Olympic weightlifting (also called Oly lifting or just weightlifting) is a strength and power sport where you compete to lift maximum weights in the snatch, clean, and jerk.
Not interested in competing? Not a problem. Weightlifting is unbeatable for developing muscular strength, power, stability, mobility, and explosiveness. These benefits transfer over to other sports, improve overall fitness, and assist in injury prevention.
Check out our ultimate guide to Olympic weightlifting to learn all about the sport, get a step-by-step guide for executing the lifts, and extensive coaching resources.
Introduction to Olympic Weightlifting
Weight lifting is an impressive sport that requires strength, power, and surgical technical precision.
That's because the lifts are challenging to learn and execute well, so it takes years to become a competitive weightlifting athlete.
Weightlifting comprises two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.
The snatch requires you to pick up a loaded barbell from the floor and, in one fluid, explosive motion, throw the weight over your head. Then you must stand up, holding that weight.
The clean and jerk requires you to pull the barbell explosively from the ground onto your chest in the front rack position (this is the clean). Next, you must press the weight overhead and stand up.
History of Weightlifting
Olympic weightlifting got its name because it is actually an Olympic sport.
Weightlifting was first featured in the Athens Olympic games in 1896, though the sport has far older origins.
According to USA Olympic Weightlifting similar sports have been practiced since ancient times, as there are records of strength competitions in Greece and Egypt. Since then, the sport has slowly gained in popularity, and in 2000, women joined the competition at the Sydney Olympic Games.
Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting
Because Olympic weightlifting movements are so technical and challenging but also require so much strength and power, you get total body benefits.
First and foremost, weightlifting will make you stronger, much stronger. The foundations of the snatch include a squat variation, and the clean and jerk require a clean and overhead press. Weightlifting is a strength sport, so you will become stronger as you put more weight on the bar.
Most people will develop more muscle as they increase their maximum strength and lift totals over time. Weightlifters are often highly muscular, especially in their back and traps, as those muscles must adapt to the heavy loads.
Power & Explosiveness
Moving heavy weights slowly requires strength. Moving heavy weight quickly requires power.
Olympic weightlifting is second to none for developing raw power and explosiveness. In fact, according to a study published in Sports Medicine, weightlifting improves isometric peak force and contractile rate of force significantly more than other strength and power sports.
Stability & Mobility
You may not think incredible flexibility and big muscles go together, but the amazing world of weightlifting is here to prove you wrong.
The snatch, in particular, requires unbelievable mobility in the ankles, hips, and shoulders, as well as corresponding joint stability and muscular strength. Regular weightlifting with proper form results in significant increases in both flexibility and joint stability.
The increases in strength, power, mobility, and flexibility generally result in improved coordination and increased athleticism. Most of these adaptations for beginners are due to the many neurological adaptations that occur when you drill these movements repeatedly.
Over time, your ability to recruit the muscle fibers required to complete the lift quickly will become more efficient, and these improvements translate into all other movements.
This is why many collegiate and professional athletes have weightlifting in their overall athletic programming–it works.
Courage & Grit
Something I don't think gets talked about enough is how much courage and grit weightlifting requires. Throwing loads of weight above your head is scary. Breaking down and endlessly drilling the minutiae of these lifts is exhausting and takes grit.
Weightlifting will increase your courage, your mental toughness, and your self-confidence. If you can set lofty goals and stick to them in the gym, it can profoundly affect other areas of your life.
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Basics of Olympic Weightlifting
The Long Game
Olympic weightlifting is a highly technical sport that takes years to master. Whether you want to compete one day or just want to add the snatch and clean to your workout program, it's a long game. Understanding that and setting realistic goals is essential to weightlifting safely and effectively.
Weightlifting coaches agree that those new to the sport should fully dedicate themselves to mastering each lift's technical aspects before adding weight to the bar.
Mobility and Stability
A critical consideration in weightlifting is the relationship between mobility and stability.
