Should Cyclists Olympic Lift?

I say no. There is an extremely large movement skill factor required to perform the lifts correct, and as Jim Rutberg from Carmichael Training Systems told me “there’s a reason a lot of us went into endurance sports: we just aren’t that coordinated!”These lifts are pretty dangerous every for experienced lifters, let alone a population that is prone to limited range of mobility in the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle. The best alternative? Using kettlebells. They are easier to learn, and do a much better job of providing lower body power. I asked some of the trainers on the forum, and here’s what they had to say.

Jason Agrella, Z-Health, NASM, APEX, RKC:

Kettlebell wins, and heres why – Olympic lifts are probably the “highest skill” lifts you can do. As a result, they require infinitely more practice, often which committed cyclists can’t do (time issue). Olympic lifts also demand a TON of quality movement to do well. Primarily in parts of the body cyclists tend to lack movement, like the hips and thoracic spine. Plus the nature of O-lifts is such that high rep/high intensity training with them tends to border on dangerous/negligent as to where kettlebells offer the opportunity to perform more isolated movement development. Bells can be more adaptable to the energy system demands of a cyclist.

Dan Fanelli:

Cycling is an interesting activity, because it’s basically a machine-based sport. Without seeing studies on the kinematics and kinetics of cycling, I could easily see leg presses being “functional” to cycling. But this may be one of the many instances where you aren’t just training for functional carryover to sport, but also to prevent injury. I think we can agree that the movements in cycling are not very similar to a deadlift, clean, snatch, or squat. Right? But these movements or similar scaled down versions will have their place in a balanced program.

These “cyclists” may one day decide to do a triathalon, or stop cycling altogether, and they’ll need to be able to walk and pick things up. I dont think they need the same kind of power that people are trying to develop with Olympic lifts. But no, we don’t need Olympic lifts to lay down power. I think most people can generate a lot more power with their hips doing a KB swing, than they can on an Olympic lift. I don’t find KB lifts to be good for upper body power though. In that case it would either be Olympic lifts, bands, speed work, or med ball work. But I tend to agree with the KB crowd, that nothing really beats a swing for lower body power.

Mark Mogavero, CSCS, FMS Certified:

Unless the cyclist has a background where they have performed Olympic lifting in the past, I would not recommend them. My main concern, as it is for most adults, is that our joint and posture are not the same as an adult as they were during our teenage years. Every single client who has ever walked through my door has had some sort of a postural distortion, mostly in the shoulder, hip, and thoracic areas. In order to perform the Olympic lifts properly, these three key parts of the body have to display ample mobility without compensation in order to bring a loaded Olympic bar overhead safely. I don’t feel it is appropriate, not the best use of time trying to teach and perfect the Olympic lifts for this population, and most adults as a whole.

The kettlebell offers a much safer and useable tool. There are a variety of reason why, but my top reasons would be they are asymmetrical, small, inexpensive, and versatile. Picture a cyclist who has a kyphotic T-spine and tight hip flexors (think of the position that a cyclist spends hours upon hours in). If this individual was attempting a straight bar dead lift, it would be very difficult for him/her to stabilize their shoulder blades in proper position when reaching forward to grab a straight bar in front of their shins. With a KB, the load can be placed, due to the smaller size of the implement, between the thighs, almost directly below the hips. Understand that the weight is simply a tool, but I have always felt that the straight Olympic bar has somewhat limited versatility, where a KB can be used for just about any movement, particularly single leg work.

As far as the training of the athlete, I do feel all athletes, as well as cyclists, need to develop power through strength training. Research clearly shows in many endurance athletes that those who perform resistance training programs outside of their mode of sport (running in particular) are much stronger at the end of an event. I would be surprised if someone could convince me that cyclists are so unique that this would not also apply to this population. The argument may be that the cyclist wants to maintain the lowest body weight possible while maintaining their power, as it is less for them to pull around while on the bike. But power does not necessarily mean bulk. Competitive Olympic weight lifters are not built like bodybuilders, and are very powerful.

Alan Philips, Pike Athletics:

Kettlebells have a faster learning curve. Doesn’t mean they are inherently superior to O-lifting… but I do think they can be more appropriate for the context of cycling. Getups are useful for a number of reasons, not only for strength development but also for general movement. You can do everything from primitive breakouts like breathing and rolling to full getups with really heavy bells. Its definitely not the only way to take cyclists through these progressions, but compared to O-lifting it is more suitable. It also gets cyclists moving in multiple planes under a load but in a controlled manner, as O-lifts are only saggital plane.Swings are certainly valuable for power development but let’s not forget their contributions to general movement: hip hinge, stability, thoracic extension, shoulder integrity, glute activation, left-to-right symmetry… probably some other things that I’m not mentioning as ell. O-lifts address all of these too, but I think the learning curve to get to the swing and perform the swing for power is more manageable for a cyclist than the curve to reach proficiency in O-lifts. Finally, there’s the practical benefit that kettlebells are highly portable, whereas you need a suitable facility and equipment for O-lifts.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the article. It is greatly appreciated!

– Al Painter, BA, NASM-PES, CES
President & Founder
INTEGRATE Performance Fitness

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