Olympic weightlifting, also know as weightlifting or more simply, oly, is a sport comprised of just two movements. These two movements test your strength, speed, power, mobility and explosiveness as well as raw strength – every single muscle in your body will be used. Olympic Weightlifting’s governing body in the UK is British Weightlifting (BWL), and athletes compete at at clubs locally, at Commonwealth level and at the Olympics.
Words of caution before i start getting in to the detail – there is a very real risk of falling in love with weightlifting and changing your life for the better!
The snatch is the first of two olympic lifts, the second being the clean and jerk, and together they form the recognised sport of Olympic Weightlifting.
In the Olympic snatch, the barbell is lifted from the floor, keeping it close to your body until it is overhead in a single fluid motion. The movement supports development of strength, mobility/range of motion and power because, to execute the lift properly, you need to move a heavy weight fast – to quote Muhammed Ali, you need to deliver ‘hitting the light switch in your room and jumping into bed before the room goes dark’ level of speed!
Sound tricky? It is but trust me, when you can perform a perfect snatch you’ve mastered one of the most difficult movements in weightlifting: you will be that superhuman in the gym and be able to wow your friends with you athletic prowess!
The clean and jerk is a two-part movement: the barbell is lifted from the floor to your shoulders (the clean), and then driven straight upwards from your shoulders overhead with some nifty footwork added in (the jerk). The movement supports development of power, stability and explosiveness even more so than the snatch because the loads are being moved shorter distances between each movement, meaning you can lift more weight. The clean and jerk also has a slightly easier learning curve; it requires a little less speed and is more easily compared to more traditional movements such as the front squat and push press.
But don’t let that fool you, the clean and jerk requires an astonishing amount of core strength and balance to move the weight to the front rack position then hurl it overhead. So, if your strength goal is to rival Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) or Jason Momoa, it’s time to work on your clean and jerk!
There are a number of preparatory items that you need to be comfortable with before stepping on the platform to preform your lifts:
1 – Base strength – before you attempt your first snatch or clean and jerk you’ll need proficiency in the squat, particularly the overhead squat and front squat, deadlift and push press. By mastering these movements you’ll build up muscle memory and necessary strength that will be transferred to your olympic weightlifting movements and reduce the learning curve.
2 – Mobility of your ankles, thoracic spine and shoulders – Being mobile is crucial when Olympic weightlifting. A lack of mobility in your thoracic spine, shoulders or ankles may cause excessive shoulder flexion and knee pain. It goes without saying that the warmup is an important part of priming your body for effective mobility and it shouldn’t be ignored; in Olympic weightlifting a good RAMP warmup is essential, so don’t ever skip your mobility drills!
3 – Stability throughout your entire body – this may appear at odds with what I’ve just said on mobility, however stability is also required to execute even a semi-decent lift otherwise you won’t be able to control the bar or your body as you move around it. Prior to performing your sessions I recommend doing 10 minutes of pure core work to target your abs, obliques and erector spinae muscles. You don’t need to do crunches – there are many more movements that work your core effectively
Everyone can benefit from the olympic snatch whether you use a PVC pipe, aluminium training bar or olympic barbell. Because the snatch move requires speed, strength and power, incorporating it into your workouts stimulates every muscle in your body to grow. The movement gives you total body strength that can’t be matched by many, if any, other movement including compound lifts. Whilst weightlifters have to learn the snatch as one of the two competitive movements, powerlifters will also benefit from this overall conditioning movement.
It’s not only strength that the snatch develops; it improves your speed, proprioception (where your body is in space) and coordination, too. You only have a second or so to pull yourself under the bar into the receive position before it falls downwards. What the snatch teaches you about speed and coordination can be transferred to other sports to improve you overall performance.
Your overall range of motion will vastly improve after you’ve incorporated the Olympic snatch into your routine. Mastering its difficult range of motion will enable you to reach a much higher peak of mobility, particularly in your hips, ankles and shoulders, than any other lift will. This is directly related to an improvement in overall posture and will help you in any other bodyweight movement, such as yoga or pilates.
The clean and jerk because the movement gives you total body strength that can’t be matched by many, if any, other movement including compound lifts, so everyone will benefit from incorporating the movement into their training regime.
The clean and jerk improves your speed, motor skills and coordination, too. You only have a second or so to pull yourself under the bar into the receive position before it falls downwards; nothing makes you learn a skill faster than risking dropping a heavy weight onto your body or potentially falling on the floor whilst holding on to a barbell! Thus, when your motor skills and coordination is improved, your whole body benefits. The complex nature of the clean and jerk teaches various muscle groups to work together, meaning you move as one unit, which carries over to other sports and day-to-day activities.
Finally, your jumping ability will vastly improve after you’ve incorporated the clean and jerk into your routine. This is because the movement requires a ‘jump’ under a large load in the clean and jerk phases. Mastering this difficult range of motion will enable you to reach a much higher peak of explosiveness in your training, as well as increasing your cardiovascular health, bone density, strength, muscle tone, balance and coordination.
Absolutely! Olympic Weightlifting coaching is my speciality – i’ve trained complete beginners all the way through to athletes preparing for competitions. If you are a complete beginner i recommend face-to-face sessions to begin with as this is the best way i can support you in learning the skills you need to excel in Olympic weightlifting. For experienced athletes wanting to perfect their technique i offer analysis of lifts using Kinovea as well as face-to-face and online sessions.