Stronger Athletes

Dear Various Topics: Olympic Lifts & Plyometrics

April 10 "There never were in the world, two opinions alike. Their most universal quality is diversity." Michel De Montaigne

Mystery Guest: Day 2

(So far we only have 5 correct guesses..come on guys this is easy!) Just like last week we present a Mystery Guest. If you think you know who this pioneer in strength training is drop us a guess, via the contact form, and our correct winners with be posted on Friday. Good Luck!

This week's guest was one of the first people hired on the NFL's newest franchise, he was hired even before the head coach!

He "spent the previous 19 seasons [as the head strength and conditioning coach] with the Washington Redskins where served as an integral part of three Super Bowl champions, four NFC champions and five NFC East champions."

"This coach is known as a leader in his field. He has written several books and served as a fitness columnist for the Washington Post."

"Prior to his stint with the Redskins, he spent five years as the strength coach at Penn State. The Nittnay Lions won their first national championship after his last season. Before arriving at Penn State, he served as the strength coach at Army from 1974-77."

His tenure in the NFL has produced several head strength and conditioning coaches who have worked with him. Steve Wetzel, last week's mystery guest, recognizes this man as one of his biggest inspirations.

**Note** Much of this bio was taken from another website which will be recognized on Friday, as we don't want to just give away the answer now do we?

Dear Various Topics

Over the past week we have been kept really busy with comments and questions from several Olympic lift coaches. These guys run successful programs and they are genuinely concerned about the profession of strength training. We think that by posting these comments and our responses that our readers can benefit from our discourse. Ken Mannie, Head Strength Coach at Michigan State University, informed us that he thinks this element of our website is very beneficial to others. We think so too.

Both of the coaches presented below have been very open-minded while making their arguments. We hope they have gotten as much from our discussions as we have. It is important to keep in mind that we will not respond to flaming e-mails. Our purpose is to present a philosophy on strength training not bash others. We welcome comments and questions either for or against our positions but we will not respond to those who cannot have a professional conversation.

In the following letters some of the major topics addressed are frequent ones such as developing power vs expressing power, safety, and principle of specificity. However, both of our e-mail writers use the term HIT and refer to Arthur Jones.

It should be noted that has never used the the term HIT referring to High Intensity Training. HIT has a large following but it is not a uniform, come in a box recipe that many coaches are used to, such as the BFS program, which many high school coaches use and are comfortable with. For example, there are factions of HIT strength programs that preach very slow movements and other that preach anywhere from 1 to 3 working sets. Some preach free weights others machine weights. Believe it or not some HIT programs use olympic lifts! So please be careful not to stereo-type training programs from what you may have heard at gyms or read in magazines.

In regards to Arthur Jones, although we have never mentioned him he is a great credit to the field of strength and conditioning. His early work in the 1970's helped to pave the way for modern training practices and present day coaches should recognize him for his trailblazing efforts regardless if they agree with him or not. Others such as Boyd Eply, Nebraska's Strength and Conditioning coach served a similar role in the "early days". It is not our place to be critical of these men's efforts only to take what they have given us and continue.

Coach Burk responds to our last Dear from April 5, 2002.
Dear Coach Rody,

Where can I get scientific evidence that training in a slow controlled manner develops power? How do you go about testing power? Besides anecdotal evidence and an example of a single instance from a doctor, what studies have shown increased risk of injury with olympic lifts? Where can I find these studies (medical journal...).

Olympic lifts and plyometric lifts are not necessarily specific to movements performed in sports (however many jumps do seem similar in basketball). But if I have the ability to generate more power and recruit more muscle fibers - more quickly, wont this help me become a better athlete? [**Note** This thinking violates the Principle of Fiber Recruitment -S.A.] Yes we will practice skills that are specific to the sport, such as tackling. But how does overload factor into drills of this nature. Efficiency is vital, and time should be spent on practicing the sport. But I'm not sure a good in season lift including olympic lifts will take longer than 20 minutes - tops. Where does the coaching come in to play, if we are looking for the easiest method to train our athletes. I'm not sure this should be a strong consideration. We should search for the most effective method, not the easiest to teach or implement.

