A conversation I frequently have with fellow coaches and colleagues is whether or not weightlifting derivatives are worth the time they take to teach their athletes. At the same time, the answer (like most things in sports performance) has been inconclusive. A great deal of coach's state that weightlifting is not a great return on investment and that the risks outweigh the benefits in most cases. I respect what these individuals are saying, and I believe every situation is unique. Teaching 80 high school athletes the hang power snatch in a crowded weight room within a 45-minute time slot sounds like the next plot for a mission impossible movie.
Is Weightlifting Worth The Time?
I don't believe there is nor should be a one size fits all approach when it comes to training athletes, particularly the exact exercise variations coaches select. That being said, I also believe that scrapping weightlifting all together from a program without ever giving it a shot is a major disservice to the athletes. I believe that with the right system, enough support, and efficient coaching cues that weightlifting can be implemented into a program making the case that the benefits far outweigh the risks. For the coaches who've attempted to implement weightlifting in their program but failed due to logistics, I get it, but for those who are too lazy to even try or lean on the cop-out excuse that they're "too dangerous" or "ineffective," think again.
Myths surrounding the safety or lack thereof in weightlifting have widely been debunked, while numerous pieces of literature have highlighted the performance-enhancing benefits on power and rate of force development it has to offer. How do we efficiently, effectively, and appropriately implement these movements into a well-rounded training program?
What To Consider
Before diving into weightlifting, we must first check the pre-emptive boxes with our athletes that matter most. Do we know their injury history? Can they squat, hinge, press, step, pull, carry, etc. adequately? Are they mature and advanced enough in their training to necessitate the teaching of these movements? If yes, then we can start to consider things a bit more seriously. Here's your checklist:
- How comfortable are you as the coach teaching these movements and executing them yourself? Be honest, and don't let your ego get in the way.
- Do you have enough time to properly teach and progress your athletes through these highly technical movements? If you only see them one month out of the year, it may not be worth your time.
- Do you have adequate coaching staff and supervision relative to the number of athletes you are dealing with? If you are a one-man wrecking crew holding down an 800-athlete high school program, things can get dicey.
- What's your goal with teaching these athletes, and do you have a plan in place to instruct them?
- Have you done your research and truly understand why you should be training this way? Don't blindly follow the advice of others without educating yourself first.
- Overall, do you believe this is a good idea for your program and your situation?
If you've can confidently say that weightlifting is a good fit for your program, there are some major keys to implementing them in your program that will determine their success.
When it comes to teaching, complexity kills learning, plain and simple. If you give athletes too many cues and considerations when attempting to learn a new movement, the learning process will come to a screeching halt. Similarly, if you overload the movement and allow for improper technique, poor habits will be formed, and injuries will occur. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, resistance training in all forms is a skill. Thus when attempting to improve a skill, we need frequency, specificity, progression, and feedback. A big reason why programs fail to implement weightlifting movements effectively is that they lack one or more of these items.
Here's how to ensure you can successfully implement weightlifting into your program.
1) Up The Frequency
When I teach my athletes the hang power clean or some variation of it, they are going through that movement nearly every time they step foot in the weight room. That doesn't mean they are loading it heavy or doing excessive volume day in and day out. It simply means they are getting more practice than they normally would if we programmed it one day a week.
Here's what I mean. Let's say I'm allotted three days a week to train my athletes (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday). Perhaps Monday is the day that I am going to load the hang power clean for a targeted number of sets and reps. They will breeze through that no problem and come Wednesday, we certainly aren't going to do the same thing because we need to hit a different movement for the day. What I will do instead is simply insert the hang power clean with an empty bar for 3 to 5 minutes in the warmup before beginning our primary movement for the day. The athlete can decide exactly how many quality reps they want to achieve in that period, asking questions and "greasing the groove" per se with no real added stress in terms of volume load. While this may seem minuscule, we are doubling our movement prep as a chance to hone our skills with virtually no detraction from the overarching goal of the session for the day. If you repeat a similar process on Friday, you are practicing that movement for an additional 6-10 minutes a week, 24-30 minutes a month, or extra 5-6 one-hour sessions a year! These small investments pay huge dividends in the long run because athletes, particularly developing ones, need repetition to develop. They are trying to learn, and the more opportunities we give them, the better a chance they will improve. Chances are you will have athletes that miss a session here and there or have a bad training day. Affording them only one opportunity a week to work on a movement will likely prove minimal to no progress. Do things well, and do them often.
2) Make Things Digestible
Some athletes can learn a movement in its entirety with relative ease while others cannot. One of the most successful methods I've adopted over the years for teaching athletes the clean and jerk or snatch is to break it into different pieces, more specifically complexes. Where you choose to start is neither here nor there, but within each movement, we can build a step by step process for athletes to follow so that they can understand how to sequence things properly.
I teach a clean complex to my athletes that that breaks down by the first pull, the second pull, and the catch with a jump and drop sprinkled in between. Some of these partial movements allow the athletes to focus on one minor goal at a time while others force them to get into proper positions to execute. You can break these movements down however you'd like, and certainly don't be afraid to add extra volume for some athletes in their problem areas. You can gain a lot by executing these complexes, from seeing where an athlete may struggle mechanically to where they may have mobility restrictions.
Power Clean Complex #1
3) Pick your poison
What ails some coaches from teaching weightlifting movements, I believe, is the misnomer that they must teach a movement in its entirety or not at all. This is a flawed concept. Here's why:
Can athletes be successful in a sport without ever executing a single snatch or clean and jerk correct?
Well then, similarly, they can be successful with executing a specific portion or variation of each of these movements as well. The snatch and clean and jerk are simply just tools in the toolbox we use as coaches to develop our athletes, albeit one of my go to's.
Rarely do I have an athlete start with the bar on the floor and catch a clean in the bottom position with maximum load. They don't necessarily need to and can gain similar benefits from a hang power clean or some other variation of the exercise. If it is the catch portion that bothers you as a coach, fine, do pull and shrugs if you'd like. These are still excellent variations that can be very beneficial to the athlete in the long run.
Variation of each movement should occur; you wouldn't back squat year-round, and you certainly don't need to do hang power cleans alone year-round either. Find a way to integrate these movements effectively and appropriately into your program.
Hang Power Clean
Hang Power Snatch
While understandably daunting, weightlifting is nothing to shy away from as a human performance coach. Assuming one has done their due diligence in understanding the appropriate methods with which to implement such lifts and has the credibility to do so, they should do it. Good athletes are resilient, and like a challenge, they know nothing comes easy, and the same goes for training. Be the coach who shows them what's possible through different training modalities and open the door for them to realize their full athletic potential. Constantly assess and reassess whether the training methods you are using can be done or should be done at all, not just for weightlifting but for everything you are doing. Lastly, it's not only what you do as a coach, but it's how and why you things, too.