Olympic Weightlifting is the sport of quickly getting heavy weights overhead. It’s great for training explosive strength, speed, coordiation, balance… the works.
If you want to start Olympic weightlifting, we recommend you check out this Olympic Weightlifting Starter Plan before attempting it own your own. This plan includes video tutorials & demonstrations by elite weightlifting coach Diane Fu of FuBarbell for basic Olympic lifts such as the Clean, Snatch, and Jerk.
Olympic Weightlifting: The Basics
The discipline of Olympic weightlifting aims to test explosive strength, speed, agility, and coordination. The goal of each lift is to get the most weight from the ground to overhead, quickly and with proper form. There are two lifts that weightlifters are tested on:
- The Snatch: The Snatch is by far the more advanced & technical of the two Olympic lifts. It’s one explosive movement in which you pull the weight off the ground, drop under it in a squat to “catch” the bar overhead, then rise up to standing.
- The Clean and Jerk: The clean and jerk is actually a combination of two separate lifts, that together make up one Olympic lift. The clean involved pulling the weight off the ground and dropping below it in a squat to “catch” the weight at your shoulders, then rising up to standing. Once standing, the jerk is initiated, pushing the bar overhead to complete the lift.
Olympic Weightlifting: The Snatch
General Snatch Breakdown:
- Pull from the ground or a low hang
- Explosive triple extension of the ankles, knees, & hips
- Powerful shrug of the shoulders up to the ears
- Pull with the arms, keeping elbows high and out to the side & the bar close to your body
- Rapid drop into a squat under the bar, locking the arms out
- Stand up from this overhead squat position to complete the snatch
As seen in the image above, there are a few snatch variations to train with: The squat snatch, power snatch, hang squat snatch, and hang power snatch. Only the squat snatch is used in official Olympic Weightlifting competitions. For detailed descriptions of the four variations, check out this article on the snatch.
Olympic Weightlifting: The Clean
Squat Clean Breakdown:
- The Pull: For the squat clean, this starts from the ground. The pulling motion follows deadlift technique to bring the weight off the ground and up to thigh-height.
- The Jump: When the bar reaches thigh or hip-crease height, a jump & hip thrust is initiated. Use the momentum of the jump & thrust to arc the bar up to shoulder height, quickly rotating the elbows underneath the bar.
- The Catch: You’ve rotated your elbows & wrists under the bar during the jump, then descend immediately into a front squat. This allows you to get underneath the bar and “catch” it at your shoulders in a rack position. Stand up from the squat to complete the squat clean.
There are four variations of the clean, although the squat clean is the only variation that is tested at Olympic weightlifting meets. For details on the four variations: Squat clean, power clean, hang squat clean, and hang power clean, check out this guide to the clean.
Olympic Weightlifting: The Jerk
Breakdown of the Split Jerk:
- Dip: Beginning with the barbell racked at your shoulders, initiate the movement with a slight dip in the knees.
- Drive: Drive the bar upwards by straightening the knees and pushing the bar upwards, letting your heels lift slightly off the ground.
- Catch: This is where things get different from the push jerk. During the drive your momentum is moving all the weight upwards, giving you a moment of “weightlessness”. This is a slight heel lift in the push jerk, but for a split jerk you use this small moment to snap the feet apart, coming into a lunge position, known as the split foothold. This lunge once again allows you to get underneath the bar to “catch” it, then lock out.
- Recovery: To finish the lift, step your back foot & front foot one at a time, to meet back the middle, ending standing straight up.
There are two foothold variations of the jerk: The split jerk is shown in the image above, and is favored by weightlifters because the split foothold provides more stability for a really heavy catch. The other variation is a push jerk, in which both feet stay parallel. To read up on both variations in detail, check out our guide to the jerk.