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Olympic Weightlifting: What it is, What it isn't, and how to get started

Olympic Weightlifting

While in school 2.5 years ago I started meddling with Olympic Weightlifting, thanks to a few good guys willing to show me the ropes of how they work and the raw basics of the movement. Over those years, I have learned the importance of Olympic Weightlifting for progression in the gym, in sport, and in life. This article is to educate those that may be unfamiliar to the lifts, wondering what they are, or those who may be interested in getting started but have no idea how, like myself 2.5 years ago. My hope is that after reading this, the next time you see a guy/girl doing Olympic Weightlifting in your gym, you will recall the topics mentioned in this article and spark your interest further in the lifts.

This article will be a 2 part series; this article will go through what olympic weightlifting is, and the next article to follow will be how to get started, and a few drills to practice at home.

 What is Olympic Weightlifting (Weightlifting)?

Olympic Weightlifting is a strength/power sport in which 2 lifts are contested; the snatch and the clean & jerk. ‘Weightlifting’ is different from ‘Weight-Lifting’ and ‘Weight-training’, where the former refers to the execution of the snatch and clean and jerk in the gym or competition, and the 2 latter simply refer to the act of lifting a weight, such as a bicep curl. All of these are different from ‘Powerlfiting’ which is the sport of executing 3 lifts; the squat, deadlift, and bench press. I could bore you with the history of Olympic Weightlifting but I wont, and all I will mention is that it has been around for a LONG time and has been in the Olympics since the early 1900s, where competitors have 3 attempts on each lift to successfully lift as much weight as they can.

As mentioned above, Olympic weightlifting (weightlifting) is the act of performing the snatch and clean & jerk, or some variation of both. The goal of weightlifting is simple: to lift a certain amount of weight from the floor to overhead in one (or two, in the clean & jerk) swift motion. Sounds easy right? In theory it is, but if you want to lift as much weight as possible while staying injury free, mastering the technique can take years of practice.

 The snatch has a wider based grip, and the bar is raised from the floor to overhead in one motion. The lifter catches the bar in the overhead squat position, and then stands up.


The clean and jerk has 2 motions, the first motion requires the bar to be ‘cleaned’, where the bar is lifted from the floor to the shoulders in one motion. The second motion is the ‘jerk’ where the bar is driven overhead by use of the legs, and is caught with straight arms.

 What is Olympic Weightlifting (Weightlifting) good for?

The snatch and clean and jerk are full body motions that require a combination of strength, power, speed, flexibility, and endurance. You need strength to lift a heavy weight off the floor, power to elevate the bar once it passes your knees from the initial pull, speed to get under the bar, flexibility to get into the positions needed to be as efficient as possible and avoid injury, and you need endurance to be able to do this day after day in the gym.

While the snatch and clean & jerk are commonly thought to be solely used for competition purposes, this isn’t the case anymore. Power variations of the lifts are used at a large capacity for sport training, and both movements are widely used throughout CrossFit workouts.

The snatch and clean & jerk are incredibly useful training tools for functional full body development. Just think, performing a clean is a combination of a deadlift, front squat, and press requiring the use of the main muscles of the body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, spinal erectors, trapezius, shoulder stabilizers… you get the idea). The muscles/movements involved during the snatch & clean and jerk is a topic for another article, but for now just know that there is A LOT of muscles involved. Getting better and better at the snatch/clean & jerk means that you’re not only learning the movements, but all muscles required to perform the movements are getting faster, stronger, more powerful and most importantly, they are being trained to work in conjunction together.

I am a big advocate for training the Olympic lifts for general strength and power gains based on the above points. Building strength in the glutes, hamstrings, quads and back is more advantageous when they are trained to work in conjunction with each other, as opposed to being trained in isolation via knee extensions, glute extensions, back extensions etc. Even if someone has no inclination in entering Olympic Weightlifting competitions, in my opinion there is no better way to become strong and powerful than to train the  snatch and clean & jerk in your local gym, just for the sake of becoming good at the lifts and to increase power and strength.

What Olympic Weightlifting (Weightlifting) Isn’t:

Olympic Weightlifting is not CrossFit. A lot of the time there is misconception in the general public that someone who is performing a snatch or clean & jerk is doing CrossFit, which is not true. CrossFit utilizes the snatch and clean & jerks in their workouts for power/strength purposes, but incorporates more endurance into the movements, requiring more reps at a time than traditional Olympic Weightlifting of just lifting the weight once. CrossFit has inserted the snatch and clean & jerk into their workouts, in turn making the lifts more well known to the general population. A lot can be credited to CrossFit for bringing weightlifting back into style and back into the media, and this article probably wouldn’t be written without that popularization. 

Olympic Weightlifting is not only for people that want to compete in Olympic Weightlifting competitions. Weightlifting is commonly used in sport training that involves power generation, like football and hockey. Here’s NFL rookie running back Saquon Barkley power cleaning 380lbs 3 times like its nothing…..


Since Weightlifting requires a ton of body coordination, total body power/strength output, and increased physical demands on the body compared to traditional weight-lifting it is commonly used for sport training. It also demands the athlete to be quick, body aware, and flexible.

Olympic Weightlifting is not only for athletes. With practice, patience, and hard work, Weightlifting can be done by those with some sport and gym experience. One must make sure they have the basics of the movements down and start off with a light weight and progress accordingly, but if a good base is developed then Weightlifting can absolutely be done by the general population.

How do I get started?

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article explaining how to get started, and a few drills to help you on that journey.

Questions? Email us at spineandsportsck@gmail.com instead of turning to your good friend doctor google :) 


Dr. William Powls, Chiropractor