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Olympic Lifts – Are They a Waste of Time or Not?

In Mid-June, I made the trip to Juniata College in Huntingdon PA for about the 11th year in a row. There, I had a couple of great training sessions, one of which I posted here: 1st Night Upper Body Workout.

During the course of the weekend, I attended many presentations from various strength coaches and other members of the strength and conditioning profession. Some of them I thought were very good and I would like to point to some highlights here today.

Cam Davidson, Penn State – Coaching Olympic Lifting to Large Teams

This one caught my eye in a hurry. First off, I know Cam well because he has spoken at Juniata for several years and I have attended his talks before, plus I have spent time with him off to the side and talked training with him. I knew he was a good coach and I also knew he was an accomplished Olympic Weightlifter. With this combined, I couldn’t miss his talk.

Oly Lifts Eat Up Training Time? The primary reason this talk interested me was because I have always been under the assumption that teaching the full Olympic Lifts to athletes could result in a great deal of time eaten up by the process due to the high levels of skill required for the full lifts. When there are so many things a coach must include in a complete strength programs for student athletes of various sports, in order to get them stronger and keep them injury free, it always seemed like the effort to teach these complex lifts could be put toward other types of training instead.

In fact, many strength coaches who work full time in the profession have said the same thing, that they do not bother with the full lifts in their programs because it eats up a lot of time when they could be teaching something else. Because of this fact, they often teach only parts of the lifts, such as Power Shrugs, Front Squats, and other common Olympic Weightlifting drills that still help train athletes to be strong, explosive, and powerful. These variations are less complex and you don’t encounter the same degree of limitations for some of the athletes, such as poor thoracic mobility or lack of wrist flexibility, both of which can make the full Olympic Lifts very hard to master.

Cadence Commands to Dictate Technique? However, I think Cam has developed a pretty good way to include the full lifts into the program. He uses a cadence, or a serious of numbers and other called commands that dictate the pace of the movement that each athlete executes.

If it is hard for you to picture what I am talking about, don’t feel bad. I had no idea what he was describing either, until he got to the section of his talk where he provided video. But let me try one more time.

Essentially, Cam breaks the lift down into several stages. So if they are doing a Power Clean from the Hang position, that lift is broken down into 4 or more stages. Stage 1 would be lifting the barbell out of the rack or off the floor. Stage 2 would be lowering the bar down the thighs slightly, engaging the hamstrings and glutes. Stage 3 would be firing the posterior chain muscles and cleaning the bar to the shoulder for the catch phase of the Power Clean and Stage 4 would be returning to the upright standing position. Cam has verbal cues that he uses for each Stage of each drill. As he calls each number or cue (in one case, he used the term “home” for the cue), the athletes move accordingly, all pretty much at the same time.

This is just one example of how he breaks down one drill, but he showed 4 or 5 drills that he applies this cadence to.

Cam Davidson has obviously found a way to make the Olympic Lifts work for his athletes. I don’t recall the number of teams he works with, so I can’t speak to that, but I know the athletes he had on tape executing the Cadence Training were women’s volleyball players, who obviously need to be able to explode off the ground to block and spike the ball above the net, and can benefit from training the full Olympic lifts.

One thing to take note of is that Cam stated the majority of the work they do is in the 80% to 90% range. I did not note however, whether this was done using the cadence-pause commands or simply with the full Olympic lifts done in the conventional matter.

This was quite an eye-opening talk for me. As someone who does not work in a university or college setting as a strength coach, I really have to take the word of other coaches when they tell me of their experiences, successes and struggles with the implementation of the Olympic lifts. If coaches are looking for ways to include the Olympic lifts in their programs, this could be one way to make them work, once they get past the initial stages of teaching proper technique.

I will have more to come from the Juniata Clinic later this week. Make sure to sign up for updates, so you are the first to know when knew posts go up on the blog.

All the best in your training.


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2 Responses to “Olympic Lifts – Are They a Waste of Time or Not?”

  1. Cam Davidson Says:

    Cadence Drills almost entirely done as a teaching tool, but can be implemented into strength phases if needed.

    Most drills use four commands:
    READY = Proper start position
    SET = Power Position (high hang position)
    HIT = Explosively finish the lift
    DOWN or HOME = Back to relaxed, and ready for the next rep / set of commands.

    To implement into more of a strength phase you can add more weight to the bar for the next exercise (I don’t go over 60% here):

    5-Position German Snatch or Clean (from floor)
    1= Lift bar to just below the knee cap
    2= Power Position
    3= Explosively finish the lift (pause in catch position)
    4= Squat ALL THE WAY DOWN (mobility willing)
    5= Come back up to CATCH Position (legs not straight yet)

    Lastly – When I train mostly in the 80-90 range that is NOT utilizing the cadence drills.


  2. Chris Rice Says:

    I learned the complete versions of the Olympic lifts at age 54 – I highly recommend learning the full squat versions and not the “power versions” of the lifts. It is well worth the time it takes – and it doesn’t take all that long to learn. Actually is takes very little time to learn an acceptable technique for training purposes – a lifetime perhaps to perfect but that can be said for anything. I would consider any lifter with no knowledge of the Olympic lifts as “incomplete” in the learning process.

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