By Mike Westerdal
Many different types of athletes—weightlifters, powerlifters and combat sport enthusiasts alike—benefit from explosiveness, flexibility and strength. When it comes to developing these qualities, nothing is better than complex movements that recruit multiple muscle groups. Among compound movements, three are considered to be kings: the squat; the deadlift and the bench press. While there is no arguing that these are great movements, it’s always good to incorporate something new into your training routine.
With the Summer Olympics right around the corner, this is a good time to take a look at the Olympic Lifts and how they can help you develop explosiveness, flexibility and strength like never before.
First, Olympic Lifting is defined as an athletic event in which participants attempt a maximum-weight single lift of a barbell loaded with weight plates.
Second, there are two basic Olympic Lifts: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. Olympic Lifts differ from other compound lifts that are primarily focused on demonstrations of brute strength in that they also test human ballistic limits (explosive strength) and are executed faster and with more mobility and a greater range of motion.
Why would anyone who isn’t a competitive lifter want to perform Olympic Lifts? The answer to that question is simple—Olympic Lifts can develop explosive power, flexibility and strength better and faster than nearly any other compound movement. While these qualities are beneficial for nearly any type of athlete, they’re essential for guys who enjoy combat sports such as mixed martial arts fighting.
And while it’s true that Olympic Lifts are a phenomenal movement, I think some common misconceptions about them prevent a lot of guys from trying them out and finding out for themselves just how great they are. A false perception that Olympic Lifts are inherently dangerous is probably the most common obstacle to their more widespread practice. However, statistics and studies show that this just isn’t true—Olympic Lifters do not suffer from more injuries than any other type of lifter.
The primary reason you don’t see more guys doing the Olympic Lift is that they require lots of effort and demand perfect form. And to be quite honest, most guys just don’t have the kind of dedication and discipline it takes to perfect the movements. That’s a shame though because they’re not all that difficult to master and there are some excellent resources for learning how to perform them properly.
Of the two movements, the Snatch is the one that should be mastered first. The basic idea is to lift a plate-loaded barbell from the floor, to mid-chest height and then high overhead with the arms straight above the shoulders.
While it’s performed as a single, continuous movement, for training purposes it is broken down into multiple phases: approach; beginning; acceleration; dip-under; catch; and squat.
The Clean and Jerk movement essentially builds on the snatch movement but takes it a few steps further. The grip on the Clean and Jerk is closer together than the Snatch. According to Olympic Lift expert Eric Wong, the Clean and Jerk is best performed in the following manner: six phases for the Clean (setup; first pull; dip; quadruple extension; pull under and stand); and four phases for the Jerk (setup; dip; drive and split).
If you really want to learn to master these movements I highly recommend Eric’s program, Olympic Lifting Mastery: The fastest method to becoming explosive, flexible and strong. It’s a great resource.
Some of the key benefits of Olympic Lifts include: greater speed; improved stability; integrated mobility; force development; enhanced force absorption and full body strength development. And while most of these qualities are going to be of interest to guys involved in combat sports, if you’re looking to improve your mass-building capacity, you ought to consider incorporating the Olympic Lift into your routine on a regular basis.
I say this because remember, Olympic Lifts are compound movements that recruit multiple muscle groups when they performed. And because they require so much effort and call for explosiveness and power, performing Olympic Lifts causes the endocrine system to flood the body with powerful muscle-building hormones. This means that the next time you lift specifically to build mass, your muscle fibers are primed and ready to bulk up.
If you’re an athlete, you need to be explosive… unless of course you’re a marathon runner, in which case you can just slowly jog away from this article right now because this doesn’t apply to you.
But if you’re involved in any other sport that is worth watching, like MMA, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, etc, then explosive power is what makes those exciting plays happen.
You know, when someone lands a big knockout punch or takedown, a running back breaks through the middle of the line, or Blake Griffin soars through the air and throws down a big dunk.
Well there’s no better way than adding in the Olympic lifts.
In fact, science has proven it.
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 1993 called “A Review of Power Output Studies of Olympic and Powerlifting: Methodology, Performance Prediction, and Evaluation Tests”, author John Garhammer performed a biomechanical analysis of the Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Deadlift, Squat and Bench Press to determine how much power was being generated during each exercise.
Before we get into the results of the study, you must understand how power is calculated.
Power is calculated by the following equation (it’s math lesson time – yay!):
Power = Force x Velocity
While velocity is simply how fast you move the weight, Force = Mass x Acceleration, how much weight you move multiplied by how much you accelerate the weight.
That’s why with respect to power output, lifting heavier doesn’t always mean lifting more powerfully, because whenever you add weight, you will be slowing down the lift.
Now let’s take a look at the results of Garhammer’s study…
Garhammer analyzed video of elite lifters and calculated their power outputs through some really intense mathematical analysis.
If you’re a science geek who wants to see the details, click here to download the entire study.
Basically, what Garhammer found was that during the Clean exercise, a 100 kg lifter generated 4191 watts of power, while during the Deadlift, 1274 watts of power were generated!
The reason why over 3x more power is generated by the Clean is because the lift is performed so much faster and over a much bigger range of motion – it takes about 1 second to get the barbell from the floor to the front rack position during a heavy Clean, while it can take anywhere from 4-6 seconds to get the barbell from the floor to the thighs in a Deadlift.
Plus, because you cannot perform the Olympic lifts slowly, you’re forced to be explosive!
Just check out this video of Chinese lifter Liao Hui, lifting 198 kg (435 lbs) in the Clean and Jerk… at a bodyweight of only 69 kg (151 lbs)!
