Why High School Athletes May Not Need To Learn The Olympic Lifts (And What To Do Instead)

   

Due to the unique challenges that exist within the High School weightroom Olympic lifting is frequently not the best option for athletic development. Instead, the basics and tools such as the dynamic effort method should be used as a more effective and efficient choice.

Olympic lifting, specifically the clean, has been often looked at as the gold standard of lifting in the high school weight room, but is it the most economical and effective tool?

In high schools across America, Olympic lifting is often performed with bad technique and demanding of a huge amount of time along with a high amount of technicality. There are effective exercises that can lead to comparable if not better results, that take much less technical prowess and time.

Although Olympic lifting can be extremely valuable in the college and professional sports, it should be left out of the high school weight room.

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Common Challenges At The High School Level

Before we start, some pre-existing conditions must be explained.

High school sports present a few major restrictions in regards to the weight room: time, coaching, and the athletes.

Time is often one of the biggest limitations for high school coaches and athletes in the weight room.

Not only do teams almost always have to share the space, causing scheduling conflicts, but rules and regulations curtail the amount of time being able to have team activities. Coaches also have to worry about sharing athletes with other sports limiting their time.  This makes most athletes doing let’s say 2 or 3 one hour sessions per week. The limited amount of time makes it MANDATORY for an economical workout.

Budgets also create a dilemma for the weight room.

Quite often high schools do not have the money for a strength and conditioning coach (at least in public schools), leaving the sport coach to pull double duty and very rarely will you see a high school sport coach that is capable of effectively teaching the Olympic lifts.

Even if the coach is one of the few that could properly teach these lifts, it is highly doubtful that they can effectively correct and coach each athlete’s form.

The athletes themselves bring about limitations as they are often at an awkward stage in their growth cycles, have mobility issues, and egos.

Half of the high school athletes that I have put through trial workouts are at very least clumsy or awkward, due to their recent growth that they are not adjusted to yet. This causes simple movement patterns such as a pushup or bodyweight squat to be at the very least, screwy.

Compounding this problem is the fact that student athletes are stuck in desks 6 to 8 hours a day, causing some horrendous mobility issues. Another problem is the ego of high school athletes, especially males, who often look for the quick gratification of a heavy lift.

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The Perfect Storm

The problems above create a perfect storm of sorts for a non-conducive environment for teach the Olympic lifts that can lead to some scary looking cleans and snatches.

  1. The time restrictions invoke the need to make workouts as economical and dense as possible. Olympic lifting is often the opposite of this. The teaching of proper technique in the clean and the snatch alone eats up a tremendous amount of time due to its complication, and it take even longer to effectively master the movements.
  2. The lack of proper coaching, or even the lack of the proper number of coaches amplifies the problem. Most high school sport coaches, who will most likely be running the weight room, will not have the proper knowledge to masterfully teach the O lifts.
  3. And last - the olympic lifts demand a high amount of mobility, coordination, and patience. These are the things that a hefty proportion of high school athletes lack.

How To Develop Power and Coordination Without The Olympic Lifts

I would be ignorant to continue without saying this: High school athletes should be taught to master the basic lifts and movements first: squat, bench, deadlift, jumping and landing.

This may not seem like an overwhelming or fancy answer, but stick with me till I get to the wow factor. The power lifts provide a great foundatoin by not only adding muscle, but also strength. Correct use of jumping, i.e. plyometric jumps, will immediately lead to increased explosive power.

The previously mentioned movements are also much less complicated bringing an ease of coaching and performance, thus they have a much higher return on investment.

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Now - how can you build more explosive athletes without the olympic lifts? Enter the Dynamic Effort Method and the Contrast Method.

The Dynamic Effort Method, as described by the godfather of powerlifting knowledge, Louie Simmons, is training with submaximal weight for maximal speed. It is explained in more detail HERE.

To me this sounds like focusing on training EXPLOSIVELY, or what is needed for optimal athletic performance. Not only does this method focus on building explosive power, but it adds to overall strength as well. This is made evident by the absolutely dominant powerlifters and powerful athletes at Westside Barbell who use this method.

The dynamic effort method also provides a huge advantage over traditional Olympic lifting. It can pertain to any compound barbell movement your heart desires. Although the most beneficial use of the dynamic effort method comes with the tried and true big three.

These options provided allow for power to be developed not only in the movements of the oly lifts, but also in movements such as a horizontal press which is included in many sports. This method has even more useful caveats to it.

Accommodating resistance, or variable resistance, is frequently used in the dynamic effort method. This refers to the use of bands and chains. Bands in particular are a must have tool for the development of explosive power. Due to the increasing resistance through lockout, bands demand quick acceleration of the bar or the sting of failure. For example, anyone who has tried to deadlift with bands slow, knows the bar will be pinned to the floor quicker than a 90 year old breaking a hip.

Next is the Contrast Method.

The contrast method is the use of pairing a maximal effort lift with an explosive movement.

An example of this would be having an athlete completing a heavy set of squats then performing a squat jump or two for height. It can also be applied to upper body exercise such as the bench, by pairing it with something like lying ballistic medicine ball throws.

This method keeps the body from getting used to moving slow during a maximal effort training session. According to Young et. Al (1998), the contrast method can be more beneficial to trained individuals than training with constant loads. For you sciency types, more can be read about it HERE.

How To Implement The Dynamic Effort Method and The Contrast Method

All of these methods and whatnot are great, but must be implemented correctly in order to be a success. As I mentioned before a strong foundation of the basics must be achieved by your athletes, before adding the more exotic methods.

This can be accomplished by something as simple as a basic progressive overload template and using textbook lifting technique. After that it is time for the fun stuff.

The system I am about to lay out has profoundly increased the athleticism, strength, and power of athletes that have completed it. One athlete in particular was a division 1 FCS walk-on offensive tackle. He was cut from team following his freshman season and was told he must meet certain criteria in order to try out again. After following this program for the entirety of a college summer, the athlete blew the requirements out of the water… even his power clean bench mark without performing cleans other than a couple of test days. This program can be easily transferred to a high school weight room setting.

For high school athletes I recommend a three day training week.

The three days would revolve around the big three lifts employing a daily and weekly undulating model of periodization similar to Brandon Lilly’s Cube Method.

As the athlete progresses through the program more rifts will be added such as accommodating resistance and more intensive use of plyometrics. Obviously, this is only my opinion. These methods can be used in other ways to fit your athletes’ needs. You can choose to use any combination of the mentioned methods, even if you want your team to continue to use some Olympic lifting.

The End Game

High school weight rooms are meant to develop the athlete as much as possible. Frequently, high school programs are based around the Olympic lifts. From a practicality standpoint this is not the most efficient way to go about bettering high school athletes in most cases. Instead, high school programs should first worry about mastering the basics, then utilizing tools such the dynamic effort and contrast methods to develop their athletes.

References

Young, W. B., Jenner, A., & Griffiths, K. (1998). Acute Enhancement of Power Performance from Heavy Load Squats. Journal of Strength and Conditioning

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About The Author

Andrew is a strength coach at the Underground Strength Gym in New Jersey, along with being the head coach of Silverback Strong team on TrainHeroic. Like many he started his journey in strength with football, playing both at the high school and the Division 1 level. After his endeavor in football he competed in powerlifting and other amateur strength competitions. He graduated from Montclair State University with a BS in Exercise Science and has his CSCS along with various other credentials including learning experience with many industry leaders.

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