Olympic Weightlifting for Basketball

As a USAW certified Sports Performance Coach, my background is in Olympic weightlifting as it pertains to sports.  For most people, Olympic weightlifting is seen every four years while watching muscle-bound Olympic athletes wearing something that resembles a wrestling singlet moving huge amounts of weight over their head while grunting and screaming to the applause from the crowd.  As a basketball coach or player, you might not think that this applies to you, but hear me out.  While studying to get my certification in the Olympic lifts, my instructor showed me a picture of an Olympic lifter jumping over a bar that was 50 inches or more off the ground.  That is a pretty impressive feat for any athlete, let alone a guy that was less than 6 feet tall and built like a brick house.  Coaching basketball for over nine years and playing the sport for even longer, I can attest to the fact that the one thing any and all basketball players really want to do is jump high enough to dunk a basketball.  Think about it, how many basketball players spend their free time during practice trying to jump up and grab the rim?  Pretty much all of them, but how many can really jump high enough to consistently throw the ball down?  Not too many.  Obviously, basketball is more than just dunking the ball, but being able to jump high and run fast will give any basketball player an extreme advantage.  Olympic style weightlifting can not only get them the explosive power that is necessary for basketball, but it will also provide them with the strength and conditioning that is unrivaled by traditional bodybuilding methods. 

There are many advantages to having your athletes perform the Olympic lifts like the snatch and the clean and jerk.  Traditional body building lifts like the bicep curl are great for the beach muscles, but they do not have the added benefits that Olympic weightlifting does.  It is important for an athlete to try to use as many muscles as possible when they train.  Bicep curls are specific to one body part.  The Olympic lifts call for an athlete to recruit numerous amounts of muscle fibers in their entire body to move the weight from the floor to an overhead position.  The nature of this movement is highly intense and a must for any athlete.  Furthermore to accomplish this, it is imperative that the athlete lift the weight as quickly as possible throughout the entire movement. 

The speed at which the Olympic lifts are performed has its own benefits.  First, it increases the player’s metabolic drive which will aid in building a leaner, more efficient athlete, a necessity for a basketball player.  The type of speed that the Olympic lifts demand will also make the athlete more explosive while reproducing the jumping motion that all basketball players need on the court.  Olympic lifts, when done correctly, require an athlete to attain triple extension, the ankle, knee, and hip all extending at the same time.  Triple extension also takes place while jumping.  If an athlete is trying to jump high, then he must be at his top speed as his ankles, knees, and hips simultaneously extend.  Olympic lifts directly mirror this action because of the speed that is necessary to pull a weighted bar through the triple extension portion of the lift.   

Other than the explosive nature of the Olympic lifts, there are many other advantages.  The proper technique that is needed to perform these lifts forces the athlete to use his muscles in the correct sequence, from his core to his extremities.  Everyone is talking these days about how important it is to train the core.  For the most part, this translates into, “Do more crunches or balance yourself on a big rubber ball”.  Forget the crunches, and use the rubber ball to play kick ball because the Olympic lifts help to stabilize your core muscles better than any crunch or balancing act can ever do.  Another benefit to the Olympic lifts for athletes is the fact that they decrease the risk of injury by increasing the body’s agility and ability to accept the force of the external object, in this case, the weighted bar.  As a result, the Olympic lifts increase flexibility in the hips, ankles, and wrists and promote shoulder stability.    Finally, whereas traditional weight lifting programs focus of specific body parts, your whole body gets a workout when performing these lifts.  This increases an athlete’s conditioning and decreases their time in the gym.  Training economically is vitally important to today’s athlete who usually plays more than one sport and has very little time to strength train.  The Olympic lifts provide the best results in the least amount of time.  Not to mention the increased strength and size that the athlete will develop while moving the weights through the full range of motion that the clean and jerks and snatches demand. 

It should be noted that I am in no way advocating an Olympic lifting program for basketball players or any other athlete.  What I am suggesting is that basketball players and other athletes incorporate the Olympic lifts into their current weight training regimen, preferably as the fundamental exercise on each given training day.  It should also be noted that the Olympic lifts do require a large degree of technique in order to avoid injury and perform them successfully.  However, this should in no way deter any coach or athlete from doing them.  There are plenty of videos, clinics, and coaches out there that can instruct on how to perform the Olympic lifts properly.  So, if you are looking to take your strength training to the next level and you want to have the athletic advantage of jumping higher and running faster, start to incorporate the Olympic lifts into your strength training program.  Not only will you see the benefits mentioned above, but they are actually more fun than looking at yourself in the mirror while doing 100 biceps curls every time you hit the gym. 

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