Using the Olympic Lifts to Become a SuperFreak Athlete

There are quite a few people who think the Olympic lifts, the clean and the snatch, are practically the holy grail for athleticism. Their claim is that the triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankles that occurs with the O-lifts mimicks sprinting and jumping. The fact that Olympic lifters are some of the most explosive athletes around definitely helps their claim. 

Korean weightlifter with awesome box jump

People that follow me know I don't try to jam the O-lifts down peoples throat, my thought has always been that Olympic lifts are very good indicators of athletic power, but don’t necessarily build athletic power all by themselves. In other words, as explosiveness increases performance on the O-lifts also improves, but just getting better at the O-lifts might not always make you more explosive.

Now, having said that, if done correctly the hang snatch (or clean) is surely an easy way to self monitor and increase rate of force development and strength speed complementary to a vertical jump over time. They are great “tools” to use to monitor your increases in athletic power. The olympic lifts (snatch and clean) inherently require lots of acceleration and if DONE PROPERLY they require simultaneous extension and contraction of the ankle extensors, knee extensors, and hip extensors. For those reasons they can be a valuable way to decrease the explosive strength deficit and improve rate of force development IF PERFORMED CORRECTLY. I recall years back Christian Thibadeau posted some research from his master’s thesis and the high hang snatch actually came out ahead of the depth jump as far as recruitment pattern similarity to the standing vertical jump.

Another study a few years back took 2 groups of athletes: One group performed squats and plyometric exercises. The other group performed squats and olympic lifts. The group performing the olympic lifts improved their vertical jump more than the other group. Impressive. 

However, one can accomplish the same things with a jump squat as he can with the olympic lifts - triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips under load, BUT, the best thing about the o-lifts compared to a jump squat is they're much easier (and I think funner) to monitor than a jump squat because the lift is either completed or it's not, and the weight is either getting heavier or it's not - you have something more tangible to shoot for. It’s a bit harder to monitor jump squats.

I like the hang versions of the snatch and clean because they are almost EXACTLY like a loaded jump. Here are a couple of videos of Lance Shultz teaching a useful snatch & clean:

Learning the hang snatch

Learning the hang clean

The hang variations are relatively easy to learn, easy to implement, and also provide a great potentiation exercise. They also help sports specific upper body strength as it relates to rebounding and such. 

The Problem

One problem with the O-lifts is, although they do require triple extension of the hips, knees, andankles, their effect on the ankles is considerably less than the hips and knees. This is more true the better one gets at performing them. In other words, they don’t really force you to come up hard off the balls of your feet as you would in a jump. For that reason I often like to have people alternate a set of Olifts with a set of a plyometric variation like depth jumps, tuck jumps, etc. You do the O-lifts primarily for hip and knee extension power, and the plyo for ankle extension power.

Sets & Reps

As far as load goes, the olympic lifts are inherently fast on their own so you can work with a relatively high percentage of your 1rm and still focus plenty on RFD. Loads of 80-90% of 1rm are about right. You can do them anytime you work your lower body and you'd typically do them early on in the workout before any other heavy lifts. As long as you keep the reps between 1-5 and maintain good form they're hard to screw up and you'll make progress. Typical rep schemes might include 4 x 3, 4 x 2, or 5 x 1. Lots of o lifters really don't even count sets they just work up to a daily single then take a bit of weight off and knock out a few more sets. I know some track coaches like 8-10 x 1. There are lots of effective set and rep schemes and they’re all valid as long as you follow the general guidelines of keeping the reps under 5.

How often should you do them? Two days per week per lift is fine. A simple heavy/light approach works well. Here is an example:

Day 1: (Mon)

Clean/Snatch: 4 x 3 working up to 3 rep max

Depth jump: 4 x 5 from 24 inch box

Squat: 5 x 5 working up to 5 rep max

Day 5: (Fri)

Clean/Snatch 4 x 3 with 90% of day 1 weight

Depth jump: 4 x 5 from 18 inch box

Squat: 5 x 5 with 90% of day 1 weight

The formula for becoming a super-freak athlete with the Olympic Lifts….

If you want a simple formula to shoot for as it relates to gains on the lifts for overall athletic success, add your bench press, mid-stance legal squat, hang snatch, and hang clean together, then divide by your bodyweight. The number to shoot for is 6. If you can hit that chances are you're gonna be one explosive dude (or chick!). I learned that formula from a throwers coach years ago named John Smith. His wife was a bobsled competitor and former college basketball player. According to my notes he said that in college basketball she ran her butt off for 4 years and was running a 5.1 40 at 208lbs when she left basketball. Two years of weight training later she weighed 212 and ran a 4.7 and improved her vertical 6 inches without running or jumping in training. In 1985 her bodyweight to strength ratio on the 4 lifts was just below 3.00. In 1987 it rose to 5.33 and she became a different athlete.

I had a guy a few years back really dedicate himself to that formula after I discussed it with him.  His main focus was getting bigger and more muscular, the explosive gains were secondary. I trained him for a while and got him started and he kinda took things on his own with occasional input from me. Over a span of a couple of years went from 155 to 185 lbs and increased his vert from mid 26 up to 39 inches! All he really did differently was throw in some depth jumps occasionally. 

Well hope you'll found this informative and it gives you something to play with.