Olympic weightlifting is a sport that involves two primary lifts, which require lifters to move a loaded barbell from the floor to overhead. The two lifts, the clean & jerk and the snatch, are highly technical explosive movements requiring great physical and mental strength.
Weightlifting was first introduced at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. Olympic weightlifting has evolved throughout the years. Since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, official Olympic lifts include the clean & jerk, and the snatch. There are a total of 15 Olympic weightlifting events, comprising eight weight categories for the men and seven for the women.
The lifter moves the bar from the floor to overhead in a single continuous movement with the arms fully extended.
During a snatch, the bar is loaded with weighted plates and placed horizontally onto the lifting platform. The lifter grips onto the bar and moves it overhead in a single continuous movement. The lifter can receive the bar overhead in a catch or split position. The snatch is complete when the bar is held still overhead while arms and legs are extended.
The Clean & Jerk
The lifter first moves the bar from the floor to the chest (the clean). Then moves the bar overhead (the jerk).
During a clean & jerk the bar is loaded with weighted plates and placed horizontally onto the lifting platform. The lifter grips onto the bar and pulls it to their chest in a single continuous movement. Lifers can receive the bar in a squat or split position before extending the legs. The lifter then moves the bar above their head while bending their knees and extending their arms. The clean & jerk is complete when the bar is held still overhead while arms and legs are extended.
Olympic lifts are highly technical movements that require high levels of concentration and dedication to be performed effectively and safely.
Olympic weightlifting is a respected sport within itself but is also used as a training tool for many recreational and elite athletes to improve their athletic performance. Commonly, Olympic weightlifting is used in many strength and conditioning programs for sports which require large amounts of power such as American football, rugby, and basketball to name a few.
Olympic weightlifting can improve athletes’ power. Power is characterized by a combination of strength and speed. The snatch and clean & jerk require lifters to move heavy weight in a fast explosive movement and therefore require large amounts of power. Consequently, training programs containing Olympic weightlifting exercises can improve power movements such as jumping and sprinting, and thus improving athletic performance in power-based sports.
Additionally, Olympic weightlifting mimics the biomechanical properties of other sporting movements. Common movements within sport include the athletic position and the triple extension.
The athletic position places the athlete in a standing position to maximize strength, power, and speed. During the second pull of the snatch and clean, and drive of the jerk, lifters extend their legs, consequently powering out of the power position. Therefore, Olympic weightlifting can improve jumping performance.
The triple extension involves the simultaneous extension of the hips, knees, and ankles to produce an explosive action. The triple extension is seen in the second pull of the snatch and clean, and the drive of the jerk. This movement is replicated in many sports especially those which involve sprinting and jumping, therefore Olympic weightlifting can provide a strong training foundation to improve sprinting a jumping performance.
Characteristics of weightlifting sports
Weightlifting is a term used to describe the action of moving a load. However, weightlifting sports can vary significantly in their characteristics. Olympic weightlifting is not the same as powerlifting or bodybuilding; below we outline the key characteristics of each.
Olympic weightlifting involves moving weight from the floor to overhead in a powerful, explosive movement. Olympic lifts, the snatch, and clean & jerk are highly technical lifts. Training typically consists of technique and strength building. Technique work typically involves building power in a phase of the lift. Strength work is typically completed in single-plane movements for 2-6 reps with 3-5mins rest between sets. Olympic weightlifting also prioritizes mobility and flexibility drills.
The goal of bodybuilding is to develop an aesthetic body for a show. Bodybuilders typically use weightlifting for hypertrophy and fat loss goals. Bodybuilding training utilizes many compound and isolation exercises typically for 8-15 reps, sometimes performed as supersets, with moderate weight to promote isolated muscle building and fat loss. Diet and lifestyle are also carefully controlled to maximize aesthetic results.
Powerlifting involves lifting a heavy load in a single plane of motion. Lifters will perform the squat, bench, and deadlift at a powerlifting meet. Powerlifters training typically consists of the 3 main lifts performed with heavy loads for 2-5 reps separated by long rest periods of 3-6mins. Isolation exercises are still included but remain an accessory rather than the focus of the workout.
In summary, Olympic weightlifting requires strength, speed, power, and mobility to perform high-speed technical lifts. Bodybuilding emphasizes training for hypertrophy and fat loss. Powerlifting involves maximizing strength in the bench, squat, and deadlift by training with low rep ranges, slow tempos, and long rest periods.
All 3 are fantastic resistance training methods that provide great health benefits. They all have their place in the sporting industry, and each can provide something to improve athletic performance.
Advantages and disadvantages
As discussed, Olympic weightlifting is both a sport and a training tool to help improve athletic performance within other sports. Olympic weightlifting can be a useful tool, but may also hinder sporting performance when other training options may provide greater benefits. Below we list some of the advantages and disadvantages for Olympic weightlifting:
- Improves jump and sprint performance
- Increases force and power development
- Biomechanically similar to jumping
- Benefits joints
- Adds variety to training
- Requires good mobility, flexibility, and balance
- Technical lifts
- Risk of moving heavy weight quickly, often above the head, therefore risk of serious injury
- Requires equipment and space, so cannot typically done at home
- Other less-technical exercises can improve power
We hope you’ve gained a better understanding of Olympic weightlifting in this article. In summary, Olympic weightlifting is a sport involving the snatch and the clean & jerk. Both movements require the lifter to move a loaded bar from the floor to overhead. Olympic weightlifting can also be used to improve athletic performance, particularly in sports that require strength, speed, and power. However, Olympic weightlifting does involve highly technical lifts that require time to practice and perform correctly. Other weightlifting sports including bodybuilding and powerlifting can provide tools to improve athletic performance, depending on the athlete’s goals.