Olympic Lifting, or Weightlifting, refers specifically to the disciplines of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. These movements are highly technical and the ultimate expression of power!
DISCLAIMER: First things first. Coaches, if you don’t know how to perform and coach the lifts, DON’T! There are plenty of other ways to program for power development. However, if you do want to program these lifts (which I highly recommend), take the time to properly educate yourself on the nuances of the lifts and how to SAFELY and effectively teach your athletes how to perform them. The USAW SP-1 course is a great starting spot for learning the basics.
Why do I love Olympic lifts for my hockey players?
As stated above, the Olympic lifts are, in my opinion, the ultimate expression of power. On top of power, they also require intense amounts of coordination, patience, timing and stability. The basics of a snatch or clean can be learned in a weekend, but to implement effectively into a strength and conditioning program it may take a month or two of coaching it up, breaking it down and working on the parts. Many coaches will argue the time and effort to teach these lifts isn’t worth it. That we can work on the same qualities (to a lesser degree, mind you) through other modalities. However, to me the beauty of that time spent coaching up these lifts as a small part of each session with my hockey players is they are still eliciting adaptation to the same performance qualities targeted by the coach unwilling to invest that time and utilizing other, “less complex.” modalities. The BIG difference however, is by the end of that learning curve, the athlete is now able to properly and safely execute the full clean or snatch (along with their variants), and unlock the gains hidden inside!
Below are some of the reasons why I take the time to coach up my hockey players on how to perform the full lifts, pull and catch, as opposed to just variants; and the qualities we elicit.
Force/Power production: Driving through the ground, into forceful knee and hip extension will help with stride power, overall stiffness and explosiveness. Olympic lifting is the mother of all power expressions, and that is the number 1 reason I love to use Olympic Lifts with my hockey players. So, why not just do the pull variation? In addition to my points to follow, I’ve observed a noticeable difference in the velocity of the movement, as observed with our PUSH training bands, when the athlete knows they are going to catch as opposed to just pulling using the same load. This goes back to intent of the movement. It’s like running a race with no opponent vs. running a race against someone. Only in the case, the race is against the bar and you know the more aggressively you drive the bar up, the more likely you are to be successful in the catch. While there is data to show force production of equal or slightly higher forces in pull variations, higher load is required to reach the same force; and so the relative closeness of the numbers, combined with my next points, means teaching the catch is well worth my time.
Recovery of stride/COD: What goes up, must come down. We can only produce the force we can absorb. By teaching hockey players to properly catch, whether in the power or full position, they are learning to absorb large amounts of force. This requires the athlete to return to a stable and powerful position before accepting the weight, which is ultimately a foundation of sprinting/skating. The foot acts upon the ground to produce force and then must be rapidly returned to position under the hip in order to produce force again. It is improving the recovery phase that is the most valuable quality elicited in catching these lifts and the one that is missed in concentric only variants. The heavier the pull, the faster we must recover our hips back to athletic position in order to decelerate the bar. Produce force, recover back to center mass in order to produce force again. Increased loads can only be safely attempted with a firm grasp on the technique; and as I stated the heavier the load, the quicker we must recover to catch, the faster our hips become, the greater the translation to stride recovery. In skating, as in sprinting, producing force is half the battle.
Attention to Detail/Full Body Coordination: As I stated at the beginning, the Olympic lifts are highly nuanced, which is why they take time to become proficient at; and the difference between success and failure can be fractions of an inch. Pull too soon, or too late, you miss. Don’t finish your hips, you miss. Don’t sit back in the catch, you miss. This patience and technical challenge is the reason why many coaches will argue against there use; and precisely the reason I advocate. One of the by-products of the many large-group, athlete training facilities is the distinct lack of focus on the technical side of the gym, and over-emphasis on ‘getting work done.’ The Olympic lifts teach hockey players that there is more to training than just showing up and grinding it out. It is about attention to detail for maximum carry-over; it is about learning how to align your body correctly to safely and efficiently produce and absorb force; it’s about focusing on the task at hand and approaching the bar with a purpose every time. These lifts only reward those who possess not only strength and power, but coordination and focus.
Bang for your buck in season: If you’ve checked out the In-Season Training for Hockey series (1, 2, 3, 4), you’ll know that I value efficient use of athlete’ time in-season, so their main focus can be on hockey. This means finding ways to check the boxes of strength, speed, stability and power development, with minimal time and maximal focus on recovery. Enter the Olympic lifts. Once coached up, these lifts are a great way to check all your boxes in a very short time. In fact, in the midst of a hectic schedule, a solid warm-up and 3-5 sets of full cleans can go a long way to maintaining hockey players power output and movement quality, without adding too much additional work load.
But Coach, what about the Snatch? Isn’t it dangerous?!
For those who don’t know, the Snatch is where the athlete brings the bar directly from the floor (or hang) over the head. People will often perceive this lift as somehow more dangerous than other lifts. However, I can say that after 15 plus years of coaching and performing the snatch, I have not experienced or witnessed any Snatch related injuries. With ALL lifts from squats to bench press, to snatches, there is always an inherent cost/benefit that must be undertaken based on the individual. However, if the athlete is coached well, free of injury or limitation and loaded in a progressive manner; the Snatch is a great lift for velocity and force output, due to the distance the bar must travel; as well as, shoulder and upper back strength and stability!
There you have it! These are my arguments as to why the Olympic lifts should be included in your hockey player’s (and other athlete’s) programs. Again, I will state that you should do so only if you are 100% confident in your ability to coach these lifts PROPERLY! However, if done well and with intent, the Olympic lift can be one of the keys to unlocking the speed, power and athleticism of hockey players.
Do you use Olympic lifts with your hockey players, or other athletes? Why or Why Not? Comment, like and share. Let get this conversation started!