Olympic weightlifting has experienced a major surge in popularity thanks to CrossFit over the last couple of years. Today, Functional Training is unthinkable without it. Why is that so? It’s simple: you can make huge gains in the areas maximum strength, explosiveness, stability, coordination, and, most of all, mobility with the right weightlifting exercises. Next to pole vault, the clean and jerk and especially the snatch are among the most complex movement patterns in sport. You won’t find a more holistic approach in functional training than olympic weightlifting because your whole body has to work as a unit on point. In regards to the high complexity of the movement patterns of cleans and snatches it is imperative that you find an experienced coach since the wrong technique, especially when lifting big weights, can harm your body and your health.
What role can olympic weightlifting play in performance enhancement?
Well, first of all you should be clear about your own goals before implementing oly lifts into your training schedule. You shouldn’t be disappointed afterwards when your biceps is still the same size or your body fat percentage hasn’t gone down.
Who should do olympic weightlifting?
In general, everyone that wants to improve their power, stability, and maximum strength. Especially olympic lifts with low repetition numbers of 1-5 reps promote a myofibrillar hypertrophy. This means that the muscle cross-section is increased by forming more contractile elements. A muscle creates force by actively contracting. So if you increase the number of contracting elements in the muscle it can create more force.
In classic bodybuilding or traditional strength training with repetitions of 6-12 there is increased sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This kind of hypertrophy causes an increase of the muscle cross-section by increasing the volume of the cytoplasm. Thus, the muscle grows but doesn’t increase the number of contractile elements. This is caused by the difference in work volume and working speed of the two training types (cf. ZATSIORSKY, 2008). Note that both types of muscle growth occur in all types of training but – depending on the training – one type of muscle growth occurs more often than the other.
Many athletes and clubs condemn barbell training out of ignorance, and falsely, I might add. You don’t always have to train like a weightlifter but implementing some sessions of weightlifting into your training week is very important to improve strength and explosiveness, no matter which sport you come from. You can actually learn a lot from weightlifters. From a medical point of view there are facts that support barbell training. Weightlifters have usually the highest bone density, even in old age. Osteoporosis is an important keyword here because bones also react to pressure and strain, just like sinews and ligaments. There are next to no similar exercises that expose the body to the forces of cleans and snatches. Obviously you have to increase the loads step by step, and only if the form is correct.
The transfer to other sports
When it comes to jumping power, weightlifters are clearly superior. There are countless studies that have shown weightlifters to achieve far better vertical leap performances than basketballers, volleyballers, handballers, and footballers, even though in football the jumping force isn’t as important as in other ball sports. In the so-called Abalakov test (vertical leap without using the arms), athletes from weightlifting achieve heights of about 70 cm (27.5 in). There are even peak values of 86 cm (34 in) outside of Germany. Players from the Bundesliga of basketball, volleyball, handball, and football achieve heights of 40-50 cm (15-20 in). Sobering results if you think about the fact that game-winning situations are often decided with superior jumping heights.
Conclusion: slowly but surely
By now, there are some experts that try to give clubs a better understanding of barbell training (olympic weightlifting) and to convey the positive effects of the training. I think that is a movement in the right direction because exercises like bouncing on a Bosu ball with 2 kg dumbbells in both hands are certainly everything but functional and won’t help you improve jumping power and the maximum strength of your legs and hip extensors at all. Slowly but surely, olympic weightlifting will find its way into sport-specific training of other sports and become an essential part of athletic training.