My Dad was the head football coach at Pike County in Georgia in the late 70’s and early 80’s. During those days, the Head Coach took on all the responsibilities of the team. Cutting grass, rounding up equipment, raising money, getting players to practice, and running the weight room.
He didn’t know a lot about lifting weights but he was smart enough to latch on to a system that had some success. He used Bigger, Faster, Stronger with his athletes and taught me from an early age that the power clean was the most important lift for football. I can remember his exact words: “If you could only do one lift, it would have to be the power clean.”
“The Only Thing I Cared About Was The Power Clean”
Now my Dad was and still is the smartest person I have ever met, so I took his words to heart; about the only thing I cared about in high school was the squat and power clean. I was the exact opposite of almost every high school student in America. Add in the fact that I have the body type that is conducive to a good power clean, I quickly found out that I was pretty good at it as well.
Around this time, I also read an article by Alan Headrick from the Air Force Academy. He said that the #1 predictor of the starters on the Offensive Line was the power clean – since I was an Offensive Lineman that was all I needed to hear. After my senior year of high school football I was able to power clean 305×4 with pretty good technique. I also had a 30 inch vertical jump at 250 lbs. This made me even more of a believer of the BFS concept of transfer.
Then as I grew older, I started reading more about the Westside Methods and Louie Simmons. Westside seems anti-Olympic lifts (even if they are not, it comes off that way) and I fell right in line with their thinking. They believed that any lift could be explosive, not just the Olympic lifts and they do have a point.
Many times weightlifting coaches will talk about the 2nd pull and how explosive it is and will compare it to a max or near max effort squat. This is not a fair assessment. It would be more rightly compared to a dynamic effort box squat, deadlift, or bench press; that is comparing apples to apples. No one is going to argue that a snatch generates more force than a slow max effort squat, but comparing the snatch to the dynamic box squat gets much closer.
Training the Triple Extension
What Westside said made sense to me. Many from the Westside methodology also like to say that doing box jumps, medicine ball throws, etc. more effectively trains the triple extension – and they might be right. And after all, the triple extension is the most important thing, right? Westside also likes to say that the lifts are hard to teach and it is easier to teach a deadlift or box squat. I almost agree there. I also started to believe that maybe the reason the starters in football power clean more is because they are the better athletes, so I started believing that good athletes power clean well, but the power clean doesn’t make better athletes.
But during my transition to Westside I noticed a few things about myself that changed. I eventually added 400 lbs. to my squat and 150 to my deadlift. I power cleaned 315 easy after not doing a power clean for more than 3 years. Anybody who saw me squat or deadlift knew I was an explosive lifter; everything measured up, except I could no longer jump.
When I was in college I could dunk a basketball from a standing position under the basket at 250 lbs, but now I could barely grab the rim at 265 lbs. Granted I had gained some weight, but the increase in strength and explosiveness should have at least held me stable. Something was wrong and I was starting to see what it was.
During this time I also had an opportunity to hear Bill Gillespie at Liberty University speak. He talked about the Power Clean and deadlift and how they were summation lifts, which are lifts that are better built by doing other lifts instead of the lift itself. I fell hook, line, and sinker. I felt it was better to spend time doing the pull versions of the Olympic lifts instead of focusing on the full lift themselves.
This led me in the right direction but wasn’t where I needed to be. Around this time, I started having my athletes perform more and more cleans. I noticed that as we performed the clean we improved our athleticism, coordination, and explosiveness. I have no numbers to back this up, but if I noticed it, it must be happening because I had every reason in my mind to not want it to happen.
Why All Athletes Should Olympic Lift
Then in July of 2008, I attended a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification Class. I will never be the same. The first thing I learned was that the Olympic Lifts are not hard to teach – I just didn’t know how to teach them. I also learned that there are more reasons to do the Olympic Lifts other than to train triple extension. There are even coaches like Don McCauley who don’t even advocate for getting to triple extension in the Olympic Lifts. Here is my short list of why all athletes should include at least some versions of the Olympic Lifts in their training.
- Manipulation of your body around external forces: When you perform a full clean or snatch, you actually pull yourself under the bar after the second pull. This helps build athleticism with each repetition.
- Catching and absorbing external forces: In the full versions of the clean and snatch you learn to catch and absorb weights. This happens in sports all the time and not just with our own bodies but with other bodies in sports like football and wrestling. I also believe that this can contribute to agility by building deceleration ability.
- Injury prevention: Because you are constantly catching and absorbing external forces I am convinced that it helps to prevent non-contact knee injuries. In fact, I have only had 1 athlete have a non-contact ACL injury in 12 years of coaching high school football.
- Functionality: You say you can’t do a perfect power clean? That’s fine. The fact that you pull and catch and then struggle with the weight is going to build more functional strength than just doing a squat or deadlift or even the pull version of the clean.
- Flexibility: Repeated stretching of the wrists, elbows, and hips occur on every rep. This is something most of our kids need desperately.
- Increased Muscle Mass: The Olympic Lifts can add muscle to the upper back that is nearly unparalleled. Just take a look at the trap development of weightlifters around the world.
I highly recommend that every coach take the USAW Club Coach Course – I learned more about weightlifting that weekend than nearly my whole life put together. Even if you don’t jump right into an Olympic lifting program, you can learn things about technique that totally change the way you run your weight room.
Taking the time to teach the lifts can have a huge effect on your programming and training. Since learning to teach the Olympic Lifts I have now transitioned into a program that uses an explosive lift every day of the week.