Have you ever seen in the Olympics, or maybe a random picture somewhere of heavy built men lifting who knows how much above their head? Maybe in a squat with the weight overhead, or even standing with the weight overhead? Maybe this picture will jog your memory:
Yep, that’s me! About 38 weeks pregnant doing the squat snatch. I accidentally PR’d at 95lbs while pregnant, but of course I’m lifting light weight in order to get a good picture. Well, this is Olympic style weightlifting. If you are not familiar with what a PR is, we discussed in this article what a PR means in weightlifting and how it can help you set your goals.
What is Olympic Style Weightlifting?
Olympic style weightlifting is a functional multi joint exercise involving technique and skill. It’s also a strength technique used to enhance sports performance (Sutton, NASM).
Types of Olympic Lifts
There are two types of Olympic lifts: the snatch (like in the photo above), and the clean and jerk.
The snatch is an Olympic lift involving picking up a barbell and bringing it overhead in one movement.
A clean and jerk is picking up a barbell over your head in two movements. These two lifts can be used as a sport, for fun or competitions; or can be used for helping with outside tasks such as lifting a heavy object above your head (either using 2 movements or 1 as needed). A hang clean is also one of the best alternatives the upright row if you are looking for a different exercise to add to your routine.
Both exercises involve the use of a barbell so if you haven't gotten one or are still planning to purchase, make sure to get a barbell that will offer you the best value for your money. Check out this guide on the best affordable olympic barbells for your home gym to help you get started.
There are also helpful exercises that are kind of like Olympic lifts that will help you practice technique to assist you in Olympic style weightlifting. Olympic lifting is becoming a popular sport and there aren’t many articles around to help athletes who want to be involved in this technical sport.
Let’s discuss the different types of Olympic style lifts and how to execute them.
Picking a heavy object off the ground and bringing it to overhead in a squat position. This lift is more complicated than the clean and jerk and requires lots of time and practice.
Start with the bar on the ground (for first timers, use a 4-5 foot PVC pipe). The bar should be positioned above your feet halfway between your ankle and the tip of your toes.
Olympic Weightlifting Hook Grip:
Use an Olympic weightlifting hook grip. Do this by grabbing the bar in a wide hook grip position. Do this by extending your arms and placing your hands about 2-3 feet apart on the bar. A hook grip is placing your thumb under the bar, and your fingers over the bar gripping the bar and your thumb. This grip allows for a more secure and safe hold of the bar as shown below.
Squat down keeping your head and back in neutral spine, feet a little less than shoulder width apart and slightly pointed out. Pinch your scapula (shoulder blades) together like you're holding a pencil.
Once in first position, bringing the bar up in a straight line, you’re going to thrust your hips toward the bar, extending your knees. All the power in this movement comes from your hips. You shouldn’t be using your arms to lift the bar.
You’ll come up onto your toes, and while shrugging your shoulders, once the bar is a little above your hips, elbows slightly flexed, you’ll carry the bar overhead as you’re dropping under the bar in a squat. This is known as triple extension.
Simply put, triple extension is the term used to describe the action of extending the arm, legs and torso simultaneously. This is a key component of many lifts, including the deadlift, squat and bench press. When performed properly, this exercise can help to improve your Strength-to-weight ratio and Olympic weightlifting performance.
Once you drop under the bar, you’ll drop from toes to full foot on the ground, widening your stance. Your feet will now be a little wider than shoulder width apart and slightly pointed out. This is known as triple extension.
With the bar overhead in a squat, your head and back are in neutral spine, you’re looking straight ahead, chest out, knees are out, feet and toes are out wider than shoulder width, elbows locked, and you're pinching your shoulder blades back.
You are usually in a parallel to deep squat (past parallel).
Once you’re stable, stand up and stay stable for a second or two, then drop the weight.
Safely Drop the Weight
It’s important to learn how to safely drop the weight to prevent it from falling on you or others when the weight is too heavy, or after executing the full movement; and to prevent the weight from bouncing and rolling out of your control.
When you can’t get it overhead
Just drop the weight. After letting go of the weight, bend down and keep your hands above the bar to keep it within your control so it doesn’t bounce away from you hitting other people or objects.
Weight overhead, but couldn’t quite catch it
If the weight was heavy enough for you to get it overhead, but too heavy to catch it, drop the weight behind or in front of you and run the opposite way. This skill also works for standing up from a squat position, but not stable enough to hold it.
Caught in a squat, but can’t stand up
Easy! Just drop the weight in front of you. Make sure you keep your hands lightly attached so you can control it from getting away.
The Clean & Jerk
Picking the weight or object off the ground into an overhead position in two steps. Most can usually lift more weight than the snatch. Some of the techniques are the same as in the snatch.
Start with the bar on the ground with your hands shoulder width apart in hook grip position. The hook grip position is described above in the snatch section. The bar should be above your feet halfway between the tip of your toes and your ankle.