If you're not an athlete, you will likely need to work on both, but more people need help with the level of mobility required for weightlifting.
You can work mobility drills into your daily warm-ups to maximize efficiency and prepare for your training session.
Mobility Drill Videos
- Top Mobility Exercises for Weightlifting (Upper and Lower Body)
- 5 Best Mobility | Flexibility Drills for Clean, Front Squat, Jerk
- Flexibility & Mobility For Weightlifting Workout - 20mins
Highly Technical Sport
Learning how to Olympic lift is much more complex than learning any other type of strength movement.
Your body positioning has to be just so throughout every step of the lift, and deviating from the correct posture can lead to serious injury. Because of that, you must come to the sport with the drive to learn and the patience to follow through.
Olympic Weightlifting Equipment
According to the International Weightlifting Federation, competitors must wear a singlet and can choose to wear federation-approved wrist wraps, knee sleeves, a lifting belt, and Olympic weightlifting shoes.
As with all strength sports, its governing body will have specific requirements and restrictions for each equipment type. Be sure to read the rule book before investing.
Beginner's Guide to Olympic Weightlifting
What is a Beginner?
When you start a strength training program, you need to know your training level to program appropriately.
Most weightlifting coaches categorize beginners as anyone who has been weightlifting for less than 6 months.
Warmup, Mobility, and Injury Prevention
You cannot afford to slack on your warmup when you're throwing big weights overhead.
The principles of a good warmup for weightlifting are similar to any other resistance training workout but are even more critical.
Plan on doing 5-10 minutes of light cardio, then perform 3-5 mobility drills that address your weaknesses and prepare you for your upcoming session.
Ensure you incorporate at least one exercise that hits triple flexion (bending at the ankles, knees, hips) through a full range of motion.
You'll then finish your warmup with the barbell. Start with at least one set with just the bar, then move up slowly in weight until you're ready to perform your working sets.
Preventing injuries in weightlifting is just like any other strength sport.
- Always perform a thorough warmup that's tailored to you
- Be relentless in your commitment to good lifting form
- Listen to your body: Prioritize rest and recovery
Finding a Coach & Gym
If you're serious about learning to Olympic weightlift, you will benefit from working with a certified coach and training at least part-time in a specialty gym.
Coaching not only makes lifting safer by providing you feedback on your lifting form, but it will speed up your progress.
By running a program written by a weightlifting coach, you will save time hopping from one program to the next, which stalls progress.
You can search the U.S.A. Weightlifting coaching directory to find a qualified professional near you.
Olympic weightlifting gyms are not terribly popular, so you may have difficulty finding one. You may want to start at your local CrossFit box. Many boxes have certified and experienced weightlifting coaches on staff, so it's a good place to start.
Setting Goals & Tracking Progress
As with any athletic pursuit, make sure you speak to an experienced coach to help you set ambitious but safe goals.
You'll also want to keep a training log. Whether you use an app or a marble notebook, keep track of your numbers to assess your progress over time.
Nutrition for Olympic Weightlifting
Weightlifting is a performance-based sport, so the most important nutrition consideration is ensuring you're eating enough to fuel your training.
Strength athletes should consume 1 gram per pound of body weight daily with plenty of carbs and moderate healthy fats.
Prioritize whole foods most of the time, and speak to a nutrition coach if you plan to pursue the sport competitively.
Olympic Weightlifting Tutorial
Mastering the Snatch: Step-by-step Guide
Work with a qualified weightlifting coach to learn the proper form if you've never snatched before. You can start learning using a wooden dowel or P.V.C. pipe.
A few foundational skills for mastering the snatch include:
- Learn the hook grip
- Master an overhead squat with weight
- Understand the timing of the lift
- Build core strength and shoulder stability
Once you've accomplished that, you're ready to snatch.
- Find your starting position. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with the bar resting around the middle of your shins and over the mid-foot.
