You'll find Olympic lifts in many training programs prescribed by your coaches and even here on STACK.com. That's not a bad thing. Olympic lifts increase your power through triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles, an essential movement pattern used for running, jumping and performing many sports skills.
However, Olympic lifts, like the Clean and Snatch, are complicated. In order to safely lift heavy loads, you must master the intricate technique of the movements. This presents quite a challenge if you don't have a good coach to guide you.
"Having had the chance to work with the Chinese Olympic weightlifting team, some of their coaches told us that they believe it takes four years for someone to become adequate at the Olympic lifts," says Mark Roozen, an elite performance coach who has helped several Chinese Olympic teams. "If an athlete is well coached starting in junior high, then he might be OK at the Olympic lifts when he enters college."
So, your technique is lacking. What's the big deal?
For starters, you won't get the full benefit of the exercise. Often it becomes an upper-body movement when the hips, knees and ankles should be doing most of the work. Your upper body should just come along for the ride.
Second, bad form increases your risk for injury. Athletes compensate for bad form by pulling with their back, causing back pain. Or, they may pull the weight up with their shoulders, resulting in a sharp pain from impingement. Plus, moving heavy weight quickly increases the chance of missing a rep, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you do it right—or of losing control of the weight, which is always a bad thing.
OK, we may have scared you a bit. Olympic lifts are phenomenal exercises. At some point, a coach will expect you to perform them, so it's best to start learning the technique.
But in the meantime, if you encounter an Olympic lift in a workout, don't fret. Many exercises offer similar benefits without the steep learning curve.
"Our goal is to develop that triple extension and explosive hip movement," says Roozen. "We like explosive jumps and med balls throws, which allow us to get that triple extension and transfer power through the body."
Here are some of Coach Roozen's favorite Olympic lifting alternatives. These moves train the same movement patterns as Olympic lifts, so each move will help you become a better Olympic lifter when you decide to learn the lifts.
Olympic Lift Alternatives
Start with the first exercise in each group and gradually progress to more advanced variations. Sound movement patterns carry over to the speed, power and skill movements that you're trying to improve.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart facing a course of mini-hurdles. Hop through the course on both feet, spending as little time on the ground as possible.
Sets/Reps: 4x6 hurdles
Variation: Single-Leg Hops
How to: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width. Keep your chest up and lower into a quarter squat. Fully extend your hips, knees and ankles to jump for height. Land softly with bent knees. Reset and repeat.
Variation: Single-Leg Jumps
How to: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width with a knee-high (or higher) box in front. Keeping your chest up, lower into a quarter squat. Jump up onto the box, fully extending your hips, knees and ankles. Land softly. Step down and repeat.
Variation: Single-Leg Box Jumps
Med Ball Progression
Med Ball Throws
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a med ball at your chest. Keeping your chest up, lower into a quarter squat. Simultaneously extend your hips, knees and ankles, and throw the med ball at a 45-degree angle. Retrieve the ball and repeat.
Med Ball Clean and Press
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a heavy med ball between your feet. Keeping your chest up, explosively extend your hips, knees and ankles while shrugging with straight arms. Pull the ball up, keeping it close to your body. Drop into a quarter squat and catch the ball at your shoulders. Explosively extend your lower body and arms to drive the ball overhead for maximum height. Reset and repeat.
Med Ball Overhead Throw
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a heavy med ball between your feet with a scoop grip. Keeping your chest up, explosively extend your hips, knees and ankles, and throw the med ball straight up. Catch the ball off the bounce and repeat.
Med Ball Overhead Throw With Jump
How to: Same as above, but emphasize a jumping motion as you throw the ball.
Also, check out the video above to see three of Mike Boyle's favorite exercises that offer benefits similar to those of Olympic lifts.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock