Use Olympic Weightlifting to Transform Strength Into Speed

Antonio Squillante

Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field, Weightlifting

I am often asked, when should one use Olympic-style weightlifting exercises in the training of competitive athletes, especially at the high school and collegiate level? Should athletes be bigger, faster and stronger in order for them to survive? It's not a provocative question, or at least it does not mean to be. Bigger, Faster, Stronger and The Strongest Shall Survive are two of the most referenced books when it comes to strength training for sport.


Are stronger athletes necessarily better? Are they faster? And do they have to be bigger? In essence, is strength always good in sport? And is hypertrophy always the byproduct of strength training? Hamlet himself would have been lost in such a conundrum.



Strength in sport is absolutely important. I like to use a quote from Dr. Dan Baker who recently discussed the importance of "brute strength" among elite level athletes. Strength, however, is not the goal. Speed is the goal, as athletes need to run faster, jump higher and throw farther in order to dominate in a sport. So, strength can’t be put into a pigeonhole in training. It can’t be isolated.


"Citius, Altius, Fortius" is Latin for faster, higher, stronger. It should ring a bell. It’s a moto of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and enthusiastically taken up by its founder, Pierre de Coubertin over a century ago. He went on to say, "These three words represent a program of moral beauty. The aesthetics of sport are intangible."


You may have heard, a stronger athlete can perform better in a sport if they can "transform" - a term that used to be very familiar in the late '90s when the first translations of Russian manuals on periodization became available - strength into speed. How this "transformation" actually takes place has led to some big misconception.


Let’s start at the beginning, we accept initially that in order for athletes to perform better they need to get stronger. They become stronger by lifting heavy weights (not the heaviest) in an explosive manner, ultimately striving for power instead of sheer brute strength. Such an explosive training - which, by definition, implies submaximal loads - does not necessarily result in an increase in body weight (muscle mass), namely hypertrophy. So, you have strength but it’s part of a more power-driven activity.


Therefore, I can say there is no such a thing as transformation. Athletes need to use a combination of heavy strength training (squat, deadlift, bench press just to name a few) and explosive strength training (Olympic-style weightlifting, plyometrics, throwing exercises) all year-round but they should do it as the sum parts of a greater whole. Athletes should be training for integration rather than compartmentalizing their lifting, in the effort to develop different aspects of strength because it all contributes to improved performance in sport.


Too many times, coaches will tend to isolate strength training because, frankly, it is very easy and very exciting to work on pure lifting exercises. I say Olympic-style lifting is the bridge between traditional strength training and its integration to create programs to create power and speed. Athlete’s need speed and power. They’re not in the gym to max out on their lifts. They’re there to max out the opportunity to go higher, to go faster, and yes, to go stronger.


Integrate Olympic-style lifts in your athletic training. As technically challenging as they can be, they are a great set of tools to have on hand to get the job done right.



1. Newton, R. U., & Kraemer, W. J. (1994). Developing Explosive Muscular Power: Implications for a Mixed Methods Training Strategy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 16(5), 20-31.

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