Developing Power With Olympic Lifts

Whether you are a high school, college, elite level, or amateur competitor, hopefully you have realized the importance of the Olympic lifts and their variations in your training. John Grace, CSCS and coach at the Athletic Lab, provides us with yet another great technical article on how the Olympic lifts can help you and your athletes develop more power.

The power, strength, speed, and mobility elite weightlifters posses are what make them some of the best athletes in the world. There is a reason why Olympic lifts are used by so many athletes; not just weightlifters. Weightlifting produces some of the highest power outputs of any sport; upwards of 5,500 watts of power in the traditional lifts. This type of power can translate well to speed/power sports and to most field and court sports (football, basketball, etc). While learning and teaching the lifts may be tedious, they can be a huge benefit to most athletes.

The central nervous system (CNS) plays a major role in sports and training.  Your CNS is like the hard drive of a computer. Among many other processes, it controls the percentage of muscle fibers that are firing (you don’t actually use all of your muscle fibers). You can rewire your hard drive to recruit a higher percentage of muscle fibers if speed and power are trained (this can include sprinting, jumping, Olympic lifting, etc.). Your CNS will adapt overtime by recruiting more muscle fibers to meet the demands you are placing on it.

Let’s look at a few equations that are quite often used within the sport science community

Power = Force x Velocity

To break this down further, we’ll dissect force and velocity.

Force = Mass x Acceleration. For this purpose, mass is the weight of the bar, where acceleration is the rate of change in velocity (how fast the bar moves through space).

Velocity = Distance / Time where distance is how far an object travels and time is the duration that an event takes place.

There are generally two schools of thought when developing athletes: the school of powerlifting and the school of Olympic lifts. Although powerlifting movements, like low bar back squats and heavy deadlifts, have a time and place, the goal of most athletes is to move as fast as possible with the most power as possible. There is research that states the way muscles are recruited during training are the same way they will be recruited during related movement tasks (1). The Olympic lifts provide the benefit of speed and power and will generally benefit an athlete more than the slower powerlifting movements.

Powerlifting is very one-dimensional in that there are huge amounts of force being produced, but the velocity is particularly slow in comparison to weightlifting movements. This is not ideal if your goal is make athletes more powerful. The benefit of weightlifting is that it is multi-dimensional.  Along with high forces, there is also a high velocity component. The time it takes an elite weightlifter to successfully catch a maximum attempt on a Snatch is a fraction of what it would take an elite powerlifter to complete a maximum attempt on a deadlift. Keep in mind that time has a direct correlation with power output due to its role in equating velocity. This type of recruitment (high force, high velocity) is what transfers well to speed and power athletes.

Olympic lifts can compliment great training programs, but are not the end-all-be-all to sport performance. There are other viable options that can create some of the same training effect as the Olympic lifts if you don’t have the time or equipment. There is a time and place for everything. It is how you manage your athlete’s training program that will give you the outcome you desire.\


Carroll T.J., Riek S., Carson R.G. Neural Adaptations to Resistance Training: Implications for Movement.Sports Medicine. 31.(12). 829-840. 2001

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