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Weightlifting and Athletic-Based Strength Training

Joe Kenn | Vice President of Performance Education


The qualities of strength that are needed in developing sporting athletes are many. The two most common and the ones that dominate strength coach’s conversations are maximum strength and explosive strength. There are several ways to train these qualities based on principles of training as well as utilizing movements from the strength sports in the practical setting. And when it comes to developing explosive strength, you will hear movements such as clean, snatch, and jerk to name a few. These exercises come from the sport of Weightlifting and they can be an integral part of developing the athletes many of us coach.

What is Weightlifting?

Weightlifting is a competitive sport that consists of two distinct movements. These movements are often referred to as the Olympic Lifts as the elite level weightlifter will participate in the Olympic games. The first movement performed in competition is the snatch. This is a single movement lift where the bar is lifted from the ground and completed is an overhead extended position. The second movement is a two-movement lift called the clean and jerk. The bar is lifted from the ground and racked across the shoulders and then from the shoulder to the overhead extended position.

The athlete is granted 3 attempts per lift and the highest number completed is counted towards their total. Athletes compete in weight classes and the athlete with the highest total wins the weight class. If an athlete misses and attempt, they may not move down in weight. They can retake the weight or add weight.

The Role of Weightlifting in Athletic Based Strength Training

These movements are considered the “quick lifts”. They need to be done with a tremendous amount of speed and explosiveness to be completed. This is why many advocates of weightlifting believe these movements have value in athletic based strength training. The key to the Olympic lifts can be some’d up nicely by a quote from fellow strength coach Todd Hamer, “Any lift can be done explosively, but an Olympic Lift must be done explosively.”

I believe their value also lies in the synchronized movement patterns it takes to complete the movements successfully. The key component of these movements that many believe has a transferable trait to athletics is “triple extension”. Triple extension is the simultaneous explosive extension of the ankle (dorsi flexion), knee, and hip. Many athletic movements have a triple extension component involved. Running and Jumping quickly come to mind.

These movements are considered highly technical and when done correctly look extremely smooth and efficient. A tremendous amount of time is needed to “perfect” technique. That is why many coaches will utilize variations or partial movements from the competitive duo. These are usually seen in teaching progressions but are done as stand-alone also.

The fact that numerous muscle groups come into play when performing these movements also has a high benefit. Most athletic movements require movement from toe to head and these movements are similar. That “total body” aspect as well as the explosive triple extension components is why I prescribe them in my training plans.

I prefer to use a rotation of variations in my exercise pool when writing programs. I have found several to be outstanding in the development of the athletes I train. Here are some of my money movements:

  1. Snatch Grip Power Pull from Block

  2. Trap Bar Shrug Pull from Block

  3. Power Clean from Deck

  4. Hang Clean – Drop and Go Counter movement

  5. Block Clean – emphasis of starting strength

  6. Dumbbell Snatch

Programming needs to be balanced and in my opinion, there is value in utilizing the variations of the Olympic lifts. I also believe you cannot train a sport with a sport. What I mean is, if you believe in the Olympic Lifts, you cannot train an athlete entirely off of the programming methodology of the sport of Weightlifting. Without going to in-depth, you will miss the emphasis of other strength qualities needed to be successful on the field, court, or water if your programming is specific to developing a highly skilled weightlifter. Remember we are training football, basketball, baseball, softball, and gymnasts to name a few. There are numerous capabilities to help protect the athlete and make them resilient and robust for competition. All I am saying remember who you are training.

I will end with this; do you need the Olympic lifts in your program to be successful? Answer, absolutely not. There are many successful programs that chose not to utilize these movement in their programs. There are alternative ways to improve explosiveness. That is the great thing about designing athletic based strength training programs. There are many ways to skin a cat.


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