More thoughts on olympic style weightlifting


Carl,Thanks for replying. I agree about your comments on olympic lifting and even pull ups being smooth flowing or not. Can you please explain what olympic lifts you use for your track athletes and why? The Thinker aka James Smith says he will use clean variations sometimes but never does any of the overhead lifts (jerk or snatch). I see his point. Something I realized, no one is ever made from olympic lifts. There are other and often times more specific ways to accomplish power improvement. But improving maximal strength can make or break someone’s athleticism, if they are lacking.

Track athletes will come in all shapes and sizes, and, will come with different backgrounds and personalities. My responsibility is to sometimes give a background of the lifts for college careers(if working with HS) or take advantage of the olympic lifts if they are professional. I can’t comment on what James Smith does as I have not discussed with the absolute statement of never doing any overhead lifts. I have heard the no overhead lifts for years and I say with great belief that if you are having problems doing overhead lifting your athletes are injured or out of balance. I do agree that some athletes will not respond well because of their sport and limitations but I find that we should create more of a range of overhead lifts as athletes are not on or off. I realize that some programs feel that everyone must do the exact same workout to feel more unified or for team bonding purposes. If the head sport coach feels that TEAM is about being equal and the same you may have to be creative politically as the offensive lineman are not doing any kicking during practice so doing different lifts is ok. I have seen athletes look depressed that they can’t do what the others are doing but they need to be privately talked to about why we are spending more time and effort on them instead of doing cookie cutter programs. When someone is rehabilitating an injury nobody is going to wonder why he or she is not doing snatches vs cleans.

I do use a template and often encourage athletes that are mature to choose a variation or option. When honesty is a relationship, the training will be more precise as the coach will trust the athletes to make choices that he or she can make that will allow the athletes to take advantage of knowing their bodies. Some athletes may look good on two lifts, but not feel comfortable with the lift that he or she thinks is lacking. How does this relate to the olympic lifts?

When the athlete comes to the weight room they have several needs to be taken care of with the olympic lifts. Obviously safety is the prime need as they are more demanding than other lifts. I don’t say complex as the lift is very simple if you look at from a movement pattern perspective. Central Pattern Generators (CPGs) are not just for sprinting and walking but are examples of how our bodies are pre-programmed. Athletes need to be prepared to do the lifts and those with crappy postures, weak bodies, poor joint flow, and underdeveloped coordination are the problems. The athletes are trying to develop specific work capacity (neurochemical energy system capacity), technique development (investing into the future), and a training effect of course. How much of each of those elements are prioritized is up to the coach as they are seeing the merging of those factors in the program as a whole.

Resistance training is specific and general. If it wasn’t general than only one specific program would work for everyone and the others would fail miserably. Lifting is specific as well, as many lifts will increase the chances of possible transfer. Otherwise we would see HIT programs that do machine circuits produce more podium performers in the super heavy weight class in international weightlifting and Dave Tate would get beat in squats by a program of leg extensions and hamstring curls. Not happening. Here are two key points:

(1) Specific work is a double edge sword- specific training is highly transferable but due to the fact it’s similar in nature with the sport action it often competes for the same resources (both tissue/joint, and biochemistry). It often overloads the same patterns, causing higher risks to the program to overuse injuries , burnout, and possible imbalances. Often specific programming will reap rapid return on investments but will start causing problems by being too redundant.

(2) General work is blind but but not dumb- General work is often perceived as being too bland to help transfer as often the look at the motions not replicating the sport. Since the technical development of the sport often requires a lot of repetition, overuse injuries can be complicated and intensified by loaded options that feed the same cause to the trauma. I like general work to create a balance in a program by challenging systems of the body with resources that are untapped, thus getting the stimulus without the strings attached. General training can be viewed as the invisible physiological adaptations due to the fact they may not visually look like they connect to the sport action. General training often serves as a way to continue to overload the body more without pattern overload as it distributes the work over more fiber (muscles) and that’s why Coach Francis advocates general lifts in a program. General training can help solve muscular imbalances as the natural ratios of muscle groups need to stay as close to the norms as possible.

Back to olympic lifts. Overhead lifts such as the snatch and jerk will carry risks to the joints, such as elbows and and shoulders. The load and frequency are often the culprits to injury as wall slides are therapy because they are not done for eight hours in a row and are not done with hand weights. Jerks with just the bar are often great ways to warm-up and work on stiffness and posture. I don’t do any jerks now (heavy) but I am still experimenting what I can do with an athlete over years without harm. Snatches are similar where the width of the grip will determine a lot in how it integrates with the body. A wider grip may give relief to the shoulders but will place more stress on the outside of the lateral wrist because the arm angle becomes more horizontal as the grip gets wider. The load may be enough to help create forces that increase thoracic extension, making a big impact over the years to posture. Like the Bonsai Masters manipulating the light, pruning, wiring, and watering to change the structure of the tree, the olympic lifts are often tools for coaches to change body alignment and mobility if done right. Indirect adaptations can be great additions but like the lift photo (1) above they can undue what we are trying to achieve. When athletes look like human question marks when front squatting, I shake my head as you are just like shooting yourself in the foot (2).

In summary, the most talented athletes will respond to most anything, sort of just add water. But, with most of the real world we must do a lot of little things to add up to the spectacular. We must make decisions that will create the most likely chance of positive change. The olympic lifts have value, but each circumstance must be evaluated to see how much transfer they will have given the circumstances of the athlete.

1. Michael Boyle. (2006). Women’s Olympic Lifting – Clean [Video: cropped still clips] Retrieved December 2, 2008, from

2. No Plaxico jokes please as we don’t know what the guy’s story is. After his mother died it is rumored that he took it hard. Let’s wait before we judge. I think having a gun to a nightclub is not the best idea but I have never been a pro athlete that is African American and may be living in fear. Still why go out to clubs during work nights? Lot’s to think about. Start another thread if you wish to discus this.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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