Olympic Lifting for Explosive Power

Olympic lifting is a sport that consists of 2 main lifts: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.

Olympic lifting Snatch

The Snatch: One of the Two Main Olympic Lifting Exercises

These exercises are the most dynamic and explosive exercises in the world, proven by how much weight elite Olympic lifters can move.

If you’re an athlete involved in a sport where strength, power and speed are required for peak performance, mastering the Olympic lifts will rapidly help you develop all of these characteristics and more.

To understand exactly why mastering the 2 core Olympic lifting exercises can improve your sport performance, whatever your sport may be (unless it’s marathon running or some other endurance event), you’ve got to understand what power is and how it’s developed.

Then we’re going to compare the differences between the Power Clean – a slight variation of the Olympic lifts – and a conventional weight training exercise used to build power: the Deadlift.

First, let’s start with some math so you can see how you can go about improving power through Olympic lifting:

Equation #1: Power = Force x Velocity

Equation #2: Force = Mass x Acceleration

Equation #3: Velocity = Distance / Time

Therefore, the master equation is…

Power = (Mass x Acceleration) x (Distance / Time)

So to increase power (on the left side), you can increase any one of the variables on the right: mass, acceleration and/or velocity, and decrease the amount of time it takes to travel that distance..

So you can increase the weight used, accelerate it faster, and move it farther and/or faster.

To sum it up as simply as possible: Lift more weight and learn to move it faster and you’ll increase your power.

Now let’s take a look at why Olympic lifting is superior to anything else that you can do in the gym for developing power by comparing the Power Clean and the Deadlift.

With both the Power Clean and the Deadlift, the barbell starts on the floor.

Olympic Lifting Power Clean Exercise

Both Olympic Lifting Exercises Start from the Floor

But that’s where the similarities end…

For the Power Clean, you grab the barbell and must accelerate it upwards at a high enough rate to be able to drop under it and catch it on your shoulders before standing up.

This is a great distance to travel, from the floor to your shoulders, meaning that you have to be able to apply enough force and develop a high enough velocity to do this.

Because of the technique of the lift, it is impossible to move slowly!

In the Deadlift, you start with the barbell on the floor, then stand up straight, keeping your arms straight the whole time.

The distance the barbell travels is about 1/2 of that compared to the Power Clean.

So looking at the master equation, right away we can see that the Power Clean wins on 3 out of 4 of the variables: acceleration, distance and time, because you must move the weight faster, it travels twice the distance, and the time of the lift is much shorter.

Let’s see the 2 in action…

Here’s the Power Clean:

 

And here’s the Deadlift:

See how much more powerful the Power Clean is compared to the Deadlift?

The only area that the Deadlift wins is mass – you can lift a heck of a lot more weight with the Deadlift compared to any of the Olympic lifts including the Power Clean.

Scientific analyses of the Clean indicate that it takes about 1.1 seconds give or take a few milliseconds for the barbell to reach its peak displacement (distance), regardless of the weight lifted.

You’d expect that as the weight increased, the time to reach peak displacement would significantly increase, but it doesn’t.

That’s because the technique required to move the weight from the barbell to the shoulders absolutely cannot be performed slowly, otherwise you won’t be able to get the weight there…

… and that’s why learning proper technique is absolutely crucial if you want to start harnessing the power of Olympic lifting.

But for a maximal Deadlift, it can take at least 2-3 seconds to complete the exercise; the closer the weight is to your max, the longer the time will be.

The other variable to look at is acceleration.

When you’re performing a Power Clean, you must accelerate the barbell – it’s impossible to perform the exercise by moving the barbell at a constant velocity.

But for a Deadlift, you can execute the exercise at a constant velocity.

So when comparing acceleration between the 2 exercises, the Power Clean wins easily.

That’s why when looking at the master power equation: Power = (Mass x Acceleration) x (Distance / Time), the Power Clean and all the rest of the Olympic lifts beat the Deadlift hands down.

But don’t just take my word for it – studies have shown that elite powerlifters can generate around 1000 watts in a Deadlift, while elite Olympic weightlifters can generate over 3000 watts for the Clean!

That’s 3 times the power production!

So if explosive power truly is your goal, look no further than Olympic lifting.

But like I said earlier, proper technique is crucial to getting the most out of these exercises and not hurting yourself when doing them.

So make sure you use all of the Olympic Lifting resources on this site to ensure you’re using proper technique.

Read see more about the full Clean and Jerk here.

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Leave A Reply (1 comment so far)


  1. CR
    5 years ago

    Dear Eric,

    My occupation relies on creating explosive power in a motion part of which is generated by the lower body, and part of which is generated by the upper body. In terms of standard gym exercises, the upper body movement is most similar to a parallel bar dip. I guess you could say the complete movement is similar to throwing a punch with your elbow at your side.

    I understand that some of the Olympic lifts do involve the upper pectoralis. However, I am concerned as they do not involve the chest in the same manner or to the same degree that my movement requires.

    Still, I am interested, because you have convinced me that this form of training is the best for developing explosive power, and I see that the lower body conditioning would likely be very helpful. Also, the Clean and Jerk, while it does not engage the pecs as much as I would like, does involve the anterior deltoids and tricepts vigorously, which are both involved in my movement.

    What would you suggest for a workout routine in my case? ‘Olympic style’ dips? (low reps, max effort) Is there evidence that Olympic conditioning has a ‘spill over’ effect, and helps produce speed in muscles not directly or rigorously trained by Olympic lifting?

    Thanks for an informative site on an interesting subject.

    Kind Regards,

    CR

    [Reply]

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