Scaffolding olympic lifting: aligning performance with learning

Olympic weightlifting is an extremely useful training method to improve rate of force development, particularly when considering the effect of the clean, jerk and snatch on explosive force production. The snatch, clean and jerk have been recorded to produce extremely large power outputs. Power output is a product of force x velocity and we can illustrate the relationship between these two variables graphically (see figure 1).

fv curve

Figure 1: the force velocity curve

Figure 1 demonstrates that it takes longer to generate high force outputs. Conversely, if we produce high velocities we will do so at the expense of force production. To maximise performance, we need to consider the sport profile in respect to the force-velocity curve and design our training methods based on this insight. For example, a 100-metre sprint can be broken into acceleration, transition and top speed phases. The acceleration phase requires the athlete to overcome inertia to start moving. Once moving, the athlete will continue accelerating until they reach tops speed. At this point they will utilise efficient technique to avoid breaking forces and maintain top speed for the remaining duration of the race.

During the initial acceleration phase, the requirement is to produce large forces to overcome inertia. As such, the explosive force (strength) requirements are very high. Strength and rate of force development are therefore very important to generate large forces (strength) and generate these forces very quickly (rate of force development). Thus, if the athlete’s 1RM squat and power clean is lower than normative values identified in research, we may choose to focus our programming on developing lower body strength (squat strength) and rate of force development (Olympic lifting derivatives that require the individual to overcome large forces very quickly).

As the snatch and clean can be considered difficult to perform and teach (particularly for beginners) we can scaffold the teaching of these lifts to align the learning of the movements with the need for developing performance. Specifically, this means that we begin simple and move over an extended time to progressively more complex movements until the athlete is performing the full lift.

To begin learning Olympic lifting while still developing performance (rate of force development), we can begin learning/performing the second pull (bar mid-thigh in the clean and at hips in the snatch). Following an initial 4 weeks overloading the second pull, we can introduce the athlete to hang pulls and hang cleans. 4 weeks later we can then progress the athlete to the full movement. Therefore, range of movement is progressively increasing and the movement is becoming more complex every 4 weeks. Additionally, performance is not compromised as the athlete is overloading simple-complex movements using maximal intent.

The movements have been effectively progressed from simple to complex by using weightlifting derivative movements without sacrificing performance improvement. As such the learning of the movements have been aligned with performance training by scaffolding the movements appropriately.