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Guest Ido Portal

Olifting for gymnasts

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Blairbob

Awesome article, Ido, thanks for the link. I lifted heavy and oly lifted way before I got into gymnastics and when I did I had a pretty good vertical leap. Eventually I stopped lifting but my involvement with CF has shed a new light on my ideas on covering weaknesses in typical gymnastics conditioning, especially back strength in the girls.

One of the boys yesterday demonstrated a clean and jerk with a floor bar ( 10yo ) and my heart lept for joy. Apparently, he watched it a lot during the olympics and he has the build of a lifter ( or gymnast or wrestler, very similar ).

Last year I started playing around with incorporating certain movements like the deadlift variants and the overhead squat. I also really am a big fan of the jump shrug. I'm still on the fence about having the kids lift actual barbells and dumbbells due to safety and liability but we have plenty of medicine balls or sticks and even some weighted metal sticks ( we have them doe a heel raise holding the bar overhead on an unstable surface for HS training ). We did do a bit of thrusters but mainly just for general conditioning like burpees or squat jumps.

Teaching the deadlift and jump shrug are very simple to teach and the overhead squat isn't tough either. I've thought about the snatch and clean but haven't really had enough time to play with them with the kids.

Besides, it's also fun.

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Arch

Thanks for posting the article, I've been trying to design a program integrating Olifting with the exercises in Coach Sommer's book.

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Coach Sommer

This is something that I have considered and discussed with many people (Coach Burgener, Greg Everett, Robb Wolf as well as our very own Ido Portal) for a number of years. Despite all of this, I still have reservations. The key element that needs to always be remembered is that OL is hip dominant and that gymnastics is shoulder girdle dominant. In fact the modern OL physique is actually EXACTLY the opposite of the modern gymnastics physique; very heavy glutes and hamstrings with comparatively light shoulder/arm development compared to a gymnast's very light glute/hamstring development and very heavy shoulder girdle and arm development.

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Are there benefits to be gained from OL? Undoubtedly and without question. However is it possible to become technically proficient in the OLs while training in a highly restricted volume fashion (2-3 sets of 2-3 reps once or twice a week) that would minimize unwanted hip/glute hypertrophy and still allow the development of the very strength that is being sought? The responses I have received over the years vary from a hesitant maybe to absolutely not.

Is it even necessary to incorporate the OLs into such a program as gymnastics training itself already includes a great deal of speed strength and plyometric work? Would our needs be better served simply focusing on a greatly restricted volume program of a heavy squat or deadlift variation? Once again, the answers vary widely. One Russian Olympic Champion was not even allowed to ride a bicycle by his coach for fear of excessive hip/leg hypertrophy let alone even glance at a squat rack. On the other hand, a good friend of mine is a former Chinese Olympic Champion who was required to perform full ROM squats (ATG) twice per week with double bodyweight. Still another Russian Olympic Champion was required to perform extremely heavy 1/4 squats with a bottom static hold of several seconds prior to exploding upward. All are some of the very finest Olympic gymnasts of all time and yet trained in completely different manners.

Excellent discussion and definitely food for thought.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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S&C Guy
However is it possible to become technically proficient in the OLs [...]

There are things like speed deadlift, cleans pull, high pull, jump shrug and so on. They will bring most of the benefits without the catch phase. And who needs the catch phase aside olympic lifters themself? I've never understood why everbody from sport xy either seems to either want to do full oly lifts or nothing into this direction.

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Phil Stablein

For a gymnast, I have no real input, but for the general fitness enthusiast, the combination is potent.

Both sports are excellent pursuits as noted by the articles author, both with tremendous skill components. So plenty of depth for investigation and a lifetime of practice, as well as being remarkably complementary. The very reason Coach Sommer cites as a weakness for the competitive gymnast is the perfect argument for my own training.

I play Australian Rules Football, but for strength training nothing surpasses gymnastics for upper body and core training, and Oly for lower body and core training. Both keep me entertained during the offseason, and strong and healthy in the joints during the regular season.

This also reminds me of an article that can be found just a few pixels away from Coach Sommer's seminal DD contributions: http://www.dragondoor.com/articler/mode3/320/ Seems to add to the discussion, and be based in similar observations, albeit a little more strongly worded...

