Sunday, February 13, 2011

Successfully Implementing the Olympic Lifts

Anyways, as said, I'd like to pick your brain a bit. A month ago I was asked to coach a college men's volleyball team. Strength and conditioning only.Since I've got nowhere near the experience that you have yet, thought I could stand on the shoulders of giants to help see better. Could you tell me what kind of things you mostly prescribe, and what do you stay away from? Some guys don't prescribe overhead lifts for overhead sport athletes (so no oly lifts variations), but I know of other coaches who use the Oly lift variations quite a lot. What's your take?

On average I believe that the Olympic lifts, and their nearly unlimited amount of variation, fit nicely into the progression of the program as a whole and I have seen no evidence that injuries or overuse are more common to programs with them in practice (assuming the same basis of rational thinking within the strength and conditioning program; there are idiots everywhere fully capable of injuring athletes with programming that is otherwise considered safe). There are a couple of issues that come with the lifts, and overhead work as a whole, and this can be primarily summarized to athlete's having progressed far enough in programming to make the introduction of the Olympic lifts at best tedious with less return on investment, and at worst allowing athletes to become injured because their training background has not progressed in a way to allow the lifts to be performed correctly. Coaches with a razor-sharp focus on implementing them can do so effectively because they are so uncompromising in their demands on how they are performed. If coaches are unwilling or unable to coach the lifts on that level then they should explore alternative methods.

Beyond that when it comes to programming or restricting overhead work, especially of the explosive variety, it depends greatly on the performance needs of the athlete. It is very common for me to limit overhead work through the competitive season and even overall in a program. Especially if an athlete has advanced far enough for me to be less concerned about their explosiveness and more concerned with the likely ill effects of having pushed their bodies hard for so long (assuming they have not had a system in place to manage their mobility and structural balance; my experience suggests that this is in fact the norm). Obviously with that increased wear and tear it is also more likely that they are having mobility limitations that should affect our programming decisions (perhaps even permanently). With that said I do believe in taking advantage of every available opportunity for growth since we have such limitations in place already so I believe you can program the Olympic lifts effectively in-season but you have to manage that process from day to day and be prepared to take a step back when necessary.

Further we all have to consider the unique needs of the athletes we are working with. My experience with volleyball tells me that there are still significant opportunities for the development of general skill, strength, speed, stamina, and suppleness that significantly aids the specific process needs, yet the time we have to effectively train all of those bio-motor abilities is still limited. So we have to program in a complementary fashion that allows us to accumulate a significant amount of repetition while not overdoing the athlete's resources. With volleyball being considered a "touch" sport, where athletes are wanting to practice and touch the ball constantly through the year and their schedules have grown to reflect that, we have to use the most effective tools at our disposal to maximize training time and my belief is the Olympic lifts fit that role perfectly.

In closing a good rule to follow when considering an effective training methodology is do not start anything you cannot finish. If the athletes only have the time to become competent with an unloaded barbell it is unlikely that they have benefit from the power that can be developed with the lifts. If that is true then it may have proven worthwhile to have invested time in less technical work that offers more immediate benefit (barbell squat jumps,complex training, med ball throws, plyometric variations, etc). At one point I had removed the Olympic lifts entirely from my EVP program for at least 90% of my athletes for this same reason. As I have worked harder to create progression and opportunities for growth I have managed to program them effectively and use them consistently in all of our training programs.