What sports give us the biggest advantage for weightlifting?

From 2010 to 2011, I was the coach at Innercity Weightlifting (ICW) in Boston. Our mission was to help at-risk youth get away from gangs, DYS centers, and difficult domestic situations. Our tool was weightlifting.

We taught kids the snatch, clean and jerk, squats, and presses. The goal was to give them the strength, confidence, and discipline to walk away from all types of bad situations, or at the very least, wear them out so they’d be too tired to get themselves into trouble after training. Every session ended with games, tutoring if they needed help, or just talking.

Some kids picked up weightlifting quickly; others struggled with technique. Some increased their strength steadily, while others barely improved. Their rate of improvement seemed random to me at first, until I started asking what sports they played before they started weightlifting.

There is always carry-over from past athletic experiences to how fast people are able to pick up a new sport. The attributes that kids gain from whatever sports they play stay with them forever – body position awareness, speed, strength, work ethic, etc.

For this post, I wanted to explore which sports give people (especially young athletes) a competitive advantage for weightlifting.

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Weightlifting is demanding. To be successful in weightlifting, an athlete must have strength, speed, coordination, endurance, coachability and work ethic.

At Innercity Weightlifting, we worked with track athletes, baseball, basketball, soccer and football players, wrestlers, and kids who’ve never really played any sports. The following chart shows my observations of the pros and cons kids had coming from different athletic backgrounds into weightlifting:

The ones who learned technique and gained strength the quickest were the baseball players and wrestlers.

Baseball players

  1. Great coordination – allowed them to pick up technique quickly.
  2. Well-rounded strength – allowed them to have good control over the bar throughout the exercise.
  3. Good rigidity – allowed them to stand strong in every position.
  4. Endurance was lackingbecause of which they couldn’t work hard for more than an hour.
  5. Flexibility wasn’t great because of which they couldn’t get into certain weightlifting. positions.

Wrestlers

  1. Good coordination – allowed them to pick up technique quickly.
  2. Well-rounded strength – allowed them to have good control over the bar throughout an exercise.
  3. Flexibility and mobility – allowed them to get into every correct weightlifting position.  
  4. Great endurance – allowed them to train intensely for 2+ hours per session.
  5. Poor rigidity – because of which they were unable to stop themselves and the bar quickly.

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Most weightlifting coaches recommend that kids start weightlifting when they are 11-13 years old (exposure to weightlifting, not specificity). Usually, coaches will want to recruit kids who already have the physical and mental abilities required for weightlifting. I had the chance to ask several professional weightlifting coaches what sports they recommend kids do before going into weightlifting, or from which sports would they prefer to recruit athletes. Here’s what they said:

6 coaches, 6 differing opinions. Some sports are better at developing the specific characteristics required for weightlifting, but all sports have something to offer.   

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All of this applies to pre-weightlifters. So, how does this apply to you, the seasoned weightlifter?

Well, to become better at weightlifting, the snatch and clean and jerk are not enough. When an athlete starts weightlifting, they shouldn’t stop other physical activities altogether.

In the Soviet Weightlifting System, young weightlifters devote up to 80% of their time to General Physical Preparation (GPP), playing ball games, running, jumping, and doing gymnastics. As they progress, even though they reduce the focus on general physical preparation, GPP still remains an important part of their training (you can read much more on that in Roadmap for Training, Part 2).

The same principles apply for adult weightlifters.

All weightlifters should use powerlifting (such as squats, pulls, presses) to get stronger, and light athletics (such as running and jumping) to get faster and more explosive.

Ilya Ilyin swims for active recovery, which helps him with mobility and endurance without adding major stresses (impact) to his body. Vasily Polovnikov runs and plays soccer for endurance and speed. I try a new physical activity or sport once a week to build coordination, speed, and to distract myself from the daily grind of training.

Whatever the outside sport, a supplement to your regular weightlifting routine (in the right amount and at the right time) will make you a better athlete and lifter.

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Which sports made you who you are today? And what sport, if any, would you have rather done growing up, to get you better prepared for weightlifting?

* this was first posted at BarBend.

Yasha Kahn

Weightlifter, coach and now: blogger. I’ve traveled around the world sharing my weightlifting knowledge and experiences. I look forward to the next adventure.


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