Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Learning Olympic Weightlifting On Your Own – The 5 Optimal Steps - By James Athanasiou

A 2 month rabbit hole in YouTube consuming video after video on Olympic weightlifting sparked my desire to practice it myself. It seemed to be such an elegant sport, balancing speed, strength and mobility all the same. Surely, I thought, it would take no time before I was able to lift 225 overhead.

And I couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, it will take months or years to get your technique close to being solid. And without it, you're very much likely to injure yourself in any body part you can think of. Struggling to Snatch 40kg in the first training, I knew that I was poorly mistaken.

However, I've now gotten to a quite succesful point, in regards to getting the technique right. Still no 225 thrown overhead though. It took more than six months to learn these 5 lessons the hard way. I've put them all in this article for you, just to make sure you're well aware of what you're getting yourself into – as well as how to best avoid any serious setbacks.

I'll have to warn you though: It is far better for you to get a certified coach to break down the technique properly, work on your individual weaknesses and guide you to the right path quickly. If that's not an option, then keep reading through.

  1. Stick to using light weights for the first 3 months

Knowing myself and most enthusiasts out there, it feels incredibly appealing to just grab the bar and try shooting up as much weight as possible. The most probable outcomes? Crushing your pelvic bone, losing balance in a terrible way or - heaven forbid -  dropping the bar mid movement on yourself. I'd even argue that it is best to use just an empty barbell for the first month and stick to mastering the next principles. 

If, however, you find gradually increasing the weight helpful, make sure you do so in a slow and sensible way. A rule I personally stuck with was to add no more than 15lbs after a month of successful progress. Your starting weight will largely be determined by your general strength and adaptation to the new movements. Ideally, it can range from 70 to 110lbs.

  1. Break down the movement in drills

This is especially crucial for the first few weeks of starting out. Grab an empty barbell and start drilling down the movements. 

For the Snatch: Start with pulling from the floor to your hips for a few reps. When you feel comfortable with the snatch grip, start practicing contact by pulling from the knees to the hips and then making triple extension (ankles, knees and hips fully extend as the bar makes contact with the hips). Do NOT bend your arms unless the bar has reached its maximum height.

When you've mastered the explosive part of the movement, it's time to practice receiving the bar. As the bar reaches its maximum height, you start bending your arms and dropping under to catch it in a full-depth squat. Ideally, you want your shoulders to internally rotate, meaning your head leans ahead of the barbell and your shoulders retract.

For the Clean: The pull & contact part is the same, just with the standard double overhand grip.

After the bar has reaching maximum height, you receive it in the front rack position (bar placed between shoulders and clavicle, elbows looking forward), while squatting as deep as needed.

For the Jerk: As you come back up, stop and take a deep breath. Then slightly bend your knees until you feel tension and power in your legs. After that, quickly squat back up, drive overhead, and dip under in a Split or Power Jerk position. In the Split, you'll have your most balanced leg forward and your weaker leg back to create a triangle shape support, whereas the Power Jerk requires that you get back to the position you had before getting the bar overhead – and lifting it back up. Both dips should be small and tight, getting power from tension gathered in the leg muscles.

  1. Improve your mobility before anything else

Even before thinking about touching the barbell, you need to have an above average level of mobility, meaning you can comfortably Squat full ATG depth, hold the Front Rack Position and balance the bar overhead with an Internal Rotation of the shoulders. The best way to do that is the following mobility routine at the start of each session:

  1. Full Depth Squat: Hold for 2-3 minutes

  2. Ankle Stretches: Lean on one leg with the knee as far forward and the foot as far back as possible. Hold it for 10-15sec in each leg.

  3. Elbow Stretches: In the Front Rack position, dynamically extend your elbows as much forward as you can for 10-15 reps in each arm.

  4. 3 sets of 10-12 reps at Back Extensions for getting your lower back warmed up

  5. Overhead Squats with empty barbell and pause at the bottom. Do 8-10 reps with Internal Rotation of the shoulders.

4) Include Strength Specific Movements:

This is the movements I'd recommend you implement for getting your muscles used to transferring heavy loads from one part of the lift to another when performing the full movement:

  1. Double Overhand Deadlifts (1x per month): Work up to a heavy load and use double overhand or Hookgrip to lift it. The hookgrip is a tool used by all weightlifters, where you put your thumbs inside the bar and surround them with the rest of your fingers.

  2. Snatch Grip Deadlifts (1x per month): Use the same principles, only with your hands gripping at the same width as you would in the snatch. Practice doing a small shrug at the end of the rep.

  3. Front Squat (1x per week): This is the core of a weightlifter's strength. Directly transfering to the Clean and general leg strength, this lift requires as much upper as it does lower body contribution. Work up to a relatively heavy load – ideally around 75-80% of your Back Squat – and do a proper full depth squat with it.

  4. Snatch Balance (1x per two weeks): Unrack the bar like you would back squat it, then widen your grip to Snatch Grip, bend your knees slightly to the power position – then quickly throw the bar overhead and dip under. This directly transfers to your Snatch and general balance. Use up to 60% less of what you would in the Overhead Press.

  5. Push Press (1x per week): More than anything, this will help you find the Power Position in your legs, as well as strengthen your shoulders and upper body without restricting your mobility. Don't be afraid to work up to 30% more than you would in the standard overhead press.

5) Practice the full movements

All of that is ideal for properly preparing your body, but there's no point in doing so if you don't get to practice the Olympic lifts themselves. What I'd suggest is you start with mastering the 4 steps above for the first month, and then switch to practicing the Full Snatch and Full Clean & Jerk 1x per week each.

And that sums it up. Both these movements are highly taxing on the body and require pinpoint precision and adjustments to get optimal and safe results. They're also incredibly rewarding and a true indicator of the beauty and capability of one's body. 

Start practicing today, don't let your hesitations postpone your progress any further. Remember to always keep it simple & fun, as only then you'll be able to endure failures and upsets – while genuinely becoming better. Thank you for reading this post, all the best wishes for strength and fulfillment through your training.

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