A Quick Guide to Getting Started With Olympic Lifts

New to training and wondering what the heck is the difference between powerlifting and Olympic lifting? Well, this article should help. Many people are not familiar with the technique, the risks, and the overall rewards of implementing these exercises into a routine. For clients who are looking to build muscle, strength, and tone up, this could be a game changer and an exciting exercise to progress in.

What are Olympic lifts?

Olympic lifts are a form of resistance training done through explosive and powerful movements with a barbell and weight plates. They are mentally challenging and physically challenging, requiring the lifter to only complete a small amount of reps. Olympic lifts are very much different from lifts in powerlifting.

The two main Olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk. Many variations and modifications of these movements exist, but they all work toward perfecting the snatch and the clean and jerk. These are Olympic level lifts for a reason and it will require your clients an ample amount of time and effort to work their way to mastering these lifts.

Powerlifting lifts make for the basis of the movements in Olympic lifting. Powerlifting exercises consist of deadlifts, squats, and bench presses.

***Note: Both lifts require the person to grip the barbell with their palms facing down.

The Snatch

This exercise requires the lifter to start with the bar on the ground and in a squatted position. Hands are placed in a wide grip on the barbell.

The Snatch Starting Position - Olympic Lifts

From there, the lifter will force upward with their glutes and lower back. While straightening out their back as they come up. Through that movement, the lifter will bring the barbell up to their hips. Using their hips to thrust the bar forward and up to the overhead position behind the head and above the shoulders. The lifter must begin to squat using the glutes and the lower back for stability as the weight is shifted overhead. Continue to complete a full squat before standing upright with the bar overhead.

The Clean and Jerk

The Clean and Jerk Starting Position - Olympic Lifts

This lift begins in the same position as the snatch, except you place the hands just outside of either knee on the barbell. As the lifter thrusts upward, they will complete the same motion of thrusting with the hips to force the barbell forward and up. For the clean and jerk, however, the bar will not reach the overhead position just yet.

Into the Jerk:

Instead, it will roll off the fingertips into the chest and shoulders, right at the base of the neck, as the lifter is squatting into the ‘catch’ of the barbell. From there, the lifter will use their legs and a small jump to force the bar upward over their head. Once the bar is over the head, the hip hinge position is vital to maintaining support in the lower back and reducing the arch of the back.

Athletes are able to lift about 20% more with their clean and jerk than their snatch.

What are the benefits of Olympic lifts?

Olympic lifts increase definition in your muscles, strength, mobility, and endurance. Any weightlifting overall is positively taxing on the cardiovascular system, but the intensity of these particular lifts increases the effect. Now, we break down how Olympic lifts improves each of these qualities.

According to the International Weightlifting Federation, “Olympic lifters have some of the highest vertical leaps of all athletes.” Were you as surprised as I was to read that? The stereotype surrounding the people who strength train is that they are too bulky to leave the ground very well or even move all that quickly. However, strength training, when done right, can only improve your mobility and speed.

Muscle Definition

Olympic lifting does not get you bulky and ripped all at once. This happens only when paired with other workout routines and proper diet. However, underneath your skin your muscles will become more defined in certain ways.

Muscular hypertrophy is the technical term used to reference the growth and building of muscle. This happens through microscopic tears in the muscles as a result of a workout.

Strength

The design of these lifts allows for the person to maximally use their explosive power and almost every muscular group. The central nervous system bears much of the effect of the lift because of the concentric contractions of the muscles. When muscles act concentrically, they shorten and exert a force to elicit the movement and the heavier the object that is being moved, the more strength is generated.

Not to mention the strength the smaller ligaments and tendons acquire over time. Therefore, reducing the risk of injury in just about any other form of movement or exercise.

Mobility

In order to safely complete these exercises, you have to have ample mobility, so workout up to the full lifts can prove a beneficial challenge for a client in many respects. Mobility being one of the most important developments throughout the process of gaining strength and skill through Olympic Lifts and the modified versions.

Endurance

The explosive power it takes to complete these lifts and the effect it has on the cardiovascular system makes these exercises ideal for improving endurance. Heavy lifting reduces the time it takes to become exhausted.

Cardiovascular Health

Studies have shown that weight training can lower the resting heart rate and lower blood pressure. A low resting heart rate is a sign of being physically fit and reduces the chances of chronic heart disease tremendously.

How to Start Training With Olympic Lifts

So now that we have covered the basics of the benefits of these lifts, let’s get into how to get started.

Before you throw one of your newer clients who has little to no experience with Olympic lifts, then consider working them up to Olympic lifts with other exercises involving the hip hinge and squats. Balance is also another important skill that your clients must possess to ensure effective and safe practice of both Olympic lifts. These lifts require the client to lift the bar over their head, which can be extremely dangerous without the proper training beforehand.

Begin with exercises that build on the foundations of the Olympic lifts. Types of these exercises are plyometrics, yoga, aerobics, strength training on a smaller scale, and agility exercises.

Adjust the frequency of those forms of exercise as your client progresses and begin to implement the basic movements for the lifts. Practicing the full lifts with the barbell first will help your client to perfect the technique before adding weight and putting the whole lift all together.

Take this article as your starting point for understanding Olympic lifts and how they can benefit you and your personal training clients!

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