ALL ABOUT OLYMPIC LIFTING
With the advent of Crossfit, Olympic-style lifting has become increasingly popular in recent years, and although it is only now gaining considerable popularity, it has been in practice for quite some time. Its first inclusion in the Olympic Games occurred in 1896, and is the only event present in the entirety of the games designed to specifically test strength and power. Olympic weightlifting is one of the most sure-fire ways to gain said strength and power, which is essential in almost all sports. Olympic lifting also embodies and mimics movements such as lifting, throwing, jumping, or striking, with all of these being highly transferrable to other sports. Because of this, Olympic-style weightlifting a sport in itself AND has also proven to be a key component to training key components of athleticism for an athlete in almost any sport. All of the lifts performed in an Olympic style are also multipoint movements, meaning that these lifts require the activation and coordination of numerous muscles spanning across multiple joints. Because of the fact that so many muscles and muscle groups are used in order to complete a lift, Olympic weightlifting has the capability to induce muscular hypertrophy and also burn a maximal amount of energy as compared to other types of aerobic or resistance training. Simply put, it can build lean muscle while also maximizing calorie, and in turn, fat consumption. As opposed to bodybuilding, in which hypertrophy outpaces neural improvements, Olympic lifting allows for muscles to improve in both size and quality of functioning. Not only this, but the fact that Olympic lifts are multi-joint movements means that they can help improve coordination between muscles, helping the body know when to activate certain muscles and deactivate others. It can also increase nervous system innervation to muscles, allowing muscles to contract more quickly and powerfully. Olympic lifting can also increase ones flexibility and joint mobility: elbow, wrist, and shoulder flexibility are essential to perform a proper clean, whereas shoulder flexibility and knee mobility are key components of a proper squat snatch.
As with all types of training, there is the possibility of injury when Olympic lifting. Some things to consider when performing a lift or when in the vicinity of another person doing so include always using proper equipment and ensuring all equipment is functional before lifting - this means functional barbells, bumper plates free of cracks or defects, and a safe and functional platform on which to perform a lift.
When lifting, it is essential for the barbell to be evenly loaded, meaning that there is the same weight added to each side. It is a common courtesy and safety precaution to never walk in front of someone in the midst of their lift so as to not distract them from the lift at hand – distractions can and will more than likely lead to injury. On this same note, refrain from idle chatter while you or someone else is performing a lift. Lastly, one should always practice proper form and technique with little to no weight on the barbell initially, then gradually add weight while performing the lifts until the desired weight is achieved. It is never advised for anyone to start a lifting session near or at their maximum achievable weight.
Perhaps the most important aspect of proper lifting technique is known as “triple extension”. This refers to the extension of the hips by pushing them forward, flexion of the calves to rise onto the toes, and the shrugging of the shoulders via trapezius activation. This triple extension should occur during the second pull phase of an Olympic lift, the phase in which the barbell is pulled from hip level to either shoulder level (clean/clean and jerk) or above the head (snatch). Each portion of the triple extension is important in its own right – rising onto the toes allows for more propulsion and aids in hip extensibility; extending the hips allows the lifter to propel the bar up; shrugging the shoulders and flexing the trapezii allows the bar to remain close to the body after the initial forward propulsion from the hip extension.
Olympic weightlifting can greatly develop ones strength, power, flexibility, muscular coordination, and neural innervation, but proper form and technique while lifting is essential to acquire any of these benefits and also to avoid injury. When performing a lift, ones back should remain flat with the chest out. Rounding of the back is a big no-no and should not occur at any portion of any lift. The barbell should also remain as close to the body as possible when raising it from the ground. The “power” position is the position referred to when the barbell is resting on the floor – in this position, the shoulders should be directly above the barbell, hips should be below shoulder level, and knees below hip level, essentially forming a greater than symbol with the body. When starting from power position, the knees and hips should also extend at the same rate as the bar is lifted off of the ground. Along with starting in power position, a lift may also start from the “hang” position. In the hang position, the lifter raises the bar to just above the knees, and it is just above the knees that the lift is initiated. An Olympic lift also has the possibility of including a squat, which begins during the second pull phase of the lift.
All of these variations can be included in the name of the lift. The two most commonly practiced exercises (and the two used in the Olympic Games) are the clean and jerk and the squat snatch. In the Olympic Games, both of these lifts are started from power position.
Though this is the case, both of these exercises have a number of possible variations. Examples of clean variations include the power squat clean, hang squat clean, power clean, and hang clean (the latter two do not contain a squat). This also applies to snatches – variations include power squat snatch, hang squat snatch, power snatch, and hang snatch.
Olympic weightlifting is a dynamic form of resistance training that, when performed correctly, can improve strength, power, muscle mass, flexibility, neural recruitment, and neural firing rate. Not only this, but it seems safe to say that there is no other form of resistance training or exercise in general that can achieve all of these simultaneously just as Olympic lifting does.
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