This article will go into detail about what an athlete can do to prepare for olympic weightlifting and why they should master the four prerequisite lifts before attempting any cleans & jerks or snatches. Please consult a certified strength and conditioning specialist before setting out and trying these lifts on your own.
Olympic weightlifting has many purposes. Athletes can compete in olympic weightlifting meets or use the olympics lifts to improve athletic performance. The olympic lifts are also commonly used in the sport of crossfit. General population lifters who just want a new way to challenge themselves during training can utilize the olympic lifts to improve their overall strength and health. However, before attempting any of the olympic lifts with weight on the bar, lifters need to ensure that they have the proper strength and mobility to safely and effectively perform the clean & jerk and snatch.
The overhead squat is a basic barbell movement that most lifters with some experience may know. While the overhead squat may seem simple, there are details involved that if ignored could lead to serious injury when performing the snatch.
When performing this exercise for the first time use a pvc pipe or broomstick. Stand with a normal squat stance holding the broomstick with a wider than shoulder width grip. Press the stick up overhead and lock out the elbows by internally rotating the elbows. With the elbows locked out pull the shoulder blades together and shrug upward. The stick should be directly over the middle of the soles of the lifter’s feet. Having the stick too far forward or back will push the lifter out of balance when squatting down. Once the stick is locked out and in the correct position, the lifter should descend into the squat slowly and under control. They should be able to reach a full squat position and stand back up without compromising form.
If the lifter cannot perform the overhead squat because of a lack of strength or mobility they need to focus on the areas of weakness. The lifter MUST be able to do a full overhead squat without form breakdown before they can think about starting snatch progressions because it is the position they will be in when catching the snatch.
The front squat is an exercise that most lifters have seen but are hesitant to try due to the uncomfortable nature of the lift. The wrists and lats will need sufficient mobility to hold the bar in the correct position with the elbows high.
Starting progressions with the front squat position may require the lifter to start with a barbell instead of a pvc pipe. Having something that is heavier such as a 35 or 45 pound barbell may make holding the bar in the correct position easier due to the weight. When using something very light like a pvc pipe, the wrists may not be stretched into the correct position as they would when using a barbell.
When performing the front squat, start with the bar racked about chest height. Place two to three fingers on the bar roughly shoulder width apart. Rotate the elbows upward until the bar is resting on a shelf created by the deltoids. Think about pressing the scapulas forward and up. Your fingers should not be completely wrapped around the bar but they should stay in contact. From this position, the lifter should perform the squat to parallel as they would with any other squat. It is important to note that in olympic weightlifting, below parallel squat mobility is necessary to catch the barbell.
In olympic weightlifting, having strength in the overhead position is imperative. The overhead position is where the lifter will catch snatches and jerks. The lifter will need sufficient shoulder, lat, and thoracic spine mobility to be able to press the barbell up and over.
The lifter should start with a pvc pipe or an empty bar, depending on the lifter’s experience. The grip should be at about shoulder width and the bar should be resting closer to the heel of the hand by the wrist. This can be done by rotating the hands inward when finding the appropriate grip width. Holding the bar closer to the fingers will cause the wrists to collapse when pressing heavy weight overhead. With the proper grip in place, the bar should be resting near the collarbone in the bottom position, the angle of the forearms should be perfectly vertical. The wrist and elbow should be stacked when the lifter has found the proper grip.
From here, the lifter will press the bar straight up, when doing so they will raise their chest to the ceiling and slightly tilt their head back to avoid making contact with the bar. As soon as the bar gets past their forehead, they will push their head forward and lock out the elbows at the top, shrugging the shoulder blades upward. The lifter should lower the bar in the reverse order that they pressed it up with.
For lifters who are experienced with deadlifting, the snatch deadlift is pretty easy to learn. It is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a deadlift off the floor with the hands in a snatch grip width. The lifter should be introduced to this lift with a light load, but having a barbell with plates on it helps provide the proper height for setting up. The load will depend specifically on the lifter’s experience.
Start with a loaded barbell on the floor. The lifter should stand with the bar at mid foot when looking down at their feet. Depending on the height of the lifter, the bar may be closer to the toes. The grip will be much wider than the overhead press, the appropriate width should be so that when the lifter stands up out of the deadlift, the bar is resting at their hip crease.
In the starting position with the bar at mid foot and the proper grip width, the lifter should have their knees bent and their back should be in a neutral if not slightly extended position with the shoulders over the barbell. The head can stay neutral and cast the gaze just forward on the floor. When standing up out of the bottom position, the hips and chest should rise simultaneously so the back does not round. Return the bar to the floor in the reverse order.
This article should only serve as an educational guide to what exercises need to be focused on to begin training in the olympic lifts. This article is a general overview of the lifts and is not intended to teach specifically how to perform them, but what they are. Always train with a certified strength and conditioning specialist to ensure that the exercises you are performing are safe and appropriate for your skill level.