So for the aspiring fitness enthusiast, pursuit of "supreme bodyweight relative strength" and "supreme external object relative strength" is certainly the way to go!

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vnewgard

I am an Olympic Lifter at the US Olympic Education Center in upper Michigan. I had a massage therapist from Russia who was a gymnast. He later became the massage one of the guys for the Soviet National gymnastics team. He told me that all the athletes when first selected to the sports schools practiced both gymnastics and olympic weightlifting. There is a very strong carryover from gymnastics into Olympic lifting. So if you want your kid to be a succesfull weightlifter or any kind of athlete get them into gymnastics and tumbling at a young age. Several of us top level lifters still perform some gymnastics variations. Handstands and I like to do rings because the support position with your wrists turned out and shoulders open is similar to what you do in the snatch. As far as having gymnasts do Olympic lifting I would have the kids do it with not much more than the bar just to build thier coordination and explosive qualities. As they get older I wouldn't have them do any heavy squats or deadlifts I don't see the need for it. I would have them do Powersnatches and RDLs to improve hip strength and power. As far as deadlifts go we do them but thier carryover is limited even to Olympic weightlifting.

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JoeSimo

That is interesting. I always thought gymnasts would have powerful glutes and hamstrings for all the jumping they do. If they aim to have small glutes and hamstrings how do they jump so high then?

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braindx
That is interesting. I always thought gymnasts would have powerful glutes and hamstrings for all the jumping they do. If they aim to have small glutes and hamstrings how do they jump so high then?

You know the obvious answer to that... which is maxmizing strength/power to weight ratio. Enough muscle mass in the legs to be explosive enough to tumble, sprint down the vault runway, etc. but not more. Same thing with the upper body.

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JoeSimo

Hmm you are right. Maybe I should have worded it better. I guess what I was trying to say was, If gymnasts can already jump as high as they do using the training they do, is there any point to modifying it? I had a conversation like this with a friend of mine recently. We were talking about various kinds of conditioning and the subject of weights came up. I told him I didn't train with weights because in all my activities I have to lift my own weight in various ways. So, training to lift a heavy weight in a limited number of ways wouldn't really help me much. I doubt everyone would agree with me, but it works wonders for me and all the things I do. That being said I think it's extremely important to be open minded enough to constantly reevaluate your training and to see if other things might be superior in some way. I read every training article I am able to. Most of the time I find nothing useful, but every so often I learn about something that can help me.

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Eddie Acosta

I'm always curious as to why not study how athletes who are sprinters, high jumpers or any other leg dominant sport train and possibly incorporate or model some aspects of their training to gymnastics provided that it will improve and not hinder, a gymnast overall conditioning program. In Coach Sommers' book, he has a wide variety of leg excersices that are very grueling/ challenging, and quite different than what I expected (Another reason why this is such a great book). He does mention however, how many gymnastic coaches seem to not focus as much on leg conditioning for their athletes compared to other areas.

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Guest Ido Portal
That is interesting. I always thought gymnasts would have powerful glutes and hamstrings for all the jumping they do. If they aim to have small glutes and hamstrings how do they jump so high then?

Gymnasts dont jump high. They rebound high. And even that is off a spring floor. Comparing to other power-sports, gymnasts have low vertical jumps. I went over this before:

3. Gymnasts do not have good vertical jumps usualy. It is a misconception. Compare them to athletes from other strength/speed sports - Olifters, Sprinters, Football players, Hockey, etc... They are not up there. I've met an old ex soviet gymnastics coach that works around here, and he told me that in his time, due to a much less springy floor (the 50's) the gymnasts used to have good vertical jumps. He said with pride that his VJ was 85 cm. (33 inch) That is not impressive at all, and this was when gymnasts had a lot better VJs. Also, did you notice that gymnasts dont have the highest standing backflips? Look at some freestyle acrobats that do classical weightlifting for their lower body, they jump much higher. Now when rebounding is the subject, this is were gymnasts will rip them apart.

