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Is Olympic lifting necessary?

May 19, 2011

Olympic weight lifting has gained popularity in many training programs lately. CrossFit for example randomly selects various Olympic lifts in their WOD (workout of the day) programming. There is a unique rush experienced by the trainee when a properly performed Olympic lift is completed especially when it is a personal record.

I want to take a step back and ask the simple question: Is Olympic lifting necessary? I might be an efficiency fanatic and I make no apologies for that. However, I have always subscribed to the philosophy of asking “Why?” more often than not. In the case of Olympic weight lifting I am asking the big “Why” yet again.

The arguments for Olympic weight lifting are typically that there are specific muscle firing patterns similar to many power sports. These firing patterns with the hips/legs are often thought to be similar to jumping and the arm swings in the lifting are also thought to improve vertical jump. However, I have seen plenty of basketball players that can jump out of the gym getting their head at rim level and they absolutely suck at Olympic lifting. Why? Well a host of reasons but it comes down to leverage and specificity. Olympic weight lifting, and any other movement for that matter, is VERY specific to that activity and that activity alone. Could Olympic weight lifting help vertical jump? Maybe. But so could a host of other strength and conditioning movements in combination with the specific skill of jumping.

Another argument for Olympic lifting is that it helps develop power through speed and force of the lifts. This makes sense at surface level: you want to be fast well move a weight fast. Again though, I ask the question “Why?” In this study researchers discovered that power development was not specific to the speed of movement or type of muscle contraction rather improvement in power came from the muscle attempting to fire in an explosive manner whether the speed was slow or even if there was no movement at all (isometric contractions). So if fast movements of the weights are not necessary to develop power then again I ask why do it?

So do I think Olympic weight lifting is necessary? Well yes if your sport is Olympic weight lifting…or CrossFit for that matter as I think CrossFit is more of a game/sport than a strength and conditioning program (i.e. the CrossFit games…the Olympic games…you see the point). If you feel the *need* to perform Olympic lifts, which I think is more of an engrained philosophical and psychological drive than a physiological need for performance, then do so properly. Do not perform Olympic lifts when extremely fatigued…ahem CrossFit. Also, make sure you put in the leg work to solidify proper form and technique with the training plates and lighter loads. Olympic lifting is a skill, a sport, and needs to be done under the expert coaching of a trained professional if possible. I see too many potential dangers and risks out there to recommend it for the health and fitness goals of 99% of the population.  Olympic lifting for the elite power athlete?  Well yes these lifts could be a portion of the strength and conditioning program but the same rules apply as above: do not Olympic lift when fatigued, make sure proper form is engrained and implemented, and probably throw Olympic lifting out the window for those that naturally do not gravitate towards it because lack of skill, leverage, or capability.

-Mark Alexander
President Efficient Exercise

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Beck permalink
    May 19, 2011 4:33 pm

    I love Olympic weightlifting Heavy loads, the skill and efficiency. I agree with your articlle but feel lost about where I can find more efficient exercise programs in my area. Crossfit and Oly are the most efficient I’ve found. They also cause injury :-). Can you recommend a facility in Chicago that is similar to yours? I’d love to try it! Thanks.

    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink
      July 19, 2011 11:53 pm

      You are correct, Olympic lifting can be efficient and quite fun…however it comes with the risk of injury. Some are willing to take that risk and others should not venture down that path in my opinion.

      Not sure what part of Chicago you’re in but The Exercise Coach and Strength Time both have some similarities in that they advocate safe HIT.

  2. Aaron B permalink
    May 19, 2011 8:46 pm

    This is a compelling argument for the exclusion of olympic lifts for most people. What exercise selection then would you reccomend to a trainee who wants to increase speed and power? In other words, even though you are not advocating for olympic lifts, I’m assuming you would not reccomend the bench press for the development of speed/power for say a basketball player? Is this purely dependent on a person’s sport/goals or are there some exercises that translate well to athleticism in gerneral?


    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink
      July 19, 2011 11:58 pm

      Thank you for reading the post correctly…exclusion of Olympic lifting for “most” people. There are some athletes pursuing speed and power that can incorporate Olympic lifting into their training programs. I would not recommend using a high percentage of 1RM in Olympic lifting unless you are training to be a competitive Olympic lifter. I also would not advocate Olympic lifting in a fatigued state.

      I think a ground based press is better for an athlete than say a bench press. In general, choosing multi-joint compound exercises are the best options: standing press, dead lifts, squats, leg press, pull down, chins, dips, etc.

  3. June 24, 2011 5:50 pm

    I wouldn’t say that Olympic lifting is necessary, but obviously some sort of weight training regimen is.

    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink
      July 19, 2011 11:59 pm

      Yes indeed. A logical, safe, and progressive resistance training program is necessary.

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