Lets don't compare what one program does versus another, lets look at what science says, and site our sources from peer reviewed literature from journals, not other websites or what other coaches say or believe. Much of what Arthur Jones wrote in his bulletins is not scientifically found, or may be dated. I'm not sure, but I think somewhere in there he encourages the consumption of raw eggs, should I suggest my athletes also do this?

James Burk

Coach Burk,

We appreciate your new comments. We respectfully address your concerns.

In regards to our thought on power please read our Expressing vs. Developing Power article as well as other articles related to power. There is a fundamental difference between Expressing and Developing Power. In order to effectively train the type IIb fast twitch muscle fiber. The athlete most train with heavy weight. If momentum occurs during the repetition, the muscle tension is released.

The most widely accepted scientific theory of how muscle fiber is recruited is called the Henneman Size Principle of Activation. Ken Mannie, Michigan State Strength Coach, explains in his article, "Explosive Weight Training," Henneman states that...

"the size of the newly recruited motor unit increases with the tension level of which it is recruited. Smaller motor units are recruited first, with successfully larger units firing at increasing tension levels. Slow twitch units (type I) tend to be smaller and produce less overall force than the intermediate and fast twitch units (typeIIa, type IIab, and type IIb)."

You either can lift with high intensity or with speed, you can't do both. Fast twitch muscle fiber will be trained with a high amount of intensity. That makes the Olympic lifts the least effective for developing power and training the Type IIb muscle fiber because the weight is too light and momentum is involved. Tell me another way of how fast type IIb muscle fiber is trained? You can't bypass the slow twitch and directly train the fast twitch, muscle is recruited in an orderly fashion.

The article posted on April 8 is one incidence of how an athlete can get injured during an Olympic type of lift. Please read other articles we have written to get more safety related articles and there will be more to come. These will be posted over the course of our future postings. In the meantime you may wish to visit PubMed, a web site for finding medical related publishings.

Like I said there are piles of medical research that have shown similar results. Can you show me medical research that indicates that slow movements create injury more than quick lifts?

You mentioned plyometric lifting. When an object such as a barbell is used to increase the vertical jump of a basketball player, the neuromuscular pathways used in the exercise are different than the ones used in the jump without weight. This is maintained by the scientific Principle of Specificity (Please see our previous article explaining this as well.)

If a basketball player wants to increase his vertical then he must develop power through heavy, slow controlled lifting then practice vertical jumping. If an athlete generates power more quickly then he begins to express power. We want our athletes to develop power in the weight room then express it on the field.

As far as overload, this pertains to weight training. Weight training and movements on the field are entirely separate entities.

We are not seeking the easiest method of strength training, we want he safest, most productive and efficient method. That method happens to incorporate the less complicated lifts. We are not training our athletes to become Olympic lifting competitors, we are developing strength and power to enhance our sports such as football, volleyball, basketball, track & field, etc...

You said it best when you said, "Look at what science says". Science says that slow controlled lifting is the safest most productive and efficient methods to train. I encourage you to read our other articles and you will understand where we are coming from.

In every physiology text you will find Principle of Activation. This is science. There is no scientific evidence that indicate slow training causes more injuries than fast weight training. We need to look at sound scientific evidence, not misleading, contradictory science of Olympic lifting for athletes.

You mentioned out dated information. In the 1960's Eastern Block countries were very successful in the Olympic lifts. At this same time American coaches discovered that stronger athletes were better athletes. They looked around and saw that these Eastern Block countries were the most successful weight lifters. American coaches saw this and learned their methods thinking that this is the best way to train our athletes... but not knowing why. Just because they, the Eastern Block countries that were good in the Olympic lifts doesn't means that our football players, for example, should be doing their lifts.

We believe that we must continue to challenge our current knowledge levels and find the safest, most productive, and efficient programs for our athletes.

Coach Rusty Whitt, Strength & Conditioning coach at Sam Houston State describes his role as a collegiate strength coach that uses Olympic lifts.

Dear Coach Rody,

I recently read this post on your website. I found it of interest. First of all, I have worked with Olympic athletes, Division III, Division II and 1.

I work at a small college and find myself having to develop athletes, more so than a Michigan State or a Stanford. You have to agree that the stronger, more flexible, more powerful, more mature and coordinated players out of high school will get to the higher collegiate levels. Your training methods are governed by the type of athlete that you train.

