Training

Improving the Olympic Lifts for Non-Olympic Lifters


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By Chad Wesley Smith

There is constant debate about including the Olympic lifts in athlete’s programs, I’m not here to debate that topic, I have addressed it before in  Why We ACTUALLY Suck at Olympic Lifting and Athletes and Olympic Lifting. The fact of the matter is that Olympic lifting (Clean, Snatch, Jerk and their many variations) have become staples of training programs for football, volleyball and basketball players, swimmers, wrestlers, MMA fighters and track & field athletes. While you do find the occasional 400 pound plus clean among football players or more often among throwers (shot, discus, hammer), for the most part athletes (non-olympic lifters) are very average at performing the Olympic lifts, despite often practicing them multiple times per week at relatively high percentages of their 1rms. This practice is rather confusing to me on many fronts; 1) Why heavily load something the athlete can’t do well. Would you have an athlete with poor sprinting mechanics sprint with a sled? Would you have someone who is bad at pullups add a weight vest?; 2) If an athlete lacks the postural strength (entire posterior chain from traps to hamstrings) to effectively hold proper positions during Olympic lifting at near maximal levels, why would they perform them? 3) During the time that improper, relatively heavily loaded, Olympic lifting is being performed, why aren’t drills that athlete can effectively perform (jumps, throws and sprints) to develop explosive strength being performed. I once had an extensive debate (and by debate I mean I gave him a verbal beating) with a major college strength coach over this point. Despite these points, college coaches (including ones where I have athletes going) having their athletes perform the Olympic lifts isn’t going to change, so how do you effectively prepare your athletes for what they will be required to do in college while still being able to devote the necessary energy to the exercises that are going to truly improve their strength, size, power and speed?

How Juggernaut Uses Olympic Lifts

It is very possible for athletes to become very strong (relative to other athletes in their sport) in the Olympic lifts without devoting much energy towards them. At Juggernaut we do this by performing the clean and snatch each twice per week. One day is devoted towards “heavy” training while the other is devoted toward “speed” training. Now the heavy day aren’t really that heavy but it is compared to the speed day. The Olympic lifts are fast by nature but the speed day utilizes lower percentages with a great emphasis on bar speed and technique. Percentages in the 50-75% range are the best time to practice perfect technique. The speed day is also the perfect time to really hammer the idea of full extension and pulling the bar as high as possible, because it is only during the pull phase of the lift that power is developed, not the catch. Obviously technique and bar speed are emphasized on the heavy day as well, but it isn’t as pronounced an effect as on the speed day.

6 Week Template

Here is a sample 6 week template that I utilized with my high school and college football players. Each day prior to the Olympic lifts these athletes were performing sprints and jumps, post Olympic lifting they were squatting and training their posterior chain hard. They also performed a variation of explosive medicine ball throws throughout the week. During this 6 week block, we had athletes raise their 1rm in the power clean from 300 to 335, 340 to 365, 315 to 345, 275 to 315, 255 to 285, 255 to 275, 275 to 300 and 265 to 295. While these numbers aren’t elite by Olympic lifter standards, they will all rank highly among their teammates and will almost certainly be at the top of their freshman class. I am personally a testament to how improved maximal strength can improve an athlete’s Olympic lifts when they are in the beginner to intermediate range. In December 2005 I performed a 180kg (396 pound) clean with a back squat of 615. In October 2011 I performed a 455 pound power clean with a back squat of 905 (mid 800s without wraps). During this 6 year time period, I could count the number of power cleans I performed on 1 hand.

Week 1

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-55/65/75%x5                                                Snatch-55/65/75%x5

Hang Snatch-6×2 at 60%                                    Hang Clean-6×2 at 60%

Week 2

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-60/70/80%x3                                                Snatch-60/70/80%x3

Hang Snatch-5×2 at 65%                                    Hang Clean-5×2 at 65%

Week 3

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-65%x5, 75%x3, 85%x1                        Snatch-65%x5, 75%x3, 85%x1

Hang Snatch-4×2 at 70%                                    Hang Snatch-4×2 at 70%

Week 4

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-60/70/80%x3                                                Snatch-60/70/80%x3

Hang Snatch-6×2 at 62.5%                                    Hang Clean-6×2 at 62.5%

Week 5

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-65/75/85%x2                                                Snatch-65/75/85%x2

Hang Snatch-5×2 at 67.5%                                    Hang Clean-5×2 at 67.5%

Week 6

Monday                                                            Friday

Clean-70%x3, 80%x2, 90%x1, New 1rm            Snatch-70%x3, 80%x2, 90%x1, New 1rm

Hang Snatch-4×2 at 72.5%                                    Hang Clean-4×2 at 72.5%

For the speed lifts (the 2nd lift performed each day), rest periods should be kept under 1 minute, similar to dynamic effort training for the squat and deadlift. Make every rep crisp and perfect.

These athletes achieved PRs across the board, despite never touching a weight in excess of 85% of their previous 1rm.  If you’re an athlete and you want to improve your Olympic lifting get strong in the squat and deadlift, improve your sprinting, jumping and medicine ball throws and practice your Olympic lifting technique with submaximal loads.

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