With the boom of Crossfit, Olympic lifting has never been more popular. This is great, because the O lifts are fun, technical, challenging, and a great way to build power and athleticism. This is also terrible because the people who are now doing these lifts are very likely sedentary for 160 hours a week that they aren’t training, and have mobility or stability issues that can make the O lifts a very dangerous choice of exercise. Without getting too technical, this will help you find out if using these lifts in your training routines is worth the risk.
The Olympic lifts consist of the snatch and the clean and jerk. There are a ton of different variations of these that can be utilized, but that will be left to another article. Maybe the next one. Anyway, we’re going to discuss some of the bare minimum prerequisites that are necessary to ensure that you’re able to do these lifts safely and effectively, but before we get to that, I’d like to ask the question, “Who needs to be doing the Olympic lifts?” When I say ‘needs,’ I mean that literally. Who is unable to use a different exercise in place of the snatch and clean and jerk to develop explosive power? Realistically, there are two groups of people; Olympic weightlifters (duh) and Crossfit competitors. While there are definitely athletes in other sports that can benefit from the explosive hip drive, there are a plethora (I love that word) of other exercises that can develop it with far less technical mastery.
So, we’ve established who has to be doing the O lifts. Now let’s discuss what you need to be able to do in order to learn and practice the lifts. You should be proficient at overhead barbell pressing with both a close and wide grip. (If you can’t pass a shoulder flexion test you shouldn’t even be doing barbell presses.) You should be able to deadlift with a close and wide grip with a flat back and do it pain free. You should also be able to do pain free kettlebell swings with at least 50% of your bodyweight as well. For the snatch, you need to be able to do a full overhead squat and be able to pause in the bottom position. For cleans, you need to be able to do a full range front squat with your hands in the front rack position. If you struggle with any of these exercises, the first things you need to do is make sure you can do them with pristine form. There are too many people attempting to do the O lifts without making sure they can do the fundamental movements that comprise them. Get strong and mobile in these positions and then worry about doing the full lifts later. Well, unless you want to jack up your shoulders, back, elbows, knees, wrists, or ankles.
The last thing you need in order to do the O lifts is an actual weightlifting coach. While it’s possible to learn how to do them without being taught in person, you are much more likely to hurt yourself if you don’t hire a qualified professional to teach you. I’ve seen many personal trainers attempt to teach their clients how to do these lifts, and it is very rarely a pretty site. I can actually count on one hand the number of people I’ve seen do the O lifts with good form, let alone good form and decent weight. The results you will get from a good weightlifting coach will be well worth the investment.
By now you should realize that the O lifts should be approached with a certain amount of respect. They are probably the two exercises that are most likely to cause an injury, and if you don’t take the prerequisites seriously and get trained on how to do them correctly, they will very quickly derail your workouts. That being said, if you’re able to do everything I mentioned above, have the time and money to hire an actual weightlifting coach, need the Olympic lifts for your particular sport, and the benefits of doing them outweigh the risks, then you should be using them in your training.
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