Keep it simple, an approach to training Olympic and field sports: Part 1 – Understanding the nuances of Olympic and field sports.

Part 1 of a series specifically concerning the training of college Olympic and field sports. 

This article may annoy some people (if anyone actually reads it,) but my purpose is not to stir the pot. Rather my objective is to give points of consideration in developing training programs for young (college-bound and college) athletes. Particularly contesting the “complexity” of Olympic and field sport training programs in college strength & conditioning.

Firstly, I wasn’t there when it all started but most free-weight based american college strength programs are using some variation of Olympic movement. Is this because many of the original college strength coaches were football players? I don’t know that for sure, but  I’m fairly confident is it because they were primarily training football players.

No matter the case, football culture has taken deep roots in college strength and conditioning. The original programs were developed primarily for football training and it remains the largest revenue sport for most colleges in this country. As a result, I feel that the clean, power clean, hang clean or some variation has been sort of grandfathered into our profession and implemented in the training of all teams, not just football.

Understand, I’m not trying to prove that football training is poorly founded, and I’m not trying to prove Olympic based movements don’t work for producing better athletes. 

I’m trying to say that football strength training works well…. For football players.

Due to the fact that they can train nearly year round in a supervised environment with greater frequency and better coach to athlete ratios, Olympic based movements work well for football training. 

First of all, I love Weightlifting. If I could get away with consistent progress doing nothing else, I’d snatch and clean & jerk exclusively. I am a competitive weightlifter myself, and in 2 years went from a very novice level to the North Carolina state championships as well as the American Open. In those two years, I can say with full confidence I am a better overall athlete now than I ever was as a college baseball player. I am stronger than I have ever been, and I am far more powerful than I have ever been. My training program consists exclusively of:

  • Snatch, Pulls + Variations
  • Clean & Jerk, Pulls + Variations
  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Overhead Press & Push Press

I do not run or sprint (except for emergencies,) train plyometrics, or perform any sort of jump training for that matter. I also have (this month) hit a 36″ vertical at 187 pounds and 8% body fat.

First thing: If I have seen such great performance improvements in myself, why am I suggesting anything besides Olympic movements for performance training?

  1. I don’t have any competing demands, weightlifting and weightlifting training is all I do, I don’t have to go to class, practice, or condition.
  2. Generally, I train year round. In periods of high frequency, I train 4-5 days per week. Sometimes those training sessions may reach an hour and a half to two hours, including warmup and bar work. With most of my teams (except basketball,) I get about 32 weeks in a good year of monitored training. 16 of which I have to take into account the competitive schedule.
  3. I care about weightlifting. I probably spend 90-120+ minutes per week watching weightlifting videos and other people train, so that I can learn to be better myself. That number was probably closer to 180 minutes per week when I was in a truer learning phase. My athletes are not that interested in improving their weightlifting performance.
  4. I had a very good base of strength (and training experience) before I began weightlifting training. At about 200 pounds, I could squat 500, deadlift 520, and bench 300 (be nice. I hate bench. Probably because I suck at it.)
  5. I understand good mobility, and I have it. I also study it, and work very hard at improving and maintaining it.

Point 1: Competing Demands

We (as strength coaches) understand the importance of competing demands. Without specific stress, there is little specific adaptation. Conditioning and practice for field sports, combined with plenty of optional and off-periods create a strong scenario in opposition to concentrated loading. That is all.

Points 2 & 3: Training frequency, and passion

My athletes do not train year round, and most of them definitely do not care enough about weightlifting to study it and strive to improve it all the time. After all, they are not on scholarship FOR weightlifting.

As I mentioned previously, if we train for 32 weeks per year over two semesters that is (optimistically 3 times per week,) 96 training days. Even if we use an Olympic movement or variation on 2 of those 3 days for the same duration, that equates to 64 exposures over a WHOLE YEAR. Over a career, that’s about 256 exposures assuming a full, injury-free quadrennial cycle.


Realistically, if one semester brings us roughly two peaking periods, or true “actualization/realization/transmutation” phases, that is probably 3-4 total weeks or 6-8 total heavy exposures per semester cycle. Personally, if I train 4 days per week, I get that same number of heavy, concentrated exposures in 2 weeks. By the way, those peaking cycles will probably line up with exams (a.k.a. insanely high outside stress, lack of sleep, and legitimately increased likelihood of injury.)


Points 4 & 5: Strength base and mobility demands

We (our staff) sometimes reference the “One Third Rule.” Particularly when it comes to designing programs for summer and winter breaks. That “rule” or – perhaps more appropriately – assumption states that:

  • 1/3 of these kids will do most of what you want.
  • 1/3 will do some of what you want.
  • 1/3 will do nothing.

I feel pretty confident that this also applies to what you will have walking through the door on day one of training with respect to freshman. 1/3 of them will probably have had some exposure to strength and mobility training. Therefore, 1/3 of them might be ready to do what it is that you want the rest of the team doing.

Sweet odds.

As I stated before, I had been passionate for a long time about strength training prior to my pursuit of weightlifting. I feel that the biggest fish needs frying first.

Most of these college athletes NEED to strength train. Not because I need them to put up bigger numbers, but because their sport demands that they are more resilient, and can tolerate the stresses.

Most of these college athletes NEED mobility training. Not because I need them to do the drills correctly, but because they need access to the proper ranges of motion to train safely, and therefore participate with a lower risk of injury.


When dealing with Olympic and field sports such as soccer, swimming, softball, baseball, volleyball, tennis, golf etc. Olympic weightlifting exercises may not be the “best” use of time.

In the next part of this series I will discuss some of the exercises, periodization, and rationale I have chosen for these populations.


One thought on “Keep it simple, an approach to training Olympic and field sports: Part 1 – Understanding the nuances of Olympic and field sports.

  1. Pingback: Keep it simple, an approach to training Olympic and field sports Part 2: It all starts with strength (A Case Study) | Alex Carnall: Physical Preparation

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