How Olympic Lifts Translate to Athletics | BridgeAthletic

Posted by Megan Fischer-Colbrie on Mar 20, 2014 9:13:00 AM

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How Olympic Lifts Translate to Athletics

Elite athletes incorporate Olympic lifts and lift variations such as power cleans, hang cleans, and power snatches into their strength training because these exercises boost athletic performance. This style of lifting offers many benefits for a variety of athletic endeavors—ranging from tackles in football to dives in swimming. Olympic-style lifting is neither daunting nor dangerous when executed properly; rather it is an opportunity to increase strength, speed, and power in your sport. Take a moment to learn how Olympic lifts can maximize your training potential and performance.

The major benefits of Olympic style lifts are as follows:

  • They are performed standing
  • They are whole body compound movements
  • They rehearse movement patterns critical to performance and sport
  • They require high levels of motor unit recruitment
  • They improve posture and range of motion

Performed Standing

In all standing sports, force is generated from the floor and is transferred to the lower limbs and up the kinetic chain. Standing and dynamic movements require spine stabilization and the production or absorption of force. Olympic-style lifts not only build power in the same direction as the movement that many sports require, but also improve your proprioception and spatial awareness. Both of these are crucial for stability, body awareness, and ultimately, for injury prevention.


Whole Body Compound Movements

Olympic Lifts

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that involve several muscles or muscle groups in one exercise. Olympic lifts and their variations can be considered the biggest “bang for your buck” compound exercises in strength training. They involve the entire kinetic chain as each exercise demands a variety of actions. For example, a power clean develops leg, hip, back, and shoulder strength on the way up, the ability to absorb load on the catch phase, and core strength and stability throughout the exercise. In a recent study on the comparative effects of a back squat versus a power clean on performance, results revealed a power clean, the more complex movement, led to greater improvement in sprint time, velocity, and average acceleration in 20m running sprints in elite rugby players.

Because the exercises involve several muscle groups, it is important to progress from basic variations to more complex movements in a systematic fashion so you can learn proper technique at each level of lifting. For example, it would be wise to be able to execute a proper back squat, a more basic exercise, before moving on to more challenging lifts. At the end of the day, technique matters more than how much weight you can lift. BridgeAthletic Co-Founder and Chief Performance Officer Nick Folker gives a great technical breakdown of the Deadlift in this video here.


Replicate movement patterns

In sports, the more closely training represents the real performance, the better prepared an athlete will be. Olympic lifts use the same natural movements as running, jumping, diving, tackling and throwing. The main movement pattern Olympic lifts replicate is called triple extension. This occurs when the ankle, knee, and hip all extend simultaneously during lower limb movements like running and jumping. These lifts also replicate the torso strength your body uses to stabilize itself when it receives load, primarily during the catch phase of a lift.


High Motor Recruitment

In order to successfully complete a power clean, hang clean, power snatch or similar lift, you need quick neuromuscular recruitment to coordinate the sequence of movements. The faster you can contract several motor groups at once, the greater your speed will be. Olympic-style lifts develop speed in athletes because they are executed with explosiveness. The quicker you train your muscles, the faster you can contract them in competition. See the bottom of the post for videos showing proper technique for some of these lifts.


Improved Posture and Range of Motion

When an athlete has poor posture, her force transfer becomes inefficient. The kinetic chain is in a suboptimal position where muscles do not fire correctly and the risk of injury becomes much greater. Likewise, an athlete with a limited range of motion cannot reach the positions that will maximize her power and speed. Olympic lifts improve both range of motion and posture. All the “postural muscles” which support the spine and pelvis are strengthened in these lifts, and the range of motion in the hips is particularly improved.


Take Away

Olympic lifts and their variations are a key element of elite strength training that should be performed only once the athlete has progressed through a series of basic lifts with proper technique. These lifts closely replicate the demand on an athlete's body in competition—requiring quick activation, strength and stability through several muscle groups at once. Better posture and range of motion help athletes stay injury-free and obtain greater power out of complex movements. When incorporating Olympic-style lifts into your regular strength training regimen, we recommend beginning with simpler exercises and progress to these lifts. With focus on technique and explosiveness, athletes will feel the difference in overall strength and see it reflected in their ability in their sport!

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Key Lifts to Develop

Check out videos of several Olympic Lifts highlighting proper form on our YouTube channel here.

Power Cleans

Hang Cleans

Power Snatch




  1. The Back Squat and the Power Clean Elicit Different Degrees of Potentiation Laurent B. Seitz1,2 ,Gabriel S. Trajano2, G. Gregory Haff2
    Affiliations: 1 French Rugby League Academy, Toulouse, France. 2Centre for Exercise and Sport Science Research, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia.
    Acceptance Date: October 1, 2013
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Topics: S+C