Now, I have friends at the NFL and collegiate levels who perform various degrees of HIT (High-Intensity-Training) training. They do what works, and are qualified, conscientious fellows. I believe the best coaches have open minds, and are not afraid to try various techniques out. These guys do just that. With that said: I love teaching the Olympic lifts. I like the hang snatch overhead squat--it requires a high level of balance, coordination, and flexibility.

We don't do much weight, you don't need to. I'm not training Olympic weight lifters, (Who I believe are among the greatest athletes in the world) but exercises they do are very beneficial. I like the power clean, hang clean, and every variation of these lifts. The position coaches I work with would not want it any other way--they see the improvement in ATHLETIC ABILITY that these lifts foster. As far as injuries go, I have not had an athlete ever miss a competition because of any injury on the platform. I believe that occasional wrist discomfort is actually worth the benefits they receive.

More importantly, the athletes respect these lifts, and they do a great job of following instruction. They see the benefit, they understand the intensity required, and enjoy the improvement that they see in their abilities. We start on the platform, and then do powerlifting--they complement each other well. I have witnessed a 198 pound competitive Olympic lifter vertical jump 42 inches, no approach--he did little powerlifting so I know where his power came from.

I am tired of the HIT vs Olympic lifting debate--any coach that says you cannot benefit from both, is being close-minded and insecure about their own approaches. We are paid professionals who must teach complicated exercises--good coaches can teach a complete, safe clean technique in 1 week, and the athlete can benefit from this for years. I know, I have seen it done for a long time.

Thanks for the time,

Rusty Whitt

Coach Whitt,

Great comments. Thanks for your input.

Please understand that the purpose of our website is not to be closed minded in fact what we really want to do is get many coaches who look down their nose at high intensity coaches to understand that we are not crazy. I hope we don't come across as close minded ourselves.

I should explain that my partner is new to non-Olympic training. He coaches high school football, played small college football and cleans were normal, everyday exercises. He never asked why he just did it.

After taking a new job and meeting myself he challenged himself to look at the why in regards to cleans. He couldn't find the answers. As he read and visited with many coaches he has found something he is comfortable with.

However, like yourself he took the time to COACH in the weight room and has not experienced quick lift injuries. [However, a great point was made by Coach Jonathan Grey, Strength Coach at Southeast Missouri State, that Olympic lift injuries can be long term. Coach Grey writes, "The thing that many of these coaches fail to realize is that they may be predisposing their athletes to injury. In other words, injuries may occur on the field that are either a direct or indirect result of Olympic lifting.] Many high school coaches just sit behind a desk or even worse sit in their office while the kids lift.

I hope you can understand our perspective and get something out of the articles we post.


Coach Whitt, continues the discussion.

Coach Whitt continues...

We use sport specific drills AND weight lifting exercises to teach sport skills. why not do both, if you see progress, if you have a system that works? One can complement the other. I am a strength coach first--the position was created to get players stronger--then I implement on field drills to take what they learn in the weightroom and apply it to the field.

As a college coach, I had better understand the correlation between strength gains, wins, and losses. I cannot separate the three, because having a job depends on if the team wins. At the levels that pay the best, a strength coach is as much a part of the coaching staff as the Offensive Coordinator.

Now I do agree that high school coaches must be great teachers, they have to stay out of the office. They can do a good job of teaching powerlifting and Olympic lifting.

FYI- Thursday we did power cleans at 60% of their max-4 sets of 4-- today, after our scrimmage, the guys did 1 set to failure on DB alternating incline press.



Coach Whitt, [Going back to some of your earlier comments...] First of all, we respect your opinion. We all have our beliefs and opinions and can learn from each other. The sites purpose is to share ideas and thoughts like you have done but also to educate coaches on what we believe is the safest, most productive and efficient approach to training for athletes to use to prepare them for their prospective sport. We believe Olympic lifting and Powerlifting are not necessary.

You mentioned that you have to develop athletes more than a Michigan State or Stanford. I am a strength coach at the high school level and believe me I have my work cut out for me. I have trained some of the best athletes in the area and they never performed an Olympic type of lift. Believe me, some of these athletes were not naturally talented genetically to begin with.

As far as the best coaches having open minds, I couldn't agree more. The longer I am in this field the more I realize many coaches are closed-minded.

