Building Speed With Olympic Lifitng

What’s the common trait amongst all competitive athletes? They all want to get better at their sport. Whether its football, rugby, or tennis everyone wants to be better but how do they do this? Most people focus on marginal gains. For example they spend their hard earned cash on the best equipment they can buy and hope that it will give them the edge. A pair of new boots that weigh 0.9 grams lighter than their last pair will make them faster won’t it? Well it might, but marginal gains are just that…marginal. If for example you want to get faster then focus on the areas that are going to give you the biggest bang for you efforts first. So let’s leave the compression garments and Nike Vapors aside for one minute here and focus on one of the greatest predictors of sports performance…SPEED.
Leave these pink numbers on the shelve until you can squat double body weight!

Mike Tyson once said that “speed kills” and in the world of competitive sport it does. If you look at all the best athletes in the world they do everything with speed and explosiveness, whether its Messi doing his drag and roll trick, Murrays racket head on a forehand drive or Tiger Wood’s golf swing everything about these movements is explosive. In American Football speed and power is assessed in each and every player for the combine tests, tenths of a second in the 40 yard sprint can mean being drafted or not, with millions of dollars on the line. In football, the 40 yard sprint or agility tests are not talked about as much as in the NFL but this will change in the future as top clubs look to develop and sign the best athletes. It’s clear that speed matters in sport and the best players have it in abundance! It is thought that Cristiano Ronaldo ran the 25 meter sprint in 3.61 seconds and in last nights Superbowl, Ravens player Jacoby Jones ran 100 meters in 11 seconds returning a kick to score a touchdown! So how can we introduce more speed and explosiveness into our game?

Messi is ballistic over 15 metres!

At ESP we build speed and power by two means. Firstly we do the obvious and make sure that every warm-up, skill practice, and weight lifting movement is done as quickly as possible. By doing this each and every session you will train your central nervous and neuromusculoskeletal systems to fire as fast as it can. Even if the weight you are lifting is heavy (80-100% of 1 RM) you must try and lift the weight with as much explosive intent as possible. Do this and in time your speed in any movement will increase dramatically! The second thing we do with all our athletes is Olympic lifting and plyometric exercises. Our objective is not to produce Scotland’s next generation of Olympic weight lifters, as this style of lifting is a sport in its own right and takes years of practice to master. Instead we teach our athletes how to perform these movements to build explosive power. Olympic lifting movements are compound multi-muscle movements where the athlete essentially jumps with weights. In the same way that plyometric training forces the muscle to generate a maximal amount of force in the shortest period of time Olympic lifting forces the muscle to contract rapidly from a lengthened position (eccentric) to a shortened position (concentric). By building more powerful leg muscles and increasing core strength the athlete is able to generate more force into the ground per bodyweight which in turn makes them run and move at greater speeds.

Squat much???

This style of training really works – the results of a 15 week study by Hoffman et al (2004) comparing a powerlifting program to an Olympic weightlifting program for athletic performance in elite footballers demonstrated that the Olympic weightlifting group had a significant improvement in their vertical jump and 40 meter sprint times over the power lifting group. Moreover the study also revealed that squatting with maximal loads dramatically improves jumping ability, sprinting speed over 10 meters, and running economy. If these are the gains you can get from Olympic lifting over powerlifting then imagine what kind of gains you can get over the typical footballer who rarely evens touches weights!

Phases of the snatch…tight clothing is optional!

Still not convinced? In an 8 week Olympic weightlifting program study by Conroy et al (1993) athletes lowered their resting heart rate by 8%, lean body weight increased by 4%, fat dropped 6%, and systolic blood pressure decreased by 4%. So not only is Olympic weightlifting a fantastic way to build power it also improves conditioning! Practising these movements regularly with good technique will vastly improve your power output and co-ordination which will both have a significant carry over into your sports performance. At ESP we practice the Olympic clean and jerk with a barbell and some trainer bumper plates but the basic principles can be learnt using a broomstick. When first coaching the lift we work on multiple sets of 1-5 reps focusing on the technical elements of the lift: phase 1 – the deadlift; phase 2 – the jump shrug; phase 3 – the jerk. We practice each of these stages in isolation until the athlete can perform them competently. Next we link all three of the phases together and in time slowly add the weight. Remember that the goal here is not to chase the weight but instead focus on being technically sound. In time you will get stronger and be able to shift more poundage. Mix Olympic lifts in with some hurdle jumps or box jumps for several sets of 3-5 jumps and you can be sure that your power will soon be going off the chart.

So if you want to improve your speed and be faster on the pitch then ditch the gimmicks, roll up your sleeves and start cleaning some weight!


Conroy, Bp, Wj Kraemer, Cm Maresh, Sj Fleck, Mh Stone, Ac Fry, Pd Miller, and Gp Dalsky (1993). Bone Mineral Density in Elite Junior Olympic Weightlifters. (1993); 25: 1103-1109. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise

Hoffman, Jr, J Cooper, M Wendell, and J Kang (2004). Comparison of Olympic Vs. Traditional Power Lifting Training Programs in Football Players; 18: 129-135. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

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