Question 1: I’d like to thank you for all of the helpful tips, but this is where we’re going to crash. As an athlete, I’ve been performing the Olympic lifts since middle school. I use them with the athletes I train from day one and haven’t had any problems. I think any lift is safe, but coaches make certain lifts unsafe. I think at the college level it’s much different. When I was at the private sector level, I didn’t always have the luxury of using Olympic lifts because some athletes were only there 3–4 weeks. Their current physical development didn’t allow me to teach them. I don’t see any point in teaching Olympic lifts to a seventh or eighth grader who is weak and little and doesn’t grasp the concept. However, if you have an eleventh or twelfth grader, I see no problem in teaching them.

I also don’t believe in performing heavy overhead movements for athletes so I keep my jerks and snatches between 30–60 percent. However, I agree with the high volume pull work. With my big guys, we usually pull every workout during the winter/spring phase, but when the overall conditioning increases, we have to decrease other aspects of our program. We press three days per week, but for most of our presses, we pause on the chest for a second and don’t use huge loads on incline and close grip. We alternate between the bar incline and the dumbbell incline each week and always finish the workout with medicine ball push-ups or something similar. (Remember, between our tempo runs, we normally do 10 sit-ups/10 push-ups.) Lastly, I think all athletes of all levels should perform clean/snatch pulls and maybe high clean/snatch pulls. Though, I prefer not to teach high pulls (technical issues).

Answer 1: Coach B, many roads surely lead to Rome. However, I make it my duty to suggest to others to be aware of the cumulative effects of the means. We are all after the same measurable things including speed (measured by sprint times) and explosive strength (measured using VJ and SLJ). We all know that there are many means that serve to develop these qualities. So then the criteria must be orthopedic soundness and economy/learning efficiency.

Consequently, regarding American football, the shoulders take a tremendous beating. There’s no need to compound this in the weight room with lifts that yield great stress to the glenohumeral joint (overhead). Also, the task of developing sport mastery is enough in itself. There’s no need to introduce weight room exercises that demand high technical mastery.

Despite their allegiance to them, I’ve inspired coaches to drop the Olympic lifts. I’ve showed them how I can teach an athlete simple alternatives such as jumps, medicine ball throws, and box squats and develop all of the same measurable things. So in the end, I know that what I, Coach X, #62, DeFranco, Louie Simmons, and Mark McGlaughlin are doing is more orthopedically sound and efficient than the coaches who are training athletes of the same discipline but using means that are less orthopedically sound and less efficient.

It’s nothing against weightlifting. Weightlifting is one of my favorite sports. The unfortunate reality is that far too many strength and conditioning coaches have mistakenly adopted the methods of weightlifters for the training of other sportsmen. I realize that I’m telling you that your religion is messed up. Please don’t take offense. Rather take a moment and consider the possibility that what you are doing may cause damage that you don’t even know about presently.

I have the luxury to be surrounded by some of the most prestigious orthopedic surgeons in the world here at the University of XXX. These orthopedics are sports medicine orthopedics who routinely work with high caliber sportsmen of all disciplines. I just had dinner with one of our team doctors and we discussed this very matter. Couple that with the experiences of those of us who share a similar perception of the training process and I have confidence that we offer a convincing argument.

Again, remember that you may not see any problems currently. However, the cumulative effects are substantial ones and must not be ignored. If we agree that our number one priority is to develop the highest prepared athletes than we must also agree to utilize training means that yield the highest results at the lowest cost. In our world, cost exists as orthopedic considerations and trainability.

Question 2: I’d have to agree that Olympic lifts aren’t necessary for developing a faster, stronger, and powerful athlete. For example, Leon Hall, who is from a HIT program, ran sub 4.3 at the combine. However, why not have as many pieces as possible in your training bag? I like to have as many weapons as possible available including CF, Westside, Kelly B, and Gayle Hatch because I hate repeating the same training cycle twice.

I would have to agree with Charlie Francis that the Olympic lifts are very efficient because when tapering, the Olympic lifts allow you to decrease your overall training volume. This is because the clean jerk, snatch, power clean, and power snatch all have the most fiber involvement (80–100 percent). Also, another problem with having athletes perform jumps, throws, and box squats for power development is that you have to consistently watch or have a tendo unit on hand to make sure the bar speed is high enough. This can be very difficult with a hundred or more football players. If you have problems with the shoulders taking a tremendous beating than why perform heavy lockouts, low bar squats, and all of the bench work with/without bands? I may be wrong, but I think I once heard Dave Tate say, “If you can teach the Olympic lifts then by all means use them.”