Your feet are shoulder width apart and slightly pointed out.
You’re in a parallel to a little higher than parallel squat position with your head and back in neutral spine, shoulders back, and shoulder blades pinched.
You will then continue with the triple extension technique as described above. Except once you reach the top point in triple extension, you’ll drop under the weight in a front rack squat position. This first movement of getting the bar overhead is called the clean. The second movement is the jerk.
At this point, you are in a parallel to a deep squat (past parallel) position.
Your feet are shoulder width apart and slightly pointed out, knees are out, head and back in neutral spine, shoulders back and shoulder blades pinched.
You’re faced straight ahead with your chest up like you’re iron man shooting explosives out of your chest.
The bar should be resting on your deltoids and on your fingers (you’re no longer in hook grip).
You’ll feel like you’re choking at this point, but once you get the hang of this lift, your shoulder mobility will increase and you will no longer feel like the bar is lodging into your throat.
Your elbows should be up and parallel to the floor. Many peoples’ backs start to round when they try to lift their elbows up, if this is the case, make sure you’re working to improve your shoulder mobility.
Once you’re stable for a second or two, stand up. Make sure you’re using your quads and hamstrings to stand, and you can press your elbows up as you’re standing to prevent rounding your back as you come up.
This is the second step of the clean and jerk. In this movement you are moving from the front rack position, after completing the squat clean, and powering the weight to overhead. This pause between the clean and the jerk allows you to readjust your grip and reset your mind to power through and get that bar overhead.
You can now lower your elbows slightly, readjust your grip (you’re now in neutral grip) and reset your mind to positive energy and get that weight above your head.
Bend your knees slightly and as you lift the weight overhead, you’ll jump into a high lunge. This is called a split jerk. You don’t want to jump vertically into the lunge, but rather from a standing stance and breaking that stance into a lunge position like the picture below.
Once the bar is overhead, you should be faced forward and your shoulders are back again, pinching your shoulder blades, hips are directly under your shoulders, knees are out and you are in a high lunge.
Your head is slightly forward so you’re not bringing the bar too far forward causing your back to round and therefore straining it.
In a high lunge, your feet are about a foot width apart, and your stride length should be about a couple feet apart. Your knees are slightly bent. If your feet aren’t lengthened enough, you could be unstable and drop the weight.
If your stride length is too long, you could also be unstable, dropping the weight and injuring your legs potentially going into the splits of some degree.
Once you’re stable for a couple seconds, you’re going to bring your front foot back first, and then your back foot until you are in a neutral standing position, stable for a couple seconds.
You may then drop the weight in front of you, controlling it after dropping it.
Well done! You now know what Olympic style weightlifting is and you have now gone through the Olympic style lifts. As mentioned in the first few paragraphs, there are assisted exercises you can do to help improve your Olympic weightlifting.
For the snatch, this includes: overhead squat, snatch balance (drop snatch), snatch pulls, power snatch, and snatch grip deadlift.
For the clean and jerk, these include: front squat, clean pulls, clean grip deadlifts, push press, push jerks, hang cleans, and power cleans.
These lifts, outside of my enjoyment, have helped me lift a 100 lb carpet roll with my husband, from the ground to the top shelf of a storage rack. Olympic style lifting can really be beneficial outside of just sports performance.
Lots of technique and skill combine with Olympic style weightlifting, but once you get the technique down, the weight starts to increase, and you then get a power surge of wanting to continue improving in this sport!
Frequently Asked Questions
Benefits of Olympic-style Weightlifting
Olympic-style weightlifting results in improved muscle strength, endurance, coordination, and balance. Additionally, Olympic-style lifting helps to improve posture and reduce back pain.
It is one of the most demanding forms of training that you can do for your body. It requires high levels of intensity and focus, which results in all the benefits.
The best way to start doing Olympic-style weightlifting is by incorporating it into your current routine gradually.
Start with lighter sets and repetitions until you are comfortable with the exercises before progressing to heavier sets and more challenging reps. Remember to breathe properly throughout the set so that you achieve maximum effort without overtraining or injury.
Finally, be sure to maintain a healthy diet rich in protein so that your muscles have everything they need to grow stronger and faster!
Is Olympic Weightlifting bad for you?
No, Olympic weightlifting is not bad for you. The exercises are similar to the ones that people do in their everyday gym routine and they're specifically designed to strengthen your muscles.
In fact, a study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that regular strength training may be more effective than endurance exercise at preventing age-related frailty and sarcopenia (the thinning of the skin and loss of muscle mass).
The benefits don’t stop there either. Strength training has also been shown to improve joint health, posture, balance, cardiorespiratory fitness, bone density, psychological well-being...the list goes on! So if you're looking for something fun and challenging to add into your fitness routine - look no further than Olympic weightlifting!
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