If they had big verticals, they would join the rest of the athletic power world and aquire a hypertrophied posterior chain. (big ass)

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Jack

Hmmm i think the transfer from the deadlift to the O lifts can be high dont the Chinese focus alot on deads (compared to others) and O lifters are leg dominant not so much hip only look at how jacked the quads are on the guy in the picture. And in the upper body shoulder dominant the jerk does require shoulder strength. O lifting by itself doesn't seem to make sense for sports in general but acquiring max strength in the whole body does.

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Nic Scheelings

This is a fascinating topic. Generally i swap my training between olympic lifting and gymnastics training. I can't say how much oly lifting helps my gymnastics as i feel my skill level limits me more than anything but on the other hand i feel gymnastics improves my oly lifting significantly.

Although the actual movements are not too simiar i think the greater body awareness gymnastics provides has great cross over to oly lifting.

As a side question, considering that gymnastics have such developed upper bodies and less through hamstring, glute region is there a greater likelihood of injury while sprinting ? Are things like hamstring strains common at all?

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vnewgard
Hmmm i think the transfer from the deadlift to the O lifts can be high dont the Chinese focus alot on deads (compared to others) and O lifters are leg dominant not so much hip only look at how jacked the quads are on the guy in the picture. And in the upper body shoulder dominant the jerk does require shoulder strength. O lifting by itself doesn't seem to make sense for sports in general but acquiring max strength in the whole body does.

It is true that weightlifters do deadlifts to strengthen thier posterior chain. My former coach at the USOEC was Chinese and we did a lot of deadlifts. But it was a very small tool in the arsenal. The main focus was on maximal attempts in the full lifts, powers, and front squat. I like deadlifts for my training but in the grand scheme the carryover is limited. Thier comes a point when you can deadlift the world and not improve your clean and jerk. We had a very gifted lifter who could deadlift 250 kilos but only clean 177. I can only clean deadlift 210 kilos but my best clean is 195 kilos. It is unlikely that in either situation improvements in the deadlift alone will result in a better clean and jerk.

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Chris H Laing
I can only clean deadlift 210 kilos but my best clean is 195 kilos

That is a sick nasty clean. Ever thought about training for the olympics?

And on topic...

I think if you're trying to be as fit as possible, it is best to do both to get the best shoulder development, and the best hip development. Gymnastics could also be useful to competitive oly lifters, provided they can find time to fit it in and still recover.

But I agree with Coach Sommer on this one in that oly lifting for a gymnast would hinder their performance more than help it. If gymnastics events required the gymnast to jump high, and not just rebound, or maybe throw another gymnast in the air... (just throwing things out there) then maybe oly lifting would be useful, but the events in gymnastics require that gymnasts be trained like they have been in the past.

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griffdrc

this is an interesting topic... my background is wrestling... we would train to be as strong and as explosive as possible and still be able to make weight... my coaches in the past would have us oly lift(cleans and snatches) but not power lift(deadlifts) during season... we would do ~5 sets of 3-5 reps with ~4 minutes of rest at the beginning of our lifting session... during season our reps would drop and weight would increase... we would focus on speed and exploding and not on max weight... we would usually try to catch the weight higher... like a 1/2 squat... they said that this would help to make us more explosive but not get big...

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braindx
This is a fascinating topic. Generally i swap my training between olympic lifting and gymnastics training. I can't say how much oly lifting helps my gymnastics as i feel my skill level limits me more than anything but on the other hand i feel gymnastics improves my oly lifting significantly.

Although the actual movements are not too simiar i think the greater body awareness gymnastics provides has great cross over to oly lifting.

As a side question, considering that gymnastics have such developed upper bodies and less through hamstring, glute region is there a greater likelihood of injury while sprinting ? Are things like hamstring strains common at all?

Don't think so. Posterior chain explosiveness and strength is still important but it's scaled to bodyweight. Most of the tumblers I know who are naturally explosive have a well developed posterior chain (compared to anterior)... it's just smaller than you would think because of the hypertrophy needed for high level rings.

------------------------------

Also, along these lines I believe it is VERY important to teach good sprinting or running mechanics especially on vault to improve top speed to get more power & also for tumbling. Running with straight arms and arms doing all these wild things are horrible.

Anyone agree or disagree?

