Who is Jim Wendler? You may have heard of the Wendler 5/3/1 Strength Program. The Wendler program is one of the most popular powerlifting/strength building training routines on the planet. Ten years ago, most powerlifters followed the Westside Barbell method. Westside was the gospel, and there was no other. However, things have changed. A good portion of the strength and conditioning/powerlifting world now follow Wendler’s 5/3/1 exclusively, or a Westside/Wendler’s combination. So what kind of opinion does this powerlifter have on the Olympic lifts? A fairly surprising one.
WHY YOU SHOULD OLYMPIC LIFT – JIM WENDLER 2005 courtesy of Elite FTS
Ever since I began lifting weights, the debate over Olympic lifts has reared its ugly head. I have heard a ton of arguments for and against the Olympic lifts. Many readers and coaches at EliteFTS have voiced their opinion on Olympic lifts and most are not big fans. Or maybe they are and don’t want to say anything. I used to be part of that group. Well, screw that. I’m going to go over 6 common reasons why Olympic lifts are bad for you and tell it like I see it. So take off your gloves; it’s time to man up.
They are too hard to teach.
I call B.S. on this one. Anyone that is physically prepared can do a power clean. It’s really pretty simple. Start off with good position at the bottom; head up, back arched (you know the drill) and begin the pull slowly. Once it passes your knees simply jump or explode up and complete the lift. Is this the most scientific terminology? No. But guess what? If you think that any athlete wants to spend 40-50 minutes a day on the double scoop or even cares what it is, think again. They may nod their heads but all they are doing is affirming to their inside voice that you are nuts. Bottom line; as long as he is physically prepared to do the lift, then it’s easy. It’s when an athlete isn’t prepared that it gets tough.
While we are on the subject of teaching lifts let’s get a few things straight: if an athlete can’t hold a push-up position for 30 seconds or even hold himself statically at the top of a back raise for 10 seconds why are you putting a barbell in his hands or on his back? What is the rationale behind this? It is too hard to teach to someone that isn’t ready to handle it. Think about it this way – you wouldn’t expect a two year old to read Sir Gawain and The Green Knight would you? Why? Because he has trouble with basic English!
They are dangerous.
This view is usually expressed by those that work in the Office of the Machine Union which is located on the 33rd block of Hit Blvd, which is just off of the DisInformation Superhighway. Olympic lifting is dangerous if the athletes aren’t physically ready to perform them. Other than that, the only thing that I can see that can hurt an athlete is poor supervision and poor weight selection. This is not the fault of the lift, but the coach and the athlete. This is what is known as personal responsibility. If one is going to use this rationale then the following exercises would be outlawed:
• Every exercise known to man.
Now I do realize that some exercises are “safer” than others but let’s think about this – How safe is using a machine? Isn’t it just pattern overload?
Any lift can be dynamic, not just the Olympic lifts.
I agree with this statement, but what you have to understand is that the clean and the snatch are inherently dynamic or fast lifts. Just like you can’t jump on a box slowly, you can’t Olympic lift slowly. You have little choice but to be fast. While a squat and bench press can be pressed quickly, it can be faked.
By the way, if you are looking to perform Olympic lifts, I would not use the same percentages as are used for the squat and the bench. Ask someone who cleans 300lb what 150lb (50%) feels like. It’s a joke and a waste of time. Because the Olympic lifts are dynamic, the percentages are going to have to be increased. Personally, I never got much out of Olympic lifting when I wasn’t operating around 80% or above. This is just my opinion, but something to think about.
They are all technique.
If you are going to use this rationale then you might as well use it for the squat and the bench. There are gimmicks to every lift, but these are usually only applicable to the top level lifters. An Olympic lifter is very good a pulling the bar JUST high enough, but no higher. A football player doesn’t need to worry about this, just like an Olympic lifter doesn’t have to have perfect form when he runs sprints. This is because an Olympic lifter is using sprints as a tool for his performance, not as his sport. This doesn’t give him license to look like a spaz when he’s running. He just does them well enough to run fast and get something out of them.
Here is what you have to understand about training an athlete. They don’t have to be 100% perfect on technique. I would never expect them to be. Why? Because they aren’t powerlifters or Olympic lifters; they are athletes using various lifts to improve sport performance. I hope that we are all in agreement with the last statement.
I believe that all athletes should strive to perform all lifts in such a way that they will receive the full benefit from them and not get hurt. This means that they tuck their elbows on the bench press and keep their asses on the bench, sit back in the squat, go parallel or deeper on the squat and have good starting position on the power clean and don’t catch in a Jean Claude Van Damme split position. These are only a couple of examples, but really what more do you need?
Ethan Reeve once told me something that I completely agree with. He said that an athlete will still get something out of a lift that it is done with good (not great) technique. It’s only when the technique is so bad that it could cause injury does he “pull the plug.” This doesn’t mean you should not coach your athletes, but if he’s not to the triple-rebar-double-scoop-Bulgarian-front-lunge-double-Chocolate-Expresso with extra cheese portion of the Snatch correctly, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep about it.
I’m training athletes, not Olympic lifters
Every time I hear this I want to immerse myself in a cauldron of boiling tar. Only then will I forget the pain of this statement. How many times have you heard the expression, “We are not (insert strength athlete here), we are (insert sport here). So we don’t need to train like them.” That is correct, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some of their exercises. How many people have blown their loads over tire flipping? You would think there was gold under each tire the way that coaches get all worked up. But are they training for a strongman competition? No. But they understand the benefits of doing the exercise. See where I’m going with this one? If one is going to use this statement than if you are a football player you can no longer squat (powerlifting), sprint (track), stretch (yoga) or accept money from boosters (Michigan Fab 5 Basketball Team).
Why rack the barbell? Why not just do a pull?
This is usually done because of the stress on the wrists. I can assure you that there is one other thing that males (and according to Cosmo and other magazines of that ilk, females) do quite frequently with their wrists and have few problems. But anyway, the problem with just doing the high pull is that there is no “end” to the lift. Completion is sometimes critical to an athlete; it gives them a sense of accomplishment and allows a coach to have a guideline to track progress. While in theory it may work better, in the real world it’s not always the case.
The purpose of this article is not for me to wave the Olympic lifting flag and start a war. The point is that while there are a lot of people that don’t like Olympic lifting, there are a lot that do. It seems like you can’t sit on the fence; you either have to be all for it or wish that it suffers a slow and painful death. What I find remarkable is that there are a lot of people that haven’t really thought about this and just jump on the bandwagon . Who cares is someone doesn’t agree with you? If you think Olympic lifts are good, then do them. It’s your program and they are your athletes.
Here are some other thoughts:
If I have to hear about some study done on Olympic Weightlifters in the 19—Olympics and how terrific they are, I will be forced to poison the messenger with E coli. First of all, what kind of coach lets their athletes be part of a study AT THE OLYMPICS? I never understood that. They always measure 10 yd dash, flexibility, vertical jump and standing long jump. Now I ask you this: Do they do well at these tests because of the Olympic lifts OR do they do well on the Olympic lifts because they are good at these tests? Here is a point of reference for you – While I was at the University of Kentucky, the defensive coordinator was a seasoned veteran. He had been coaching for over 30 years. In those 30 years, he had collected testing data on every single football player on every team that he was a part of. It was remarkable because it was in these huge 3 ring binders. Anyway, the most accurate test, in regards to how it related to an athlete being a starter, was the vertical jump. So now do you simply train every football player to have a huge vertical jump? Something to think about.