Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How much do you snatch?

BY DR. PHIL WAGNER, M.D.

As Americans grow up throwing a football or playing basketball, there are a proportionate amount of Bulgarian and Russian teenagers that spend hours every day in a dark gym perfecting their sport of Olympic weightlifting. This sport requires lifting a maximum weight overhead in a single lift, yet the margin for error is finite, requiring a similar precision of hitting a 95 mile per hour fastball. Olympic weightlifting is beyond your traditional free weight lifting, and my words cannot do justice to the speed of such movement, anymore than I can explain the hitting precision of one of our athletes, Chase Utley. You just have to see it. So the young kids of the former Soviet Union perfect their skill through countless repetitions (see SpartaPoint 7/8/09). But why would these movements be the most common training staple of elite athletes that don’t even compete in weightlifting?

Olympic weightlifting consists of two different lifts, the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch, and athletes started using these movements because of their unparalleled ability to develop power. Power is the rate at which work is performed, basically emphasizing the duration of a movement, in addition to the distance (range of motion) and force (weight of the barbell).

John Garhammer, a Biomechanics professor at Long Beach State, reviewed these crucial, unique aspects of weightlifting; time, distance, and force. Garhammer differentiated the power outputs of a similar weight for a maximal effort bench press by an elite powerlifter, which takes 2.4 seconds to complete, from a maximal effort snatch by an elite Olympic weightlifter, which takes 0.18 seconds. The review showed a 15x greater power production by the Olympic weightlifter due to the vastly lower duration of the movement and larger distance traveled (greater range of motion). However, the power superiority of Olympic lifting is not restricted to just resistance training. Elite athletes throwing a shot put or performing a pole vault are a distant second, producing only half of the power. World class sprinters produce only 1/8 of the power.

Olympic lifting provides the optimal combination of force (i.e. heavier weight than your body weight used in sprinting) and time (i.e. faster speeds than a heavier squat or bench press). The only rationale for not using Olympic weightlifting in your routine is that you’re no longer serious about increasing power (i.e. recreational athlete such as myself) or you do not have access to a coach that has both the experience training weightlifters and writing the proper program to ensure optimal technique development.

But if you’re competing against our athletes, please continue to train unweighted movements and/or heavy, slow lifting, as movements that emphasize both range of motion, speed, and weight probably cannot help your power.

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