Sprinting is possibly one of the most demanding physical activities, even if it doesn’t seem so at the first glance. To be able to sprint, you need more than just strength – you need power and ability to exert that strength quickly. You also need amazing coordination and minimal reaction time, which demands state of the art speed of neuromuscular signals. Olympic lifting can help immensely. So let’s find out what are the best Olympic lifts for sprinters.
I chose this one in the very beginning because it’s the best possible way to start your weightlifting program if you are starting from scratch. Olympic lifts can be tricky business as they are very technical and demanding regarding strength, explosiveness and coordination. My first advice to people is to find a good personal trainer to show them the ropes, but if for some reason that’s not an option, then power clean is the place to start.
The move is not easy, but it can be mastered with some power of will and even YouTube guidance. You start with your feet shoulder width apart. The first part of the movement looks a lot like the deadlift, but when the bar crosses your pelvis you give it more momentum by doing what we call triple extension (in your ankles, knees and hips). This movement does wonders for sprinters, because they rely on the same pattern to push themselves of the blocks at the beginning of the race.
That’s only one part of the movement, though. When the bar crosses your bellybutton (or the top row of abs, it’s just the rule of thumb), you go into a half squat to now slow down the bar on its way down.
From the lowest point of the descent, you explode up into a standing position. This plyometric movement requires a great amount of strength as well, and you get both benefits from a single exercise. That and its simplicity are the main reason the power clean is always at the top of my list.
Ok, now the clean and jerk, the king of exercises, and my favorite exercise when I want to train for power. Snatch is an amazing exercise as well (only the two of them are actually still Olympic disciplines), but if you compare the two using the risk to benefit ratio, then clean and jerk definitely wins. If you think about it, clean and jerk is just a power clean with an extra move in the end. But that one twitch can make the world of difference.
The whole movement is identical to the one of the power clean, but at the ending point of a power clean, you add the jerk. You do this by repeating the same plyometric movement from the end of the clean, but now with even more power on your way up so you have enough time to go into the split stance and slide under the bar now with locked elbows. The benefits of this exercise regarding strength, power, conditioning, coordination and explosiveness are unbelievable.
On the other hand, I want to be completely honest with you and admit that this exercise is very technical and not something you want to take lightly. There was a saying going around the gym where I first started training that says: If you don’t have the patience to practice clean and jerk with just a broomstick for a year straight, don’t do it at all. While that may be an exaggeration, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to get the form right.
We have already covered how Olympic lifting can improve power and explosiveness, but now it’s the time to cover reaction time with sprinting. This one, I just found out about a couple of months ago, and from Jeff Cavaliere at Athlean X (he is doing it with dumbbells, but nothing is stopping us from changing to an Olympic bar, right?). You do the exercise by grabbing two dumbbells or just a bar (no need to go to heavy), and getting into a low spit stance (like you are getting ready to spring). By a quick explosive move, you bring your feet together, and clean the weight(s).
From there, you go back into a split stance (with the other foot now in front) and sprint as fast as you can. Remember that the focus here is developing your reaction time and power on the very first couple of steps. So, sprint for only 15-30m, and give yourself enough time to recover before your next repetition. If you want, you might combine this exercise with sound signals, so you can train your sensory reaction time and get faster nerve impulses in the process.
Now that you now everything you need to know about these exercises and how they can help you unleash the beast on the track, a couple of words of precaution. Remember that the Olympic lifts are done with Olympic weights and they are slightly different from regular weights. Before starting to slam the weights around the gym, check to see if they are made for that. If you are not working out in the gym, but at home, buying a complete weight set can be quite a cost, so be ready to invest.
I already mentioned the importance of getting the form down to the T before going even remotely heavy. I failed to mention that because our central nervous system is intensely stimulated during these lifts, the rest times should be a lot longer than when we train for hypertrophy. So be sure to rest at least 3 minutes between sets. As there is not enough time for the lactates to accumulate during these workouts (we always do them for lower reps, with weights up to 2RM, or even 1RM high), don’t worry if you don’t feel sore afterwards. As I said before though, not being sore does not mean you can go at again the very next day.
Use the Olympic lifts wisely, and I guarantee that you will see amazing improvements in your performance.
Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!