Is It Time to Ditch the Olympic Lifts?

Alright Citizen community, we get it. Damn near every football strength coach just pooped their pants reading the title of this blog, and while we can’t help them clean up the mess, we can at least shed some light on what we mean by this seemingly controversial statement.



Olympic Lifts like the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, are just plain bad-ass. They’re some of the greatest displays of strength, speed, coordination, and mobility; all of which are core qualities that coaches and rehab professionals strive to restore when working with clients. There’s no doubt it takes a beastly athlete to succeed in improving their Olympic numbers, so why are we telling you to ditch these sought-after ideals of athletic capacity? Let’s break it down!


As a Strength & Conditioning coach and Physical Therapist, I strive to help athletes, patients and clients restore the qualities of sports performance that they don’t have, while maintaining or improving the qualities they already excel at. These qualities are the same that ones I had just mentioned Olympic Lifts require:

  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Mobility 
  • Coordination


By assessing for the clients weakest link, or ‘bottleneck’ of performance, we are able to reverse-engineer the rehab and performance process in order to improve how we use exercise to turn their limitations into strengths. So what’s the issue? Well, I’ll let you figure it out… 


If I ask someone to do a power clean, which specific quality am I asking their body to improve?

Will it ‘improve’ their mobility, or will their lack of motion limit their ability to complete the exercise? 

Will it be too challenging if they have a coordination issue? 

What if they can’t get under the bar quick enough? 

Are you really improving those sought-after qualities if you’re just ‘training for technique’? 

How long will it take before you can train them heavy enough to actually work on all 4 characteristics at once? 

I could go all day…


The Olympic Lifts demand a lot, and if you’re stepping up to the platform with a half-filled stat sheet, you’re signing yourself up for a tough day under the bar. But that’s not the only thing.


Even when high level athletes who have prior experience with the olympic lifts are randomized into different groups, chances are the olympic lifting groups will be outperformed in jump and sprint performance by traditional strength and plyometric training, or ‘motorized’ resistance training (aka isokinetics). How do we know? Well, that’s exactly what Helland and colleagues assessed in their randomized control trial in 2017! Even elite athletes who had consistently been working on strength and power training (including power cleans and hang cleans) for at least 2 years saw better improvements in vertical jump height when they were using machines, or free-weights plus jump training when compared to using the olympic lifts.


Now, we could have cherrypicked any single paper out of the sea of evidence that supports our claim just to make us look smart, but then we wouldn’t be Citizen Athletics! Take a look at the other papers below and decide for yourself:

  1. Hoffman et al compared Olympic Weightlifting training to slow velocity powerlifting in American football players, but found no improvements in either protocol.
  2. Channell and Barfield found no difference between groups (but still improvements within both groups) when comparing Olympic Lifting to ‘traditional’ strength training (squatting & deadlifting).
  3. Arabatzi and Kellis actually saw significant improvements in vertical jump abilities in ‘recreationally trained’ athletes, however, this study was primarily focused on assessing muscle activation, and only found jump height changes as a secondary variable. When we see these results, it is difficult to put much stock in the results because it wasn’t what the researchers were INTENDING to look at, therefore, this data could have easily just been ‘noise.’


These are a just a few of MANY papers that end in a bit of a 🤷 shoulder shrug when it comes to olympic weightlifting and performance. Could it help? Sure. Is it everything your coach says it is to improve skill, speed, strength, agility, and double your bank account overnight? Sorry boss, but that’s a no from me.


What to Try Instead:

Okay, you’re mad. We get it! We’re not saying to never do the Snatch or Clean & Jerk again; in fact, they still CAN improve your vertical jump. We’re saying there may be better alternatives that are more specific to the qualities you’re trying to improve.

Disclaimer: If the thing you want to get good at is the sport of ‘Olympic Weightlifting’… This is not the blog post for you :).


For times sake, and the fact that most of us know the basics behind improving strength, mobility and other athletic qualities (if not, click here!), let’s focus on the two areas that people most often select the Olympic lifts to improve: Speed and Coordination.

As someone who loves to train, but has an incredibly busy and occasionally chaotic lifestyle, I try to shoot for exercises that give me the most ‘bang for buck’. Aka, I find the most approachable, manageable, and efficient exercises that train the things I want to improve (ie Speed and Coordination).


These are the answers I tend to come up with when I know Olympic Lifting is not in the cards.


Medicine Ball Exercises:

Okay, before you roll your eyes, saying they’re underloaded, or not a high enough stimulus, ask yourself this – What qualities am I trying to build? Like we said before, we’re looking to build Speed & Coordination!


