Olympic weightlifting is frequently viewed as an exclusive sport, but this unique form of weight training is not only for elite athletes; it’s a training discipline that everyone seeking to transform their physique and improve overall fitness should start adopting and integrating into their workouts.
Through this Everyman’s Handbook to Olympic Weightlifting, we offer a thorough exploration into the domain of strength, athleticism, and precision. We’ll dissect the basics of Olympic weightlifting in a manner that connects with the average person, making this dynamic and demanding sport accessible to all—whether you aim to participate, enhance your CrossFit workouts, or desire to include the lifts in your daily gym routine.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced gym enthusiast looking to acquire and enhance their technique in both the snatch and clean & jerk, this handbook is tailored for you. We’ll delve into what the lifts constitute, the reasons you should (and genuinely need to) integrate them into your workouts, learning progressions, explore variations using dumbbells and kettlebells, and compile a two-day sample program for you to try out during your next gym session.
Understanding the Lifts in Olympic Weightlifting
Let’s analyze the differences between the two main lifts in Olympic weightlifting. In a standard competition, athletes attempt the snatch first, followed by the clean and jerk—and we’ll delve into these movements in that sequence. The essential contrast lies in their execution: the snatch is achieved in a single fluid motion, while the clean and jerk is performed in two distinct phases.
Both lifts necessitate precise muscle coordination, strength, and speed, constituting a technical challenge.
The snatch is the inaugural lift attempted in an Olympic weightlifting meet, a dynamic and explosive lift that entails raising a barbell from the ground to an overhead position in one swift motion. The lifter commences with the barbell on the ground, grasping it with a broad hand placement (we’ll discuss how to determine the proper grip later on). Through a swift and powerful vertical extension of the hips and knees, the lifter raises the barbell off the ground and simultaneously draws their body under the bar to catch it in a deep squat position.
Clean and Jerk
The clean and jerk is a two-part lift that involves elevating a barbell from the ground to the shoulders (clean) and then from the shoulders to an overhead position (jerk). The lifter starts with the barbell on the ground, utilizing a powerful and explosive movement to bring it to their shoulders, catching the bar in a front squat position. After a brief pause, the lifter then executes the jerk, propelling the barbell overhead while splitting (split jerk) or slightly squatting (power jerk) to catch it with arms fully extended.
Reasons to Integrate Olympic Lifts
Fostering Power & Athleticism
The Olympic lifts are inherently explosive and dynamic, requiring swift, precise movement while executing rapid and forceful extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in unison to execute the movements. This demonstration of explosive power extends beyond the gym, contributing to enhanced speed and agility in various physical activities—for athletes and weekend warriors alike.
Enhanced Mobility & Stability
Olympic weightlifting places a significant demand on mobility and stability; being able to support weight overhead while positioning oneself in a deep squat presents a formidable challenge. Below is a brief overview of why the Olympic lifts are beneficial for improving mobility:
Mobility: Consistent practice of moving through a full range of motion enhances your mobility—particularly for the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders.
Joint Stability: Lifters continuously work on stabilizing their joints during lifts, maintaining positions while under tension from the weights.
Improved Flexibility: A focus on flexibility through a comprehensive warmup and cooldown is conducive to completing repetitions of deep squats and overhead positions.
Enhanced Balance and Coordination: As you transition from position to position, aiming to execute each lift with proper technique, you’ll notice progress in precise muscle coordination and maintaining balance throughout.
Commencing and Advancing Towards a Complete Lift
Mastering the Olympic lifts is no simple feat—each variation serves as a piece that ultimately contributes to the snatch or clean and jerk puzzle. Let’s explore how to determine your grip for both the snatch and clean, followed by a brief overview of learning progressions, commencing from the ground and progressing to the full lifts.
Snatch: To find your snatch grip, you’ll want to position your hands evenly on the bar allowing it to be positioned in your hip crease while maintaining straight arms.
