SHOULD YOU USE OLYMPIC LIFTS?
SHOULD YOU USE OLYMPIC LIFTS?
Thirty years ago, the only time you’d see a guy doing Olympic lifts was, well, at the Olympics. Nowadays, many of my clients tell me they want to do the barbell snatch and the barbell clean and jerk during workouts. When I ask them why, they say they saw people cranking out rep after rep of the exercises at the CrossFit Games onESPN.
It’s not just my clients that want to try them. Walk into any gym in America and you’ll see 25-year-old hiptsters, 40-year-old housewives, and 50-year-old executives attempting to toss barbells the size of truck axels over their heads.
Yes, the barbell snatch and the barbell clean and jerk are amazing exercises. I make them a focal point of athletic training programs. When it comes to developing speed, athleticism, and total-body power, they are second to none! These Olympic lifts engage nearly all of your muscles to move weights farther and faster than conventional exercises, and they activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers—the muscles with the greatest potential for size and strength. Plus, they look a heck of a lot cooler than most conventional exercises.
However, as a strength coach who has trained thousands of athletes as well as average Joe’s since the beginning of my career, I don’t teach Olympic lifts to non-athletes. Why not?
1. They are difficult to master.
Unlike a bicep curl, which takes little or no instruction to perform safely, Olympic lifts are some of the most technically difficult to master. Let’s break down the snatch, for example: It’s a combination deadlift, shrug, jump squat, and overhead squat performed consecutively in one fluid motion. No simple task. It can take months or even years of practice under the training of a USA Weightlifting instructor (www.usaweightlifting.org) to do it perfectly from start to finish. Sure, I incorporate various components of this movement in my training programs, but is the benefit of mastering the snatch outweigh the consequences for the average joe or even weekend warrior?
I only have a small time window with my clients every week, and I want to see them improve as much as possible. Allotting a majority of that time to learning one lift for weeks on end isn’t the most efficient use of our time. If you want to compete in the sport of Olympic lifting, then you’ll want a qualified coach to teach you. But if you’re looking to burn more fat, increase your power, and boost sports performance, there are far simpler ways to get similar results.
2. Your body isn’t ready.
Most men spend their days sitting at a desk, in the car, and on the couch, and they’re lucky to get to the gym a few times a week. Unfortunately, this lifestyle gives them the mobility of the Tin Man—and the Tin Man should stay far away from Olympic lifts.
See, the snatch and the clean and jerk require a delicate balance of flexibility in certain areas (namely the ankles, hips, and middle back), and stability in others (such as the lower back and shoulder blades). Most men can’t even approach the bar in the proper biomechanical position, let alone execute the movement without risk of injury. When you lack this perfect mix of flexibility and stability, you’ll perform the moves incorrectly, or worse, put yourself at risk of injury.
The Olympic advantage shortcut
Lifters at any level can experience the Olympic advantage with medicine-ball, kettlebell and dumbbell training. Done explosively, the overhead med-ball floor stomp and the med-ball scoop toss work your muscles in every which way. Just like Olympic lifts, they call for a blend of flexibility, balance, strength, power, speed, coordination, and agility. They’ll also target your fast-twitch muscle fibers, while improving your core strength and kicking your metabolism into high gear. Sure, using a light med ball may not look as impressive as throwing a barbell above your head, but it works and it’s safe.
For example… Perform the following at the beginning of your workout once or twice a week. Bonus: If you want to make it more difficult, add more velocity and intensity to the exercises AFTER you master technique.
Overhead med-ball floor stomp:Grab an 8 to 12-pound med ball. Perform 3 reps. Rest for 45 to 60 seconds. That’s 1 set. Do 8.
Rotational med-ball scoop toss: Use a 4 to 6-pound ball. Do 6 reps per side. Rest for 45 to 60 seconds. That’s 1 set. Do 6.