Olympic Lifts

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Athletes and other serious fitness folks sometimes ask what I think of the Olympic Lifts. Of course the cost/benefit of doing these explosive movements depends on your training status and goals. But we'll move past all the hard evidence and wishy-washy canned answers in order to get down to some nice solid opinion.

In case you're wondering, here's a prime example of an amateur hitting a pretty impressive lift. It displays both the good and the bad of the clean, one of the simplest Olympic Lifts. 

Olympic lifts are low-tech, brutally high on effort, effective movements. They are unmatched as total body lifts and will absolutely improve coordination and explosive power. The only problem is that, unless you're competing in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, the Olympic lifts are almost completely unnecessary.

Here are a few reasons why:

The Face Factor

I'm no stranger to missed lifts or strained muscles and joints. But just the thought of building up and pushing my capacities in the Olympic lifts scares me.

Mastering form on these technical lifts takes quite a while. Even then, you can fool around with submaximal resistance to learn technique all you like. That's fine and good for a time-efficient way to burn a lot of energy. But at some point most of us will want to push our limits into new territory, which mandates a lot of yanking and heaving in order to create the high velocity required to hoist heavier and heavier loads. That's when there's so little margin for error.

Contrast this with other big lifts like squats and dead lifts, which employ the use of huge loads and injury potential, but simply don't have the same face-driven-into-the-floor factor. The intention to create an explosive lift is there but because the load is so heavy, the movement is always controlled. You can tell when you're going to lose and/or miss a heavy squat. But Olympic lifts are sometimes...not the greatest for your health and fitness:

There are better ways to gain size.

Getting bigger is about ripping your existing muscle fibers apart and then allowing sufficient time for adequate recovery. The traditional lifts enable heavier loads and more total time under tension, both of which are primary factors in the big breakdown.

There are better ways to gain power.

If you want to get big, strong, and increase the depth of your personal awesomeness bucket, lift heavy things for a lot of reps. Gaining power is all about making your nervous system AMPED. If you want to be able to apply that strength to functional performance, do plyometric activities of maximal effort in various hops, jumps, and medicine ball throws. Plyometrics are a more fun, less risky way to fine-tune the nervous system for total body coordination and explosive power.

Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training

It's truly rare to find a person who does not have some kind of musculoskeletal issue. It may be a slumped thoracic posture, a leg length discrepancy, or poor lumbar stability. It may be inflexible hips, deactivated glutes, or tight ankles. Olympic lifts will absolutely exploit a weak area in a manner that allows little room to identify, much less correct faulty positions and movement patterns. Traditional lifts and their variations usually allow for some degree of focusing attention onto your weakest link.


The Olympic lifts require bumper plates, loads of space, and a favorable atmosphere. Not a huge deal, but go ahead and try throwing even the 3-pound purple dumbbells up overhead in your basement with light fixtures and 7 foot ceilings. Try dropping even your water bottle at Planet Fitness. I have yet to experimentally identify what sets off the lunk-alert, but I'm guessing that the threshold weight is somewhere right around pink.

And what say you? Have you found the Olympic lifts to be unnecessary and mostly pointless? Or are they an essential key to unlocking your greatest everything?

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