Is Olympic lifting necessary?
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.
President Efficient Exercise