Olympic Weightlifting has become very popular over the years, especially with other sports using it exercise to become better at their sport or incorporating it into their events like CrossFit.
Understanding where the sport came from and its history shows how long it has been
around and opens your eyes to the beauty of Weightlifting. Seeing the growth in the sport amongst young athletes and females has also been tremendous. Especially since its debut in the 2000 Olympics, where women finally got a chance to enter the biggest stage in sport.
Another important factor is understanding the movements in this sport, the competition lifts and
rules, and the exercises that make a big difference when training these lifts (the snatch and the
clean and jerk).
What Is Olympic Weightlifting?
Olympic Weightlifting is a sport where athletes perform two main lifts in competition with a barbell loaded with weight plates, namely the snatch and the clean & jerk.
The snatch is a very technical lift, and also the lift where your grip is pretty wide. You must pick the barbell up from the ground to the overhead position in one motion.
The clean & jerk consists of two movements and is also the lift which you can pick up a lot more weight than the snatch. The clean is a movement from the ground to the shoulders in one movement.
Then, the next portion includes the split jerk, where the bar will move from the shoulders to the overhead in one motion. You will either land in a split (high lunge) or a squat for those who prefer doing the squat jerk in competition.
Olympic weightlifting often gets confused for weight lifting, where people will think you are just lifting weights like bodybuilding in the gym. That is why saying you do Olympic weightlifting makes them aware that you are doing the sport you will find in the Olympics.
Weightlifting is also a very popular sport amongst viewers in the Olympics. The press was also one of the main lifts back in the day regarding the competition lifts. Still, the press was removed after the 1972 Olympics because the movement was too hard to judge. Everyone then tried to find ways to get the bar overhead, including unsafe backends.
What makes it so intriguing is that you only have three attempts in the snatch and three in the clean and jerk. Your best snatch lift of the day and your best clean & jerk lift will be tallied together to give you the total you lifted that day. There are also many technical rules regarding Olympic weightlifting and what counts as a successful lift.
Men and women lift in separate categories, and then you also have bodyweight categories under which you will compete. The weight classes have changed over the years to fit the Olympic standard. Still, in general competitions, there are 10 weight categories for women and 10 for men.
Men started competing in weightlifting in 1896 at the Olympic games. That means this sport has been around for many years! Women, however, only started competing at the Olympics in 2000, which still makes it a relatively new sport for women.
What Are The Olympic Lifts?
The snatch is an explosive movement where you pick the barbell up from the ground in one motion to be lifted overhead. The bar stays close to the body and consists of a highly skilled movement where you will generate enough power and speed to pull yourself under the bar with the arms locked overhead. You will land in a deep squat.
- When starting the lift, you will have your feet either hip-width apart or slightly wider; depending on your limb length, the rule of thumb is the bar will be positioned over the middle part of the foot. The feet will either face forward or slightly out.
- When it comes to gripping the bar, you will use a hook grip, and this grip will be relatively wide. I always like explaining the grip width. The bar will sit precisely in the hip crease when you stand tall with a good posture. The tall position in the snatch is where you will brush the bar against the hips when you reach the fully extended (triple extended position). You will fully extend the ankles, knees, and hips in this position.
- When you start pulling off the ground, imagine pushing the floor away with your feet and pushing with your legs, staying over the bar as long as possible with a solid and straight back. Keep the arms relaxed but lats activated to ensure you stay active throughout the lift.
- Once the bar passes the knees, the back angle will start to change, and you will ultimately reach the fully extended position; keeping the bar close to the body, you will then aggressively pull yourself under the bar, jumping out with the feet and aggressively punching the arms straight over your head or in line with the ears.
- You will land in a squat position. Once you have reached this position, you will continue to stay active under the bar and recover by standing up tall before lowering the barbell back down.
Clean & Jerk
The clean and jerk consist of two movements. You must first be successful in the clean, which starts from the ground and ends in a squat where the bar will land on the shoulders in the front rack position. The second part is where the bar leaves the shoulders and land in the overhead position with straight arms in a split position OR a squat if you are a squat jerker.
- Starting the lift, you will have your feet either hip-width apart or slightly wider, depending on your limb length; the bar will be positioned over the middle part of the foot, and the feet will either face forward or slightly out.
