We’ve all seen the impressive feats of strength performed by Olympic athletes. Picking up huge amounts of weight and throwing it above their head. Screaming, then slamming it back onto the floor. What’s not to love?Although this art was lost for a few years, and only found in specialist gyms, with the monster that is Crossfit, olympic lifts have been thrust into the eye of fitness enthusiasts.
While crossfit isn’t generally the place that you would go to if you wanted to get your technique flawless, it must be applauded for making cleans and snatches more mainstream than they once were. So what is Olympic Weightlifting? Why should you do it? And how can you get it into your program?
What is it?
Quite simply, the competition consists of two movements. The clean and jerk, and the snatch. What are these movements?
Clean and Jerk – The bar moves from the floor to a racked position on the front of your torso. You catch the weight in a deep squat position. Once you have stood up with the weight still in place, you throw the bar into the air and lock your elbows out. Essentially you “jerk” the weight up. Check out a video of a great looking clean and jerk here.
The Snatch – This is the more difficult movement of the two. The bar moves from the floor to over your head in one smooth motion. This movement is really poetry in motion, check out a slow motion video of it here.
Why do it?
If you aren’t looking to compete in any competitions, you might be inclined to ask why you should bother learning these movements at all. If you are a standard gym goer, or you are training for another type of competition, Olympic lifts can help you immensely. Let’s look at a few situations, and how they can help.
Perhaps you are a normal 4 day split gym rat, looking to get that beach body and stay fit. Nothing wrong with that at all. However, adding some olympic lifting into your routine can help in a number of ways. It can spice up your gym time. It can easily get boring spending all your time at machines in the gym. Learning a new set of lifts will not only stimulate some new muscle growth, it may also be just what you need to fall in love with the iron again.
You will look better. Most guys in the gym could do with a little extra leg training, and a thicker set of traps. Instead of slugging away at the leg press and doing endless amounts of shrugs take a look at the Olympians. These guys are not stuck to machines all day, and their legs and traps are enormous. Your aesthetics will only improve with the addition of these movements.
You will bring up some weaknesses. As is the case with many trainees in the gym, you may be lacking sufficient strength in your posterior chain. Glute and hamstring training isn’t done nearly enough by the regular gym rat. The stimulation that your hamstring and glutes will get through the olympic lifts will be intense. This will have a huge crossover to your other lifts such as squats and especially deadlifts. Your shoulder press will increase too.
Strongman or Powerlifter
If you are a powerlifter, and you have your sights on competing then there is a limited benefit from doing full olympic lifts. If you are a less advanced trainee, then there is alot you can learn from the olympic lifts, and training them together with your regular powerlifting routine can work well. Check out this site for an example template where you can combine the two.
However, it is important to note that when you reach advanced levels, perhaps only partial olympic movements will be beneficial. Some of these partial movements can help you develop extra power in your arsenal. If however you are a powerlifter, stick to specialized powerlfting training.
What about strongmen? Well, these monsters are called upon to be fully rounded in their strength capabilities. If this is your situation then throwing in some clean and jerks, and some snatches to your routine will compliment the rest of the training nicely.
How to do it?
So at this point you are thoroughly convinced that doing some olympic lifting is something you are hoping to try. What are the first steps, and is there a routine you can follow? Well firstly is will be a great idea to hire a coach who can teach you the basics of the lifts. Obviously checking online can be a great start, but there will be unique things in your lifts that will need to be addressed. A coach will be able to cut your learning curve dramatically, and recommend assistance work to bring up weak points, or aid you with flexibility issues.
Get some lifting shoes. It might be a minor point, but the small heel on a lifting shoe can help you get in to those very deep squat positions. It takes time to develop the adequate flexibility to get so low into these movements, and these shoes will give you a hand in the right direction.
So what about a program?
There is a fantastic simple program that can be found on catalyst athletics, it looks as follows:
• Snatch Pull
• Front Squat
• Push Press
• Overhead Squat
• Clean & Jerk
• Clean Pull
• Back Squat
The training is very stripped back and simple. It will help you ingrain the motor patterns needed to successfully pull off these lifts.
What about for the rest of us?
How about if you are just looking to add some Olympic lifting into your existing routine? Well depending on your split it could happen a number of ways. Perhaps you should start with a separate day where you train the movements and get used to performing them with perfect technique.
Then once your technique has improved, you can start adding some weight. These movements can be used on a hip dominated day to assist with your posterior chain development. Perhaps you can use cleans on a back day to help your traps get some real heavy stimulation. Jerks can be perfect for a shoulder routine, to get more weight through the shoulders, stimulating growth. And of course, we can all do more front squats during leg day.
As we can see, there are many ways whereby you can add these incredible lifts into your routines regularly. Whether you are looking to bring up some strength or just look sexier naked, Olympic lifts have something for you.