All Black prop John Afoa lifts weights during a recovery session

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING can help improve your performance on the pitch, writes former champion Giles Greenwood.

Rugby players spend their time in the gym doing heavy strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bench-presses. These form the bedrock of many serious programmes and have the advantage of being highly effective all-round strength builders.

They’re directly applicable to forwards who apply ‘slow’ strength during the scrum, but this training benefits tendons and joints as well as muscles, helping to prevent injury.

It's all in the technique: French hooker Dimitri Szarzewski

It’s less obvious how pure, slow strength benefits players who require power and speed; for example, when accelerating from a standing start, changing direction while running at speed, and jumping. This is where the Olympic lifts and their variations form a vital part of strength training.

The most common lifts used are power cleans and high pulls but the full classical lifts (snatch, clean, jerk) are highly beneficial when carried out correctly. They use strength and speed to ‘throw’ the weight up, which is then caught either overhead (snatch and jerk) or on the front of the shoulders (clean). This will help improve sprint acceleration and vertical jump height.

The mobility required to get into some of the positions used in Olympic weightlifting can be developed with time, and coaching an athlete in the Olympic lifts can often identify areas in which he or she lacks flexibility. Work on these weaknesses can reduce the risk of injury.

The better the technique employed, the more weight the player will lift and the more benefit they will get from the exercises. Most athletes who have already shown a talent for one sport will pick up the techniques required fairly easily, and the technical work can be fitted into a programme as a warm-up before deadlifting, for example, so that their time is used efficiently.

It can be extremely difficult to change bad habits, so it’s important to learn from a qualified weightlifting coach so that good habits are learned from the start.

Advantages of Olympic lifts:

  • Acceleration – jump height and sprint speed
  • Mobility – identify problems, prevent injury
  • Strength – especially in the scrum

Importance of good technique

  • Injury prevention
  • Lift more weight – gain more advantage

Who is Giles Greenwood?
A former British weightlifting champion, he coaches at Greenwood Weightlifting (GWL). For details of weightlifting and strength training courses, go to

This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.

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