This comes after reading an article by a particular strength coach who claims that athletes of a certain sport should not include Olympic weightlifting movements after the incident of South Korean lifter Sa Jae-Hyouk dislocating his elbow from his second attempt in the snatch. There were a few arguments presented in his article regarding the injuries caused by the snatch and the clean and jerk relating to his sport and his athletes. So with my Olympic weightlifting bias, here is what I think:
Argument 1: Certain sports require joint laxity, not ideal for Olympic weightlifting.
Joint laxity is defined as the loosening of the joint bones, resulting in instability of the joints. Such a condition results in a weakened state of the joint and hence increases the risk of injury occurrences. This is completely different from joint flexibility/mobility with stability. I have seen cases of hypermobility in the joints, particularly in the elbow, in weightlifters, causing them to hyperextend their elbows but with progressive overload, they are able to maintain the stability of their joints. This does not mean they are going to dislocate their elbows for sure. The important bottomline of functional movement is? Mobility/flexibility coupled with stability right? If your joint is good to move in a full range of motion in a stable manner, how is it possible for it to get dislocated or injured without a freak accident occuring?
So the argument of joint laxity is one where I feel should be handled with the idea of adding a stability element into the equation. And from a weightlifting perspective, having the weight overhead and getting it stable is the most basic way to improve this. You learn to lock your arms out overhead, it gives you stability. You catch the weight overhead in the snatch, the element of stability comes into play. If you progressively overload this, there should be a high chance of you getting your joints nice and stable and still flexible.
Another argument I would put across is the use of Olympic weightlifting movements in youth strength and conditioning programs. A recent review has provided evidence that the snatch and the clean and jerk, if used with proper supervision and programming, would benefit the youth athlete more than the argument of risking damage to the epiphyseal growth plates for youth athletes. One of the examples provided is in the catch phase. In sports with a landing element, the ground reaction force (force that shoots back up your feet to your body from the ground) is estimated to be around 7 times your bodyweight. This is actually one of the mechanism for common lower limb injuries in athletes. By learning to catch the weight in the snatch or the clean and jerk, the neuromuscular efficiency of preparing the muscles for the impact on the ground is hence increased with training which in turn enhances the landing or deceleration ability of the athlete. In other words, it can help reduce the risk of such injuries if trained properly
Argument 2: Specificity of the sport, where is the rotational movement in Olympic lifts?
Yes, specificity is one of the training principles in strength & conditioning. It is important to train up the same movement you use in the sport. This has led to many different drills and exercises which many strength & conditioning coaches proudly claim that it is specific to their sport. This will lead you to see that certain athletes would not even do too much stretching because it will not be specific to the sport or not beneficial to their athletes. Or even doing squats in a narrow foot stance to be more "specific" to the sport. In general, it's the 1% that you do "extra" which they believe will give you the edge over the other competitors. How about the other 99%? The other 99% is what you do day in and day out to get you stronger, faster, more flexible or better. The basic exercises you do on a regular basis or you should be doing regularly. Yes 1% is going to give you the slight edge but if you do not have the 99% on par with others, how is the 1% going to help? So stick to the basic exercises. Your squats, your deadlifts (pulls for Olympic weightlifters), your presses, and your rows or chin-ups. Yes variety is critical to have constant adaptation but too much variety will end up showing no progression in the exercises you choose for your program. Plus, the reason why strength coaches use Olympic lifts is because of their ability to produce power through the lower limbs. So stick to that basic idea and keep at it.
These are the two arguments most prominent in that article I read and I felt that they had to be addressed. Everyone in some stage or some point of time will need to lift something heavy in their daily activities. Not being able to do so is detrimental to not only your health but also your mental well-being. And one of the better ways to condition your body for it is to partake in some weightlifting. So drop by your local weightlifting club now and learn a new skill and gain some strength. You will enjoy the benefits for sure! Pfft to the "injuries" and "dangers" of Olympic weightlifting.
Stay Strong and Keep Weightlifting,
The Training Geek.