Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Olympic Weightlifting for the Speed and Power Athlete

Never posted this here...

Olympic weightlifting, and the performance of Olympic weightlifting exercises that support the development of both “power” and specific lifting improvements, are critical pieces to the athlete development process.  Depending on how strictly we view bio-motor development (communicated by Frank Dick, and before him Dietrich Harre, as the 5 S’s of Speed, Strength, Skill, Stamina [Work Capacity], and Suppleness [Mobility]) the Olympic lifts can help to focus development on all of these abilities if the work is concentrated properly.  Therefore Olympic weightlifting techniques can be used consistently through the athlete’s training year and help to balance development and drive competitive performance further if appropriate planning is in place.   

In working to transfer development that occurs with Olympic weightlifting to sports performance coaches and athletes should understand that there is integrity to the execution of these skills and programming that if damaged can destroy any potential gains.  The beauty of this integrity is that it translates directly to the concentration required for maximal efforts in other speed-power activities.  The effective development of power for sport also requires that speed-power athletes specifically train an appropriate balance of these power abilities (which themselves fall in the speed to strength spectrum of bio-motor development):  Ballistic/Plyometric Ability, Speed-Strength, and Strength-Speed.

Ballistic/Plyometric Ability (Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Ability)

Activities involving maximal speed and often trained primarily at bodyweight to light loads that still allow for maximal velocity.  Depending on the competitiveness of the athletes these abilities should often be primarily trained through the sporting movements, for specific skill development purposes and to prevent pattern overload or interference, outside of the specific preparatory period just before the sporting season (where sporting demands are typically reduced).  For skill development purposes in our EVP program we often train activities that stress technical development but are sub-maximal in intensity and can therefore be categorized more appropriately as drilling (for more on this topic see the EVP blog post ‘Vertical Jump Methodology’ which is itself an excerpt from a larger article on Vertical Jump Development for Volleyball Athletes).

Speed-Strength (Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Ability)

Activities involving sub-maximal and light loads that still allow for great acceleration and speed.  Often categorized in the scientific literature as 10-30% of maximum I think this categorization needs more work as what we really want to see is a high percentage of speed is still achieved.  With that said my categorization of speed-strength involves light loads that stress speed and acceleration from postures that have energetic and/or mechanical specificity, effectively helping to teach “drive” and “burst” specific to the needs of the sporting movement (75 or 85 to 95% of maximum speed and power).  Most often these activities should not include movements where there is active deceleration in the range of motion (dynamic effort bench pressing or squats, etc).

Strength-Speed (Strength and Speed as the Dominant Bio-Motor Abilities)

Strength-Speed should utilize activities that involve moderate to maximal loads, again stressing a broader range in percentages for developmental versus competitive athletes, that still allow for speed and acceleration to occur consistent with the mechanical needs of the athlete.  Consistent with the thinking behind ballistic and speed-strength development in my mind I believe we are not looking at a specific percentage as much as we are looking to produce maximal power at a load consistent with the athlete’s best efforts (this has been communicated as the Load-Velocity curve by Dr. Loren Chiu).  In Olympic weightlifting we sometimes get away with a maximum lift that is a less than perfect technical effort.  So training using that effort as the 100% intensity that guides our future programming does not necessarily make for a great training plan.  A simple way to communicate this is performance should be execution focused and based on maximal performance for the training phase or individual session, and not based on percentages from a session or phase that may be inconsistent with our athlete’s current form.  This training is based largely on observation and specific tools can help this process (for our program this includes the tendo unit, vertec, and just jump mat). 
Within the Strength-Speed power category is where a majority of our Olympic weightlifting training should occur.  Strength-Speed serves as an effective outlet for much of the training year for the following reasons:
  • Strength-Speed helps to effectively bridge the gap between Maximum Strength and Speed-Strength development.  With larger gaps between Speed-Strength and Maximum Strength we will see a reduction in the athlete’s ability to consistently produce great training efforts.  Also without effective Strength-Speed performance we will have a hard time producing further Speed-Strength improvements as that capacity is maxed out at its current level (as the strength demonstrated in Speed-Strength efforts is a reflection of the strength developed via Strength-Speed because of the relationship to speed).
  • Strength-Speed is an excellent way to maintain a high percentage of Maximum Strength through longer competitive seasons.  With our volleyball athletes we emphasize not over-developing Maximum Strength levels that cannot be managed because we lack the training time and frequency necessary to sustain these efforts through very long competitive periods.  We do however stress that we should be able to express a high percentage of this strength in our Strength-Speed movements (often a Power Clean or Hang Power Clean) and this in itself functions as a medium intensity Maximum Strength day that allows for decreased soreness or stiffness versus performance of squat and lunge movements.  So during the competitive period we essentially load a Strength-Speed movement with either a vertical or horizontal push-pull upper body day and we consolidate the high eccentric stress days (squatting and lunging movements, either hip or knee dominant) to one of the two weekly sessions most of our collegiate athletes perform.        
Developing Mastery Long-Term

Mastery in the execution of Olympic weightlifting methodology helps teach the psychological mindset necessary to develop speed and power in sprint and jump performance if we can communicate the specific technical requirements of these activities.  Simply put, and beyond everything else discussed thus far in this piece, Olympic weightlifting can communicate the importance of creating a strong athletic posture and base and help teach athletes to move effectively from that posture creating great “burst”.  My background in Olympic weightlifting, specifically my training directly under Ursula Garza, USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach, and having the opportunity to train with great lifters like Chad Vaughn, 2-time Olympian and 6-time National Champion, has greatly improved my abilities to communicate this as a performance coach for a speed-power sport (volleyball).  I would communicate to coaches and athletes that the athlete that has mastery of the execution of the Olympic lifts, from their warm-up to maximum efforts, makes for an athlete who has greater physical competency and improved trainability for speed-strength and ballistic/plyometric activities.  

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