The use of Olympic weightlifting movements such as snatches, cleans, jerks and their variations are very beneficial to the development of athletes. In fact, weightlifting movements including the full lifts, power variations, and pulling variations have been shown to have a superior lower body stimulus when compared to jumping, powerlifting and kettlebell training methods (Suchomel et al., 2017). These weightlifting movements improve athletic performance by increasing power production ability and rate of force development. They also train similar movements to sporting actions and improve a broad range of movement abilities.
Power generation ability
The ability to generate high levels of power is key to success in most sport related skills such as sprinting, jumping, throwing, striking and rapid accelerations (Soriano et al., 2015; Carlock et al., 2004; Haff et al., 2001; Newton et al., 1996). Power can be defined as the explosive production of force (Haff et al., 2001). Or, more formally, as the product of velocity multiplied by force (Carlock et al., 2004). Power can be measured for a given instant in time, as an average over a range of motion, or as a peak value in the range of motion (Carlock et al., 2004). In sports activities such as sprinting, jumping and weightlifting, the peak power measurement is most important for success (Carlock et al., 2004). In fact, vertical jumping peak power values are strongly correlated with weightlifting ability (Carlock et al., 2004). Also, weightlifting movements have been shown to produce the greatest average power outputs of any human movement (Haff, 2001; Hori et al., 2008; Fry et al., 2003). The peak power outputs for weightlifting movements are greater than the outputs for jump squats and bench throws using the same athletes (Kilduff et al., 2007). Therefore, the explosive exercises with the greatest potential to improve power are weightlifting movements (Haff et al., 2001; Hori et al., 2008). The problem with traditional weight training exercises such as the squat or bench press for the development of power is that a significant portion of the movement is used to decelerate (Newton et al., 1996). This is not the case with weightlifting movements where gravity decelerates the barbell (MacKenzie et al., 2014; Hori et al., 2005). This does not indicate that traditional exercises should not be used in the development of power. Traditional exercises are beneficial for developing maximal strength which must be trained along with high velocity exercises to maximize power development (Stone et al., 2003; Harris et al., 2000; Newton & Kraemer, 1994).
Rate of force development
The ability to rapidly change direction, accelerate, and reach top speeds are dependent on rate of force development (Deweese et al., 2016; Mackenzie et al., 2014; Watts, 2015). For example, sprinting speeds are limited by the ground contact time allowed to apply force and not by maximal force that can be applied to the ground (Weyand et al., 2010). As a result, sprint performance is dependent on rate of force development (Deweese et al., 2016; Weyand et al., 2010). Also, athletes who are unable to produce adequate ground reaction forces may be unable to get into optimal sprinting positions, resulting in bad sprinting technique (Deweese et al., 2016). Weightlifting pulling and pressing movements, including snatches, cleans, jerks, pulls, and push presses train the ability to rapidly apply force (Chiu & Schilling 2005, Soriano et al. 2019; Deweese et al., 2016). In fact, the power clean produces significantly greater levels of rate of force development when compared to the countermovement vertical jump and jump squat (MacKenzie et al., 2014). The two factors that affect change of direction ability are technique and lower body power (Watts, 2015). The majority of force needed for a change of direction movement is vertical force, not horizontal (Shimokochi et al., 2013; Barnes et al., 2007). In fact, hip extension strength (vertical force) and a lower center of mass (technique) are crucial for better lateral change of direction actions (Shimokochi et al., 2013). Therefore, weightlifting movements that improve vertical force development and technique practice are key to improving change of direction ability. Athletes who can generate higher rates of force development are able to jump higher (Kraska et al., 2009; MacKenzie et al., 2014). This is because an athlete has very little time to impart force to the ground in a jump (MacKenzie et al., 2014). Therefore, exercises that improve rate of force development are best for improving jumping ability. The caveat with sprinting, jumping and change of direction ability is that technique must also be trained along with rate of force development to fully realize the training improvements (MacKenzie et al., 2014; Watts, 2015; Deweese et al., 2016). Weightlifting movements are excellent exercises for improving rate of force development (Deweese et al., 2016; MacKenzie et al., 2014;Chiu & Schilling 2005; Soriano et al. 2019;Hedrick & Wada, 2008; Haff et al., 2001). Therefore, to improve jumping, sprinting and change of direction ability weightlifting movements should be incorporated into training along with technique practice.