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Nic Scheelings

I've always thought that gymnasts look a little funny when they sprint up to the vault. I'm not sure if this is just a style they use in order to hit the vault at the right time or the fact that they are clearly upper body dominant but it's always something i've wondered about.

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Gregor

It's not enough to just jump high or far...You must have jump and rebound tehnic->You must know how to rebound with fingers and not with whole feet.

We have good case in a gym. One is world cup competitor and one is not. One have good rebound tehnic and one good vertical jump and ordinary distance jump (cca. 3m still distance jump). Wich is better and wich jumps higher? the one with worse vertical and distance jump but good rebound tehnic (jumping with fingers and heels never touches the flor)...

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Guest Ido Portal

Gregor, that is excatly my point. Rebound is the name of the game.

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Scott Malin

Interesting article, but I can't say I'm sold on it. Right off the bat, the author makes a rather large assumption:

Although they don’t like to admit it, most gymnastics coaches lack the background and knowledge in strength training and don’t fully understand why and what they’re training on general strength days.

"Most gymnastics coaches" is a very poor qualifier because it doesn't define anything for us. Give me a specific gymnastic model or models and the weaknesses they create that OL can potentially resolve. I could very well plug in football/field/etc coaches into that statement and not need to change the content of the article by much. As our discussion isn't limited to the article, I won't nit-pick the entire thing with what I like/dislike, but the author's stated purpose in incorporating OL is this:

Incorporating Olympic lifting or Olympic lifting movements into general strength days is a great approach to increase body awareness and total body strength, amplify proper motor pattern development, enhance the gymnast’s ability to absorb weight in landings, and in the end, prevent injury

Is this list enough to sell OL for me in gymnastics? Not really. Plus, the point has already been brought up that gymnastics favors rebounding over a strong vertical jump. To give you all some data to Ido's statement about it, this is the table from Coach Arkaev and Nikolai Suchilin's theory and methodology on training top-level gymnasts:

Tests and model characteristics of SPP for top-class gymnasts

    1. Running (controlled) 20m 3.0-3.1s
    2. speed in last 5m 7.8-8.2m/s
    3. Vertical Jump (from the spot, swinging arms) 60-65cm
    4. Rope Climb (4m w/o leg help) 5.0-5.5sec
    5. Round off, flic flac, back somersault flight time .95-1.0s
    6. Cross on Rings, IC, Planche, etc on rings 5.0-6.0s hold time

~24-26 inches for a vertical jump is pretty low.

Edit: I'm not saying you can't have a decent vert. as a gymnast, just it isn't necessarily required.

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Ortprod
I can only clean deadlift 210 kilos but my best clean is 195 kilos. It is unlikely that in either situation improvements in the deadlift alone will result in a better clean and jerk.

That is an amazing clean!

Anyway, I just wanted to throw some stuff out here. I don't know if this has been discussed on the boards anywhere but what about kettlebell lifting and it's relevance to gymnastic strength. I have found that the type of pressing done with a kettlebell create a nice amount of flexibility in the shoulder girdle. I know that at this point a lot of people have started focusing on the endurance end of kettlebell lifting but what about the lifts that resemble the Oly lifts (i.e. speed snatch, clean, jerk, etc). Also the grip training on something like a bottoms up press can cause a nice chain of strength in the entire limb.

Also, I think a lot of people still confuse the difference between strength and power and which develops more hypertrophy and hyperplasia. To my knowledge strength endurance builds the most hypertrophy, in second place comes raw strength and in third comes power. (power=work/time or power=weight/speed) And would sprinting yield comparable and relevant results for the legs as Oly?

Range of motion is something I would like to see discussed too if anyone cares to bring it up. Anyone find more strength flexibility with one or the other?

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Jack

Im curious though is your weak point off the ground the clean or the jerk portion of the lift. O lifting is so weird to me because in training for many other sports splits make sense where technical mastery is just as important in Olifts. Some teams just jerk squat and snatch and others do a lot of assistance work.

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davestitz

I feel like this discussion is saying you are either a strong rebounder OR have a high vert. Would not training OL and getting the strength for a higher vert also make you a stronger rebounder? Perhaps the muscle gained(weight) would offset any kind of rebound gains? Not sure, don't have much experience with either.

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