Olympic Lifting for Runners
These three simplified variations of explosive Olympic lifts can help you develop power that will make you a faster runner.
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Traditionally, explosive weightlifting has been reserved for sprinters, but distance runners can also benefit from including these power-producing exercises in their strength and conditioning program. Olympic lifts and their variations can complement traditional body-weight routines, resistance training and plyometric exercises to help runners improve their performance.
Power is the amount of force you can produce in a given moment in time. Powerful runners can tap into their fast twitch muscle fibers better than weaker runners, applying more force to the ground in a shorter amount of time, propelling them quickly forward.
According to recent research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, becoming more powerful can improve your racing potential, whatever distance you race. Researchers took NCAA Division I track athletes from several disciplines (sprints, middle and long distance race distances) and tested their power producing ability using a multiple jump test. After measuring power performance, they found a significant correlation between power producing ability and race performance in all subjects. In other words, the more explosive runners were able to run faster race times.
To target your fast twitch muscle fibers, runners must incorporate explosive-type strength exercises into their weekly routine.
Simple Olympic-Lifting Variations
The Olympic lifts such as the clean-and-jerk and the snatch are excellent exercises for developing explosive power and athleticism. The full versions of the clean and snatch are very technical and can take up valuable time and energy to learn. You can, however, perform less technical versions and still reap all the benefits. These Olympic lifting variations will focus on dumbbells, which runners are more likely to have at home, rather than a barbell.
Focus on technique, full body coordination and athleticism before focusing on the weight used. Perform this workout once a week.
Dumbbell Hang Clean
Set-up: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
How: Soften your knees slightly and lean over by hinging your hips while keeping your back neutral. Notice your weight distribution across your mid foot and tension develop in your hamstrings as you bow forward roughly 15-25-degrees. Immediately stand upright by extending your hips, knees and ankles. Pretend you’re trying to touch the ceiling with the top of your head. While exploding up, pull upward on the dumbbells.
After you get as tall as possible, immediately squat down, with your feet shoulder-width apart, to catch the dumbbells. Bend and push your elbows underneath the dumbbells to receive the dumbbells in front of your shoulders. Use your quadriceps to absorb the dumbbells and the rapid decent into the squat. Keep your heels flat on the floor and your knees straight. Stand fully to complete the rep.
Carefully return the dumbbells to your sides to prepare for the next rep.
Do: 5 sets of 5 reps. Take 90-seconds between sets.
Goal weight: The goal here is to be able to use more weight than you can biceps curl (lift from waist to chest in front of you using only your arm strength). If you can biceps curl the weight up to your chest, the weight is too light for you. The weight should be heavy enough that you need the power from your body to accelerate the dumbbells upward in order to be able to get them in front of your shoulders. The athletic squat after the explosive up phase will help you “get under” the dumbbells. The heavier the weights, the more explosive you need to be to accelerate the weights upward and the lower you must squat underneath the weights in order to receive them. Female runners can aim to hold 20-35 pound in each hand while male runners can aim to hold 30-45 pounds/hand.
Dumbbell Split Jerk
Set-up: Hold a dumbbell in each hand beside in front of your shoulders with your feet hip width apart.
How: Push your knees forward to dip your body down. Keep your torso vertical. Immediately explode up at your knees and ankles. Simultaneously push the dumbbells overhead. Rapidly place one foot in front of you and reach the opposite leg behind you. Bend your knees and lock your arms. You should catch the dumbbells overhead with straight arms. Stabilize your landing, then, first, step back with your front leg, then, second, step forward with your rear leg. Stand tall with the dumbbells locked out overhead. *Note: You will have a preferred leg that goes to the front during the split jerk. If you can, try to switch the lead leg every set.
Carefully return the dumbbells to your shoulder to prepare for the next rep.
Do: 5 sets of 5 reps. Take 90-seconds between sets.
Goal weight: The goal here is to be able to use a weight heavier than you can overhead press with strict form (pushing the dumbbell up from shoulder to full overhead arm extension using only your arm strength). Females can aim for 20-35 pounds/hand while male runners can aim to use 30-45 pounds/hand.
Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch
Set-up: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while straddling a dumbbell on the floor. Bend at your knees and hips to grab the handle with one hand and a straight arm. Your back should be flat with your shoulders positioned higher than your hips. If you find this position difficult to achieve, you can place the dumbbell on a 4–12” block/box.
How: Swing your opposite arm back, then rapidly explode upward by extending your hips, knees and ankles. Simultaneously pull the dumbbell upward. As the dumbbell accelerates toward the ceiling, squat down to move your body underneath the dumbbell. Catch the dumbbell overhead with your arm straight. Stand fully with your arm straight and the dumbbell stacked above your shoulder. Carefully return the dumbbell to the ground or box in preparation for the next rep.
Do: 3–4 sets of 5 reps per side. Take 30-seconds between sides and 90-seconds between sets.
Goal weight: The goal here is to use more weight than you can lift without accelerating it up with your body. Female runners can aim to use 20–40 lbs while male runners can aim for 30–50 lbs.
Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, CEP is a Strength & Conditioning Coach with 15 years of experience. He’s a co-owner of JKConditioning, a health and fitness business in St. John’s, NL, Canada, a retired competitive runner and a long time contributor to PodiumRunner.