The benefits of Olympic-style weightlifting are being discovered by more and more coaches, athletes, and the general population. Whether it’s for improving sports performance or changing body composition, snatches and clean and jerks are great exercises for more than just weightlifters. Let’s take a closer look at five of the most important benefits of including these lifts in your training.
1. Increases Power. Power can be defined by the formula Force x Distance ÷ Time. In simpler terms power is the ability to display strength quickly. The Olympic lifts are particularly effective for this purpose. While squats and deadlifts are key exercises that are rightly emphasized in most elite strength and conditioning programs, the power outputs of the Olympic lifts are significantly higher than those exercises.
2. Increases Jumping Ability. Olympic lifting is one of the single best ways to improve jumping ability. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR, January 1999), subjects who performed Olympic lifts had higher countermovement jumps than subjects who performed power lifts. In fact, the Olympic lifting group could jump higher than the power lifting group while jumping with 20 kilos (44 pounds) and 40 kilos (88 pounds) of additional load. Further, in an 8-week study in JSCR (May 2005), this one comparing Olympic lifting to plyometrics, the Olympic lifting “… seemed to produce broader performance improvement than VJ [vertical jump] exercise in physically active subjects.”
3. Increases Sprinting Speed. Starting strength is the capacity to overcome resistance and initiate movement. One example of starting strength in Olympic lifting is the dip for the jerk. Another example of starting strength is the first several steps of a short sprint. In a study published in JSCR (February 2004) involving 20 Division 3 college football players, the subjects who performed Olympic lifts showed greater improvements in sprint time compared to the powerlifting group. An interesting display of starting strength was demonstrated nearly four decades ago when US weightlifter and American record holder Mark Cameron took on world record holder hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah in a sprinting competition. For the first 10 yards, Cameron was ahead of Nehemiah, demonstrating greater starting strength. Another compelling example can be found on YouTube: the 1976 Superstars finals of the 100-yard dash in which shot-putter Brian Oldfield faced off against NFL receiver and Super Bowl X MVP Lynn Swann. Swann won, but for the first 20 yards Oldfield was nearly dead even with Swann.
4. Improves Body Composition. The Olympic lifts have become key exercises in many boot camp programs, largely because these lifts are especially effective for helping trainees lose fat and build muscle. In a study on the Olympic lifts headed by Dr. Mike Stone published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences (September 1983), after eight weeks the average body fat of subjects decreased by six percent and the average lean body weight increased by four percent. As a bonus, subjects, on average, lowered their resting heart rate by eight percent and decreased systolic blood pressure by four percent.
5. Improves Flexibility. The Olympic lifts not only require exceptional dynamic and static flexibility, they also develop these qualities. In fact, many personal training and physical therapy screening programs use one component of the snatch – the overhead squat – to assess dynamic and static flexibility.
There are many additional benefits of Olympic lifting, but these five should be enough to convince you to include these lifts in your program. If you’ve already discovered the perks of Olympic lifts, congratulations – now it’s time to step it up a notch and do more.