Are the Olympic Lifts Necessary for Athletic Development?

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Are the Olympic Lifts Necessary for Athletic Development?

Are the Olympic lifts necessary for Athletic Development? This question has been debated for years. It normally comes up at coaching clinics when there are opposing camps one from the powerlifting side and the other Olympic weightlifting. It’s normally a fun debate that can escalate quickly. I was at Wake Forest clinic once when a group from Westside Barbell started heating up against a weightlifting coach that was lecturing. People were so set on protecting their agendas that no one really learned anything.

I was there, but I stayed out of it. Both sides were making great points, and then again both sides were blinded by their desire to be right. There is a lesson to be learned here. Don’t let your passion or agenda blind you to learning new ideas that could enhance your own platform.

I have been on both sides of this debate. I have competed in weightlifting at a high level, and I have competed in powerlifting at the highest level. I also played college football. I have coached amazing athletes in athletic performance, weightlifting, and powerlifting. I don’t know that all of this makes me an expert in answering the question, but it at least gives me some credibility. So what’s the answer?

The Olympic lifts are a great tool for power production, kinesthetic awareness, mobility, and speed. However they require that someone be very proficient at teaching them, or they can become non-effective and sometimes dangerous. Here’s another thing to consider. Just because an amazing amount of power is generated during a lift doesn’t mean the lift is creating the power. The lift is just a demonstration of one’s power development. To increase that power output the athlete has to get stronger.

Now before you think that one of Team USA’s weightlifting coaches doesn’t like the Olympic lifts, I want to remind everyone that I do use the Olympic lifts in coaching my athletes. All of them perform cleans, push presses, overhead squats, front squats, and a version of the snatch (depending on abilities and mobility), but that’s because I know how to teach them. I use cleans because if athletes are producing massive amounts of power on a daily basis, their bodies will become more efficient at power production. I also love the overall mobility that overhead squats encourage. It’s the movement, power, and athleticism that make them a great choice for my athletes.

Here’s the other side of the coin. If you are a strength and conditioning coach that isn’t 100% proficient with teaching the progressions of the Olympic lifts, you can always do the following exercises:

• Back Squat
• Front Squat
• Overhead Squat
• Depth Jumps
• Other Plyometrics
• Med Ball Throws
• Clean Pulls
• Push Presses

This is an incomplete list, but you get the idea. With these simpler exercises, you can train rate of force development, power production, mobility, absolute strength, and overall athleticism. An educated strength coach can easily pick up these movements, and these movements can easily be taught to athletes of all levels. If time is an issue, these movements can be implemented much faster allowing for more time to stimulate results in strength, speed, and muscle mass.

Here’s a checklist that every strength and conditioning coach should consider:

• Are you 100% proficient at teaching the Olympic lifts and their progressions?
• Are their time restraints on getting your athletes improvements?
• Are you dealing with lots of athletes?
• Do you have enough assistant coaches to ensure that all athletes are getting enough attention?
• Do you have the right equipment to teach the Olympic lifts: bars that spin, bumpers, and proper flooring?

Obviously if you are capable of teaching the Olympic lifts, you have the time, you have enough coaches to ensure get the proper coaching, and you have all the equipment, then of course I want you to teach your athletes the Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts are a great tool to get your athletes powerful, mobile, and athletic. However, if you don’t have proper conditions, there are plenty of exercise choices to stimulate some awesome results for your athletes.

So to bring this back, the answer is the Olympic lifts aren’t necessary for athletic development, but they sure do help. If you don’t know how to teach the lifts, I suggest taking a certification and finding a qualified coach in your area to fine tune your skills. I would hope that this article would encourage all of us to not have a dogmatic approach to our training and philosophies. There are multiple ways to reach a goal. It doesn’t matter what road you take. All that matter is that you reach that goal. We all want our athletes to get stronger. The best way for that to happen is to maintain a mindset open to learning. We owe it our athletes to never stop our quest of knowledge.

Guys and Gals if you want to learn all that it takes to build champion athletes, Zach Even-Esh and I are getting together for two dual certifications this year. Check them out at ⇒ Mash and Even-Esh Unite

March 17th and 18th at the Mash Compound in Clemmons, NC

June 10th and 11th at Underground Strength and Conditioning in Manasquan, NJ

Here’s what to expect:

• 1) Athlete Warm Ups & Assessments / Large Group Training
• 2) Bodyweight & Jump Training for Athletes (Sport + Strength Athletes)
• 3) Quick Lifts & Assistance Work for Sport & Strength Athletes (Barbell / Dumbbells)
• 4) Program Design for Athletes from Youth to D1 to Olympic Hopefuls
• 5. Snatch basics and teaching progressions
• 6. Clean basics and teaching progressions
• 7. Squat Programming and Tricks
• 8. Deadlift Programming and Tricks
• 9. Controlling and demanding the respect of groups
• 10. The business of Private Coaching


• This will certify you as an official Underground Strength Coach
• This will certify you for the Mash Mafia Learn 2 Lift Cert

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