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January 04, 2022
Let's just get straight to the point - The Olympic games only include 2 lifts; the 'Clean and Jerk' and the 'Snatch'. HOWEVER, there are many lifts and movements that help to improve upon those two main Olympic lifts. Many of these "assistance lifts" are variations (or even simply steps) of the Clean, Jerk, and Snatch movements, which you will learn about in this article. These assistance lifts, of which there are something like 50 of them, are meant to make you stronger and more powerful in the two main lifts and are used in Olympic weightlifting and Crossfit training.
Note: You can do Olympic-style weightlifting without actually competing, of course. Olympic lifts are great for building power, strength and even muscle, which is why many people incorporate Olympic lifts into their weight training programs.
In this post, we cover the follow:
Olympic lifting movements can be done with a variety of equipment, but for the sake of this post and keeping things truly OLYMPIC, we will only focus on some Olympic lifting movements using a barbell.
Olympic lifting is a sport that involves lifting a loaded barbell from the ground to up overhead using explosive power. There are only two lifts in modern Olympic weightlifting competitions - the snatch and the clean & jerk (you will learn all about these two lifts so don't worry about what they are exactly for now).
The winner is determined by the combined total weight of both lifts for their respective weight class.
Olympic lifts are powerful movements that require maximum strength and explosion. The goal of Olympic lifting is to clean & jerk and snatch as much weight as possible for one rep.
Olympic weightlifting, while great for physical fitness, IS A SPORT. Moreover, it is not the same as powerlifting, which is a completely different type of weight training.
As noted in the beginning, there are many variations of the two main Olympic lifts and various other movements done in Olympic weightlifting training regimens. These Olympic-style lifts/practice moves work to improve the two main lifts for competition as well as the athletes overall fitness (strength & power).
Note: If you want to take Olympic weightlifting seriously, and potentially compete, or even just learn how to do the Olympic lifts properly, we have a complete Olympic Weightlifting Program for Beginners linked at the end of this article.
The snatch is one fluid movement where the athlete lifts the weight from the ground then catches it overhead with arms straight while in a deep squatting position. The lifter emerges from the squatting position to standing up straight with the weight above their head to complete the lift.
The clean and jerk is an exercise that has two distinct components. For the first portion of the movement, the athlete cleans the weight from the floor then catches it in a front squat position. The second portion of this lift is done when the athlete jumps into a split stance while pressing the weight up until the arms are locked out. Finally, the athlete must bring their back foot up to the same plane as the front foot to complete the lift.
We will go over how to do both exercises with step by step instructions and common mistakes to avoid, as well as the main assistance lifts used in Olympic weightlifting training, but first let's go over the history of Olympic weightlifting and the benefits of this kind of weight training.
Weightlifting made its appearance in the 1896 Olympic games with two main events; the one hand lift and two hand lift. The one-hand lift was similar to a snatch except that the competitors had to execute the lift with each hand lifting the weight over their head. The combined total of both hands determined the winner. The two-hand lift looked familiar to the clean and jerk. These two lifts were part of the early Olympic games, with their last presence in 1906.
Another weightlifting event of the Olympics that is no more was the clean and press. This event was in the games from 1924-1972. Athletes had to clean the weight then press overhead. Due to inconsistency and difficulty in judging, this event also was dropped from the Olympics.
Each weight class in the Olympics will have different world records, so we'll only cover the heaviest weight class that lifted the heaviest weights.
Lasha Takahadze of Georgia, in the 109+kg (239.8lb) weight class set the newest world records at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with a 265 kg (583lbs) clean and jerk and a 223 kg (490.6lbs) snatch. The Olympic world records for women were also set in Tokyo by Li WenWen of China in the 87+ kg (191.4lbs) weight class with a 170kg (374lbs) clean and jerk and a 140kg (308lb) snatch.
Considering all of the world records are recent, it’s clear that the sport is only getting more competitive, and people are getting stronger, but how they are getting stronger is for another article.
There are numerous health benefits of performing Olympic lifts.
Let's have a look at some of them below:
Snatch: This is an exercise where you'll lift a weight from low to overhead in one continuous movement. It is the continuation of the clean; instead of stopping at a racking position, you will bring the weight up higher until your arms are fully extended above your head.
Clean: This is an exercise where you'll lift a weight from a low position to a high position in an explosive movement. The top position is also referred to as the racking position, which can be chest or shoulder height.
