Power Development for Sports: Plyometric vs Olympic Weightlifting? by Beau Hains

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[This is a guest blog from Beau Hains. Beau is pursuing his Masters of Science in Sports Performance at Louisiana Tech University.  He recently completed a Mentorship at Athletic Lab with CSCS, USAW-L1, and ACSM CPT certifications]

Muscular power is an essential component in the world of sports and virtually every type of athlete can increase their performance if they increase their ability to effectively produce powerPower can be defined as the ability to exert a maximal amount of force in a short amount of time.  Power can be observed in athletes when they are performing actions such as jumping, sprinting, kicking, or throwing.

weightliftingThere are two major components that make up power: muscular strength (force) and speed (velocity).  Muscular strength is the ability to exert a maximal amount of force in during a single effort, while speed refers to the ability to move quickly across the ground or move the limbs rapidly.  The combination of these two components will ultimately determine how powerful an athlete is.  For example, if an athlete is very strong, but cannot rapidly utilize his force production then he may be limited during his performance.  The same can be said for an athlete who can move quickly, but lacks the ability to effectively generate force.

Power can be developed in various ways, but the key things that should be kept a priority are optimal training load and velocity.  Using an optimal load while training for power development is essential to achieving the best results.  Optimal training loads can vary depending on the type of exercise that is being used.  Kawamori and Haff found that, when training for explosiveness, a relatively low training load of <60-80% of 1RM should be used.  Using a lighter load should allow you to maintain a high rate of force development (RFD) which will aid in the improvement of power output.  An optimal training load should also allow you to perform the movement with a speed that induces velocity specificity, which mimics training at the velocity required by the actual sport that you will be performing (Kawamori & Haff, 2004).

Olympic Weightlifting:
14292817758253Olympic weightlifting seems to have emerged as the most effective way to develop power in athletes, but plyometric interventions are also very effective for the development of power.  I intend to compare and contrast these two methods of training for power to show which is the most optimal for increasing power output.

Olympic weightlifting consists mainly of the clean & jerk, snatch, and numerous variations of these two exercises (hang clean, clean pulls, snatch pulls, etc.).  An athlete is capable of producing massive amounts of power when utilizing Olympic weightlifting exercises in training.  When comparing power output between traditional resistance training exercises (back squat and deadlift) with Olympic weightlifting exercises (clean & jerk), the results are vastly different.  The USA Weightlifting manual provides research conducted by Dr. John Garhammer, which looks at the power output of a 100kg lifter.  Traditional resistance exercises showed to only yield power outputs of 1100 watts, whereas the same athlete can produce a significantly higher power output of upwards to 5500 watts during the clean & jerk.

Plyometric Training:
plyosPlyometric training can be defined as a quick, powerful movement using a pre-stretch, or countermovement, that involves the stretch–shortening cycle (SSC).  These types of exercises follow similar principles that are also applied when using Olympic weightlifting exercises.  The main difference between the two is that plyometric exercises typically require minimal to no load, whereas Olympic weightlifting often involves much heavier loads.  Lower body plyometric exercises include, but are certainly not limited to standing jumps, bounds, box jumps, depth jumps, medicine ball throws.

Now, to look at the numbers…

Comparing Training Methods:
A systematic review using meta-analysis was conducted to compare the effects of Olympic weightlifting to various other types of training, among which is plyometric training.  The meta-analysis looks at the various types of training and the impact that it has on vertical jump performance, which has been established as a valid and reliable means of predicting power output.  Both Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training showed to have significant effects on vertical jump performance when compared to traditional resistance training (2.4% increase) and the control (1% increase) groups.  When being directly compared to one another, Olympic weightlifting did show to have a slightly higher increase in vertical jump height with an increase of 10.2% compared to 9% for the plyometric training (Hackett, Davies, Soomro, & Halaki, 2015).  However, the results of the findings comparing Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training were not deemed to be significantly different.

multiple-box-jumps-plyometicsThese findings show that both methods are effective at increasing power in athletes, but as a coach, your goal should be to implement a training plan which yields the best possible results for your athlete.  If you are looking to improve power output as effectively as possible then Olympic weightlifting exercises seem to be the best option.  However, there are certainly scenarios where a mixed method approach to training would be the best option.

By looking at the research, Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training yield comparable results with regards to training for power.  It has also been noted that although both Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training improve power, they do so in slightly different ways.  Olympic weightlifting tends to lead to changes in overall power and technique, while plyometric training relies more on the stretch shortening cycle and coordination of movement (Arabatzi, Kellis, & Villarreal, 2010).

Take Home Points:
My ultimate suggestion for training would be to design a program which effectively utilizes both forms of training.  That being said, there are many factors that should be taken into consideration before designing a training program. These factors include availability of equipment, space, knowledge of coaches, and ability of athletes.  Olympic weightlifting platforms may not necessarily take up a huge amount of space, but they may not always be a readily accessible option in some training settings.  This is where the utilization of plyometric exercises can be ideal, because they can be done practically anywhere with the use of minimal equipment.

Deciding which types of exercises to use for the development of power is important, but the proper execution of those exercises is essential if you are to reap the benefits.  Understanding and applying the principles for power development are critical.  I have often seen individuals that use Olympic weightlifting and plyometric exercises, but instead of following the principles for building power (low volume with adequate rest), they execute the lifts using principles which are better suited to improve endurance (high volume with minimal rest).  I believe Dr Mike Young sums it up best with his statement “Using Olympic lifts for conditioning is like trying to cut a piece of wood with a hammer. It’s the wrong tool for the job.”  It is critical to understand the why you are using certain exercises and to them utilize then accordingly.

References:

  • Hackett, D., Davies, T., Soomro, N., & Halaki, M. (2015). Olympic weightlifting training improves vertical jump height in sportspeople: A systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(14), 865-872.
  • Kawamori, N., & Haff, G. G. (2004). The optimal training load for the development of muscular power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(3), 675.
  • Arabatzi, F., Kellis, E., & Villarreal, E. S. (2010). Vertical jump biomechanics after plyometric, weight lifting, and combined (weight lifting plyometric) training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(9), 2440-2448.
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