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Why you need to learn Olympic lifting for explosive power

If you want to take your fitness to a different level by adding strength and power to your training, learn how to perform Olympic lifting

Enjoy the benefits of Olympic lifting.
Enjoy the benefits of Olympic lifting. (Istockphoto)

With most athletes posting their workouts on social media, pro secrets of agility, speed, and endurance are getting easier to access. The emergence of various exercise methods, like CrossFit, F45, French contrast, MMA and kickboxing ensures that fitness enthusiasts can now learn a range of different skills. This is a relatively new way of approaching fitness, beyond conventional lifting and running.

And while more goals have been unlocked, the basic need for strength and speed will never go away. It’s still difficult to concentrate on the two basic tenets of an athletic body, because strength may not always mean gains and chasing gains might lead to a decreased focus on speed. And this is where Olympic lifts come into the picture.

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Despite being incredibly popular for decades now, it seems like finally catching on after a Virat Kohli-inspired Indian cricket team pioneered the awareness of these lifts. In the above video, Kohli does the clean & jerk, the power clean and the snatch. The purpose of this article is not to learn those moves, but to investigate how these exercises boost explosive power and speed. This is different to doing Olympic lifts to win a competition, where weight and technique determines the best lift, rather than speed being the main goal. Athletes who play other sports will aim for the latter.

This is where ‘peak velocity’ comes in. Fitness blog SimpliFaster defines it as “the fastest point during the concentric portion [of the lift]”. An article titled Using Velocity Based Training For Olympic Lifts, published in GymAware.com, adds more meat to the definition: “Although the mean velocity (from start to end of exercise) is ‘standard’ in velocity based training, peak velocity is the preferred metric for measuring Olympic lifts and ballistic exercises like hang clean, snatch, jump squat and bench throw. That is because peak velocity is not influenced by – for instance – a slow first pull in a snatch.”

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Given that Olympic lifts have been practised ever since the first edition of the event in 1896, there is plenty of scientific research on the subject, and there’s a near-unanimous verdict on its positive effects on the human body. “Unlike other sports such as powerlifting, Olympic lifts have the characteristic of favouring an improvement in neuromuscular power. If you are not able to lift the load at a high speed, I doubt you can win a competition. As previously discussed, improving on typical weightlifting or Olympic lifting exercises can make an athlete jump higher, run faster or hit the ball harder,” states an article titled The Science Behind The Olympic Lifting. How Coaches Can Use VBTin Vitruve, which is a website specifically catering to velocity-based training (VBT).

It’s incredible how muscular force and gravity act differently during conventional lifts and Olympic lifts. The barbell’s deceleration in an Olympic lift is left to gravity, while in a conventional lift, it depends on muscular force. These laws of physics also determine the effect on the neuromuscular system when doing them. An article on the USA weightlifting website, titled Benefits Of Olympic Lifting, talks about power, that is, a combination of strength and speed. Which is why these lifts might sometimes be referred to as powerlifts.

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These “require an athlete to exert a force into the ground through a quick and coordinated ‘triple extension’ of the ankle, knee, and hip, mirroring what happens in sprinting and jumping, the core components of most sports. Olympic lifts have the next highest carryover to directly improving sport performance in sports where strength, power, and speed are essential,” the article states.

If you want to start learning some Olympic lifts, it is important to get an instructor who has perfected the techniques, along with knowing traditional weight-lifting. A study in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research states that both methods cause different “knee muscle-coactivation adaptations” and suggests that to avoid injury and continue improving performance, “traditional weight training may precede Olympic training exercises so that participants first achieve a muscle strength increase and joint stability and then perform power-specific exercises to achieve better performance.”

But once you have made sure you have joint stability, are injury free for a considerable amount of time, and want to move from gains to working on explosive power, then Olympic lifting is the way to go.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

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