Olympic Lifting: How to Start Safely

By Melissa Collins-Gut: Pinnacle Performance Fitness Coach and Lead for Women’s Training

Olympic Lifting has grown in popularity through the years. Partly with the introduction of Crossfit, but also through more athletes using Olympic style weightlifting as part of their strength and conditioning programs. With this popularity comes all the debates: “Does Olympic Lifting actually benefit performance?”

While it is unmistakable that Olympic Lifts generate a lot of power, they are also some of the most technical lifts one can do. Therefore, it is crucial to have a knowledgeable coach to help and assist you through the progressions of each lift – to ensure you are getting the benefits – but also to ensure your safety.

Here are just a few of the benefits of Olympic Lifting:
• Increase in speed
• Increase in dynamic power output
• Improve strength
• Better body awareness
• Better flexibility
• Increase in motor proprioception
• Increase in stability through the core and shoulders.

As a performance athlete at Pinnacle, you can see how these gains would be beneficial to anyone. On the other hand, Olympic Lifting is extremely taxing neurologically, as it is so difficult to execute an Olympic lift perfectly. There is a reason it is the only weightlifting sport involved in the Olympics! You certainly aren’t going to perfect these lifts overnight. So while the rewards look great, you won’t get any of them with poor technique, not to mention the risk of injury.

With smart coaching involving appropriate rate of progressions, you will achieve a lot of the benefits of Olympic Lifting in a safe and positive environment. The best part is, anyone can start small and reap the rewards. So let’s take a look at some of these progressions and what to look for at each stage.

Step 1: Power Position

While there are several ways to coach Olympic Lifts, I prefer the Top-Down method.

Hitting the perfect starting position from the floor is the most common obstacle to achieving the benefits listed above. Usually due to poor mobility or flexibility. This is why we use this method and get the power position right first, then we can work our way down.

Athletes begin to work on achieving power through triple extension while continuing to work on their mobility to get them into that perfect starting position.

In this image I have outlined the Power Position in both the Clean and Snatch and some key points to execute from this position.

Step 2: Mid Knee Position

Once you have mastered the Power Position, it is time to move onto the next phase, the Mid-Knee Position, continuing the catch in the Power Position.

This is where a beginner can begin to create more power by incorporating even more of the hip drive before advancing to a Full Floor start.

The important points to focus on are outlined in the image:
Shoulders are in front of the bar
Arms straight
Shins vertical
Again keeping feet flat on the floor

Step 3: Starting from the Floor

The next step is to get you starting from the Floor, while still catching in the Power Position.

You now have to get the barbell moving from a starting position that will most efficiently get you into a solid Mid-Knee position setting you up for the 2nd pull where the athlete will generate the most power.

This stage will likely be the most technical because without a solid starting position, your entire lift could be thrown off.

Keep your chest upright, elbows at your knees and the bar should be over the base of your toes.

Finally, you have mastered the Power Clean/Snatch from the floor and you are ready to put it all together with the final technique to master, pulling yourself under the bar into the final catch position. In the clean this will be a deep Front Squat position, while in the Snatch a deep Overhead Squat Position is obtained. I like to teach athletes to pull with straight arms and immediately after achieving the triple extension position, begin to pull themselves down into the Squat position. While learning how to pull yourself under the bar, you might find that you are ending up somewhere between a power clean and a full deep squat catch. If this is the case, at your catch position make sure to fully squat down into a full bottom position before standing up. Your goal is to pull yourself under fully to catch at the bottom of your squat.

Similar to the Clean and Snatch, we can use progressions to work up to a technically sound Jerk while continually working on mastering the footwork involved in getting from the dip position in the Jerk to the final catch split position. While learning the footwork, an athlete can start by learning the Push Press and then the Push Jerk before moving into a full Split Jerk. Below you can see the proper position for all of the overhead push movements and some key points to think about during each phase.

If at any stage you are starting to lose form, just return back to the previous phase and continue training the technique. It is very important that you do not continually train bad habits. So make sure each phase is mastered before progressing further.

While Olympic lifting may be one of the most technical aspects of training that you attempt, it can be made available to any athlete at any ability through using these progressions. At Pinnacle we strive to provide the safest and most individualised approach to every aspect of our training programs. With our Olympic Lifting program in place, every athlete can progress at their own pace. Each 4 week cycle will focus on a different Olympic Lift and any additional strength and technical work for that particular lift. If you are interested in improving your technique or building power and speed, speak to your lead coach today and join us in our Olympic Lifting specific sessions.

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