I’m going to come straight out and say it. Olympic lifting isn’t my forte. As an athlete halfway between a mesomorph and ectomorph with chicken legs after years of squatting, Olympic lifting is still the joker to my batman. Apparently, physics states that true mesomorphs and endomorphs are going to be naturally better at oly lifts, considering primarily that they have a lower centre of mass which increases their overall stability and have to move the weight a shorter distance from the ground up. Thanks physics...
With that being said, I still train the Olympic lifts, because my training program says to do so and because they’re an important component of putting together and testing your training. Without getting into the specific details, Olympic lifts train you to move load straight upwards and improve your vertical jump, an essential component for all athletes. They'll also improve your power endurance and nervous system function.
As a Physiotherapist here at Evolutio Physio in Richmond I’m seeing an increase in the amount of clients coming in with shoulder and elbow issues primarily linked to issues with the second pull in the clean and the snatch. I’m seeing a chronic issue developing amongst the olympic lifting and CrossFit community where a lack of activation, strength, power and power endurance through the hamstrings, glut max coupled with an overly tight anterior hip are leading to the biceps, brachioradialis and forearm muscles having to work upto 3-4 times as hard to get that bar up.
With our old mate physics back in action, work = force x distance if we're not getting that bar moving through our lower posterior chain, the small muscles of our arms have to move it over a longer distance, over the same time period leading to them having to work harder over the given period.
The most common issues we're seeing develop as a result are medial epicondylitis, lateral epcondylitis, biceps tendinopathy and rotator cuff tendinopathy.
Here are our Top 4 tips for Olympic Lifting in your Training Program
1. Lift only what you can with excellent form
Seems like a no brainer hey. You'd be surprised how many people I spot lifting heavier than what they should be. It's like they're primarily concerned with the next instagram shot that the coach is going to take and they want to make sure they've got heavy plates in the photo. If you're only lifting what you can with good form, that means the muscles in your arm don't have to work overtime or any harder than they should do to get that weight up.
2. Add a Personalised warm up to your training sessions
Another must do. For many of our clients, we identify certain issues that are specifically relevant to them. It could be that they have poor development of musculature through one side of their body (commonly the non dominant side) say in their left hamstring and glut, and that the activation is commonly slower to switch on and they have poor power and power endurance.
I'd encourage these individuals to do double leg and single leg bridges, eccentric hamstrings (Nordics, ghd’s or simply banded good mornings) to firstly get the gluts & hamstrings active, but secondly to get both sides working evenly and powerfully before the main group warm up starts.
3. If you're a Rookie, Hang it
This might not be the case for advanced Olympic lifters but for the everyday joe, and for athletes training for specific sports, the hang clean will in basic form teach the individual how to activate through their posterior chain properly, whilst emphasising the need for explosion through the midline and the opening of the hips to generate power & therefore help move the bar up. If we don't train an athlete from this position early and consistently then they'll be ripping that bar from the ground like it's a soft weed in a home veggie patch.
4. Don't keep lifting through Pain
You'll come to us and sob when we say that it's going to take 4-6 months to get better and that you'll have to scale your movements for the next 3 months. Where as if you'd come to us earlier, it might be fixed up within a couple of weeks. If you're in pain, modify what you're doing so you're not in pain whilst you train and come and see someone who knows what they're talking about. Evolutio can provide just that.
Alex Drew is a Physiotherapist and Founder of Evolutio which is now located in Richmond and 11/3 Bromham Place, and looks after Sporting athletes, CrossFit athletes, Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters.