Written by Team Juggernaut
The power clean and other Olympic lifts are a staple in strength and conditioning programs for many sports from high school to the pros. Many Westside (Darkside, conjugate, whatever you want to call it) influenced coaches despise it. I’m not one of those.
The Olympic lifts are good exercises. They help build explosive power, but you won’t find it in either my or my athletes’ training programs.
We don’t Olympic lift because:
1. It takes too long to learn how to do effectively.
An Olympic lift with poor technique isn’t safe or effective.
Why should I take days/weeks/months teaching an athlete how to do something when I could take minutes to teach them something else that yields the same or better results? That is poor training economy.
Many athletes aren’t strong in the right places (posterior chain) to be able to execute proper technique. If you can’t get into the proper positions to perform the lift correctly, why do it? Time would be much better spent doing box squats, glute ham raises, and reverse hypers than performing ugly cleans and snatches.
2. The Olympic lifts put unnecessary strain on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Athletes need to be healthy to play their respective sport. Athletes like football lineman are already banging up their bodies on a daily basis and don’t need to place more stress on their joints in the weight room.
3. Other exercises are equally or more effective. At its essence, the Olympic lifts are weighted triple extension.
What do I replace Olympic lifts with?
1. Jumps: Seated, standing, depth, onto a box, over a hurdle, weighted, or whatever variety you choose, they are easy to learn and they work. Read Louie Simmons’ article titled “Explosive Leg Strength” to learn more about these methods.
2. Kettlebell or dumbbell swings, cleans, and snatches: These are much simpler to learn how to perform, and they have the ability to exploit the stretch reflex through eccentric loading. Single, double, alternating, between the legs, outside the legs, against bands, from blocks, dead start, and swinging start are all great variations of these exercises.
3. Tire flips and Strongman loading: These are easy to learn and fun to do. These are great teachers of explosion and triple extension. They are also great for creating competitive situations in team environments.
4. Medicine ball throws: These are great teachers of triple extension. There are endless variations of them, and they are easy to learn and fun to do. They’re an all around great choice.
5. Dynamic effort box squats: Do six to 12 sets of two with 40–60 percent of an athletes 1RM (rep max). Bands and chains greatly improve the training effect of these. However, they are my least favorite dynamic effort lower body movement for athletes.
The Olympic lifts are a viable option in a training program, but after assessing training economy, it is a choice that I don’t include when designing training programs for myself and my athletes. However, there are athletes I train who do Olympic lifts. This is a result of it being a testing component for their sport at their respective schools. The way it is implemented is based off of ideas adapted from Louie Simmons’ article, “If I Were an Olympic Coach.” These athletes have achieved great results from following this training split.
1) DE Olympic lift: 8–12 singles at 60–80 percent of 1RM in clean or snatch. This also serves to activate the central nervous system before squatting, often resulting in much improved squat numbers.
2) ME squat: Almost always a box squat variation. Different bars, box heights, bands, and chains are all employed here.
3) Heavy unilateral work: Split squat, step-up or lunge variations.
4) Posterior chain: This is usually a lighter day of posterior chain work because it was taxed through the Olympic lifts and squats.
DE/RE upper body: Similarly set up to Joe DeFranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards.
1) DE lower body: Jumping or throwing variations
2) ME Olympic pull: Work up to a 1–3RM on an Olympic pull from various heights (i.e. from the floor or various height blocks, bands, and/or chains). This serves as excellent posterior chain work.
3) Posterior chain
4) Unilateral work
ME upper body
So to sum it up, the Olympic lifts are good lifts with many benefits, but these same benefits can be derived through other simpler means. The choice is up to you.