Nowadays, more and more strength and conditioning coaches are implementing Olympic lifting as a way of developing explosive power for their athletes. As you might remember, “power” plays a big role if you want to improve vertical jumping ability, and Olympic lifting is one of the best ways to develop explosive power, and more specifically, explosive leg strength.
What is Olympic lifting?
Olympic weightlifting is a lifting technique that allows a higher acceleration with a greater resistance. The Olympic lifting exercises are good for improving the ability to produce high accelerations against heavy resistance.
Otherwise, Olympic lifting is a sport that is part of the Olympics. If you have ever watched the Olympic Games, there’s a good chance you have seen great feats of strength in the Olympic weightlifting category.
There are 2 lifts performed in competition: The clean and jerk, and the snatch. There are many variations to these exercises, and when it comes to training to increase your vertical jump, we are more interested in the power clean and the power snatch.
Why are Olympic lifts effective to improve vertical
Olympic lifts provide great benefits for improving your vertical jump. Performing and incorporating them correctly will improve coordination, balance, flexibility, neural activation, strength, and, very importantly, the rate of force development (ROFD). They will also train the fast twitch muscle fibers that are responsible for your vertical jump performance.
In essence, they develop both strength and explosiveness/speed, and therein lies their usefulness: Power = speed x strength.
Considering the roles explosive power and ROFD play in your vertical jumping ability, as well as all the other benefits, it is easy to see how effective Olympic lifts are when implemented and performed correctly in your training.
Considering all the benefits, there are a few drawbacks to Olympic lifts, though they are logistical:
- To do the lifts properly, you usually need a special area and sometimes special equipment to be able to perform them. These exercises should usually be done on an Olympic lifting platform using bumper plates (solid rubber weight plates), but there are alternatives.
- These lifts are very technical and have a steeper learning curve than most other exercises, but there are a lot of resources out there that can teach you correct technique. Technique is important for the purpose of avoiding injury
The Olympic lifts
The 2 Olympic lifts that should be incorporated in the program are the Power Clean and the Power Snatch. Both of these lifts create a high level of Central Nervous System activation, allowing you to recruit the highest percentage of muscle fibers.
Both lifts recruit and work the majority of your muscles, and especially the posterior chain: Calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, lower back, upper back, and traps. In addition, they are great assistance exercises to both the squat and deadlift.
In my opinion, the power clean is an easier lift to learn than the power snatch, and provides great assistance to the squat and deadlift. It is a variation of the clean and it involves cleaning the floor from the bar and putting it on your shoulders, catching it in the front squat position, while making sure your hips don’t come lower than parallel.
The second exercise is the Power Snatch. The power snatch is a close relative of the power clean, but is mainly derived from the Olympic snatch. The power snatch involves cleaning the floor from the bar and putting it above your head, as opposed to on your shoulders. This means that the lift requires greater explosion because the bar needs to travel a longer distance.
I suggest including at least the power clean in your training program. Start slowly by using just the bar until you have mastered the technique, then start increasing the weight gradually. Considering the technical requirements of these movements, I recommend performing lower repetitions, usually 3 to 5 per set.
Alternatives to the Olympic lifts
If, for some reason or another, there is absolutely no way you could perform the 2 recommend Olympic lifts, then we need to look for an alternative. I highly recommend you try your best to do at least the power clean, but just in case, for our purposes, there is one recommended alternative: The barbell jump squat.
Similar to the Olympic lifts, the barbell jump squat requires you to move fast under load, providing the same types of benefits. In addition, the muscles worked are the same as those employed in the vertical jump. This makes the jump squat a good alternative to the Olympic weightlifting exercises if you want to increase your vertical.
In conclusion, the Olympic lifts are a terrific way to build explosive power. They come with a steep learning curve, but once you learn them, there is no coming back. If you want to improve vertical jumping ability, then it is extremely important to include the Olympic lifts in your strength training program, along with Squats and Deadlifts. If you ask any elite level explosive athlete, whether it’s in track and field, football, volleyball, or basketball, I can guarantee that they are implementing a form of these lifts into their workouts.
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