Developing speed when learning the snatch and clean and jerk can be exceptionally difficult to master. I’d say that 95% of novice lifters, and 75% of my more experienced athletes have been on the receiving end of me endlessly telling them to go faster! How to increase speed in Olympic weightlifting may seem like one of life’s greatest mysteries, right up there sitting alongside ‘who was Jack the Ripper?’ and ‘have aliens visited earth?!’
However, by consistently training and becoming technical proficient in transferring power into your lifts, as well as incorporating supplementary exercises that focus on speed, the learning curve becomes less steep.
Two types of speed in olympic weightlifting
There are two types of speed in weightlifting:
- Contracting your leg muscles super-fast to propel you into motion. This is the most typical description that my athletes give when I ask them to tell me what ‘speed’ is to them
- How quickly you can change direction in movement. This type of speed refers to how quickly you can get into the receive position in the snatch and clean once you’ve completed your initial pulls.
Both types of speed are intertwined: there is little point increasing your muscle contraction speed if you change direction really slowly because gravity will influence the bar before you are under it, equalling a failed lift. And, because Power = Force x Velocity, it’s almost impossible to generate power to change direction fast unless you already have speed within the lift from your muscles contracting.
Therefore, you need to train both of these areas simultaneously and with technically perfect form in order for overall speed, and thus weightlifting performance, to increase.
Weightlifting variations for increasing speed
Increasing speed in Olympic weightlifting relies on one thing: the correct preparation. Completing your lifts from hang or power positions, or from blocks, will support you in developing speed and timing when lifting.
I suggest spending a couple of weeks practicing lifts like this and then retesting your full snatch and clean and jerk to see if you have improved.
Accessory movements and methods to increase speed
In addition to working on your power, hang and block movements, there are a few other ways to improve your overall speed when weightlifting.
Jump training is really, really good because it engages your largest muscles to lift you off the ground, and then demands that you absorb two-to-three times your own body weight in force when you land. All of this means that you build muscle power much quicker than focusing on stationary exercises alone. Jumps that are helpful and translate well to Olympic weightlifting include barbell squat jumps, trap bar squat jumps, and box jumps
Making use of tempo training principles – working on the eccentric and isometric phases of each movement individually – will also help you learn how to absorb and explosively expel force within your Olympic lifting, i.e. you’ll get super-fast! Tempo training for squats, clean and snatch grip Romanian deadlifts will be beneficial to reinforce proper biomechanics.
You can also apply the principles of triphasic training to the Olympic lifts as follows:
- To improve your eccentric phase, start your snatch or clean from the hang position and work at a tempo of 4 seconds, pushing your pelvis/knees forward until the barbell reaches the top of your thigh (high hang position). Then explosively pull and complete your lift.
- To improve your isometric phase, start your snatch or clean from the floor and add a pause of 4 seconds in when you get to the hang position before competing your lift. It is really important that you maintain your position when practicing the isometric phase to reap the benefits of your pause.
The added bonus of working with tempo training as an Olympic weightlifter is that it will help you become more efficient in translating power from one movement to another without much loss in weighted volume. For example, if you can front squat 80kg and can clean 70kg you area more efficient lifter than if you could only clean 40kg. This is because your body is able to transfer the power developed in your front squat to your clean effectively.