing what has already been done. So, many coaches try to reinvent the wheel by making up new exercises that can only be described as silly instead of effective. Heed the following simple advice: don’t reinvent the wheel, just get better at using the wheel.

Before I begin utilizing the competition lifts (snatch and clan & jerk) or their variations with my athletes, I ensure that they have satisfactory competency with the basic pillars of strength building exercises and movement patterns. These movement patterns include pushing, pulling, squatting, and hinging.

We also need to have a balanced mix of controlled tempo work/isometric holds and dynamic/explosive elements in our training. However, it is imperative that the athlete develop a good amount of strength, stability and mobility before any emphasis on dynamic training takes place. Always practice the rule of simple before complex. Far too often i think some coaches rush to the high intensity drills that they think will yield the best results, but the athletes haven’t been properly prepared to benefit from high velocity training.

It’s like expecting a third grader to benefit from advanced calculus classes. Without being properly prepared to understand the information, there will be no benefit.  In the case of weightlifting, if the athlete is not very strong or stable in certain positions, training for speed or power will have little benefit. The answer is to stop chasing excessive variety and entertainment in training, and focus on getting stronger. Basic strength is the foundation for all physical training. Especially in the early stages of training, getting stronger will carry over to all other aspects of athleticism. But random fun workouts without a progressive goal will have less benefit for the athlete.

I find it most helpful during the learning phase to introduce the movements in small pieces which isolates a relatively small range of motion of the exercise. This helps the athlete realize the importance of proper position before any increase in intensity occurs. So what we do is actually isolate a few small range of movement patterns, then integrate them all into one fluid movement pattern when the athlete is ready to add more complexity to his training. Isolation, then integration. These isolated movements are not necessarily isolating muscles, but are simply minimizing the movement pattern into smaller parts to make it easier for the athletes to learn. When it becomes second nature, you add on the next step. Again, this does not occur in a 5 minute warm up before a high rep workout, but over the course of many weeks. The athlete must have time to learn, adapt, and practice.

As complex as the human body is, it really has only a few basic movement patterns, as stated earlier, but infinite variety within those basic patterns of pushing, pulling, squatting and hinging. So we will isolate those movements first in our training before we integrate them as a single movement. Again, when I say isolate, I mean the movement, not a muscle, it’s not like we are doing triceps kickbacks or concentration squats. Although concentration squats kind of make sense, but it’s just redundant. Without high concentration, a heavy squat can go bad really quick.

Once the athlete has developed a solid amount of strength, stability and mobility utilizing a good program like Starting Strength, 5/3/1, or Strong Lifts, which all focus on compound movements like squatting, deadlifting and pressing, the coach can introduce more dynamic elements of the movements that the athletes are already performing.

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