Recently, I posted a video of my 13-year old son performing a set of hang cleans on Instagram. I really thought nothing of it as I like to post videos on how he is progressing as a young athlete. However, after a few days of the video being up, the negative comments started to pour in from the Olympic lifting community. Some of the comments weren't nice and some questioned my ability as a strength and conditioning coach. They really didn't bother me but I ended up deleting the video because I didn't want my son or mutual friends and family members to see the negative comments.
When I first started my career as a strength and conditioning coach, I was taught how to teach cleans and snatches from the hang position.
This was my only exposure to Olympic weightlifting variations. I can recall all of the athletes in the program performing these lifts. As I progressed to a summer position in the private sector, athletes who were mostly hockey players from youth to the professional level were lifting this way. They were lifting with excellent technique, getting stronger from week to week, and not getting hurt in the process.
I did move on to other positions where Olympic lifting was done from the floor. One of my positions was as an intern at the United States Olympic Training Center. Here, all of the athletes that we worked with performed the Olympic lifts from the floor and I learned how to coach those lifts. In the next room, the men's and women's national Olympic Weightlifting teams trained on daily basis. I got to sneak in and watch coaches such as Lyn Jones and Dragomir Cioroslan work with their respective athletes. I got to see the best Olympic lifting coaches and athletes train. It was an outstanding experience. I eventually obtained my level 1 USA Weightlifting certification in a class taught by Brian Derwin in 1999.
I continued to work in some positions where our Olympic lifts were done from the floor. As an assistant, I embraced the fact that we were going to lift that way. I had no problem with implementing what the head strength and conditioning coach's philosophy was. However, I always thought to myself that each athlete had a somewhat different looking set up at the start. (Not to say that there weren't any good lifters- there were many).
To me, I believe that the exercises that are prescribed should all look very similar in the team setting.
I asked myself, “What is the perceived advantage of Olympic lifting from the floor versus the hang position?”
I thought that everyone pretty much looked the same from the hang position but I was never sure about the first pull from the floor. I always believed that when I had the opportunity to make decisions on program design, we were going to Olympic lift from the hang. I always thought back to earlier on when those athletes who were lifting from the hang were just as fast and explosive as the athletes who were lifting from the floor.
The funny part as I write about Olympic lifting is that I have not programmed Olympic lifts with a barbell with professional hockey players in over 15 years.
The reasons are because I learned that the in-season period wasn't the correct time to introduce Olympic lifting to professional athletes. Basically, I didn't feel that the perceived benefit of Olympic lifting didn't outweigh the risk of getting hurt.
I can remember when our teams' best player (while also being the highest paid and absolutely incredible skater) couldn't learn the exercise. It wasn't that he wasn't willing to do them, but it just wasn't a good looking lift. I didn't want to be having the conversation with my boss on why our best player is injured from lifting. He was doing just fine without them as he had previously won 3 Stanley Cups and was on his way to another Stanley cup and eventually the Hockey Hall of Fame. We used other exercises for power and have been ever since with my professional athletes.
In my current training of youth hockey players (including my son), we hang clean and we will eventually hang snatch.
Because we perform and progress them safely. I believe that the benefits of the exercise have a huge upside with younger players including power production, athleticism, and they enjoy doing them. They are also fun to teach.
So what if they rock their hips and their feet leave the floor?
Or the catch isn't Olympic trials ready?
It is ok that the technique isn't perfect or up to “standard”. They are progressing slowly and still learning. Technique isn't always the best and failure is part of the learning process. It's my job to stay on top of them and keep coaching them.
Mostly what I care about is results.
Are the kids jumping higher? In 16 months since my son has started training somewhat consistently, his vertical jump has gone from 19 inches to 26 inches while increasing his body weight from 130 to 160 pounds.
Sprinting and skating faster? His timed 10 yard sprint has gone from 1.9 to 1.46.
The bottom line is that learning any technical exercise will be a journey. I truly believe that Olympic lifts will help young hockey players develop the power and athleticism they need on the ice. They are playing hockey, not entering any weightlifting competitions. As long as we are safe and progress slowly, young athletes can benefit greatly from the Olympic lifts, even if technique isn't flawless.
Strength and Conditioning Coach- Minnesota Wild