Jerk: This is the movement where you'll lift the weight from the racking position at the shoulders to overhead by dipping at the knees, then explosively pressing upwards, then landing with legs in a split stance (split jerk) or even stance (squat jerk or push jerk). The most common form of the jerk for professionals is the split jerk as it is the most efficient method, but any jerk can be used. In a clean and split jerk, you'll land in a split stance then must bring your back foot to be even with your front foot while keeping the weight above your head with your arms extended.
Rack Position: The rack position refers to when the bar rests on the front of your shoulders and clavicle with your hands bent back to support it during the clean and jerk. When you squat down, which is basically a front squat, you are holding the back in a rack position. In a Snatch, you will not being using a rack position, but rather an Overhead position, which means you will be holding the bar with your arms extended overhead.
Receiving Position: Receiving (or delivery) refers to how your feet are positioned when you get under the bar during a clean, jerk or snatch. For example, with a jerk, you have several receiving positions - split jerk, power jerk, squat jerk.
This exercise is one-half of the Olympic weightlifting events. The clean and jerk is a fantastic exercise to display power, technique, and brute force. The clean and jerk will help improve your explosiveness, mobility, balance, and core strength. In addition, this is a calorie burner as you engage muscles throughout your body.
The snatch is the other lift next to the clean and jerk in the modern-day Olympic games. The snatch is all about technique, power, and finesse, where the clean and jerk requires more raw power. The snatch is a more difficult exercise to execute as you finish off the exercise with an overhead squat; that's why most people will be able to clean and jerk more than they can snatch. Doing snatches results in many benefits as it is a super explosive movement but done with complete control. You can improve your overall power, strength, balance, coordination, mobility, and stability by performing snatches.
The snatch is a much more complex movement, which makes it harder, and you should be able to use considerably heavier weight with the clean and jerk (once you learn the movements of course).
Nevertheless, if you are just starting out with Olympic lifting, you will want to learn both movements, so you will be practicing both techniques from the start.
The best assistance lifts for Olympic lifts are as follows:
...and overall position drills such as rack position drills and receiving drills with no weight. In fact, position drills are always the best place to start.
When you get the form down pat, some common lifts done in training (at any level) are as follows...
1. POWER CLEANS
The power clean is a fantastic exercise that works the whole body, especially the posterior chain. Power cleans will give you similar benefits of doing plyometrics without the hard impact. You will burn tons of calories, boost your athletic performance and improve your coordination by doing more power cleans.
How to do power cleans:
Note: Another variation of the power clean is a hang clean. Instead of pulling from the floor, the weight starts above knee level. This movement requires more upper body strength to complete.
2. POWER SNATCH
The power snatch is a variation of the snatch where you receive the weight at a high point rather than catching it in a squatting position. This exercise will enhance your explosive power and improve your shoulder strength and overall mobility. By lifting the bar to this high point, you'll improve your pulling force, power, and speed towards the finishing portion of the snatch.
How to do power snatches:
3. PUSH JERK
At first glance, it might seem as if the push jerk is the same as an overhead press, but there are vast differences. The push jerk involves explosive movement by using the legs and upper body, then absorbing the load by positioning the body under the load through bending at the knees and hips. The push press is a less explosive exercise where the knees and hips aren't bent again to catch the weight. By doing the push jerk, you should be able to lift heavier loads than the push press. The push jerk will work the lower body, core, and particularly the shoulders and triceps.
How to do push jerks:
4. SQUAT CLEAN
This exercise is described as the first part of the clean and jerk, one of the two Olympic lifts, or a combo of the power clean and front squat. This is an excellent exercise to increase power and strength throughout the body. The squat clean is a bit more technical than a power clean, as you have to catch the weight while coming into a squatting position.
How to do squat cleans:
5. CLEAN GRIP FRONT SQUAT
The front squat is a bit different from the rest of the Olympic lifts as it doesn't require explosive movement. The front squat is included in this list because the body positioning is mimicked in other exercises such as the squat clean. Apart from the positioning of the bar, the front squat differs from the back squat as more mobility is required to pull it off. The front squat also works the anterior muscles of the body more than a back squat, including the quads and core.
How to do front squats:
Clean and Press:
Want to start Olympic Lifting? This program/guide will teach you everything you need to know (the above was just a taste):
Although there are only two main Olympic lifts, the snatch, and clean and jerk, several Olympic-style lifts can offer some tremendous benefits if done correctly. It takes hundreds if not thousands of hours to perfect the Olympic lifts, so start with some of the more basic ones like the power clean or front squat before taking on the more advanced movements. We recommend that you record yourself while doing these lifts to see what your form looks like so you can make necessary adjustments to improve.
Let us know your favorite Olympic style lifts in the comments below.
Master the Two Main Olympic Lifts:
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