Early in my career I tried to incorporate some of the Olympic lifts in my program and wound up with injuries that prevented some athletes from performing on the field. They too had good technique, which proves the point that even with perfect technique, the athlete can still get injured. But I do understand that good technique does reduce the injury risk.

You said that he Olympic lifts require a high level of balance, coordination, and flexibility. I agree but this will not transfer to better tackling, blocking etc. I do not believe one compliments the other. It has been scientifically proven that neuromuscular transfer does not occur from lifting movements to the field or from any activity to the next. The activity that you are wanting to get better at must be practiced. Doing similar types of activities will not help athletes become better at the activity they are wanting to perfect.

As far as coaches seeing improvements in athletic ability, I'm sure you have other lifts that do train fast twitch muscle fiber effectively, such as heavy squats, heavy dead lift and heavy bench.. That will increase strength, power and explosiveness that will help athletes in their sport not to mention I'm sure that these coaches have them do drills that are specific to their position. I believe that is where the increased ability comes from. You also had mentioned that you do not use heavy weight in those movements. Heavy weight is a requirement to train the type IIb fast twitch muscle fibers effectively. That is why I believe in heavy, slow controlled movements are best so the athlete can achieve overload. Olympic lifting is overtaken by momentum during each repetition. Overload cannot be achieved because the stress is taken off the muscle each repetition. This is an ineffective way to train the muscles.

I disagree with your statement that occasional wrist discomfort is actually worth the benefits they receive. A few years ago, I had an all state shot putter insisting on doing power cleans behind my back at another gym because no athlete is allowed to do these type of lifts under my supervision. His wrist injuries got increasingly worse throughout his senior year to the point where he could not compete anymore because of the injury and pain the cleans were creating. My other 2 all state throwers placed well in the top five never doing an Olympic type of lift. For the injured athlete, this not only caused him to never throw again but it cost him a possible scholarship. I this in one incident I have witnessed first hand. One of my others all state throwers did receive a an athletic scholarship and went to a college that does not believe in doing the Olympic-type of lifts as well.

As far as the Olympic lifters vertical jump being 42 inches, I don’t feel that that is relevant because there are non-Olympic athletes that can vertical jump like that as well. Strength coaches should be trying to strengthen athletes for their sport that is why I think the vertical jump is a poor indicator of an athletes athletic ability but it is still used widely by many teams. I had an athlete that could vertical jump higher than most his age and played football. He wasn’t a very good player either. I have seen many athletes that perform the Olympic lifts but can’t vertical jump very well at all. Now, where did the power come from? The point I am making is that there are so many other variables involved in why an athlete is a good vertical jumper.

We do not powerlift either. I don’t believe an athlete should ever perform less than 5-6 repetitions in any one set of any exercise. This is only necessary for the sport of lifting competition. We do believe the exercises performed by powerlifters are very productive if the repetitions are high enough to train the muscle effectively.

You stated that you are tired of the debate. Change the word “debate” to “discuss”; this makes us better coaches. Coaches, including myself, have learned a great deal from opposing viewpoints. I think it has made them and myself a better coach. If the debate and discussion discontinues, it will leave coaches not knowing why they do what they do and they will be close-minded.

I believe teaching complicated lifts are unnecessary. It wastes an athletes time. They have enough going on in their lives without us making them stay in the weight room longer than what is necessary. By the way, I have spoken to many Olympic lifting advocates and they said that it take months and sometimes years to learn and master the Olympic lifting exercises. That is why Olympic lifters for competition are constantly trying to perfect their technique. It is an ongoing process. There are so many things that can go wrong in a power clean alone. Imagine how many things could go wrong in a lift that requires lifting the weight overhead.

Our site is not based on philosophical mud slinging. It is a site to discuss/debate philosophies to better ourselves as I feel we are doing with this good discussion. Readers can follow our points of view and decide for themselves.

I have read a lot of research that promotes the Olympic type of lifting for athletes and haven’t found any 100% scientifically sound research yet, that is not misleading. What is supposed to be sound research is often misleading and contradictory. Coaches need to stop doing certain exercise just because other top schools do it. That doesn’t make it right. You listed some schools that do Olympic lifts then said “then you have Michigan”, Did you see our Teams page? The Teams page is there to show coaches that we are not alone in our thinking. I have found that coaches do not know any other type of program other than an Olympic lifting based program and that is too bad. They are missing out. The Teams Page is not there to say, “This team is better than that team.”

