Here it is.. a post about why I train Olympic lifts and why I love them so much.
First of all, there is a difference between weightlifting and Olympic lifting. The former refers to lifting any kind of weights such as barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells; the latter consists in performing two lifts specifically: the SNATCH and the CLEAND AND JERK. These lifts include complex explosive motions and they are technically very challenging. I have used the amazing Lidia Valentín, Olympic , World and European Champion, to illustrate the two Olympic lifts as her technique is one to learn from!
As a brief introduction, a snatch involves bringing the weight from the ground to an overhead position in one smooth movement whilst dropping into a squat and then standing up.
The clean and jerk is a lift that consists of two weightlifting movements. The clean involves bringing the weight to shoulder height, the “rack position” across the deltoids and clavicles. The jerk consists of quickly dropping under the bar while simultaneously straightening out the arms until the elbows are locked, then standing up with the weight overhead. This is not a pressing action; you are pushing the bar up with your legs rather than pressing it with your arms.
There are many variations of these lifts that have been developed by breaking down the movements and are used to teach the full lifts as well as allowing to train and perfect a specific aspect of the lift. Often people split the clean and jerk into two separate exercises, however one would not be able to compete in clean only or jerk only.
When wondering around the gym, it is rare to see someone training olympic lifting as these are complex exercises to learn without the assistance of a professional. In recent years, Olympic lifts have become more popular with the advent of CrossFit that has raised awareness around these great compound movements. Some CrossFitters have great technique, but the nature of the sport is to perform high reps of these exercises within a time limit and doing lifts like snatches and cleans in a fatigued state can potentially be very dangerous. Hence, if you have just started learning Olympic lifts focus on your technique, which – believe me – is bloody hard! With experience and practice, once the motions have become more natural, you may be able to use these lifts as conditioning exercises too.
So why should you incorporate these lifts in your trainings?
INCREASED POWER: POWER = FORCE x DISTANCE / TIME or, in other words, the ability to produce strength in a short period of time. Olympic lifts are particularly effective exercises to develop power. While squats and deadlifts are key strength exercises and an essential component of most strength and conditioning programs, the power outputs resulting from performing Olympic lifts are significantly greater.
INCREASED RUNNING START FORCE: Starting strength is the capacity to overcome resistance and initiate movement. For runners, whether they focus on fell running or sprinting, starting speed can be a critical component of their success. The same applies to speed skaters and other athletes whose strength in their legs affects their performance. Due to the explosive speed required to perform a snatch or clean and jerk with a challenging weight compared to body weight, Olympic lifting is an effective way to train and improve starting strength.
IMPROVED FLEXIBILITY: The classic method of improving flexibility is to incorporate stretching into your routine. However, studies have found that weightlifting can be even more effective than stretching for improving flexibility. This is due to the range of motion required in lifting which forces you to stretch and the muscle development which comes with practicing Olympic lifts does not in any way inhibit flexibility. A classic Olympic lift, like the snatch, requires you to jerk a heavy bar up, bending down for a full squat and pulling your muscles in multiple directions. This will develop your dynamic and static flexibility and why a component of the snatch, the overhead squat, is often used by professionals (me included) to assess a person’s flexibility.
IMPROVED VERTICAL JUMP: Being a volleyball player, I have always been considered a short player and I have never really been able to block, i.e. jump and get my hands over the net to stop the opponents attack. Since training Olympic lifts my vertical jump has improved so much that I have been able to block strong hits and get all my hands over the net, which for me was an incredible achievement! The ability to jump higher is due to the explosive power developed by Olympic weightlifting, which makes a significant difference in the height and strength of your vertical jump.
BURN FAT AND BUILD MUSCLES: this is a topic I keep fighting against and one of the biggest misconceptions about strength training. Women worry about becoming bulky while men worry about losing flexibility and everyone thinks they will become a lumbering bodybuilder. Although it is true that Olympic weightlifting will facilitate the building of muscle and burn fat, it does not have to be a significant amount. Your training can incorporate only the muscle development you need and no more. Bodybuilders do not accidentally achieve their size through a few extra lifts each session. Olympic lifts are a great way to use more than one muscle group at a time as they are full-body exercises and will get your heart pumping and burning fat if high reps are performed.
Now that I have given you the reasons why you should give Olympic lifts a go I will tell you what motivates me towards training these compound lifts. As you know, I just love strength training. It has got me through a rough patch and now I feel like it has become an essential part of my day to day life. I did not start training Olympic lifts when I first started going to the gym as there was so much I had to learn and I just enjoyed mixing my strength workouts with spinning and body conditioning classes. I remember seeing other people training snatches and cleans and I thought I would like to give them a go. I started incorporating some of the movements into my workouts such as overhead and front squats, high pulls, snatch balances and so on. Gradually I started putting all the movements together and my PBs are now 75kg clean and 55kg snatch, which took a lot of hard work! Going back to why I enjoy training Olympic lifts, it is the amount of focus that they require that I find challenging and extremely beneficial for me to practice. When I am doing a squat or a bench press I do not really have to think about anything, I just do the exercise and the only thing that is going to stop me is not being strong enough to lift the weight but I know my technique is solid. With Olympic lifting, however, the mind games are real! These are such complex motions that there is a considerable amount of information to remember and process. I often end up messing it up because I overthink it or I am not approaching the bar with the right mentality. Honestly, you need to try it to understand the complexity and amount of focus you need to perform these lifts. This is why I have so much respect for who competes in this sport and have to stand in front of thousands of people while smashing their PBs.
I hope I have made you excited for giving Olympic lifting a go and challenging your body and mind in a different way!!