An Alternative to the Olympic Lifts

First things first, let me put it out there that I LOVE the Olympic lifts (from here on out referred to as the O-lifts). I think they're a fantastic tool to develop strength, power, and enhance athletic potential. Not to mention, I can't help but tip my hat to those that have accomplished near-impossible feats of power with them, and there are few things I find more beautiful than a perfectly executed snatch. In fact, while I currently can't back this up with any scientific research, I'm convinced that Maximus utilized the O-lifts as part of his training arsenal to utterly own anyone who stood in his way in his quest to avenge the death of his family.

HOWEVER - and as Sarah recently noted in her Squat vs. Box Squat post - the O-lifts are an extremely complex movement that many ELITE athletes spend their entire lives perfecting. Not to mention, 99 times out of 100, the limiting factor in the athletes we work with at SAPT is simply a lack of strength. They lack the strength (and subsequently, joint integrity...) and neuromuscular control to produce and decelerate movement, and THIS is the primary reason that they can't seem to improve their change-of-direction speed, or throw that ball faster.

In fact, the interesting thing is that even if I wanted to start them off with O-lifting, the majority of them would lack the strength to do that, too! Walking someone, and strengthening them, through the squat and deadlift progressions will actually help them with the O-lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.), but performing the O-lifts WON'T necessarily have carryover the other way around and help them become better at squatting and deadlifting. It's just not a reciprocal relationship like that.

Nevertheless, this post isn't about sparking a "Should I O-lift or Not O-lift a New Trainee" debate. If you are a coach that has found this to work for you, then great. I respect that. We have just found that, especially with consideration to the fact that we often don't work with a given athlete for more than six months at a time, we can accomplish more in less time by working with other tools in the "strength coach toolbox."

And, while I may personally feel that the majority of athletes spend too much time on the speed-strength end of the spectrum and really don't need a whole lot of "speed and power" work (at least, initially) to enhance their athletic potential, I still feel it's important to incorporate explosive movements in training to teach someone how to control their body in space. Not to mention, these movements will often serve as a CNS primer for the squat and deadlift portion of the session, just like the O-lifts are often performed prior to strength work.

What do we use to accomplish this? Jumping!

Yes, jumping. Anyone from a beginner to an advanced athlete can utilize this powerful tool that is much more "dummy-proof" than the O-lifts. While I'm not going to list the specific progressions we'll use with someone, I just wanted to make a quick point.

Take, for example, two jumping variations we use; the box jump and the hot ground to tuck jump (the latter shown the video):

In both variations, if doing them correctly, you'll still be producing force through the "triple extension" motion that the O-lifts are frequently praised for working. This being, simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Essentially all this means is that the toes are pointing down, and the knees and hips are straightening out.

Note the similarity of the body position (specifically at the joint angles of the ankles, knees, and hips) during the picture of O-lift in the very beginning of this post, and my body positions during a box jump, and a freeze-frame of the same hot ground jump performed in the video above:

Box Jump:

TripleE Box Jump
TripleE Box Jump

Hot Ground to Tuck Jump:

TripleE HotGround
TripleE HotGround

Crazy, huh? As an added bonus, one of the most difficult portions of the O-lifts is ACTUALLY achieving triple extension. If you youtube nearly any run-of-the-mill person doing an O-lift, and carefully watch their ankles/knees/hips, you'll quickly see that they're not even doing the very thing that makes the O-lifts so beneficial!

Also, with some of the jumping variations, you also receiving a bit of often-neglected hip flexor work at greater than 90 degrees of flexion, such as in the top of the hot ground jump:

Still 5
Still 5

Now, these jumps must be progressed appropriately, just as a skilled coach of the O-lifts would do with a trainee. And, the volume must be monitored, as mindlessly having an athlete jump around until their knees explode isn't going to help their vertical. Usually fifteen TOTAL reps will be more than enough to receive the intended benefit.

Again, what I am NOT saying is to avoid the O-lifts like the plague. Again, they are phenomenal tools, and there's no chance that jumping variations could take the place of O-lifting in the appropriate scenario.

But, like anything, one should be sure they understand where he or she (or someone they're coaching) is honestly at when taking into consideration what will be the most bang-for-your-buck training approach, given the time and resources you may have at your disposal.