Traditional Olympic lifts can be adapted and used in strength and conditioning programs to develop speed, power and strength. These lifts offer unique opportunities to blend load and speed in movements that are hard to replicate.
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Olympic lifts typically have the highest power outputs of any strength and conditioning exercises—between 50 and 80 percent of your 1RM, compared to between 30 and 50 percent for other exercises. Higher loads can lead to higher levels of strength and speed.
But not everyone can do Olympic lifts like the Power Clean, so let’s take a look at alternatives that are easier on the joints.
Who Should Seek Alternatives?
Some trainers advise against the use of Olympic lifts for overhead athletes—e.g., baseball, softball and volleyball players. Typically, athletes who excel in these sports have increased laxity in their upper extremity joints, which allows them to be successful on the field or court, but which puts them at risk for injury when they perform full Olympic lifts.
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Athletes with previous shoulder, wrist or upper extremity injuries should also avoid Olympic lifts, as should those who lack the proper equipment or an experienced coach, don’t have time to the learn technique or become easily frustrated.
Alternatives to Olympic Lifts
These three movements can be used to create similar training adaptations.
1. Trap/Hexagonal Bar Jumps
Because of the position of the handles, the Trap Bar Jump is less stressful on the wrists and shoulders, yet it allows for the use of heavier loads compared to other jump training. Trap Bar Jumps also offer higher power values per load than traditional Barbell Jump Squats.
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To perform the Trap Bar Jump, load the trap bar with Olympic weight plates (bumper plates work best). Stand in the middle of the bar and jump as forcefully as possible into the air. Land in an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent, then lower the trap bar back to the ground.
2. Kettlebell Power Jumps
This exercise is great for overloading a jumping motion for newer athletes, since the loads are smaller than Olympic lifts and Trap Bar Jumps. The equipment required is minimal and the learning curve is short.
To perform, start in a normal squat stance with a kettlebell on the ground. Put both hands on the kettlebell and jump up, trying to achieve full extension. Upon landing, return the kettlebell to the ground and repeat.
3. Jump Shrugs and High Pulls
These two exercises offer athletes a great opportunity to increase their power. Done from a variety of positions, they are easy to teach and do not demand the level of technical prowess needed for full lifts. Furthermore, these lifts can be completed with either a snatch or clean grip, offering more options.
For athletes with injury concerns, Jump Shrugs and High Pulls offer effective ways to train explosive power and extension with minimal risk. They are safe alternative to full lifts for athletes of all abilities, strength and skill levels.
Jump Shrugs can be performed from the slot, above the knee or on the ground. To perform, execute the pull as you would in a full Olympic lift. At the end of the pull, jump up and violently shrug your shoulders toward your ears. The goal is to create a forceful shrug with the bar.
This exercise can be performed from any traditional Olympic lift starting position. The movement is executed the same as a Jump Shrug, except at the end of the shrug, the bar should still be forcefully moving up. Allow your elbows to bend and pull the bar up to your chest. This movement creates more bar speed, which increases the amount of power generated.