Here’s why I love using Medicine Balls in Rehab and Performance:

It allows you to organize WHICH quality you’re working on. Coordination? Find a target that you can throw at and go to town! Find where your accuracy-to-effort threshold is and get confidence learning new strategies to still stay on target! Speed? Grab a light or medium weight ball and chuck that thing! Seriously, go as hard as you can; up, down, side to side, whatever works. Just work on your effort and intensity of movement!


Medicine Balls also encourage variability. I mean, for Pete’s sake the things are big and awkward for a reason. There’s no perfect way to throw a medicine ball, but being able to organize your body around a slew of different strategies will lend itself to being the well-rounded athletes we all set out to become!



One extra reason why I personally love medicine balls – They’re suuuper accessible! As far as gym equipment goes, those sand-filled leather bags are pretty dang easy to come by. Take them anywhere you want and see improvements FAST!


Plyometric Variations:

‘Plyometric’ (aka ‘plyos’) is just a fancy term for jump training, and do you know the best way you can train for jumps? JUMP 

MORE! Well… sorta.


Here are my go to’s when it comes to developing speed and power with jumps, especially when Olympic lifts just aren’t a good fit.

Repeated Jumps:

Performing multiple jumps in succession, while trying to get off the ground as FAST as possible is a sure fire way to improve that ‘bouncy’ feeling off the ground. These plyometrics are great ways to condition your calves, ankles, and feet to be stiff; a necessary quality for anyone who jumps, runs, or pivots.


Weighted Jumps:

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, we can use weighted jumps to add inches to your vert. These plyometrics are going to emphasize your muscles’ contribution to jumping, running, and changing direction. With a bit of added weight, your body has to spend more time on the ground to jump, maximizing the challenge your muscles have to overcome.


“Okay, yeah we get it! We can do other exercises. But what if we REALLY want to start building our Olympic Lifting Skill??”

Ugh, okay we’ll give in. If you really want to use the Olympic lifts, or have an affinity to barbell training, we got you. Here are a few Olympic Lifting ‘derivatives’ that will help fill the gap that the classic ‘Oly’ lifts leave behind.


Olympic Lifting Variations:

Clean Pulls:

These exercises are awesome! They bring all the benefits of using the Olympic lifts, without the demanding technique necessary to perform! You can start from the ground, blocks, or hang position, focusing on the different jump qualities we discussed above. Short & snappy pulls from the hang position will be great for creating ‘stiffness,’ while heavy pulls from the floor will help build your top end strength & power. As you can also see, this exercise is super adaptable! Use a straight bar, hex bar, or any type of hand-held resistance you’ve got; just dip, jump and your body will take care of the rest.


Banded or Chain Speed Squats:

Bands and Chains are a form of ‘Accommodating Resistance.’ This means that they’ll change the resistance applied to the bar based on the range of motion of the movement. The best part? They’re the ‘hardest’ (heaviest) when you’re at the top; meaning you’re experiencing the most resistance in the ‘takeoff’ position for jumping. Accommodating resistance is a great way to introduce variable loads to improve your power during exercise sessions!


Give some of these exercises and strategies a shot next time you’re in the gym! And remember, you don’t always have to use the Olympic Lifts to improve your athleticism on the court… Variability in exercise selection will get you incredibly far!


If you’re struggling with managing your own programming, or want more ‘deep dive’ content like this, the Citizen Athletics app is the perfect entry point into science-backed training from trusted Physical Therapists & Coaches with years of education & experience in the field; all at your fingertips.


Click here to get started today!


About the Author:

Dylan Carmody is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Strength & Conditioning Coach with 5+ years in the performance and rehab industries.

Having dabbled in training modalities like Olympic Lifting, Cycling, Powerlifting, and CrossFit, Dylan has a deep appreciation for all things performance, while still having a positive and fun-loving approach to exercise.

Dylan’s coaching experience is equally eclectic, ranging from performance coaching for elite athletes in the NCAA D1 setting, to group fitness and weight loss coaching in his early career.

With detailed exercise programming & consistent communication, he aims to create a training environment that is not only ‘tolerable’ for clients’ aches and pains, but truly helps to resolve their issues in the first place.



  1. Arabatzi, Fotini, and Eleftherios Kellis. “Olympic weightlifting training causes different knee muscle-coactivation adaptations compared with traditional weight training.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 26,8 (2012): 2192-201. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823b087a
  2. Channell, Brian T, and J P Barfield. “Effect of Olympic and traditional resistance training on vertical jump improvement in high school boys.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 22,5 (2008): 1522-7. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318181a3d0
  3. Helland, Christian et al. “Training Strategies to Improve Muscle Power: Is Olympic-style Weightlifting Relevant?.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 49,4 (2017): 736-745. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001145
  4. Hoffman, Jay R et al. “Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 18,1 (2004): 129-35. doi:10.1519/1533-4287(2004)018<0129:coovtp>;2

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