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Olympic Style Weightlifting And It's Application To Hockey

By Lorne Goldenberg BPE, CSCS Former Strength Coach Ottawa Senators Hockey Club David Ablack M.Sc., CSCS Strength and Power Consultant

Most strength coaches and fitness enthusiasts are familiar with Olympic style weightlifting. In a competition sense it is the clean and jerk, and snatch that we are familiar with from TV. From a training viewpoint, there is much more to Olympic style lifting with regard to variations of the two lifts. Many people wonder how this type of resistance exercise became so popular with training for sports and more specifically hockey.

One can assume that weight lifters are the strongest people in the world. It is not only their strength that makes them interesting but also their ability to perform powerful events. Coaches have indicated that weightlifters are actually more explosive and faster out of the blocks than 100-meter sprinters, for the first 10 meters. I heard this analogy from weightlifting coach Ablack, who had visited some Russian training facilities, and had talked with Russian coaches. This race apparently happened many years ago. One can assume that coaches from other sports saw the validity of enhancing their training with this specific method, and began employing snatch and the clean and jerk in training.

What makes these lifters so strong? Typically they train in a very intense manner, emphasizing nervous system development. This means rarely do they train with more than 5 reps, and most of the time is spent working in the 1-3 rep range. By training in this intensity range the emphasis is pure nervous system. Your brain learns how to turn on more motor units; it gets them to turn on together in synch, and to make optimum use of the type llb fibers (fast twitch). This focus on nervous system adaptations is teaching the body how to recruit all the muscle fibers in a short period of time. This appeals to coaches because the end result is strength and power without an excess of muscle mass. Hockey is a fast moving game that requires speed and agility. If muscle mass becomes excessive then the player's hockey skill will be negatively affected through slower and uncoordinated movements. There are many more adaptations that do occur but is beyond the scope of this article.

I personally began using this type of training in the mid 1980's with the Ottawa 67's Major Jr 'A' Hockey club. I found it to be a great tool in my quest for developing these young players. The biggest concern with this style of training is mastering the technique of the lifts. It is for this reason that much time needs to be spent on partial lifts (Pulls from the floor, Jumps with the bar etc) before utilizing the whole lift with any amount of weight. It was this style of training that helped Gary Roberts make the jump from junior to pro. Today, Charles Poliquin is Gary's personal strength coach, and he has used this style of training, as part of his program, that has assisted Gary in his return to the NHL.

Specificity To Hockey

The first question that I usually receive regarding Olympic style lifting is how does it relate to hockey? At this point it is important to note that portions of the Olympic lifts are not being implemented into the training programs in order to turn hockey players into weightlifters. Many coaches incorporate training methods from other sports disciplines in order to better their own athletes. Hockey is no exception. Olympic lifting is just one of the tools used by hockey strength and conditioning coaches to aid in the fine tuning of the athletes and better prepare them for the ice.

In 1986, my first year with the St. Louis Blues, players like Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter probably thought I was crazy when I first introduced this style of training. Some of the older players were not too accepting of this, especially with the potential of injury if not performed properly. Interestingly enough that year I tested the players for a maximum hang clean in training camp. They did not do much lifting during the season as a result of a poor training facility, and my position being only part time. At the end of the year when I retested them, they were able to maintain over 90% of their training camp score by just playing the game. This was a great statistic as it re-enforced my thoughts that this style of lifting is very sport specific. The joint angles that the ankle, knee, hip, and back go through is very similar to what happens to these joints on the ice. Since that time, selling players on the benefits of Olympic style weightlifting as part of our program has been an easy task.

Another point that has also made it quite easy to sell to the players, are the numbers of Europeans who have been training like this for many years. Many of them who come over to play in the NHL are well versed in the technique of lifting and are usually very quick skaters.

In Ottawa players like Andreas Dackell, and Alexandre Daigle could hang clean well over 200 pounds, and there were even some players in the 300-pound club like Sean Mceachern, and Daniel Alfredsson. Having examples like this made it a very easy sell in Ottawa, and contributed to the Senators very good work ethic in the weight room.

For coaches who have never tried to implement Olympic style lifting into your program, or are not familiar with the techniques, I would suggest seeking out a weightlifting coach. This would be a good start in taking your programs up another step, in that quest for success.

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