What is Olympic Weightlifting?

Olympic weightlifting includes the clean and jerk, and the snatch. Clean and Jerk? This is supposed to be a health and fitness site, so why are you talking about cleaning a carpet…car…err…house…scraggly

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 23: Chinese world champion Zhan Xugang sets a new world record in the snatch, lifting 162.5 kg in the 70kg class in Olympic weightlifting 23 July at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Zhan Xugang set three world records on his way to gold in the event, setting also 195kg in the jerk and a combined world record total of 357.5 kg. (Photo credit should read DIMITRI MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – JULY 23: Chinese world champion Zhan Xugang sets a new world record in the snatch, lifting 162.5 kg in the 70kg class in Olympic weightlifting 23 July at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. .

beard? and the jerking part?  A clean and jerk has nothing to do with good grooming or disinfecting anything…or whatever else you might imagine. It’s just a style of lifting. The movements are explosive compared to regular strength or bodybuilding movements. There are elements of the squat, deadlift, shoulder press and lunges, depending on how you do them. The speed and explosive power required to perform these exercises, is what separates it from regular strength and bodybuilding movements. Now you can perform the cleans separately (many variations) or include the jerk (press) to do the whole exercise. So, what are the benefits Olympic weight training compared to deadlifts and other less dynamic strength and weight lifting exercises? I though you’d never ask.

Improves athletic ability  It can help your vertical jump. Good news for short people with tall hoop dreams. Maybe short men can jump. According to research on high school kids, subjects that trained in Olympic lifting (power clean, snatch, clean pulls) were able to increase their vertical jump, more so, than subjects that did power-lifting [1].

Similar benefits were found in other research [2, 3, 4]. It does make sense, since Olympic training  has squatting, as a part of the exercise. The squat motion is very explosive, just like the movement required for a vertical jump. In a 2014 study of rugby players, comparisons were made between those that did back squats and those that performed the power cleans, in terms of sprint performance. It was found that whilst there was improvement in sprint times for both groups, the power clean group posted better sprint times [5]. There is more research out there that shows that Olympic lifting helps with vertical jump and improved sprinting time. I would imagine that it could also be valuable for martial artists/mma fighters due to the explosive power developed from the exercises.

Better Cardiovascular health Yes sir. Increased VO2 max, decreased resting blood pressure and lower resting heart rates are all benefits to be expected from Olympic style weight training [6]. Try doing a set of 5 clean and jerks or snatches, or just cleans and tell me how you feel after. I bet it works you harder than running on a treadmill.

All round strength improvement These lifts work every muscle in your body. Think about it, your’re squatting, deadlifting, performing an overhead press and possibly lunging, depending on the variation of the exercises. Everything gets a workout. So you can expect to see an overall improvement in strength. Plus since you’re doing multiple exercises in a single movement, you can definitely have a complete workout in a shorter space of time. In and out of the gym with no fuss. Ideal for people with busy schedules.

Improved coordination This goes without saying. Performing Olympic lifts require more coordination than regular weight training. This is due to need to have the upper and lower body working at the same time doing different movements in an explosive manner. Form of technique is extremely important to prevent injury. Training these lifts automatically trains your coordination and will have a carry over effect to other sports. The downside is that they are complex movements and if you don’t know what you’re doing or have a coach to teach you the movements, it’s pretty easy to screw up and injure yourself.

How to do Olympic Lifts

Let’s start with the snatch. I could put it in words, but I think a video illustrates the exercise much better. Besides, I know you prefer to watch a video, rather than read any more of my scribblings.

The video above shows the two variations of the clean and jerk movement. One with the leg split and the other without. You can definitely see the squat, elements of a deadlift and the shoulder press. Do you necessarily have to go for max weight? No. If you want to do repetitions, use a lighter weight, it depends on what you want out of the exercise. Okay, so now we move on to the next exercise, which is our snatch.

The snatch doesn’t have the rest period of the clean and jerk. The weight is immediately hoisted vertically. Both are very complex movements and require a lot of coordination. Now, many people break up the clean and jerk and perform variations on the clean part of it. I’ll show you a couple examples of that below.

You can see hang cleans, where he starts with the barbell hanging in his hands and regular cleans with the barbell on the floor. He also does them with and without the splits.

Summary Olympic lifts are a great addition to your workout regimen. They work every damn thing. Look at the videos again if you doubt me. They could potentially cut your gym time down significantly due to the multi- bodypart workout. So you don’t necessarily have to do isolation exercises wotking one or two body parts at a time. Perfect for people with a busy schedule. But. if you’re gonna do them, I cannot emphasize working your technique enough. Find someone who knows how to do these exercises and have them coach you if necessary. If not study the hell out of the videos and practice the movements in front of a mirror without weight, then jus the bar and finally light weights to make sure your form is perfect. It’s is easy to mess up, but with a little practice, you will get them.


Photo of Olympic lift used under a CC By 2.0 license

6 thoughts on “What is Olympic Weightlifting?

  1. It was very cool to learn about olympic weight lifting. I may have to consider this after learning that it can improve vertical jump height and coordination!

    Thanks for including the videos – what a great visual to help people get started! Have you done much olympic style weight lifting previously?

    It makes total sense that as all areas of a person’s health improve specific skill sets would be greater improved with specialized training such as this.

  2. Hey, What a great article.

    I always wanted to know the difference between the different types of lifting.

    Have you actually or are you doing this now?

    I think that lifting is a great way to become stronger, but it is also a great way to become healthier. Thanks again.

  3. I always wondered what goes into the heavy lifting at the Olympics since I wanted to try it out in the gym as well. After reading your post I have a complete idea of how things work when someone is lifting such heavy weights and how to go about things. It is a really informative post and one of the best I could find online so I thought of leaving a comment.
    Thanks 🙂

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