What are the Olympic Lifts?

clean and jerk

Most of you coming here know exactly what the Olympic lifts are. If you fall into this category, you can quickly skim this post, stopping to read when you see something new.

But many of my visitors are beginners and fairly new to strength and conditioning, so for you, read this post in full so you have a full understanding of what the Olympic lifts are and how to use them safely and effectively.

First off – Olympic weightlifting is an Olympic sport where competitors do their best to lift as much weight in 2 exercises: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.

Here’s a picture showing different phases of the Snatch:

The Snatch - one of the Olympic Lifts

The Snatch - one of the Olympic lifts

And here’s a video showing Liao Hui, a 69 kg (151 lbs) Olympic weightlifter setting a new record in the Clean and Jerk of 198 kg (429 lbs):

Olympic Weightlifting is a Weight-Class Sport

Individuals compete against others within the same weight class – much like MMA or boxing.

So it’s not just about being the biggest and most powerful dude on the planet – it’s about being as powerful as you can be for your size.

If you want to compete in the sport, you can compete against guys your own size.

That’s good news for anybody who doesn’t care about being a monster like those WWE wrestlers you see on TV and just want to compete and get stronger and more powerful, not necessarily bigger.

The Olympic Lifts are a Powerful Tool for Pro Athletes

Although the sport itself is not very big around the world when compared to big-league sports like Baseball or Football (Soccer), the Olympic lifts themselves are performed by athletes from many different sports to improve strength, speed, explosive power and even flexibility.

For an example of how the Olympic lifts can train all of these qualities, all you’ve got to do is watch this video of the Chinese weightlifting national games, where the 69 kg (151 lbs) men are performing lifts with over 400 lbs!

The fact is that learning how to perform the lifts correctly, then using them in a properly designed strength and conditioning program yields big dividends and can helps you build more power and get faster than not using them.

This was proven in a study by Hoffman et al entitled, “Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players” published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2004, Feb(1):129-35).

The researchers found that the program that included the Olympic lifts resulted in athletes who could run faster and jump higher than the program based on poweflifting (Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press).

The athletes trained the same amount of time each week, but using the Olympic lifts provided more bang for their training buck.

So if you’re about using the most effective and efficient means possible for getting stronger, faster and more powerful, look no further than the Olympic lifts.

How to Safely Perform the Olympic Lifts

The thing is, if you want to use the Olympic lifts in your strength and conditioning routine, you definitely want to be performing them correctly.

It’s even more important that you learn and use good form because if you do the lifts wrong, there’s a greater risk of hurting yourself compared to less explosive exercises like Squats and Deadlifts.

Bad form equals injury with the Olympic Lifts

Don't lift more than you're ready for with the Olympic lifts!

In eastern european countries like Russia, where Olympic weightlifting is much more popular than in North America, the Olympic lifts are taught to kids at a very young age.

However, they use broomsticks to teach them proper form before ever letting them lift a barbell of any significant weight.

This is the same approach you should take to learning the lifts properly – start with a broomstick or long dowel and practice technique of various components of the lifts before ever starting with a barbell and weight.

By doing so, you can also address any flexibility/mobility issues you have that may prevent proper form.

Learning the Olympic Lifts – Your Options

There are a few different ways that you can learn the Olympic lifts and you can choose the one that best fits your goals and budget:

  • BEST: Get personal training sessions by someone qualified to teach you the lifts properly; best for direct feedback and personal attention ($50 per session and up, you’ll need at least a few sessions)
  • GOOD: Attend a group workshop; if there are a lot of people in the workshop, you don’t get much personal attention  ($80 and up)
  • GOOD: Invest in a book/video resource to learn the lifts at home; even if you do get coaching, it’s always good to have a resource on hand that you can refer back to over and over (anywhere between $30 and $70, depending on what the package includes)
  • WORST: Watch videos on YouTube to try and learn the form; good for getting inspired by guys putting up big numbers, but not so good for learning technique (free)

Now that you know how powerful the Olympic lifts are, it’s time to start using them.

Pick one of the options above to get started and you’ll be well on your way to harnessing the power of the Olympic lifts for greater strength, speed, power and flexibility.

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If you’ve got any questions about the Olympic lifts, let me know below.

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