Last Monday, the whole goddamn interwebz was up in a tizzy because of Miley’s offensive twerking. A former starlet of the Disney channel and teenyboppers everywhere, she’s stepped off of her pedestal and is doing things on her own. While we might disagree on her as a trouble maker and a trail blazer, she commanded our attention last week, just as Olympic lifts have done in strength and conditioning.
Yes ma’am, the Snatch and Clean & Jerk have commanded our attention.
You may be the type who did the optional reading assignments during classes, and if you are, I have some pieces for you to catch up on. (If you’re of the trainer type, definitely read these.)
First, I’ll suggest that you read Mark Rippetoe’s article “The Fallacy of High-Rep Olympic Lifting” which was published on T-Nation early this week. After you’ve covered that, explore Jacob Tsypkin’s, “The Not-So-Evils of High-Rep Weightlifting” on Juggernaut Training Systems, and “High-Rep Olympic Lifting” from Justin at 70’s Big.
Got that taken care of? Good, because we’re about to review them.
The premise of Coach Rip’s article is that high-rep Olympic lifting is good-for-nothing except making you tired, possibly injured, and probably satisfying boredom. According to Coach Rip:
- High-rep snatches or clean and jerks can be done safely by very experienced Olympic lifters. But they wouldn’t do them anyway because there’s no purpose.
- The average person who does high-rep Olympic lifts is a walking encyclopedia of bad, unsafe, and unproductive form.
- Snatches and clean and jerks, as technique-dependent lifts, fall apart easily in the presence of fatigue.
- There’s a time for conditioning, but there are better ways to do it than to perform the Olympic lifts like a jackass.
There are tones of anti-CrossFit sentiment in the piece, which isn’t surprising because high-rep lifting is huge part of the CrossFit training ideology. As one might expect, there was a response from someone in that community, Jacob Tsypkin, who happens to be a CrossFit Coach/owner. His piece was meant to disprove these points:
- “The snatch and clean & jerk are meant to be done at low reps.”
- Jacob argued that since the Snatch and C&J were developed to meet the demands of the competition set forth by IWF, they weren’t meant for anything other than being accepted in competition. In some sports/events (i.e. CrossFit) the demands of the activity require higher reps.
- “Doing the snatch and clean & jerk for high reps is dangerous.”
- JT argued that any lift taken to failure, regardless of %1RM would have an increased incidence of injury.
- “The snatch and clean & jerk are not effective conditioning tools.”
- JT argued that since a barbell can be loaded with more appreciable weight than, say, a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can create a more appreciable conditioning effect.
Now now, before we get into a tizzy, let’s all sit down for a relaxing cup of tea.
Each writer touched on the significance of the ability of the coach to, well, Coach their athlete through a given workout, as well as ensuring that those workouts are appropriate for their goals. One coach specializes in Olympic lifting and powerlifting, where athletes complete 1 maximal repetition at a time. The other coach specializes in CrossFit, where athletes complete wayyyy more than 1 rep at a time. Just throwing this out there, but they may be a little bit biased.
Note: They each said that a good Coach will develop appropriate techniques for appropriate workouts.
This makes me think of two things.
- Most coaches have no idea how the hell to coach an Olympic lift.
- Most people using Olympic lifts on their own have no idea what they’re doing.
- High-rep Olympic lifting workouts are inappropriate for most people.
There aren’t very many facilities that advocate or advertise the use of Olympic lifting. As you would expect, there aren’t as many Olympic weightlifting coaches as there are Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists, personal trainers, exercise physiology students, or fitness fanatics at large. It’s safe to say that there is a limited population proficient in the execution and instruction of these lifts. Few would argue that there are lifts more technically demanding than the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk, so it would behoove you to assume that proper instruction is key.
It’s also safe to say that random bro in your commercial gym who’s tried them a few times because they were on Stack.com may not be the best resource for learning how to lift.
Before chalking up Olympic lifting as the panacea of athletic or fitness development, realize that there are some coaches that don’t even want to play with them. Let’s look at a huge inspiration to my own career, Tony Gentilcore. In a blog post, “Why I Don’t Use The Olympic Lifts“, he wrote this summer, Tony touches on the fact that:
- Olympic Lifting can be a bitch to coach.
- There are more user friendly power-development activities than Olympic Weightlifting
- There is a large learning curve to Olympic lifting, and that time may be better invested in actually training.
As coaches, we can all agree that we’re trying to avoid this:
Woah woah, relax anti-1RM folks, I’m prepared for both sides of the fence:
Before we talk about me, let’s talk about you. See, I’m a listener. You also have beautiful eyes. You’re swooning. Let me ask:
- Do you have a need to do high-rep Olympic lifting?
- Are you competing in CrossFit?
- If not, are there exercises that better serve your goals of life domination?
Now let’s discuss those answers. If you’re competing in CrossFit, you bet your WOD’s that you better practice those high-rep Olympic lifts. Hell, that’s your damn sport! If you’re not competing though… do you like being injured? No? That’s what I thought. Since that’s likely the case, let me suggest avoiding training to failure regardless of rep range for any lift where you can drop a barbell on your head.
Do not drop a 1RM attempt on your head. Do not drop a 30RM on your head. And while the ability of a coach greatly impacts your performance, I am of the belief that high-rep lifting is more dangerous than low-rep lifting. Rep-to-rep quality should be higher, as there’s less time spent fatiguing during a set.
If you’re not competing in CrossFit, and you may or may not be competing in another event, I’m also of the belief that Olympic Lifting has limited application because of high mobility/stability and coordination demands. Sure, that may make it sound sexy as hell; Oooohhhh those are hard?! I want to do them!
If that’s the case, then by all means, go learn how to do them and possibly compete. Instead, try to be more of a realist. Your goal isn’t to be great at 3 rep or 30 rep Olympic lifting. It’s to burn more fat, build more muscle, or become more powerful or resistant to injury. Olympic lifting may be great for power development, once done appropriately, but there are exercises that are better for each of those goals without the learning curve. That means you can do them with better results, in a more comfortable manner, and train more aggressively from day one. For most of us, that makes more sense.
Do I hate the Olympic lifts? Hell no, I think they’re great. Do I think they’re appropriate for most people? Most of us need more time working on movement quality, not movement quantity. High-rep Olympic lifting can put quality to the wayside in the pursuit of quantity, so unless you’re training the lifts or competing, I won’t be the one to recommend them.
However, if you pass Miley on the streets, please put a bar in her hands.