Use Olympic Lifts to Increase Speed and Agility

Antonio Squillante

Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field, Weightlifting

According to a series of recent posts published online by the NFHS and the NCAA, the vast majority of high school and collegiate athletes are familiar with one or more Olympic style weightlifting exercises. Lifting weights, however, is still considered just "another way" to make athletes stronger. Weightlifting - snatch, clean and jerk and their many derivatives such as pulls and extensions - however, is more than that. Here is why.


Olympic-style weightlifting exercises require a terrific amount of force to be exerted against the ground in a very limited amount of time. By doing so, athletes learn how to increase velocity (vertical velocity) a mechanical feature that represents the blueprint of many sport-specific skills.



What About Change of Direction (Cod) Speed?

What about movements in a sport that require horizontal and lateral acceleration, deceleration, but also cutting and pivoting? How does vertical velocity come into play? Are Olympic lifting exercises useful to improving agility?


Studies have shown controversial evidence when it comes to lower body explosive strength and COD speed (agility). Some basic biomechanics, however, comes in handy to provide a rational explanation of the relationship between peak vertical ground reaction force, OL and COD speed.

Trigonometry, although tedious when it comes to sin, cosine, vectors and vectorial components provides a rational explanation of this confusing, yet approachable, geometrical controversy.


For the general center of mass (GCM) to preserve its momentum - forward, backward, or in any other direction - the vertical force contributing to the motion needs to prevail in order to prevent gravity from becoming a braking force. Studies investigating the tri-dimensional component of the ground reaction force acting at any given time on an athlete's GCM during activities involving cutting, pivoting and changing direction confirm that, regardless of the direction an athlete is moving to, peak vertical force represent the most relevant vectorial component.



By improving the ability to generate vertical ground reaction force, Olympic-style weightlifting exercise can improve agility as they positively affect the muscular component of what is known as changing of direction speed.


Applying Olympic Weightlifting to an Off Season Footballer

Now, let's look at how this works in practice and I will use the example of a routine I prepared for a football player during the off season. He was about 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighed about 235 lbs, had great strength, a little tight in the hamstrings, but looked liked he could generate more power. He was not fulfilling his potential.


I programmed a push/pull work out for my off season football player as follows:


Power Cleans 4x3 @80%1RM, 3 minutes rest
Split Jerks 4x3 @ 60% (C&J)1RM, 3 minutes rest
Back Squats 4x4 @80%1RM
Bench Press superset Barbell Row 3x6+6 to failure, 1.5 minutes rest
Dumbbell Rows 3x8 to failure, 1.5 minutes rest


This workout can follow some basic speed and agility training at the beginning of the sessions. At end of the session, it is recommended to add some core work and a short conditioning burst if needed.



1.Tricoli , V., Lamas, L., Carnevale, R., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2005). Short-term effects on lower-body functional power development: weightlifting vs. vertical jump training programs. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(2), 433.

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