“The Importance of Variety When Using Olympic Weightlifting With Athletes”

Olympic weightlifting - barbell snatch. Variety with Olympic weightlifting.
We know that the best way to get better at a particular sport is to train that sport.

Therefore, if the goal is to make it to the Olympics as a competitive weightlifting athlete (i.e. Jessica Lucero), then prioritizing Olympic weightlifting would only make sense.

However, for most athletes, Olympic lifting is just another effective training tool used to improve strength and power.

Power is load-specific and exercise-specific and proper programming takes this into account. Most athletes love playing their sport, not Olympic lifting, and if our goal is to develop better athletes then would only make sense to center their training around sports-related activities, drills, and exercises.

In order to be a well-rounded athlete that continues to perform at a high level, it’s important to make sure there’s variety in the stimulus that training provides. There’s a reason why early-sport specialization is ruining athleticism and increasing rate of injuries in young athletes. Lack of variety creates “robots’ who are unable to adapt to the different environments that sports provide.

Sure, the Olympic lifts train triple extension (think standing tall right before jumping) like no other exercise. However, Olympic lifting is an extremely technical skill and a sport, in of itself. In addition, we know that Olympic weightlifting derivatives are no better than loaded jumps for improving tests of athleticism such as vertical jumping.

Olympic lifters train their entire lives trying to perfect Olympic lifting skills and some are never happy with their techniques.

Joe DeFranco puts it simply, What’s the training effect, how much time does it take to complete, and what’s the potential of the athlete screwing it up?” If the exercise fits these three criteria then it’s a worthwhile investment.

This is where incorporating a variety of movements and exercises, such as box jumps, broad jumps, and med ball throws only makes sense. These movements also train triple extension, but are easier to perform and more versatile in that we’re now not restricted to one plane of motion. With Olympic lifting movements, we’re limited to only the sagittal plane. In addition, these movents and exercises take very little time to implement into a training regimen and it’s very hard for athletes to screw up in completing them.

Furthermore, incorporating something such as combination lifts into the training program will add training variety, but also improve efficiency within the training session. Combination lifts involve using different aspects of the Olympic lifts in combination for a set of training.

As shown in the video below, an example combination set could include: one power clean, one front squat, and one power jerk. This way we can focus on maintaining balance between “pulling vs pushing” strength while also building aerobic capacity with more movements and volume completed in a shorter time frame.

Assistance exercises can also play a huge role when implemented into programming but even more so when used during in-season strength training.

These exercises support the critical exercises and also provide variation within the training program. They achieve this through targeting different muscle groups within the same movement variations. In addition, they add a different training stimulus to the nervous system, which we know is hugely effective when training for speed and fluency in these movements. Assistance exercises also build muscle hypertrophy and improve positional strength and muscle mass for the snatch, clean, and jerk.

 However, they should never become the absolute focus.

For the Olympic lifts and variations, assistance exercises are based off each specific Olympic movement and may come in the form of deadlift variations, utilizing blocks for the lifting movements, and snatch variations such as snatch balance, drop snatch, and so on.

We know that after performing the same movement or skill repeatedly, the training stimulus diminishes, and we then no longer experience the same amount of return and improvements. We also know that lack of variety in training is a recipe for increasing our risk for injury and things such as overtraining syndrome.

If the goal is to create a better overall athlete then prioritizing variety in training is essential.

Improving the transfer of skills from the weight-room to the playing field is always the goal. However, when it comes to “bridging the gap,” the Olympic lifts are just another tool in the toolbox and should be treated as such. Prioritizing variety in training is the most effective way to continue producing high-performing and injury-resilient athletes. Not only will this enhance performance with the Olympic lifts through improved core stability, body awareness, and motor control, but will keep the training fun and fresh, which is the most important benefit of all.

Thanks for reading,

Ryan (@ryan.summers.dpt)

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