So if you’re looking to improve your explosive power for your sport, jump higher, or just learn these highly technical exercises because you’ll get a kick out of seeing the looks on people’s faces as you do these in the gym while they’re sitting on the leg extension, check out my friend Eric Wong’s (trains UFC fighters) Olympic Lifting Mastery Course to learn more about the Olympic lifts and becoming a more explosive athlete or powerful lifter.
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Guest post by Jedd Johnson
Hi, my name is Jedd Johnson, and I bend steel with my hands.
That’s right, I take steel bars, wrap them in suede to prevent a cut to my hands, and bend them into a U-shape.
“Why the hell would he want to do that?” you might ask…
I’ll tell you straight up…
Because it makes me feel like a friggin’ animal.
It makes me feel like I am a 800-lb rain forest gorilla that can destroy anything put in front of me.
And I like that feeling…
Maybe that description is too wild, and you can’t identify with it, so let me describe it a little differently…
A PR Bend is like adding 50 lbs to your deadlift, and holding it there while you scream before dropping it back to the platform like a bomb from an airplane.
Completing a bend you never were able to do before is like hitting 100 snatches in 5 minutes for the first time ever, and letting out a warrior cry because it took so much hard work and determination to get there.
Much like the landmark feats described above, I love taking a perfectly good nail or bolt and making it completely useless.
Some people think this is ignorant, but they don’t realize that BENDING IS THE PERFECT COMPLIMENT to movements such as the kettlebell snatch and the deadlift…
Now, you’re probably thinking: What!?!? How in the world could bending steel compliment my snatch and deadlift work?
The answer is the principle of Antagonistic Balance.
“Antagonistic” means opposite, against, contra-indicative.
Think of a Broadway Play. The agonist is the main character and the antagonist is the character that plays opposite him or her. Many times these two are enemies, or their views are somehow contra-indicative of one another – they are opposites; they disagree.
So what is Antagonsitic Balance, then?
Well, your body works the best, improves its performance, and is at its healthiest when the antagonistic muscle groups in the joints and opposing sides of the body are within a reasonable balance.
Think of the shoulder. If you do too much bench pressing and not enough rowing, pull-ups, retractions and other opposite movement patterns, you can really do harm to your shoulders, messing up the posture, pinching off nerves, and thus ruining progress on the bench.
You’ve heard of this before probably a hundred times and you are well aware of it in your training, right?
And you know, if you do too much pushing and not enough pulling, you could be setting yourself up for a serious fall down the line.
Now, where does this come into play with respect to the relationship between steel bending, the kettlebell snatch and the powerlifting deadlift…?
To fully understand this, let’s look at the movement patterns of these movements individually.
The Kettlebell Snatch is marked by Extension throughout the body.
The athlete starts in a flexed position with the knees, and hips bent. The bell is swung back through the legs, loading the hamstrings.
The momentum of the bell is reversed with controlled violence and then extension begins throughout the body. The hips and knees extend to give momentum to the bell. The spine is lengthened.
And finally, the arm punches itself into a straight, extended position.
The Deadlift is very similar.
The lifter starts out in a crouching position, grasping the bar as it sits on the floor.
From there, the lifter pulls the weight up along the body, extending the knees and the hips.
Once the bar is pulled to its highest point, the lifter further extends himself, pulling the shoulders back into a position of pride.
Upon analyzing both of these movements, the action that is repeated time and again is extension: extension in the knees, hips, shoulders and arms.
So, what is the natural antagonistic balancing action for the movement pattern of Extension?
There has to be some kind of contra-indicative movement pattern that essentially will negate these two big lifts, right?
The answer is Flexion.
To repeat, we are looking for an antagonistic, or opposite movement pattern, and we already said that KB work and Deadlifts involve a lot of force into extension, so the natural antagonistic movement pattern would be flexion.
BUT WAIT – I thought that, just like the ghost busters crossing the streams, having your “body in flexion” was bad!?!?
Sure, sitting at your desk all day in flexion is BAD. In can have a huge toll on your body over the years, so let’s try to avoid that…
How about Crunches?
SCREW THAT! BORING!!!
There has to be some other exhilarating strength training practice that involves flexion, while also requiring the same level of dedication, the same level of discipline, and the same level of technical precision in order to succeed that the Kettlebell Snatch and the Deadlift require. But what is it???
The answer – STEEL BENDING.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at steel bending, now, and the movement patterns involved.
The athlete starts out by grasping the nail high up under the chin with the spine, hips, and knees extended.
From there he takes a small step forward, initiates pressure into the steel and begins to lean forward into flexion.
As the steel heats up under the pressure, he feels it begin to move and puts on one last pulse of flexion as he “crushes the can,” compressing his abdomen down and further bending the nail.
Hit after hit on the nail, he does the same thing, flexing his body, until the ends of the nail are within two inches.
Being stuck in it at an office desk or behind the wheel of a car all the time is a bad thing. It makes you tight in the hip flexors, it can weaken the glutes and it can hurt your posture.
However, performing flexion in order to translate the power from your core and torso into your hands and to make the steel tap out to your strength is a good thing.
And not only does it help balance out all of the other training you do all the time, it makes you feel like you are a monster with green skin that can smash through concrete walls.
I’ll warn you right now, though…
As fun as it is, Nail Bending isn’t easy.
If it were easy, everybody would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
If you want to learn how to bend nails the right way, I’ll show you.
Check out my killer DVD: Nail Bending: How to Melt Steel with Your Bare Hands. <= Click that link right away! All the best in your training, my friends. Now go get your SAVAGE on! AFFILIATE LINK: Nail Bending: How to Melt Steel with Your Bare Hands. <= Click that link right away! Jedd Jedd Johnson is a certified Red Nail Bender, a CSCS, RKC and Captain of Crush. He is a World Record Holder in the Two Hands Pinch, AND he likes to bend sh*t.