It is well regarded in sport that power is possibly the key attribute that defines elite athletes from their sub-elite counterparts. Power, crucial in many of our running, throwing and jumping activities is of course the ability produce explosive movements and is related to speed-strength activity. Here is an account of speed-strength according to Athlepedia,‘Speed strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible impulse in the shortest possible time. It is defined in work divided by time, where work is defined as force x distance. Therefore, speed strength is defined as force x distance, divided by time (power). Speed Strength is characterized by three distinct components: starting strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength.
If power is the mid point between maximal force production and maximal speed development, speed-strength activity favours increased rate of force development over the ability generate maximal force. Speed-strength is perhaps better explained through the force-velocity curve as shown in the figure below. Generally speaking, when the force is high, we are less likely to be able to move said force very quickly (training for maximal strength). Alternatively, when the force is lower, we are more likely to be able to generate more speed of movement (Speed-Strength and Speed training). Our job as practitioners is of course to match the force-velocity demands of the sport, to the training activities and train appropriately along this curve. This will allow for neuromuscular and metabolic specificity as well as mechanical specificity, depending on the type of movements that are being trained. For more info on the force-velocity curve, take a look at Jamie Bain’s article on www.elitefts.net (click here for article).
According to Baechle and Earle (2008), traditional resistance training that focus on ‘core’ (squat, deadlift and bench press) and ‘assistance’ (isolating smaller muscle groups) exercises tend to focus more on developing the FORCE characteristics of the curve (maximal strength – power). These types of exercise are great for developing maximal force generating capacity, though this form of training usually happens at slower, more deliberate speeds and therefore do not always match the neurological and metabolic demands of competitive action. Johnson, Sabatini & Sparkman (2008) reinforce that whilst there is a definite initial explosive movement in power lifting, the slow velocity of the lifts can have a negative effect on movement speed and the ability of a muscle to display explosive effort.
Enter the art of Olympic Lifting. Olympic Lifts are those exercises that make up the competition elements of the ‘weightlifting’ events at the Olympic Games. The 2 types of lift are the ‘Clean and Jerk’ and the ‘Snatch’. According to Johnson, Sabatini & Sparkman (2008), Olympic weightlifting methods of training should assist with injury prevention, as well as increased power output, metabolic and biomechanical specificity (especially with regards to triple extension activity), high rates of force development, and muscle synchronization. They go on to suggest that the use of Olympic weightlifting methods of training could be used in order to account for the deficits in developing explosive strength and speed strength.
So what does the research say? In a study of 20 NCAA Div III footballers (aged 19.2 ± 1.3 years), Hoffman et al (2004) looked at a comparison of Olympic lifting (OL) versus powerlifting (PL) over the course of a 15wk program (4 days/week). Testing of strength (1RM bench press and squat), 40yd sprint, agility (T run) and vertical jump were measured pre and post the 15 week training period. The results were staggering. Whilst both OL and PL showed significant improvements in squat 1RM, which is to be expected following a well planned 15wk program, the OL group showed an 18% greater improvement in squat performance when compared to the PL group. This was mirrored by a twofold greater decrease in 40yd sprint times amongst the OL group and a significantly greater improvement in vertical jump performance. Interestingly the PL group showed little, if any improvement in vertical jump height, possibly highlighting the lack of specificity of PL training in enhancing performance of explosive bouts of activity.
So there is evidence to suggest that we can enhance the specificity of our training, especially for those sports that include explosive, multi joint movements, through the introduction of Olympic lifts and variations of their techniques. However, these are highly technical movements that take many hours over and under the bar. But don’t let that hold you back! Start with unloaded bars and broomsticks to help develop the technique before you start loading on the weight. Here are some clips of me with about 5hrs of accumulated Olympic lift practice… (and a really unfortunate choice of title screen…)
So if you are an athlete, speak to your coach about the potential for including some Olympic lifts into your program, even if you are just starting with technique and movement specificity. And coaches, perhaps this is something that you need to add to your arsenal. Look out for specific S&C courses, perhaps look at UKSCA accreditation, or look to employ a qualified S&C coach. What ever you do, MAKE SURE IT IS SAFE!! Done incorrectly, could do more harm than good. And ladies… this is not just for the men, check out Alison NYC and subscribe to her YoutTube channel here.
Comments and suggests, thoughts and views are all welcome as always. Hope you enjoyed the post.
Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R. W. (2008) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Hoffman, J. R., Copper, J., Wendell, M. & Kang, J. (2004) Comparison of Olympic Vs. Traditional Power Lifting Training Programs in Football Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18 (1): 129-135
Johnson, J. B., Sabatini, P. L. & Sparkman, M. R. (2008) A Debate between Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting as the Main Athletic Training Method. Virginia Journal, 29 (4): 14-