- When gripping the bar, you will use a hook grip, which will be relative to your mobility, but the rule of thumb is wider than shoulder width.
- When you start pulling off the ground, imagine pushing the floor away with your feet and pushing with your legs, staying over the bar as long as possible with a solid and straight back.
- Keeping the arms relaxed but lats activated will ensure you stay active throughout the lift.
- Once the bar passes the knees, the back angle will start to change, and you will ultimately reach the fully extended position; keeping the bar close to the body, you will then aggressively pull yourself under the bar, jumping out with the feet and aggressively rotate the arms so the bar lands in the front rack position (elbows up and forward, bar resting on the shoulders).
- You will land in a squat position. Once you have reached this position, you will continue to stay active under the bar and recover by standing up tall.
- Depending on your mobility, you might keep the grip precisely the same or move the hands slightly outwards.
- Take a deep breath, keep an upright torso, and move the elbows down. Dip straight down and drive straight up into a fully extended position. Driving the bar up with the arms, shooting both feet out (one in front, the other backward to land in a stable and equally balanced over both feet split stance).
- Punching the bar overhead, making sure the arms are straight, keeping active, bringing the feet back together, then lowering the bar to the ground.
Popular Olympic Lifting Derivatives
The power snatch is an assistant exercise for the snatch. It’s an exercise that will work both speed and power without landing in a full squat position. With the power snatch, you will start the same way as you would with a snatch; the only difference is you will land in a power position (which is at a 90-degree angle or higher from the hamstring to the calf).
You will also generally not be able to go as heavy as you would with a snatch. If you can, you know that strength in the legs needs work. There usually is a 15-20kg difference between the snatch and the power snatch. You can read my full breakdown of the power snatch here.
The power clean is another assistant exercise for the clean. You will do the lift the same way as the clean, except you will catch the bar in the power position (which is at a 90-degree angle or higher from the hamstring to the calf).
The power clean is a speed and power movement you will practice with a lighter weight. It’s also a great exercise when you want to give your nervous system a break from the full, heavier lifts. Rule of thumb, you can generally power clean 15-20kg less than your clean.
You can read my full breakdown of the power clean here.
The snatch pull is a strength exercise to work on getting stronger in your snatches. The snatch pull can also be used as a way to teach beginner weightlifters the bar path before moving on to do the snatch.
It’s a great way to work on building leg and back strength. The main aim when doing the snatch pull is to ensure your movement is done the same way you would in the snatch.
When doing the snatch pull as a strength-building exercise, you will generally work between 95%-110% of your one rep max snatch. You can read my full breakdown of the snatch pull here.
The clean pull is a strength-building exercise for the clean. You can also use the clean pull to learn the clean technique while working on the bar path. There can be multiple goals when doing this strength exercise.
Make sure to start the same way as you would with a clean. The clean pull is a great exercise to build back and leg strength and can be done as a stand-alone exercise or within a complex like clean pull + clean, clean pull + floating clean pull, etc.
You will work on 95-110% of your one rep max clean as a strength-building movement. You can read my full breakdown of the clean pull here.
What Is The Hardest Olympic Lift?
The snatch and clean & jerk are complex and technical in their own way. It just depends which movement you find more challenging. It is said that the snatch is the more technical lift, which I agree with, but the clean can be just as technical and challenging if you need to work on specific movements. The same can be said for the jerk.
I go through phases where one lift is always better than the other, and I have been lifting for over 20 years. It honestly changes with each training cycle. And the lift that generally improves the most in a particular training cycle is one I usually enjoy the most and find the least hardest.
The sport of weightlifting has a fascinating history and has changed significantly over the years. Having women compete at higher levels like the Olympics is relatively new, but the sport has grown tremendously since the 2000s. CrossFit has also opened up a lot of doors for weightlifting with an increase in participation.
I have seen more people fall in love with weightlifting. I love seeing how many people follow the sport on social media and during the Olympic games.
Weightlifting can be done by all levels of athletes as well as ages. It’s a challenging sport but extremely rewarding in its way. It will take some time to learn, but that is also the beauty of this sport. There is never a dull moment.
Weightlifting has also become very popular amongst other sports as an assistant sport to help them improve in strength and power in their sport.
All athletes have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is by finding a coach and a gym that you can join. Be patient with the process and take it one lift at a time.