*A useful tip here is to elevate your hip to 90 degrees; if the bar remains stationary, you’re in a good position. If your grip is too wide, it will touch your stomach, which is not ideal.
Clean: The ideal grip will emulate your front squat hand position—if you’re able to encircle the bar with your whole hand. If not, position your hands a thumb-length away from your legs. This is a good starting point for finding your grip.
Necessities for Successfully Executing an Olympic Lift
To execute the lifts successfully, a couple of prerequisites are necessary before delving into the full movement. If you’re unable to meet the criteria in these squat variations, focus on the power variations of the snatch and clean while working on enhancing your mobility!
Snatch: The capability to perform an overhead squat.
Clean: The ability to execute a front squat.
Here are the technical progressions I utilize to instruct the lifters I coach and for general clients and performance athletes. A few key points: proceed gradually, be patient, and prioritize proficient execution before adding any weight to a movement, especially in Olympic weightlifting.
- Snatch-grip press
- Overhead squat
- Tall snatch high pull
- Dip muscle snatch
- Dip power snatch + overhead squat
- Hang snatch at the knee
- Hang snatch below knee
- Snatch deadlift
- Tall clean high pull
- Tall muscle clean
- Dip power clean + front squat
- Hang clean at the knee
- Hang clean below knee
- Clean deadlift
- Strict press
- Push press
- Press in split
- Tall jerk
A Thorough Catalog of Olympic Lift Variation
Not everyone has access to a fitness center with barbells (or the suitable kind of barbells, at least) but may still want to enhance their Olympic lifting competence and gain the advantages. If this applies to you, have a look at these drills that I thoroughly enjoy employing in my programming for customers and athletes alike when equipment choices are restricted. Dumbbells or kettlebells will pair wonderfully with any of these motions.
- Kettlebell/dumbbell high pull
- Kettlebell/dumbbell one arm overhead squat
- Double dumbbell/kettlebell overhead squat
- Kettlebell/dumbbell one-arm power snatch
- Kettlebell/dumbbell one-arm snatch
- Kettlebell/dumbbell high pull
- Kettlebell/dumbbell front squat
- Kettlebell/dumbbell one arm power clean
- Kettlebell/dumbbell one arm clean
- Double dumbbell/kettlebell power clean
- Double dumbbell/kettlebell clean
- Single kettlebell/dumbbell push press
- Double kettlebell/dumbbell push press
- Single kettlebell/dumbbell power jerk
- Double kettlebell/dumbbell power jerk
- Single kettlebell/dumbbell split jerk
- Double kettlebell/dumbbell split jerk
Coach’s Insight: Do not hesitate to experiment with these gear alternatives together with movement variations. Work from different hang positions, complexes, rhythms, and pauses to improve technique, power, and strength development!
Olympic Weightlifting Sample Starter Workout Regimen
You’ve learned what the Olympic lifts are, why you should integrate them into your training program, taken a look at technique progressions, and even know a few substitutes if the gear or room isn’t accessible at your local fitness center. Now, let’s put it into practice. I have created two training days to facilitate advancement in your training.
Ensure a thorough warmup concentrating on mobility, activation, and bar work!
Day 1 – Snatch Emphasis
A1. Overhead squat (3 sets, 5 reps)
B1. Snatch (4 sets, 2 reps) (*You can also swap for another snatch variation)
C1. Snatch pull (3 sets, 4 reps)
D1. Back squat (3 sets, 5 reps)
E1. Pullups (3 sets, 8-12 reps)
E2. Weighted forearm plank (3 sets, :30 sec. each side)
Day 2 – Clean & Jerk Emphasis
A1. Clean + Jerk (4 sets, 2+2) (or clean & jerk variation)
B1. Push Press (3 sets, 5 reps)
C1. Clean Pull (3 sets, 3 reps)
D1. Front Squat (5 sets, 3 reps)
E1. RDL (3 sets, 6 reps)
E2. Farmer’s Carry (3 sets, 30 yards)