Grab the bar in a wide grip, with your arms straight but relaxed. Your knees and hips should both be bent. Your chest and head should be held high so your shoulders are higher than your hips, which are higher than your knees.
- The lift off. This is where you start building the explosive power necessary to get the bar above your head.
Push through your legs and bring the bar up around knee height. As your legs start to straighten, the rest of your body maintains that same starting position.
The bar should stay very close to your body.
- The first pull. When the bar passes your knee, extend your body fully (called triple extension) while the bar passes your thigh.
- Finishing the pull. Push hard with your legs off the floor, like you're jumping straight into the air. Once you're in the air, shrug your shoulders hard. This keeps the bar moving upward while you dip into a squat to catch it.
- The catch. This is where timing is everything. As the bar continues to fly up in a controlled fashion, you will land in a deep squat position and 'catch' the bar overhead.
- Stand up. Once you've absorbed the force of the bar and stabilized into an overhead squat, simply stand up to complete the lift.
Mastering the Clean and Jerk: Step-by-step Guide
- Learn the hook grip.
- Build a strong deadlift and overhead press.
- Understand the timing of the lift.
- Practice the power position and different clean variations.
Once you've built that foundation, you're ready to clean.
- Find your starting position. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart with a slight angle to your toes.
Your starting position should look very similar to a conventional deadlift, with your grip outside your knees, your shoulders over the bar, and your shins touching the bar.
- The first pull. This portion of the lift is essentially just a deadlift. So the bar will leave the floor and come to just below your knees. Just like the snatch, this part is about building momentum.
- The second pull. This is the hardest and most technical part of the lift by far, so be very patient with yourself as you learn it.
The power in this movement comes from your hips, not your arms, so visualize thrusting your hips forward to create the pull.
Once the barbell passes your knee, drive your hips forward, and as the bar flies up, you'll get under it and into a front rack position.
- The catch. In one fluid motion, you'll float the bar down using the front rack position and dip slightly to absorb the force of the weight coming down.
- The jerk. You can squat or split jerk in weightlifting, but we'll focus on the traditional squat jerk.
Once you've dipped, you will fire into a press using your entire body, pressing the weight overhead and dropping into a half-squat position simultaneously.
- Recover and stand up. Lock your arms and stabilize before you stand. Once you feel completely solid, stand up with your arms locked out to finish the lift.
Weightlifting Training: Regressions & Progressions
Both the snatch and clean and jerk are made up of many steps and require the perfect execution of multiple smaller movement progressions.
While this may seem overwhelming initially, take heart that each movement can be broken down into its component parts and drilled separately so you gain mastery before stringing them together.
Weightlifting Drills & Exercises
These are some of the many weightlifting drills that can be helpful when learning the Olympic weightlifting movements and working through common challenges.
- Snatch Regression Complex
- Best Drills For Snatch Technique
- These 2 Exercises Will Help Fix Your Snatch
- Clean Regression Complex
- Clean Pull Drill | CrossFit Invictus | Weightlifting
- Power Clean Progression
- 5 Tips Improve Your Clean | JTSstrength.com
- Best DRILLS For Olympic Weightlifting Technique
Olympic Weightlifting Coaches, Apps, Free Programs, and Videos
Best Weightlifting Videos
- How to Master the Snatch in Olympic Weightlifting | Olympians' Tips
- Beginners Guide to Clean & Jerk with Meg Squats | JTSstrength.com
- 5 Tips Improve Your Clean | JTSstrength.com
- Beginners Guide to Snatching with Meg Squats | JTSstrength.com
- Programming for Weightlifting | Exercise Selection & Sequencing | JTSstrength.com
- Coaches' Guide To Olympic Weightlifting
- Strength Training for Weightlifting: Myths and Realities
Best Apps for Weightlifting Coaching
Best Free Weightlifting Programs & Articles
- Catalyst Athletics: Guide to Training Program Selection
- Juggernaut | Programming for Weightlifting
- Juggernaut | Weightlifting Article Archive
- Torokhtiy | Free 2-Week Introduction to Weightlifting
- The Weight Lifter's Almanac | Free 4-Week Olympic Weightlifting Program
Best Weightlifting Programs to Buy
- Catalyst Athletics: Learn the Olympic Lifts - Complete Set
- Catalyst Athletics: Find a Weightlifting Program
Conquering the Biggest Challenges in Olympic Weightlifting
The biggest challenge new weightlifters face is learning to properly execute the movements.
