The Olympic lifts are a fantastic way to develop power.
This is particularly important for those trying to improve athletic performance, as they provide an opportunity to develop power under load - something that is not achieved by jumps and other body-weight power-based exercises.
But (there is always a but…)
They do have some associated negatives.
Firstly, they have an extremely steep learning curve.
This means that they will require a lot of coaching, and take a lot of time to learn to before they can be completed safely and efficiently. This has further downside, as during this time when technique development is the focus, they will not actually be building strength or power, as the load used will be two small to elicit a decent training response.
Secondly, they require a HUGE amount of joint mobility – so much so that some people (due to various anatomical restrictions) may never be able to complete the full Olympic lifts (snatch /clean and jerk) safely.
So what can we do?
Well, like most things, it depends.
Obviously we screen someone’s movement, and if they have the capacity to Olympic lift (AKA deep overhead squat with no issues), then there is no real reason why we shouldn’t Olympic lift – particularly if they have the time available to learn them, and have a need to develop power.
If they are lacking the mobility required to complete full Olympic lifts, but have the time and need, then we can use ‘safer’ variations, such as hang power cleans. During this time, we can also try and improve mobility so that they can get into those demanding positions more comfortably, with the potential to progress to full Olympic lifts further down the road.
If they have a serious lack of mobility, and don’t have the time available to learn them effectively, the answer is probably no. Instead we would use jumps, loaded jumps, and medicine ball throws to try and develop power in a time efficient manner. During this time we would also work on mobility (because we know that mobility is important, yo).
Now, it is also important to note that we probably don’t have to complete full Olympic lifts with ANYONE (unless of course you are an aspiring Olympic lifter – then it is probably a necessity).
Like most things, we need to assess risk vs reward.
For most people, no matter what the population, the risk associated with performing the snatch probably outweighs its training benefits. While it is a great way to develop power, it places the shoulder in a compromised position under load.
This position is what I would consider high risk (particularly for overhead or throwing athletes), and as such would avoid it if possible.
Instead, the power clean is a much safer option, as we can develop power without moving into an overhead position. This reduces the load on the shoulder significantly.
Using another example, if someone does not have the hip mobility to deadlift from the floor safely, a clean may not be a good option – BUT a hang clean from above the knee would still be safe AND be a great way to develop power.
So, should you Olympic lift?
Like I said earlier, it depends.
If you have both the mobility and time available, and need/want to develop power, then there is not any reason why you shouldn't.
If you do not, then there may be more suitable options.
Like anything, assess, and make educated decisions.
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