This article is our introduction to weightlifting; beginner’s guide and weightlifting program all in one.

We’ll cover the basics of weightlifting: technique for the snatch, clean, and jerk, as well as weightlifting programs and strength/accessory exercise.  We provide everything from the basics and history to weightlifting programs for a variety of different needs.

Why Should you Care about Weightlifting?

Crossfit Power Clean WomenOlympic weightlifting has become more popular than ever, gaining serious momentum because of a mixture of social media representation and the unstoppable CrossFit hype train.

With the development of a bigger participation, the quality of coaching and lifting has become diluted. It’s a tough sport to break into for beginners and the technical nature makes it both unforgiving and amazingly fun.

This article is going to provide you with all the most important tips that you’ve probably been missing out on. These are the basics for stepping it up from a novice to a serious, proficient lifter.

We’re going to cover 3 main areas:

  • Basic mobility and stability for weightlifting
  • Technique
  • Strength and programming

These are the 3 most important areas that need your time and effort if you want to improve. Alternatively, you could not read this article and end up on the next viral compilation of ‘GymFails’!

What is Olympic Weightlifting?

Olympic Weightlifting is the sport of putting heavy weights over your head – fast.
It’s a sport of who can lift the most weight, but it uses much more complicated lifts than the simple strength movements of powerlifting. Weightlifting is an “everything” sport: you have to be strong, fast, and mobile.

There are two lifts: the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. The snatch is a single movement from the floor to overhead, while the clean and jerk is split into two parts – the clean is from the floor to the shoulders, while the jerk is the portion between the shoulders and overhead.

“Weightlifting is a competitive discipline”

Athletes compete in both of these and the combined weight of both disciplines is the total – the number used to determine who wins. Weightlifting is a competitive discipline – that’s why its at the Olympics – but these competitions are open to absolute beginners.

A Brief History of Olympic Weightlifting

Weightlifting events have been at the Olympics since their restart in modern times back in 1896. This original sport included dumbbells as well as barbells, as many as 17 exercises, and judgment based on technique as well as weight.

3 Olympic Lifts?

The sport evolved over the years: weight classes were introduced in 1920 and many of the exercises were dropped out until the dumbbell was removed entirely in 1928. By the 1932 Olympics, Weightlifting was starting to look like an established sport – the barbell was the only implement with 3, simple movements for competing:

  • Snatch
  • Clean and Jerk
  • Clean and Press

This continued until 1972 when the press was dropped – there were too may judging issues with the press, two clean-based exercises unbalanced the competition and there were genuine risks to athletes’ back health.

Women entered the Olympics in weightlifting in 2000

Women entered the Olympics in weightlifting in 2000 and, ever since, the sport has been moving towards a greater state of equal representation. By the time of the upcoming 2020 Olympics, there will be an equal number of weight classes (and thus medals) for both men and women.

Women in Olympic Weight Lifting

Olympic Weightlifting vs Powerlifting

Weightlifting and powerlifting have a lot in common: huge strength, big lifts on the competition platform and dedicated fan followings.

They’re related sports – powerlifting evolved out of the oddlift events – competitions in non-Olympic exercises that were used to train for weightlifting.

There are some big differences between the two, however – especially as they have developed separately over the past 60 years or so.

There’s more carryover from weightlifting to powerlifting than vice versa: elite weightlifters make great powerlifters, but it takes some serious time to convert a powerlifter to become a decent weightlifter.

Weightlifting is about power, whereas powerlifting is all about strength. This might seem crazy given their names, but powerlifting is about being strong in simple patterns: the squat, bench press and deadlift.

These are slow, grinding exercises about getting as strong as possible and shortening how far you have to move the bar.

Powerlifting is a great sport with a huge following and it’s grown alongside weightlifting, but its about brute strength while weightlifting is more technical and athletic: it has a greater demand for flexibility, speed and coordination/balance. There are more similarities than differences, however: they’re the two barbell sports and powerlifting and weightlifting are sister sports, not competitors!

 

Weightlifting vs Powerlifting

CrossFit and Weightlifting

CrossFit and weightlifting have a few important things in common, but they’re very distinct.

CrossFit is a type of exercise that uses barbell movements, but it’s about doing more movement, not better or heavier. CrossFit uses weightlifting movements – albeit their own variations – and focus on as many reps, or as short a time, as possible.