It's easy to get cocky and keep throwing weight on the bar when your form is poor, but you will almost certainly regret it.
In many ways, weightlifting is the most cerebral strength sport, as it requires immense dedication and focus to learn complex movement patterns and perform them correctly.
Dedication to your exercise form is the single best way to increase your rate of progress, prevent injury, and lift for longer. The best way to fix form issues is not to build them in the first place, so work with an experienced weightlifting coach from the beginning.
Remember: It's much easier to build good form than to correct poor form.
A common challenge weightlifters of all experience levels face is getting and staying mobile. If you don't use your mobility (i.e., train it often), you lose it. If you're a stiff person at baseline, that can seriously cut into your weightlifting progress.
Mobility training may not be particularly fun or exciting. Still, it is essential to perform the snatch and the clean safely and efficiently. So, assess your mobility needs and plan to address them in your overall training program like any other fitness element.
Olympic Weightlifting Competitions & Events
Unlike other strength sports, such as powerlifting, which has over 54 federations to choose from in America, weightlifting is highly regulated, and there is only one federation.
If you want to compete in weightlifting, check out the USA Weightlifting competitions in your area.
All weightlifting competitions in the U.S. and with the International Weightlifting Federation are drug tested.
Frequently Asked Questions about Weightlifting
What are the benefits of Olympic weightlifting?
The physical benefits of weightlifting include increased strength, muscle size, power, and improved sports performance.
The mental benefits of weightlifting include all the cognitive benefits of intense exercise, such as improved mood, as well as courage and grit.
Can Olympic weightlifting be beneficial for athletes in other sports?
Yes! In fact, weightlifting is so effective in developing well-rounded muscular strength and power that it is included in many high-level athlete training programs.
What are some common misconceptions or myths about Olympic weightlifting?
I've met many people who believe Olympic weightlifting is extremely dangerous, but it's actually just as safe as other strength sports like powerlifting.
Put simply, the research shows that you're much more likely to hurt yourself playing football or soccer than weightlifting.
How do I avoid injuries during Olympic weightlifting?
Avoiding injuries during weightlifting is similar to any other strength sport.
Ensure you always perform a thorough, sport-specific warm-up, learn and utilize perfect form, avoid ego lifting, and follow a plan written by a professional.
Do I need to go to a special gym?
While you don't have to find a weightlifting gym, I'd recommend it.
This is because many commercial gyms do not have the required equipment, such as bumper plates or a durable platform that will withstand weights dropped on it.
You'll also benefit from hanging out with people on the same training journey as you and maybe even find a dedicated training partner.
Do I need a weightlifting coach?
Yes, you definitely need a weightlifting coach. Olympic weightlifting movements are markedly more technical than the squat, bench, and deadlift and, therefore, more dangerous if performed incorrectly or overloaded.
There is also nothing intuitive about the snatch or clean and jerk. In fact, they can feel downright alien to learn.
Look for a coach who is certified through the U.S.A. Weightlifting organization.
You can also check out your local Crossfit gym, as their coaches are usually competent in coaching the snatch and clean and jerk.
Olympic weightlifting combines strength, power, stability, and technique into one explosive sport. Because the snatch and the clean and jerk are such technical lifts to execute, it takes a long time to master them.
This sport requires dedication to learning the lifting form and developing the necessary strength, joint stability, and mobility to stay safe.
You should work with a certified weightlifting coach if you want to compete or just perform these movements at a high level.
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British Journal of Sports Medicine. Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review.