Olympic Lifting vs Powerlifting Methods – Tom Mclaughlin

The following article is sure to provoke a steady flow of feedback, as it is a much disputed fact of strength development. Arguments will be presented from both views and I will then attempt to give readers my own personal opinion of what I feel to be the primary tool in improving strength levels.

Olympic lifting in team sports has long been thought of as the best way to develop explosive power and maximal strength. This first started when early coaches saw how powerful and explosive weightlifters were, one only has to look at videos on the internet to realise that these athletes are at the top power athletes in the world. Flexibility is another area highlighted within weightlifters which is regarded to be of a high standard. The flexibility required to perform a full snatch of clean the bar in a deep squat is an exceptional display of core control and joint mobility.


Going forward Olympic lifting then found its way into team sports such as NFL, mainly due to the nature of the explosive properties associated with playing the game. This was also one of the first mainstream professional sports to truly embrace strength and conditioning coaches. Gradually it then began to filter down into other sports, until is found its way into rugby league and then our sport-rugby union.

Within rugby union the power clean was the most popularised lift, and performing this exercise requires a tremendous amount of co-ordination and muscle recruitment. You will often find a correlation between those who are good at the power clean to those who excel at short sprints (this research is well documented). In rugby, at least from coaches in the northern hemisphere the snatch is not practised much. Now I hear you all cry that this is the most powerful movement, and that is true, however, I feel that the benefits and time spent to truly master the lift whereupon you can load far are outweighed by the potential for shoulder injuries. That’s only my opinion and as we all know there are many different ways to skin a cat!

Powerlifting or Westside methods have been well documented and the results in terms of strength speak volumes. Many strength & conditioning coaches use these types of systems with great success, notably Louie Simmons, Joe De Franco and many others. These types of systems hold a few core principles that can be easily adapted to suit the facilities and level of the athlete (I will not go into the details of this system as I presume most people who read this article will know); The idea of the 3 differing levels of effort really forced people to think would this still develop strength-we know it does.


My own personal view on this matter is that really it should be manipulated to suit an individual. In the Northern Hemisphere unless you coach an athlete from an early age, there is little time for technical improvement, or at least that is my opinion. Expanding on that point if you sign a player for 2 years and your pre-season is only 6-8 weeks time that means you get minimal time to help develop them. Naturally you have the in-season period but really with the wear and tear of matches and training this is unrealistic. My argument is that a powerlifting layout whereby you pick basic exercises that require minimal teaching time such as a box squat or full depth squat. This then means that I can load the player and develop their strength further; this is compared to teaching the technical cues of the first pull or the catch.

That does not mean I am against Olympic lifting, if I spend a reasonable amount of time with a player I believe that the power clean is great exercise that should be included in most programmes, due to the co-ordination and explosive nature of the lift. Also various pulls are easy to teach and can be loaded significantly. However, players who have beat up shoulders or restricted mobility are in my opinion better off going through squats, deadlifts and some box jumps.

My main gripe is with coaches who claim they only do Olympic lifting or they only do powerlifitng methods. It should be what the athlete requires to help them fulfill their goals. There is no one magic programme or solution but rather taking the tools on offer and moulding them into a successful plan. This article covers a massive area and I hope that many of you who read this will contribute to the discussion and find a thought provoking topic.

Tom Mclaughlin
Assistant St

Team Getstrength

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