I feel that I have done my research and understand various philosophies of strength training and have chosen the non-Olympic approach because it is backed by science, it’s safe, and it develops our athletes like I’ve never experienced before. Do you think if Nebraska, Miami etc… were to take the Olympic type of lifts out of there program, they would still be a top team? The answer is obviously yes. There are plenty of successful teams that do not do them. Nebraska still does the squat, deadlift, bench press and other slow controlled lifts to my knowledge. I believe these are the exercises that have developed their power and explosiveness not to mention their athletes already being D-I athletes.

Many coaches do not want to hear about other philosophies and that hinders the learning process. I recently spoke at a clinic and turned off many close-minded coaches because they didn’t want to believe that a program would not incorporate the Olympic-type of lifts and insinuated that I was lying when I told them about the teams that do not do them. I’m tired of going to clinics and listening to coaches say that you are doing a great disservice to your athletes if you do not incorporate the Olympic type of lifts. I feel just the opposite. I enjoy watching the sport of Olympic lifting but I feel that these lifts are for the purpose of the sport of Olympic lifting and will have very little benefit in other sports.

I do disagree with a lot of what you said. Yet I do respect your thoughts and wish you the best of luck. I did get something out of our debate. Again I firmly believe that coaches need to have a place for discussion and debate to learn as much as they can about other philosophies and to understand why they train their athletes the way they do. Let the viewers decide what philosophy they buy into.

Thank you, -S.A.

Coach Whitt, counters with a pretty good point about our Mission Statement.

Dear Coach Rody I must say a website dedicated to “debunking” the philosophy of Olympic lifting is a bit odd. I feel a more responsible approach would be to debunk bad coaching, and promote sound, scientific based training methods–a resource for coaches of all types, not a base for philosophical mud slinging. Can an average athlete benefit from HIT training? Of course. Can he benefit from qualified Olympic coaching? Of course. Why do coaches get into a groin kicking contest about each other’s philosophies? Is it the testosterone?

I do believe that the most recent collegiate national champions have benefitted from Olympic lifting. The University of Montana (1AA) has a strength coach trained at Nebraska. The Miami Hurricanes use Olympic lifting to develop their athletes as well. The Oklahoma Sooners, Florida St, and Nebraska all use Olympic philosophies. Then you have Michigan, who won a title recently (HIT-there you go). So if coaches know their field backwards and forwards, push their methodology so that members of the program believe in it, and push the kids, good things will happen.

Personally I implement one set to failure on occasion, and know that it works–but I prefer to go a different direction based on my personal experiences–If I am successful, I must be doing something right–if my kids fail, well, guess what…

Thank you again, Rusty Whitt


[**Note** When we wrote the mission statement back in December we really went around about using the term “debunk”. Coach Whitt brought us back to that point and we have decided to keep it and this is why. Too many high school coaches teach the olympic lifts because they were taught the olympic lift by their coaches or because it is associated with successful football programs. If a modern collegiate football team won a national championship utilizing 170 lb offensive linemen and then spoke at several clinics in the off-season claiming their faster, more agile kids on the line caught their opponents off guard… 200 high schools would be doing the same thing. We want high school coaches, who many times also serve as the schools strength teachers, to know why they teach what they teach. Is it safe? Productive? Efficient?]

I love you point about groin kicking. But keep in mind most coaches, especially high school coaches are not as open minded as you seem to be. So, the website is intended to show that non-Olympic training is a valid training method.

Your question about using it with high school athletes…. I have been using it with my track kids for @ 5 years and has had a lot of success with them. We measure success in terms of strength gains not just wins and losses. That is determined just as much by our coaching on the field.

Again, we would ask you why you use weight room movements to teach balance and such… Why not use a sport specific drill?

Thanks coach, I look forward to bouncing topics off you in the future!


Coach Whitt continues the exchange.

Coach Rody, Obviously we have differing opinions because of our different experiences as coaches. I have never had an athlete develop a injury on the platform that has impaired their performance. The wrist “discomfort” I have mentioned is due to the low position of the elbows during the catch, and is corrected with increased flexibility in the wrists and triceps.

