Q. Coaches in many sports have for years touted the Olympic lifts and explosive training as excellent builders of overall body power. Why? Under what circumstances might you recommend the Olympic lifts or explosive training for physical conditioning? Are there any risks involved?
A. The Olympic lifts, which include the clean- and-jerk and the snatch, are the lifts that competitive lifters, including Americans, perform during the Olympic games.
While performing the clean-and-jerk and the snatch, the weight is lifted from the floor to an overhead position in a quick, explosive manner. These lifts require a high degree of strength and skill to perform. Each of these movements is a potentially dangerous exercise and even the skilled lifter risks injuries to the lower back, knees, wrists and shoulders.
I would not recommend that anyone perform the above two exercises. They don't belong in the program of an athlete or fitness enthusiast, and under no circumstance should an adolescent be allowed to perform either of these exercises.
The clean-and-jerk (one of the Olympic lifts) is performed in two basic movements. The bar is lifted in one movement from the floor to the shoulders (this is the clean). The lifter, standing erect with the bar resting on his shoulders, then extends the bar overhead (the jerk). The power clean is an exercise adopted from the first half of the clean-and-jerk. It's an exercise that has become the mainstay of many strength-building programs but it's also an extremely dangerous exercise.
Explosive training is also dangerous. For many years I used this term and advocated this style of training myself. I told athletes if they wanted to be fast, they had to train fast in the weight room. I realize now that this style of exercise is inefficient and dangerous.
If you can move a weight extremely fast, it's too light to stimulate maximum gains. If the weight is too light and you try to lift it as fast as you can, momentum will be incorporated into the exercise. The muscles will be required to do even less work.
The term explosive training sounds so practical but in fact it is inefficient for stimulating maximum gains in strength and it can be quite dangerous. I know. I see college seniors every year who have injured their lower backs performing these "quick" lifts.
Where did coaches get these ideas? From the competitive weight lifters. Three of the first four modern Olympiads included weightlifting as part of the competition. In 1896 in Athens the competition was comprised of two lifts -- the one-arm clean-and-jerk and the two-arm clean-and-jerk. In 1928 there were three lifts in the competition: the snatch, the clean-and-jerk and the military press. The military press has since been eliminated from the Olympics, while the other two remain.
In the early '60s, physical educators, doctors, trainers and therapists discouraged any strength-training activities for athletes. It was assumed that the athlete would experience adverse effects -- becoming muscle-bound, losing coordination and flexibility, etc. -- from a strength-building program. The only people lifting weights then were competitive lifters (Olympic and power lifters) and bodybuilders.
In spite of what the experts said, some athletes got involved in building strength and sold the coaches on the value. Unfortunately, the coaches -- college and high school teachers -- had no background. To learn, they were forced to go to the only people who had any experience: the bodybuilders and weightlifters, who advocated the "quick lifts." We now have a generation of coaches and athletes who have grown up with these outdated and sometimes dangerous methods.
My advice to you, parents, coaches and P.E. teachers, is: Don't let your kids execute these types of exercises. They're dangerous! If they haven't yet been hurt, sooner or later they will. Coaches condoning this type of training should be held liable.
How fast should the weight be raised? At a speed that allows the muscles to do all of the work. No sudden, jerky or explosive movements should be allowed while raising the weight. It should be a smooth, controlled process.
Explode into the '80s fitness boom, by all means, but not in the weight room! Explosive training is okay for the demolition experts but not the fitness enthusiast.