5 Reasons You Have Time to Teach Olympic Lifts

For years there has been talk about how long it takes to teach Olympic lifts like the snatch, clean, and jerk. I’ve written a little of my opinion on this before, but feel more depth is warranted. Read on for some reasons you do have time to teach Olympic Lifts in your program.

*Caveat – If you do not have experience teaching the weightlifting movements, or have not attended a USA Weightlifting coaching course, I highly recommend doing so before trying to implement these movements into your athletes’ program.

1. It’s Your Job

Let’s take a step back and really examine the strength and conditioning coach position. What are the main duties/roles the strength and conditioning coach serves? It really depends on what the setting is and structure of the staff but, generally, it looks something like – program for assigned teams/athletes, coach those teams/athletes, travel with some teams, and assist with others. The main “duty” you have, over everything else, is putting your athletes in the best position to succeed – every rep and every session leads to improvement, if done properly.

Now, you’ll have your allotted time for each training session, or weekly stipulations on training time you’re allowed with each team. I understand that you must adhere to those rules and I completely agree. However, in the end, it is your job to use whatever tools are available to put your athletes in the best position to succeed. The “Olympic lifts” (weightlifting movements for those in the weightlifting community) fit that bill on many occasions.

Yes, some athletes will have no chance in hell of completing these movements without hurting themselves, but that is your job to find out which athletes need remediation! Instead of just throwing out these movements from the start, find out which athletes cannot do any of the variations and find alternatives for those few – while they’re doing these alternative movements, the rest of the team can be doing barbell variations.

Again, it’s your job to find and use the most effective means to improve your athletes. For most, if you teach Olympic lifts to them, this will be a great addition to their program. For others, these movements may not be the best choice, but you’ll never know until you try to implement them into your program.

2. Conceptually, You’re a Teacher

This sort of falls in line with the last point. You should consider yourself a teacher, as you’re essentially teaching movement skills. Once those skills are refined, different methods are implemented to increase performance traits such as strength, power, or endurance.

Do teachers just give up when their students do not understand a topic? No, they try different methods of delivery. So, in the case of the strength coach, your delivery methods are your cues or the exercises you use to gain a desired result. There are different ways to include variations of snatches and cleans into your program (learning curriculum) without trying to get too extensive or intensive right away – you just need to learn them.



3. Just Fit Them In

If you truly feel it takes too long to teach Olympic lifts, you’re doing it wrong or you’re expecting too much from the start. It takes time to learn anything and there are ways to fit some movements into the program without being too time-dependent.

Many coaches try to immediately start with teaching the hang power variations (usually from somewhere above the knee) or the power variations (starting from the floor, caught above a parallel squat). The problem with this is that these are larger (as in range of motion) movements and, therefore, have greater complexity. You can begin with smaller movements that are usually more effective in getting better technique from your athletes up front, while still having performance benefits like power generation/development. Just because they’re not fuller movements does not mean your athletes cannot benefit from them.

An example would be programming a clean pull from power position and then progressing this pull to different positions closer to, and including, the floor from week to week as each individual improves upon each position. Within this progression, you could begin to have individuals catch the bar, depending on how they’re technique is progressing. The sequence you choose to implement ultimately depends on what you’re seeing as their coach; that’s what makes it interesting! The main point is to not progress them quicker than they can truly handle.

4. Be Patient

As I said, it takes time to learn anything. Don’t you take a little extra time to teach freshmen how to squat? Yes, because it’s generally an integral part of most strength programs. Well, why are the Olympic lifts any different? You might just need to break up the teaching progression a little more than the squat, deadlift, or any of the other movements; what’s the problem with that?

Have the patience to allow your athletes to learn at their own pace. Each individual is different and will progress differently, so this is where having the patience to implement different remedial movements for each individual – with the end goal being the same for everyone (to perform whole movements) – becomes essential.

5. Nothing is Perfect

I think many coaches expect perfection when they first teach Olympic lifts. I’m sorry to tell you, what I often see is far from perfect. Even competitive weightlifters at the highest level have inadequacies in their technique. Nobody is perfect, so you have to be okay with what you’re given (as far as each athlete and their initial movement skill) and work from there to improve what you can.

What matters is that they are “efficient enough” in their movement to make improvements in the performance traits (in this case, power) that we are targeting!

As long as your athletes aren’t so awful in the beginning that they’re at risk of injuring themselves, let them learn. They need to be able to feel the movement. You’d be surprised, especially when it comes to younger athletes, just how quickly their technique improves from rep to rep. If you cut them off after the first rep of the first set because it “looked horrible,” how would you ever be able to see that awesome second rep of the second set that sets everything else to follow into place? They may just need to feel that “one good rep” to be able to know the feeling of what good technique really is and what each rep thereafter should feel like.

Takeaway

These are just some thoughts on the subject but, really, you do have time to teach Olympic lifts. Even if it’s literally five minutes at the beginning of each session to go over different movements with an empty barbell, you have the time. You owe it to your athletes to at least try to include these movements in your program.


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Doug Berninger, MEd, CSCS*D, RSCC, USAW is a guest contributor to the Volt Blog. He was an Assistant Strength Coach at the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) World Headquarters Performance Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is now the Head Weightlifting Coach at NorCal CrossFit in Santa Clara, CA. Learn more about Coach Berninger at Monumental Strength.