The weightlifting pull and thrust phase for jerks both involve an explosive triple extension of the hip, knee and ankle. This motion is similar to many sporting movements such as running and jumping (Chiu & Schilling 2005). The weightlifting pull can be broken down into 3 beneficial parts: the first pull (pull from the floor to the knee), the second pull (from the knee to full extension), and the catch (Chiu & Schilling 2005). The first pull of the weightlifting pull has similar joint angles to the sprint start and initial acceleration phase (Deweese et al., 2016). Therefore, these exercises can strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, low back and mid-section at the specific angles used in the sprinting start and acceleration (Deweese et al., 2016). Also, the first pull develops starting strength which is the ability of muscles to develop force rapidly at the start of muscle contraction. This is important for a variety of sports, including basketball where a powerful block by a defender is so crucial (Chiu & Schilling 2005). The second pull performed either from the floor, hang, blocks or as high pulls can benefit the athlete because of the high-power outputs generated in these movements (Soriano et al., 2015; Carlock et al., 2004; Haff et al., 2001; Chiu & Schilling 2005). Also, the repositioning of the knees as the bar passes the knees, known as the double knee bend, creates a stretch shortening cycle and subsequent reflex contraction (Chiu & Schilling 2005). The double knee bend action present in weightlifting movements is not present in other explosive strength exercises, such as the jump squat (Mackenzie et al., 2014). The double knee bend accounts for the greater rate of force development seen in the power clean when compared to the jump squat (Mackenzie et al., 2014). This is because an eccentric contraction before a concentric contraction strengthens the concentric contraction (Mackenzie et al., 2014). Also, the double knee bend stores elastic energy and elicits a stretch reflex, which contribute to a stronger concentric contraction (Akkus, 2012). In the catch, the bar is received on the shoulders or overhead. The act of arresting the downward motion of the bar requires a rapid eccentric contraction and this develops the ability to quickly switch from eccentric to concentric motion (Chiu & Schilling 2005). This quality is also trained through the use of plyometrics, but the forces from receiving a barbell are less than those of landing during depth jumps. Also, jump squats with heavy loads are effective but are dangerous because of the impact forces from landing with weight (Hori et al., 2005). Therefore, properly executed weightlifting movements are a safer method than heavy loads in the jump squat and depth jumps (Chiu & Schilling 2005; Hori et al., 2005). Another benefit of the catch is that it can be used for the strengthening of the muscles used in jump landings and, as a result, decrease injury risk (Moolyk et al., 2013). This is because the movement patterns for the catch phase of weightlifting movements is similar to jump landings (Moolyk et al., 2013). The catch phase can also be performed in a split position as opposed to a squat position. The split position can improve lead leg bracing needed for throwing sports such as pitching, javelin and discus (Bartonietz, 1996). In fact, a study using split cleans and snatches by Ince (2019) found increased leg stiffness in the athletes who performed the split catch. Athletes from team and contact sports should switch between lead legs (Bartonietz, 1996).
Broad improvement of movement abilities
The greater skill complexity of weightlifting movements compared to traditional power development methods, leads to a wider range of physical skills (Hedrick & Wada, 2008). A study comparing heavy weight training combined with either vertical jump training or weightlifting movements by Tricoli et al., (2005) found that the group using weightlifting movements improved 10m sprint, squat jump, counter movement jump, and half-squat 1RM. The vertical jump group only improved counter movement jump and half-squat 1RM. Another study using college volleyball athletes by Ince, (2019) found training that incorporated weightlifting movements improved their spike jump, short sprint times, change of direction speed and leg stiffness. It is clear form these studies that weightlifting movements improve a broad range of physical abilities. The weightlifting movements also improve force transfer from lower body to upper body and trunk stiffness. The jerk, power jerk and push press require force transmission from the lower to upper body, a skill that is beneficial for athletes (Soriano et al. 2019). The increase torso strength from training with weightlifting movements can help prevent unwanted rotation of the center of mass during sprinting (Deweese et al., 2016). Therefore, the wide variety of physical benefits from weightlifting movements make them an important component of an athletic training program.
In conclusion, weightlifting movements are beneficial for the development of athletes because they have the greatest potential to improve power generation ability and rate of force development. They are also similar too common sporting actions and improve a broad range of physical abilities.
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