Answer: Coach B, we are surely closer in our interests then we are distant. The Olympic lifts are efficient in their capacity to work many muscles, recruit many MUs, and develop coordination and power. They are not, as you know, efficient in their trainability with regards to (as you note) teaching one hundred or more athletes.

Remember, Charlie’s MU recruitment chart places sprints, throws, and jumps just as high as the Olympic lifts. Consequently, considering that we’re developing football players and not sprinters, I’m certain that the absence of Olympic lifts in training is the wiser option. Understand that my use of barbell lifts, such as box squats, is not a power development means. I reserve jumps, throws, and sprints for developing qualities to the far left of the curve. The squat and press are a means for strength. For this reason, even though we have a tendo on every rack, I don’t need them.

So the efficiency for power development lies in the ease with which a jump or throw may be instructed and subsequently executed. The box squat, as a strength means, surely requires instruction. However, the speed with which the athlete develops mechanical efficiency and the ability to load the bar is far more accelerated than the athlete who is learning to perform an Olympic lift variation.

Another important note is that the Olympic lifts aren’t useful as a means for developing explosive strength until the lifter is capable of lifting a large amount of weight. So while one lifter is grinding their way toward cleaning or jerking a weight equal to or far in excess of their own body mass (without looking like a train wreck), I can teach and subsequently have another lifter execute a throw, jump, or weighted jump in 30–60 seconds. Couple this with a basic strength exercise such as the box squat, and we’re accelerating their development at a lesser structural risk.

It’s important to understand that where Coach X and I differ in our view is that I don’t advocate dynamic effort lifts with barbells nor do I advocate lifting against bands and chains. I agree with you that the heavy lockout work and band work is very taxing to the structure. I also think that if a football player was to only use a safety squat bar, I wouldn’t have any problem with it. I don’t think that the special powerlifting means (lockouts, bands, chains) are necessary for most football players because there are more then enough monstrously strong and powerful athletes who attained their abilities without the use of bands and chains.

Remember, I’m no more an advocate of powerlifting than I am weightlifting or Strongman or any other strength sport form. I understand precisely what it takes to physically and psychologically prepare an American football player at the lowest possible cost.

Question: I was talking about the DE box squat, not the ME box squat. I think if coaches prefer to use DE box squatting over Olympic lifts than they need to watch that bar speed! I also think the same thing can be said about the throws and jumps. You know how athletes are…everything we do with them is like GPP and they could care less. They just want to play their sport.

Why do you think an athlete can’t develop explosive strength until they can lift large amounts of weight? I thought each lifter would lift according to their max potential. If an athlete is lifting 80 percent plus of his 1RM ability than he can develop more than enough explosive strength while using the Olympic lifts. I can teach an athlete how to clean/snatch pull in 10–30 seconds, which I think is a great starting tool for developing explosive strength in athletics. I know from day one the kind of athlete I’m working with by how they pick up the Olympic lifts. If an athlete can’t pick up the Olympic lifts in 30–40 minutes, then either the coaching is shitty or the athlete’s parents need to invest in a computer and some books to prepare their son for MIT because he doesn’t have a future in sports. Also, one thing that I think we’re missing is aggressiveness, which the Olympic lifts do a great job developing. If your athlete is attempting to power clean 365 lbs versus a jump squat/throws, his or her frame of mind is different.

Answer: Coach B, I agree that a DE barbell exercise is only as good as the speed with which the lifter moves the weight. However, throws and jumps can be qualitatively and quantitatively assessed by either height or distance.

Regarding explosive strength, bar weight, and the Olympic lifts, here’s something to note. The reason why strength and conditioning coaches will adopt the training of weightlifters is because higher class weightlifters demonstrate impressive performance in jumps, short sprints, and relative and maximal strength. What’s key is my use of the term “higher” class. In this regard, we must also note that the reason that a weightlifter reaches higher levels of qualification is because of the rise in special strength as it relates to snatching and the clean and jerk. So the explosive strength that is developed isn’t a yield of simply performing the lifts with 80 percent of someone’s maximum but developing great explosive strength in the leg and hip muscles.

It’s not so much the cleans, snatches, and jerks but the squat portion of those lifts (and the corresponding ability of that lifters ability to squat fast) that enables a high class lifter to jump through the roof. The special strength exists as the ability to manifest it via the mechanical execution of a snatch and clean and jerk. However, the general strength (e.g. squatting, pulling, and pressing) is very useful for many athletes. Here’s where we must devote very special attention.

