Arthur Drechsler, author of the single most important book ever written on Olympic weightlifting (The Weightlifting Encyclopedia, A is A Communications, New York, 1997), hit the nail on the head. Speaking about the unique value of the Olympic lifts for athletes, Drechsler listed eight benefits unavailable to those using machines:
The mere practice of the (Olympic) lifts [the snatch and the clean & jerk as well as related lifting techniques] teaches an athlete how to explode.
The practice of proper technique in the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete to apply force with his or her muscle groups in the proper sequences.
In mastering the Olympic lifts, the athlete learns how to accelerate objects under varying degrees of resistance.
The athlete learns to receive force from another moving body effectively, and becomes conditioned to accept such forces.
The athlete learns to move effectively from an eccentric contraction to a concentric one.
The actual movements performed while executing the Olympic lifts are among the most common and fundamental in sports.
Practicing the Olympic lifts trains an athlete’s explosive capabilities, and the lifts themselves measure the effectiveness of the athlete in generating explosive power to a greater degree than most other exercises they can practice.
The Olympic lifts are simply fun to do.
IS OLYMPIC LIFTING SAFE?
There is a startling bit of information that was not brought to light until recently. The chances of injury, both during and as a result of training on machines, is far greater than while lifting free weights while standing on your own two feet. Now I must admit that, at first, this seemed odd to me. Most of us in Sports Performance Business simply assumed that machines offered the user a bit more safety than free weights! You know, limited range of movement, carefully hidden moving parts, total lack of ballistic stress, and so forth. Not so, according to these relatively recent research findings:
Weightlifters [Olympic style] have less than half the injury rate per 100 hours of training than do those engaged in other forms of weight training; 17 vs 35. (Hamill, B. “Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(1):53-57.1994)
Retired Olympic weight lifters had lower lifetime incidence and prevalence of low back pain than a control group of normal active men of similar age; 23% vs. 31%. (Granhed, H. et al. “Low back pain among retired wrestlers and heavyweight lifters.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine,16(5): 530-533. 1988)
Mike Stone, et al., provided an excellent review of the research literature on this topic. The inescapable conclusion was that weightlifting is indeed the safest method of weight training. (Stone,M. H., A. C. Fry, M. Ritchie, L. Stoessel-Ross, and J. L. Marsit. “Injury potential and safety aspects of weightlifting movements.” Strength and Conditioning. June: 15-21, 1994)
It is clear now, that Dr. O’Shea knew what he was talking about. The very forms of stress that machines force you to avoid are the ones your body not only craves because they simulate all movement on planet Earth, but absolutely requires for safety reasons, as well as performance reasons!