A key to success in Olympic weightlifting is the ability to develop power with heavy loads (Flores et al., 2017b; Ammar et al., 2018; Stone et al., 2006; Hori et al., 2005). Power is a product of force and velocity and can be described as an explosive production of force (Haff et al., 2001; Kawamori & Haff, 2004). An optimal relationship between force and velocity exists for each exercise that maximizes power output (Flores et al., 2017b; Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Training with this optimal load offers the greatest stimulus to improve power development (Soriano et al., 2015; Flores et al., 2017b; Ammar et al., 2018). The optimal load changes for different exercises and depends on the experience of the athlete; their current fitness, strength and training level; the nature of exercise; which part of the training cycle the athlete is in; and their technical background (Kawamori & Haff, 2004). Therefore, the optimal load is specific to an individual (Comfort et al., 2012; Kilduff et al., 2007; Cormie et al., 2007). For example, in the Comfort et al., (2012) study, 5 athletes maximized power at 60%, 6 at 70% and 9 at 80%. Also, around the optimal load exists a range of loads that are not significantly different. This is called the optimal power spectrum (Flores et al., 2017).
A number of studies have tried to determine the optimal load for weightlifting exercises using other sport athletes as subjects. A study of professional rugby players by Kilduff et al., (2007) found that 80% of 1RM hang power cleans maximized peak power output. Further, no significant difference existed between the intensities of 40 and 90% (Kilduff et al., 2007). A study of college athletes by Comfort et al., (2012) found that 70% of 1RM power cleans maximized peak power output, but that there is no significant difference between loads of 60-80%. Another study of college athletes by Cormie et al., (2007) found that 80% of 1RM power cleans maximized peak power output but that there is no significant difference between loads of 50-90%. Further, a review by Soriano et al., (2015) determined that loads greater than or equal to 70% of 1RM result in the greatest peak power values for the power clean and hang power clean (Soriano et al., 2015). Therefore, it can be concluded from these studies that intensities between 70-80% maximize power production and loads between 40-90% are not significantly different for the power clean and hang power clean. A study by Takei et al., (2019) that used Olympic weightlifters as subjects found that when the criteria for a successful hang power clean is a quarter squat, the maximal power outputs occur at 100% of 1RM. If the criteria for a successful power clean is just above a parallel squat then 80% of 1RM is the load that maximizes power output (Takei et al., 2019). The reason for the decrease in power with lower receiving positions is decreased barbell velocity at heavier loads and smaller bar displacement values (Takei et al., 2019). The individual variability of optimal power intensities and the fact that, at quarter squat receiving positions, peak power output is maximized at 1RM may make training with the maximal weight that a lifter can catch in a quarter squat the ideal weight for power development in the power clean and hang power clean.
Several studies have looked at optimal load in the snatch, clean, jerk and behind the jerk using Olympic weightlifters of differing ability levels as subjects. These studies measured power applied to the barbell, as that is the most important factor for success in weightlifting (Flores et al., 2016). A study using international level lifters and national level lifters by Flores et al., (2017b) found that the optimum spectrum of loads for the snatch and clean was greater for the national level lifters. The optimum spectrum of loads was between 80-90% for the international level lifters (Flores et al., 2017b). The national level lifters had an optimum spectrum of loads of 50-90% for the clean and 70-90% for the snatch (Flores et al., 2017)b. A study by Ammar et al., (2018) found an optimal load spectrum of 85-90% for the clean in elite weightlifters. Also, Flores et al., (2017a) found an optimal load spectrum of 80-90% for jerks and behind the neck jerks for elite weightlifters. Both of these studies are in agreement with the findings of Flores et al., (2017a) that elite weightlifters have a narrower optimum spectrum of loads. Interestingly, the study comparing jerks and behind the neck jerks found that behind the neck jerks created greater peak power outputs at all studied percentages of 1RM (30-90%). Therefore, the behind the neck jerk is a beneficial exercise to improve jerk performance (Flores et al., 2017a).
In conclusion, for weightlifters of lower abilities and athletes it is best to use a wider variety of training loads to optimize power development. As a lifter becomes more advanced, the range of loads used should narrow to intensities between 80-90%. Also, the power clean should be trained with the maximal loads that can be received in a quarter squat to maximize the training stimulus for the development of power. Lastly the behind the neck jerk should be included in the training program to improve power output in the jerk.
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