The special strengths required to excel in Olympic lifting are very much different than the special strengths required to excel in football. The most useful aspect of Olympic lifting for football players is the general—squatting, pulling, and pressing—aspect of the lifts. It’s here where you and I may agree and disagree. The point in which we agree is in regards to the use of various pulls or squats or presses. However, beyond that, we can no longer agree because the special strength required to snatch and clean and jerk any meaningful amount of weight now competes with the football players’ efforts to master their own more significant special strength.

Question: I agree that throws and jumps are easier to measure, but we must account for the number of athletes that we’re training and the training setting. As my great friend and mentor, Kurt Hester said, “Olympic lifts train the athlete to explode and use maximum possible force. Athletes will develop a high rate of force, a key point in sports training. Athletes who implement these lifts in their lifting program will train fast twitch muscle fibers, the fibers employed to give you speed, explosiveness, and power. In essence, performing an Olympic lift is performing a fast, explosive, weighted jump. Sprinting, in essence, is a series of fast, explosive bounds. These lifts will directly help an athlete run faster. Implement lifts such as the power clean, hang clean, power snatch, hang snatch, split jerk, and jerk from the rack. The amount of weight does not matter as much as the bar speed.”

I’ve adapted the Olympic lifts to my athletes’ training program because they’re superior for developing explosive strength for athletes in all sports. I think it’s not only the squat portion of the lift that allows these great athletes to jump and sprint over short distances but the overall lift. I agree that the special strength requirements for football players or any athlete in any sport besides Olympic weightlifting is different. However, this is where your experience as a great coach and your creativity come into play. I wouldn’t classify myself as a high level Olympic weightlifter, but I can power clean 350 lbs from the floor. I’ve also seen increases in my overall explosiveness in each step as my Olympic lifts increase. Thanks, Coach B

Answer: Hello, Coach B. I don’t know who Kurt Hester is, but if he is truly a great friend of yours, I’m sure that you’ll share some very important information with him. First of all, his statement isn’t correct or incorrect. It’s mostly lacking context and is very strong in its ambiguity. I’ll elucidate the statements which demand clarification.

1. The Olympic lifts, or any lift for that matter, don’t train the athlete to explode. They only train the athlete to exert as much force as necessary (into the ground in the case of Olympic lifts) to lift the barbell.

2. The lifts won’t directly help an athlete run faster. The lifts only have the potential to assist a low qualified athlete in sprinting faster, as do many other nonspecific means. The difference lies in their structural risk to the organism. Once the athlete has achieved higher qualifications in terms of sprinting speed, the ground reaction forces that are generated and the meters per second in which the athlete is moving far exceed any amount of force or velocity that any world class weightlifter is capable of generating against a barbell (albeit any high school or collegiate non-weightlifter).

3. The amount of weight is monumentally important. I’m very surprised to read this statement. Only someone with remedial knowledge of sport science would make such a statement. The amount of weight which must be overcome is directly related to the amount of power and force that may be generated. I’m sure that you know this. I would invite you to come to our weight room and we’ll hook up a tendo to the barbell. I’ll bet you a steak dinner that you aren’t capable of recording as high a power output in an attempt to power clean 20 kg as forcefully as you power clean 90 kg. Afterwards, while we’re enjoying the steak dinner that you’re so graciously paying for, I would continue to do my best to inspire you to change your course of action in preparing your athletes.

4. I agree that performing an Olympic lift is somewhat similar to performing a weighted jump, though not entirely. It’s for this very reason that I must encourage a weighted jump over an Olympic lift. The jump variations are more economical and offer monumentally less structural risk.

The Olympic lifts aren’t superior for developing explosive strength for athletes of all sports. They are simply one of many alternatives that have the potential to develop explosive strength for certain athletes of low enough preparedness. Once that level of preparedness rises to a certain point, the nonspecific means (which are Olympic lifts and any other barbell exercise unless the athlete is a weightlifter or powerlifter) cease to further heighten the athlete’s rise in sport qualification. For this reason, we, who coach athletes who possess low to moderate strength preparedness, must select the most efficient and “safe” course of action.

I’m not saying that Olympic lifts aren’t useful for developing X, Y, and Z. I’m stating that they, especially the overhead versions, are poor choices for any athlete whose sport involves collisions. Additionally, the Olympic lifts and their potential effects are greatly misunderstood by most coaches who advocate them. Nearly all athletes may achieve sport mastery without the performance of Olympic lifts.

As I previously stated, I’m saying that your religion is flawed and I understand that you will defend it to the end. I think I’ve made my point clear enough for those who are interested. Why don’t we forgo any further debate and continue to discuss other training factors that we do agree on. Congratulations on the 350-lb power clean.

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