Olympic lifting is popular, and that's an understatement. Everywhere you look at the moment, it seems like everyone from athletes to grandparents are incorporating it into their training. It looks cool, it's got a ton of hype behind it, and coaches everywhere love to discuss the benefits of this training style.
But ... I'm not a big fan of Olympic lifting.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that I don't think it's smart or necessary for the "everyday person" to be training using Olympic lifting.
Now, before you shit down my throat, I did title this piece as an "unpopular opinion". It's my opinion, I understand that it's not one shared by the mainstream fitness community, and I know it's going to make more than a few people a little bit ... butt hurt.
Before I jump into the reasons why I don't really like Olympic lifting as a form of fitness for the general public, know this. I am not saying that you should stop Olympic lifting if you enjoy it. I'm not saying that no one should do Olympic lifting. I'm not saying that it's not impressive or bad ass. What I will do is bring up some of my thoughts on this training style and why I'm not into it, and maybe they'll be some things you haven't thought to consider.
Olympic Lifting is a sport, one that's not designed for everyone.
Olympic lifting, like every single sport, is more suited towards a certain body type. In fact, in many countries Olympic Lifters begin their training when they're children - after they've been inspected by coaches to see if they have the body type suitable for the sport.
Coaches will look for kids with stocky builds - broad torso, short limbs, and not very tall. They must also possess a decent amount of mobility through the shoulders, ankles, knees, hips, and thoracic spine. These attributes are suited towards being successful in Olympic lifting.
Not everyone is built to perform Olympic lifting, and that's ok. It's a sport after all, and one that's technically demanding, highly physical, and dangerous.
Olympic lifting is a high risk training style.
Olympic lifting is a sport. Sports are exciting because they're crazy displays of unusual athleticism. All sports have a certain amount of risk and danger involved, some have more than others - Olympic lifting is no exception to this rule.
If you're an Olympic Lifter, one who competes, I'm sure you're aware of the dangers involved in your sport - and you've come to terms with the fact that you could easily injure yourself while performing your chosen sport. That's ok, it's a the natural risk you take as an athlete looking to be the best in your chosen sport.
However, if you're a regular person (like 95% of the population) who doesn't get paid as a professional athlete - you should be using the safest training methods possible. Your training should be low risk and high reward. This means using exercises that mimic daily movements, are easy to learn, easy to progress or regress, and are not highly technical.
Olympic lifts are highly technical, not suited for everybody type, and require special coaching. It also involves literally throwing weight over your head and dropping yourself underneath that weight while fully squatted and arms extended fully overhead. I hopefully don't have to go into detail about how that could go wrong and how there's a high degree of risk for injury involved there.
But Olympic lifting trains the hinge & athletic position?
Ok, yeah Olympic lifting trains the hinge and the athletic position. But so do tons of other exercises, in much safer, less complex, and more general ways. If you want to train your hinge try any of these exercises ...
- Deadlifts (barbell, kettelbell, dumbbell, bands, pulleys)
- Swings (dumbbell, kettlebell)
- Pull throughs (bands, pulleys)
- Standing Hip Thrusters (bands)
- and more ...
All of those are easier to learn, lower risk than Olympic lifting, and most can even be performed from a single leg stance (unilateral) in order to increase their carry over to sports and athletics. There's no reason you have to perform Olympic lifting to train the hinge or athletic position.
But what about improving explosive power? Sprint speed? Or jump height?
One of the biggest reasons people train Olympic lifts, is that they're said to improve explosive power, top sprint speed, and jump height. Well, that maybe be true to a degree - I still don't think its a necessary (or smart reason) to be Olympic lifting.
Yes, Olympic lifts have been shown in tests to help improve jump height, but so did squatting and dead lifting. In fact, the Olympic lifts only were only showed to be marginally (very small) more effective at improving sprint speed and jump height than squatting and dead lifting. The kind of difference that doesn't matter, unless you're a paid athlete looking for a competitive edge.
When it comes to sprint speed, plenty of exercises have been shown to help improve top sprint speed and they're much safer than Olympic lifting. For example, hip thrusters have been proven more effective than squats at improving top sprint speed by a long shot. The hip thruster also doesn't compress the spine like the squat. It also doesn't involve hucking weight over head and dropping under that loaded bar, like Olympic lifting. Much safer!
If you're a regular person (by that I mean not a paid athlete) who's looking to perform a training program that improves your explosive power, ask yourself why? What do you need to be more explosive for? And if you do need to be more explosive, do you really feel it's necessary to perform Olympic lifts - lifts that are highly technical and high risk - to get similar results that could be achieved by performing safer and less technical lifts such as squats or dead lifts?
But I really want to be more explosive, wont Olympic lifts to that for me?
We're all born with a certain amount of slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibres. People with more slow twitch muscle fibres tend to do well in endurance based athletics - think marathon running. Those born with more fast twitch muscle fibres excel in more explosive types of activities - think sprinter.
Olympic lifting is an explosive sport. People with more fast twitch muscle fibres will perform better in this sport than those with more slow twitch fibres. Through training, both types of people can become more explosive. However, the person with more fast twitch muscle fibres will always be, due to genetics, more explosive than the person who was born with more slow twitch muscle fibres.
No amount of training can increase your fast twitch muscle fibres.
Also, as I had already stated above, you can train your explosive power in a safer manner, with similar results that would be achieved with Olympic lifting, by using traditional lifts such as dead lifts, squats, hip thrusters, or kettlebell swings.
What do I mean by all of this?
Basically, what I'm saying is this.
Benefits from Olympic lifting can be produced through safer, less complex, and more general training/exercises. Every form of training has risk involved, but the risk is much higher with Olympic lifts than more basic forms of exercise. There are also no real studies that prove beyond any doubt that Olympic lifting improves over all athleticism. There's nothing that proves it can make you become a better athlete in any sport - other than Olympic lifting. It won't turn you into a super athlete, it's not meant for every body type, and in my opinion - it's not the smartest method of training for the general public. The only real reason anyone needs to be training using Olympic lifting - is if you want to compete in Olympic lifting.
I'm not your mom, I can't tell you what to do.
If you enjoy Olympic lifting, go ahead and continue doing it - please be sure to have the best coaching possible.