In one week, a coach can, in fact, teach an athlete how to correctly clean the 44 pound bar. Then weight can be gradually added as technique allows. I believe that although in the learning stages of the clean, while the athlete is performing “non-power” developing resistance, they are learning a skill.

You mentioned that the weight I described for the hang clean, overhead squat was inefficient for power development. I use this exercise for flexibility. Our primary exercise for power is the power clean–with no jerk. We will work up to 88% of an athlete’s 1 rep max–our periodization scheme will start at around 65% and increase.

Now reviewing [Coach Whitt may be getting a little sarcastic here, but we forgive him as we feel we are like long lost buddies at this point! -S.A] : Power = force x velocity, or power is the derivative of a force on an object, and the speed of that object as it is moved by the force. So the way one develops power is by an all out exertion against a force, right? That force can be a truck, as one pushes it, it can be with dumbbells as an athlete wielding them jumps on a box, or a weighted vest, or bungee cords as one jumps against that. It could be a weighted bar as one squats, weight on a leg press–etc……

Now, I do not believe that you think an Olympic lifter is absent of power when training or performing. They are performing basically a vertical jump against the weight, which is a form of power development. If I understand you correctly, you think that the injury potential outweighs the benefits of Olympic lifting, or even powerlifting. So I assume that you incorporate in your program the leg press, bear squat, and a variety of other machine style and free weight equipment exercises. You instruct your athletes and you are happy with your strength gains and performance. The coaches you are working with support you. So why change your philosophy?

Now, in my position, I work with coaches who support what I do. Some aspects are similar to what they have seen in the past, yet some are different. They went out looking for a coach like me, called around, and liked the way I presented my program. In the last 3 years, we have broken 28 of the 50 all-time school records for strength and power (based on position, sports, etc) They put healthy players on the field–we had one starter go down with injury in 13 football contests. We have won 23 games in the last 3 seasons. The coaches continually give me much credit for our recent success. Is it in my best interest professionally to change my philosophy, in the hay-day of my career? I’m not irresponsible in my teaching, I emphasize safety first, and we power clean, squat and bench press. Like I said earlier–if you are careful and qualified, you can instruct complicated exercises. That is not a waste of time. I have two hours a day in the off-season. I have plenty of time to teach, and our athletes like the exercises.

Now, you said you were open minded–but, will you believe me when I say that one can incorporate various philosophies (Olympic and HIT) in an effective, successful program? To reach my goal (a head NFL strength position) one would benefit from being able to implement a diverse program, depending on what staffs want.

Sorry for the length, Coach Whitt

Coach Whitt, You are fortunate not to have any injuries in your weight training program. I have found that many athletes do not tell their coach if their back hurts after performing a power clean for fear of what the coach may think of them. I am not saying that this is the case with your program. In high school I have found this to be true very frequently. That makes the exercise not worth it.

During the power clean, momentum is still involved. How can momentum (no stress on the muscle briefly) create much power. I agree on various activities can build power to various degrees. I want the best ways which I believe is the heavy, slow controlled movements. I did not say the an Olympic lifter is absent of power. They obviously have a degree of power but for our athletes it is a poor way to develop it.

[Your formula is classic misleading. The formula for Power is correct but to develop power one must overload the muscle. In overloading the muscle you cannot move quickly. In order to move quickly you express the power you developed by overloading the muscle… and so on… The example you give is expressing power not developing power.]

I believe it is a mistake to say that any strength program is to be given most of the credit for success in an athletic program. We are only a small part of a large amount of variables that will create success on a team. We are an important part but then every aspect is important in a successful team.

As far as myself being open-minded, sure, I believe one can incorporate many philosophies in a program. But I have to tell you, you still do squat, bench press etc. as you indicated. You are doing the right movements. Our program involves primarily free weights and a few machines not a squat simulation although some schools are moving in that direction.

We appreciate your comments.


***No Liability is assumed for any information written on the website. No medical advice is given on exercise. This advice should be obtained from a licensed health-care practitioner. Before anyone begins any exercise program, always consult your doctor. The articles are written by coaches that are giving advice on a safe, productive, and efficient method of strength training.***

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