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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Olympic Lifting: Risk vs Reward

Recently ,Vern Gambetta, one of the most distinguished Athletic Performance coaches of the modern era, posted a great opinion piece on Facebook this week that argued about the potential uselessness and dangers of using Olympic lifting as a means of developing athletic prowess in the athlete. And from an injury perspective I could not have agreed more.
Read on for more...
The risks of Olympic lifting.
To set the record straight, both Vern Gambetta and I are not against the idea of Olympic lifting as a means of strength and power development in the non-Olympic lifting athlete. I just believe that sometimes Strength and Conditioning Coaches overuse the Clean and Jerk (or Power Clean) and the Snatch as a basis for the strength and conditioning programs without understanding the inherent risks involved in such technical movements.
     All training modalities come with some inherent risk. Speed and agility work can pull hamstrings, high intensity mixed interval training can lead to overuse tendinopathies, bench/dip/shoulder press can all lead to a host of shoulder problems etc... However, often what a good Strength and Conditioning coach can do is ascertain which movements are inherently "self-limiting". What this means is that if the movement/lift goes wrong, they still have a chance of pulling out without hurting themselves. A great example is barbell bench press versus dumbbell bench press. When using a barbell if things go wrong in the lift the athlete does not have a lot of wriggle room to avoid either dropping the weight on themselves or wrenching their shoulder joint. With dumbbell bench press, if things go wrong the athlete can simply drop the dumbbells off to the side.
     This holds true for Olympic lifting also, particularly the Snatch as it is not "self-limiting". If things go wrong in a Snatch, often the shoulder, neck and back will cop a hammering. Just have a look at any site that promotes "gym fails" on Facebook and you will understand what  I am on about. Not a lot of wriggle room if a Snatch goes wrong.
      In my experience in rugby, I have seen a host of "Olympic lift" injuries in my time dealing with rugby players. These include injuries such as ruptured Achilles tendon, torn meniscus (too deep on the catch with the clean), a ton of lumbar spine disc injuries, traction injuries to the brachial  lexus, wrenched cervical spines and a bunch of wrist impingements. Missing 2 weeks to 6 months of rugby due to a lift gone wrong can be a very frustrating and annoying issue for the coaching staff.
Risk vs Reward
     Therefore, this brings us to the crux of this issue - risk vs reward. What is the inherent benefit in including such technically proficient lifts into a training program if the risk of injury is potentially higher than with another "self-limiting" lift? Is a lumbar disc herniation worth the potential benefit of doing a heavy power clean? Could they get the same benefit of doing a jump squat movement instead? The Strength and Conditioning coach would need a solid basis of argument to include such movements into a program of a non-Olympic lifting athlete. I am sure countless physiotherapists and doctors who read this newsletter may philosophically agree with me on this point. As a former Strength and Conditioning coach i have always used the Risk vs Reward formula to determine whether a specific lift should used i a programme. I am always telling my athletes you don't want to get to strong. When you use the Risk vs reward formula you quickly realise that in some case's it just not worth it.  

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