Olympic Lifts—Fun, not Fundamental

by Josh Bryant

Explode for Strength

Go to your local “strength and conditioning center” or trendy chain gym and see the poor souls   hitting bastardized cheat curls that, in their warped world, moonlight as power cleans.

Even scarier, more ambitious members will hit snatches and then the ambulance hits the gas. 

It takes strength coaches with full-time access and commitment in Bulgaria years to teach mastery of the Olympic lifts. So, how in the hell would some beer truck driver/ part-time strength coach teach you proper Olympic lifting?

 They won’t.

So, this begs the question: Can you still build explosive strength without Olympic lifts? 

Is the Pope Catholic?

Any lift can become an explosive lift. If you do a bench press with 50 percent of your one-rep max, and concentrate on performing the lift with maximal force, it will be explosive. 

I’ll step off the soap box and show you the nuts and bolts. 

Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)- The best way to get the explosive strength-training effect from traditional core barbell movements, i.e., squats, presses and deadlifts, is to lift them in the style my late mentor, Fred Hatfield, popularized. 

In the book Supertraining, Mel Sif refers to CAT as “the process of deliberately trying to accelerate the bar throughout the concentric phase of the movement instead of allowing the load alone to determine how one should move.” This simply means you want to lift as explosively as possible on the positive portion of these lifts. However, never at the expense of sacrificing technique or losing tightness. 

Think about it, force is mass x acceleration. In training these lifts with 50-70% of your one-rep max with maximum force will provide explosive strength adaptations. Even with heavy weights, your intent should be to move these weights as explosively as possible. 

Adaptations happen because of the intention to move the weight fast. So you will still derive explosive strength benefits from heavy weight moving slow if you intend to move it fast. The inverse holds true.

So now you can maximize muscle tension and build explosive strength by simply performing your core multi-joint compound movements in a CAT style.

Plyometrics- The literal definition of plyometrics is the shock method, like a depth jump, for example. In this article, we will define it as jump training. It’s impossible to jump high slowly and there is no better way to build explosive power.

Performing them one to three days per week can have a major impact on improving speed, explosive power and strength. For athletes, plyometrics bridge the gap between the weight room and the field of play. They teach you to exert maximum force in a minimum amount of time, so each exercise must be performed with maximum speed and power. However, older or obese athletes, or those with joint problems, are cautioned to avoid plyometrics.

If you are ready to jump into plyos, the following movements are a good starting point:

  • Squat Jumps
  • Box Jumps
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Box Squat Jumps
  • Tuck Jumps

As a starting point pick two of the following movements, remember you are performing these jumps to build explosive power, not conditioning!  Perform each movement for 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions.  As you acclimate you can eventually move on to more advanced movements and increase volume.

Proper Box Jump Technique with Author, Josh Bryant 

Strongman Training

Triple extension means the simultaneous extension of the hips, knees and ankles.  Basically, any activity that requires sprinting, jumping or change of direction involves triple extension.  CAT training with basic movements like squats and deadlifts lack triple extension; plyometrics and medicine ball throws include it but lack heavy weight.

Brainwashed strength coaches say case closed– Olympic lifts are the answer! But, frankly, that’s bullshit.

Strongman training is fun and devoid the learning curve of Olympic lifts.  Fifteen years ago when I first mentioned this in Texas Coach magazine I bordered on ex-communication from coaching circles, today you cannot drive past a college or high school that does not have a tire for their athletes to flip.

Coaches are catching on.

Any strongman exercise that involves loading or throwing will build explosive triple extension strength.  Add these movements in one to two days a week, keep them light enough to remain explosive and voila, the magic happens!

Tactical Strongman is the Bible of Strongman Training

Medicine Ball Throws 

Medicine ball training was not spawned on a 1980s Tony Little infomercial. It is one of the original tools used by ancient Greeks and Persian Wrestlers to improve speed, explosive power and health.  

Keep in mind, force = mass x acceleration, so, yes, you must get stronger while lifting more weight but don’t ignore the acceleration part of the equation.  Medicine balls are one of the most effective ways to increase force production via training acceleration. 

Barbell movements are performed in one plane motion but with a medicine ball power can be built in the frontal, sagittal and the transverse planes. This is important for balance in training but essential for rotational athletes like pitchers, boxers and shot putters.

Everything in training is on the to risk-to-benefit continuum; our goal is to minimize the risk and maximize the benefit. For inexperienced trainees without a high level of foundational strength, throwing medicine balls can safely teach these athletes how to accelerate, thus increasing explosive power.  Medicine balls additionally offer benefits to the most elite athletes.

Remember you are using medicine balls for explosive strength.  Perform two sets of six reps of the following movements with a medicine ball twice weekly, athletes new to lifting can start with a four-pound medicine ball, stronger athletes with eight pounds.

Med Ball Technique Guidelines with Author, Josh Bryant

Final Thoughts

For the athlete proficient in Olympic lifts, they can serve as a great way to build explosive strength.  If this is not you, whether you are a weekend warrior or training for a title fight in the UFC, ask yourself is it really worth the time to learn these lifts and put other facets of training on the back burner?

Unless you are a competitive Olympic lifter, Olympic lifts are simply a means to an end.  With this information, you can have a better end with a more efficient means.

Get Certified by Josh through ISSA HERE