What is Olympic Lifting?
Ever been to a gym and seen someone who doesn't necessarily look that strong throw a bunch of weight over their head? Chances are you've seen olympic lifting.
Olympic lifting, or oly lifting in a lot of crossfit circles, refers to the sport of weightlifting. A sport in which people perform two movements, the snatch and the clean & jerk, to move a heavy barbell from the floor to overhead. In this article, we'll be looking at what those two movements involve, the rules of competitive weightlifting, the main benefits of weightlifting, plus some key considerations when looking to incorporate the weightlifting movements into your own training.
What Are the Olympic Lifts in Weightlifting?
In weightlifting, you've got two lifts...
The Snatch: (Video Clip From All Things Gym)
Key points to note are that the lifter uses a wide grip, makes contact with the bar at his hips, and propels the bar overhead in one continuous movement.
The Clean & Jerk (Video from Weightlifting House)
Key points to note are that the lifter uses a regular, shoulder-width grip, makes contact with the bar on his upper thighs, and moves the bar from the floor to shoulders (the clean) then from shoulders to overhead (the jerk)
What Equipment Do You Need for Weightlifting?
As you can see in the videos above, you'll need access to a weightlifting barbell, as well as bumper plates. These are designed to be safely dropped without damage. You'll also need access to a weightlifting platform, which is designed to spread the load of the falling barbell, preventing damage to the floor.
You might also want to consider buying some chalk for better grip, as well as some thumb tape to protect your thumbs against blisters and calluses.
What are the Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting
Look, as a coach and lifter myself I know I'm hella biased, but there are tonnes of benefits to weightlifting. I actually wrote a full article detailing 11 of the biggest benefits right here, including things like strength, fat loss, sleep, mental health etc - all based on solid research. Physically, though, the major benefits are... Power and Explosiveness: If you're looking to improve your lower body power and explosiveness, improving things like sprints and jumps, then the weightlifting movements are a great choice. Think of it as a way to combine the benefits of quick movements like squat jumps with the benefits of weighted elements like squats.
Athleticism: Weightlifting builds great body awareness, including the ability to quickly extend at the hips and knees, only to then reverse direction and quickly flex at those same joints. Think sprint starts and changes of direction. Mobility: To perform a snatch you have to be able to hit a bottom position overhead squat with weight overhead. That requires impressive levels of ankle, hip, thoracic spine and shoulder mobility.
Plus, I think another major benefit is the enjoyment and love of the sport itself. If you're someone who likes working hard to master a skill, or someone that loves being in the gym and wants a way to put their skill and strength to the test, then weightlifting could be a great fit for you.
Olympic Weightlifting Rules and Basic Format
Plenty of people train the weightlifting movements simply for enjoyment, or for the benefits we just mentioned. But for those that want to compete, there's a basic format and a few rules they have to follow.
Each lifter is given 6 attempts in total, 3 attempts at the snatch, and 3 attempts at the clean and jerk. The goal for each lifter is to lift the most amount of weight possible, with medals being awarded for the heaviest snatch, heaviest clean & jerk, and heaviest total (snatch + clean & jerk added together) The competition runs using a 'raising bar,' so all competitors lift on the same barbell, and the weight only ever increases throughout the competition. This makes selecting your weights carefully an important part of the process.
Once called to the platform, the lifter will have 1 minute to initiate their lift.
The lifter must perform the lift within certain technical parameters, for example, when catching the barbell overhead, their arms cannot bend and re-straighten, this would be a 'press-out' and wouldn't count. (Full guidance can be found here) Similarly, when lowering the barbell, the lifter must wait for the judges to give the down signal before lowering the bar.
Is Olympic Weightlifting Good For Building Muscle?
No, but also yes. I know that sounds ambiguous but hear me out. Practically, weightlifting isn't great for building muscle, the reps are too low, the time under tension is too low and since you drop the bar there's no eccentric component. Plus, there's just no sensible way to get a good 'pump' doing cleans. With that said, the sheer volume of heavy pulls involved will almost certainly build you some impressive spinal erectors and traps. Plus the amount of overhead stabilising you'll do will build some decent shoulders and upper back muscles. So I'd say if you're wanting to get as big as possible and step on stage as a bodybuilder, then no, the olympics lifts wouldn't be a good choice. But if you're looking for a more athletic kind of physique, the olympic lifts can make a decent addition to your programme, alongside things like press-ups, flyes, rows etc to hit the muscles that the olympic lifts don't. If you're interested, I've actually written a 12-week weightlifting plus bodybuilding programme that you can purchase here.
Key Considerations When Incorporating Olympic Lifts Your Training Routine
Alright, so you're keen to give the weightlifting movements a try, what are some key things you need to know...
1) Weightlifting is a Skill
That means it takes regular practice, ideally 2-3 times per week to really get those movements dialled in. Plus, don't be afraid to break the movements down into smaller chunks to really focus on elements you're struggling with.
2) Start Light
You'll be able to add weight over time, but start light and focus and developing good technique. If you can get your technique right, you'll be able to shift way more weight down the road.
3) Sets and Reps
Keep your reps low and your sets high. The goal is to get in plenty of quality practice without too much fatigue. So instead of 3 sets of 10 reps, you might do 8 sets of 3 reps.
First up, you might want to try reading my article on 'How to Learn the Snatch,' it's a great place to start and provides plenty of technique drills in a step by step sequence.
Next, if you're interested in coaching tips, programmes and workouts, feel free to join my mailing list (top of the page) And if you're looking for some more 1:1 support to learn the olympic lifts, you can check out my coaching pages on the website or drop me a quick message. . 'Til Next Time Alex
MSc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator