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Olympic Weightlifting – The Science

Olympic Weightlifting – The Science

Olympic Weightlifting Science

What does the science say about Olympic weightlifting?

Being an Olympic sport, there is a lot of scientific research that has gone into Olympic weightlifting.

Because I’m a bit of a science geek (not too bad, just a bit), I’d like to share some of the research with you so you can get a deeper understanding of Olympic weightlifting.

Let’s start with a study published over 30 years ago by John Garhammer out of the University of California at Los Angeles entitled, “Power production by Olympic weightlifters” (Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1980, Vol. 12 (1), pp 54-60).

[BTW – this is the same study I referred to in my “Olympic weightlifting for Explosive Power” article]

In this study, they determined the power production from 7 superior athletes in various phases of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, from tape from the 1975 US National Championships.

Here’s a table taken from the study (click to enlarge):

Olympic Lifting Power Output

Power output during various phases of the Olympic weightlifting exercises

Let’s focus on the second 82.5 column, which refers to a lifter that weighs 82.5 kg (181.5 lbs).

During the first pull, the power output is about the same for both the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

Olympic lifting - first pull

It’s during the second pull (called “upper pull” in this study) that the power really ramps up.

Olympic lifting - second pull

We can see that this 82.5 kg lifter generated 3634 watts of power during the second pull of the Snatch and 3475 watts of power for the Clean and Jerk.

This is an enormous amount of power output generated!

Compare this to the numbers calculated looking at a world record (at the time) Deadlift of 450 kg by Doyle Kenady.

When all was calculated, it turns out the amount of power generated during this lift was 793.8 watts.

So that means that the power generated doing the Olympic lifts are more than 4 times that generated during a record setting Deadlift.

If power is what you’re after, look no further than Olympic weightlifting…

Now, we know that total power output is higher with the Snatch or Clean and Jerk compared to any other exercise out there, what other benefits does Olympic weightlifting show in the research?

Total power output is great, but what about some real-world applications of how the Olympic lifts can help improve performance?

There’s another good study done in 2005 by Tricoli et al entitled, “Short-term effects on lower-body functional power development: weightlifting vs. vertical jump training programs”. (J Strength Cond Res, 2005, 19(2), 433-437).

This study is great to look at after the previous study, because now we’re pitting an Olympic lifting style program vs. a vertical jump specific program that included jumping exercises. Both groups also performed 4 sets x 6 reps of half squats.

In theory, the vertical jump specific program should out-perform the Olympic lifting program with respect to vertical jump, right?

Well in this study, the subjects went through an 8-week training program and assessed the squat jump, countermovement jump, 10 m sprint, 30 m sprint, agility and the half squat 1RM.

After the 8-week training program, both groups improved on all tests, but the Olympic weightlifting group improved significantly more than the vertical jump group in the squat jump and 10 m sprint tests.

No other significant differences occurred.

This study showed that an Olympic weightlifting program actually beat a vertical jump specific program (in the squat jump and 10 m sprint speed) while matching other tests of power, speed and strength.

Putting this study together with the first study, we see that an Olympic weightlifting based program gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of fitness improvements and efficiency of training.

So the science shows that Olympic weightlifting trumps powerlifting in measures of power output as well as beating a vertical jump specific training program for additional performance measures, including jump height!

Sounds like a grand endorsement for Olympic weightlifting, wouldn’t ya say?

But it’s not just the measurable results we can see from the science that makes me give a grand endorsement to mastering the Olympic lifts…

Benefits like the confidence you’ll get from mastering highly technical exercises…

The improvements in timing and coordination required to successfully execute the lifts…

And learning how to not only generate force, but ABSORB force, like you do when you catch the barbell on your shoulders in the Clean or overhead like in the Snatch.

Not to mention the fact that Olympic weightlifting is good old fun – there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing the lifts in your workouts right now, whether you’re an athlete looking to become faster and more powerful – or if you’re into fitness for health and just want diversity and new challenges from your workouts to keep things interesting.

Well, I guess the only thing stopping you (and with good reason) is the fact that you don’t know how to execute the lifts properly.

That’s why if you’re truly serious about integrating Olympic weightlifting into your workouts, you’ll want to get proper instruction on performing the lifts properly.


Leave A Reply (3 comments so far)

  1. aaron
    7 years ago

    fantastic article great for beginners to read and those getting back into lifting. Well done


  2. Roland
    7 years ago

    Im just getting into the olympic lifts… Currently trying to learn the Clean and Jerk…. Im still on the clean part and currently not confident and comfortable with what im doing… but it’s getting there hopefully… an you are right, it’s fun, and also a lot of work for a shorter period of time.