• Alex Parry

How to Start Olympic Weightlifting: The Complete Guide

Olympic weightlifting is fantastic sport, and a great way to develop insane strength and power. It's also tricky as hell to learn or even know where to start. I've written this complete guide on how to start olympic weightlifting to help you get the best possible start.

We're going to cover...

What is Olympic Weightlifting

3 Biggest Obstacles to Successfully Starting Weightlifting

Solutions to Those Obstacles (With specific drills & exercises)

A Recommended Beginner’s Weightlifting Programme

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Started With Weightlifting

This article is also available in video format if you prefer...

What Do We Mean By Olympic Weightlifting?

This guide is specifically talking about how to start the sport of weightlifting, which consists of the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk.

So we're not talking about starting general strength training. For that, check out my article on how to get stronger as a beginner.

Are You a Reliable Source of Weightlifting Info?

I'm a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting (I coach other coaches), and I've coached hundreds of weightlifters independently.

I've also worked for 7+ years as a strength & conditioning coach for 2 major UK universities, 3 national talent pathways and a selection of national and international level athletes.

Biggest Obstacles to Successfully Starting Weightlifting

Poor Weightlifting Technique: You’re new to the sport, so your technique sucks, it can be frustrating, and makes a lot of people quit too early.

Poor Weightlifting Mobility: Many people can’t achieve a deep overhead squat position, or a comfortable rack position for the clean. This makes it next to impossible to perform the full versions of the olympic lifts as seen in competition.

Lacking Positional Strength for Weightlifting: The snatch, clean & jerk involve unique positions where most people haven’t yet developed strength. I’ve seen guys who deadlift 250+kg shaking after holding a 50kg bar at their knee for 5 seconds in a snatch grip.

Now let's talk solutions...

Essentials for Starting Olympic Weightlifting

To overcome the obstacles of poor technique, poor mobility and a lack of positional strength, you need to do 3 things

1) Manage your expectations and reframe the weightlifting learning process

2) Use simple exercises to improve your weightlifting-specific mobility (I’ll go into these in a couple of minutes time)

3) Build strength in key positions for weightlifting

Managing Expectations when getting started with olympic weightlifting

Many people start Olympic weightlifting with the expectation of quick progress. They assume that because the snatch and clean & jerk are performed in a gym, that they’re just a fancy looking deadlift plus squat combination.

In reality, learning olympic weightlifting is more like learning gymnastics, or jiu-jitsu, it’s a skill that you need to master over many weeks, months and years.

How to Improve Mobility for Weightlifting

General static stretching and dynamic mobility routines are okay, and can provide a good base of general movement and flexibility to build from.

But the most time-efficient and effective way is with targeted weightlifting-specific mobility exercises. The two that I most frequently recommend are…

1) Tempo Overhead Squats

"If you want to get better at overhead squats, then you need to do more overhead squats."

And maybe you're sat there thinking "well if I can't do overhead squats how can I possibly use them to improve my overhead squats?"

To which my answer is always that you CAN do some version of an overhead squat, you just need to adjust depth and load.

Grab a stick or light technique bar and start practising. Go slowly down as far as you can whilst staying upright and balanced, when you can’t go any further, pause for a few seconds, then stand back up.

For your first session, this might only be halfway down, that's fine. Get the reps in, then come back and try again next time. Each session you'll get a bit lower until BOOM, you've got a full depth ass to grass overhead squat.

2) Front Squats with a FULL GRIP on bar.

If you want to get better at front squats and Cleans, then you need to do them. A big trick is to set up by dipping under the bar, setting your elbows and then pushing up into the bar with your elbows already in position. Here's a video demo with the key drill at the 4-minute mark...

From there, slowly go down as far as you can with an upright posture. Pause for a few seconds, then stand back up.

And yes, sometimes when you're starting olympic lifting your elbows and wrists might be a little uncomfortable for the first few weeks. That's part of the process, and it will go away after a few weeks of consistent practice.

Exercises to Build Strength in Key Positions for Weightlifting

Weightlifting positions can be awkward, and you won’t be strong in them. You need more time in them to get comfortable and build that specific positional strength. Here's my top 4 list of exercises to get you started...

  • Tempo Overhead Squat

  • Tempo Front Squat

Yep, the best mobility exercises are also some of the best positional strength builders, so you’ve got a great crossover between mobility and strength. Other good exercises I have my lifters perform are...

  • Tempo Snatch Deadlifts or Pulls

  • Tempo Clean Deadlift or Pulls

In these variations you might lift the weight as normal then take anything from 3-5 seconds to return to the floor, making sure to hit every key weightlifting position on the way down. Or you can raise yourself off the floor and maintain tension throughout the whole set. These are incredibly tough even with light weights. Give them a try.

Pro Tip: Start light and record yourself side-on to check your form.

Olympic Weightlifting Program for Beginners

This is a great 3 day per week beginner weightlifting programme. Each session should start with a 5-10 minute general dynamic warm-up.

​Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Warm up with Tempo Overhead Squats

Warm up with Tempo Overhead Squats