What is Olympic weightlifting and why should you try it?
The simple version is that Olympic lifting is a contested sport where athletes have 3 attempts at a lift, first the snatch then the clean and jerk.
The athletes best weight from each lift are then combined into a total, and the athlete with the highest total wins.
Don’t be put off by the weights being used in the videos above, they are simply there to show you the movements being performed well, and also in slow motion, where you can more easily see what’s going on. Olympic lifting is useful for anyone, no matter gender, age or size.
In competition as its own sport, lifters are divided by these characteristics in to categories. Weight classes for women start at sub 48kg and jump by around 5-6kg up to the 90kg+ open division. For men they start at under 56 and climb to the 105kg+ open division. Masters weightlifting has seen massive growth over the last 5-6 years and more and more competitions are offering it.
However, you don’t have to compete in it to train it and reap the benefits.
What are its benefits?
In short, improved coordination, strength, power, speed, agility, accuracy, balance and flexibility. Not bad for 2 main lifts.
The lifts teach athletes to apply large amounts of force as quickly as possible, while not necessarily needing large amounts of muscle to do it. This is due to being able to activate more of the available muscle fibres than other athletes who have not trained in this way. This means that you can see improvements in strength and power without necessarily increases in size, which is massively useful for both athletes and everyday people.
The rapid triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip which is the main driver of the lifts carries over to sprinting and jumping (1,2) and is why many rugby players and short distance runners use the lifts in their training.
The quick change of direction and pull under the bar teaches agility. This is massively important for anyone who plays game based sports such as football and tennis, where just being quick and powerful isn’t enough, its your ability to quickly react and change direction that counts.
The coordination that the lifts demand and facilitate is also massively useful. Proficient lifters become aware of each joint and muscle, and how small changes in position at one point will affect the whole system. Again, this is massively useful for anyone playing sport, as coordination and body awareness are key sporting skills.
Resistance training also has carryover for those not looking to compete but simply lead a long and healthy life. Poor balance, bone (3) and muscle strength and inflexibility are the main factors we see in ageing. These are the reasons that when your 12 year old child falls on the floor they get back up with minor scrapes, but your 70 year old grandad might break his hip. Weight training holds off the ageing process like nothing else.
Who’s it for?
As stated above, anyone. However, you will need to be patient, humble and focussed. The lifts take time to develop the right technique, and technique comes before weight. The payoff is always worth it though.
I also know many people will want to use it to improve their performance in our crossfit classes. This is a great idea, as taking the time to focus in on these lifts will lead to long term improvements in crossfit. Rapid hip extension is what drives the kip in your gymnastics movements, and learning good timing of this will have some carry over. Crossfit puts a very large emphasis on barbell movements, and becoming technically proficient at them will pave the way for not only barbell, but also WOD PR’s.
To begin your olympic weightlifting journey book into our Olympic weightlifting classes!
Arabatzi, F, Kellis, E, and Saez-Saez de Villarreal, E. Vertical jump biomechanics after plyometric, weight lifting, and combined (weight lifting + plyometric) training. J Strength Cond Res 24(9): 2440–2448, 2010 [PubMed]
Chaouachi, A, Hammami, R, Kaabi, S, Chamari, K, Drinkwater, EJ, and Behm, DG. Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training with children provides similar or greater performance improvements than traditional resistance training. J Strength Cond Res 28(6): 1483–1496, 2014. [PubMed]
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