What is it?
Olympic lifting is a popular approach used by coaches and athletes in order to focus on strength and power development (Johnson, Sabatini and Sparkman, 2008). Olympic lifting is an athletic discipline in which an athlete attempts to lift a barbell loaded with weighted plates. Olympic weightlifting combines high force and high velocity movements which are suited to developing strength, power and speed which are advantageous in a variety of sports (Hoffman, Cooper, Wendell and Kang, 2004). The lift concerning this article is split into two parts, the clean and jerk.
With the barbell on the floor, the athlete begins by standing with their feet situated under the bar, hips width apart. The lift begins with the athlete grabbing the bar with their arms straight, their shoulders directly above the bar and their back flat. Once in this position the athlete raises the bar as high as possible with the use of explosive hip and knee extensions before quickly dropping under the bar into a squat position and resting the bar across the shoulders. To complete the clean aspect of the lift, the athlete then stands with their grip slights wider and feet slightly narrower. From here the athlete dips slightly by bending their knees before driving the bar upwards whilst simultaneously splitting the legs into a lunge position. The jerk is completed by bringing the feet back in line with the rest of the body.
Why is this training method used?
Football consists of numerous amounts of brief but intense movements. These movements, including changing direction, tackling, sprinting, jumping and kicking can occur anywhere between 150-250 times during a 90 minute match (Bangsbo, Mohr and Krustrup, 2006). It is therefore, beneficial for conditioning coaches to include strength training programmes to enable their athletes to have an advantage in game situations (Hoff and Helgerud, 2004).
In football, the quadriceps muscle group are crucial for jumping and kicking activities so it is highly beneficial for coaches to adopt a strength conditioning programme aimed at increasing muscle strength without compromising speed of movement (Brito et al, 2014). This balance of speed-strength is better explained using the force-velocity diagram (see below) and can be used by coaches to match the training activities to the demands of the sport.
Variations and Adaptations
Different stimulus can be achieved by altering the amount and force and velocity during a training programme. A low velocity, high force programme would be more suited to athlete’s looking to increase their maximum strength as opposed to a high velocity, low force programme best suited for those looking to increase their maximum speed. This is reinforced by Johnson et al, (2008) who highlight that a slow velocity lift will have a negative effect on the muscles ability to produce an explosive effort. The responsibility of the coach therefore lies in matching the demands of the sport to the training activities using the force-velocity curve as guidance.
Olympic lifting has been shown to result in specific strength adaptations in both upper body and lower body. Athletes who compete in strength and power sports are more associated with having more fast-twitch fibres compared to endurance athletes (Fry et al, 2003).
During a competitive season the time for specific weight training may be sparse due to more time spent on field-based exercising aimed at prepare players for match specific demands (Brito et al, 2014). Olympic lifting is very technique orientated and takes time to become proficient.
If Olympic lifting is impractical or too challenging for the athlete there are a number of other approaches of gaining similar results. Some methods are highlighted in the following article by Kyle Morre courtesy of onnit.com.
Literature and further research
Olympic lifting has been shown to have a significant advantage over traditional power lifting in both 1RM1 and sprit times over 40 yards (Hoffman et al, 2004). Although this study is based on collegiate American football athletes it does have implications for football players due to the highlighted improvements in lower body performance.
There has been limited research into Olympic lifting and its application to football in the United Kingdom to date. Despite this, links have been associated with successful football teams being physically superior with Arnason et al, (2004) suggesting teams situated higher up the league table demonstrated greater power and strength in tests of countermovement jumps and squats.
By adopting a high force, lower velocity Olympic weightlifting programme, football players, and other athletes, can develop both strength and power to aid them in sporting contests (Hoffman et al, 2004). Weight lifting is noticeably safer than other sports, especially when supervised by a qualified personal. The majority of injuries sustained tend to be as a result of poor technique so starting with minimal weight to begin with is advisable to become proficient at this sporting discipline. Olympic lifting itself has been associated with injury prevention (Johnson et al, 2008).
Weight lifting can be combined with plyometric training to help gain significant improvements in match related physical abilities (Alves, Rebelo, Abrantes and Sampaio, 2010) and is therefore a worthy addition to an individual’s training regime.
1 –Used to determine an individual’s maximum strength, a one repetition maximum (1RM) is the maximum amount of force that can be generated for one contraction.
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HOFFMAN, J. R., COOPER, J., WENDELL, M., & KANG, J. 2004. Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programmes in football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 129-135.