CrossFit and Weightlifting also have totally different aims: weightlifting aims at specificity, while CrossFit aims at complexity and a wide variety of movements.

 Crossfit vs Weightlifting

Weightlifting is estimated to be anywhere between 30% and 50% of CrossFit, but we think its even more than this! Weightlifting is the ultimate sport of strength and power, which are the two athletic qualities that underlie everything from speed to endurance.

Simply put, getting better at weightlifting will make you better at pretty much everything.

With 2 former- or current-weightlifters in the champion sports (for male and female), its obvious that being familiar with the weightlifting movements is a significant part of getting better at CrossFit.

So, whether you’re here to learn a new and awesome way to train, try your hand at the Olympics or simply improve your WOD (workout of the day) times, these tips and programs will be great for improving your technique and strength.

Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

So you’ve gotten this far and you’re wondering why you should bother with weightlifting. You might not have an interest in getting to the Olympics or CrossFit Games, but you can still gain huge, life-changing benefits that don’t come with a medal!

Here are a few ways that Olympic Weightlifting can improve your health, fitness and well-being:

Woman Olympic Weightlifting for Fitness

General Exercise Benefits

Olympic Weightlifting training is a form of exercise, obviously, so its going to have some of the general benefits that you see from other, less-exciting exercise like treadmills.

This means burning calories, boosting your hormonal health, increasing muscle tone, improving heart health and reducing your all-round risk of dying from something avoidable.

Olympic Weightlifting is a great contributor to your overall health and well-being – but it’s far more fun than an hour on the treadmill!

Joint Health

Weightlifting for Joint HealthIf you train properly and ensure you’re stretching properly, you’re going to improve the healthy of your bones and joints.

Strength training and healthy amounts of impact strengthen the bones and joints over time, reducing your risk of everything from osteoporosis to arthritis.

Weightlifting and diet are enough to drastically improve your long-term health and wellbeing, keeping you strong and independent as you age.

Power and Healthy Aging

Think you’re going to get too old and stop benefiting from weightlifting? The opposite is true.

Stength and power training is key for improving your long-term health. We’ve already discussed bones and joints above, but power training (basically everything in Olympic Weightlifting) is a key way of staying healthy as you get older.

Power is important because it’s the athletic characteristic that allows you to recover from falls, stabilise joints and protect yourself. It’s tied intimately to the way that your reactions/reflexes work and, as you age, you lose muscle and become worse at all of these things – drastically increasing your risk of falls and injury.

Weight training, and power training in particular, have been shown to be a key factor in how you’re going to age. Training weightlifting is a great if you’d like to avoid getting frail and injury-prone.

A Lean, Muscular Physique

You want to get leaner, more muscular and better looking, right?

Olympic weightlifters have great physiques because their training works everything. Snatches and Clean and jerks develop every muscle in the body and getting better at them while on a balanced diet is guaranteed to improve your physique.

Weightlifting is also great for burning fat and getting leaner. While an hour on a treadmill will burn more calories than weightlifting (unless it kills you), the weight training has a greater overall calorie-burn because it causes muscle building and repair- something that requires huge amounts of calories.

Weightlifting for a Great Body

This is also going to mean a much better result if/when you get leaner. Unless you want to look like a marathon runner, you’re going to need more muscle mass to achieve your dream body – even when you’re already lean. Weight training is the fastest and most effective way to achieve this muscular development!

Psychological Benefits

They’re not only important for making sure that your body is healthy: weight training and Weightlifting are great for your mental health and long-term self-esteem.

Using numbers to represent weights, you can get a clear idea of the speed and nature of your progress.

This means you can set, track, and accomplish goals in a meaningful way.

It’s not just numbers, however – it’s a meaningful goal that is related to improved personal health, strength, and competence.

Taking up weightlifting has changed many people, empowering them and teaching them self-control, determination, patience and even how to plan and execute on success in any field of life.

You could be one of those people – and we’re going to tell you how to do it as effectively as possible.

What Muscles does the Clean and Jerk work?

The benefits of Olympic weightlifting also stem from the fact that the snatch and clean and jerk are full-body movements and use every muscle and joint in the body. They require huge stability, strength and power.

Clean and Jerk Anatomy
From the FreeFitnessGuru site: http://www.freefitnessguru.com/Anatomy/Clean_and_Jerk_Anatomy.html

The Olympic lifts are a great way of developing full-body power, as well as performing large amounts of exercise in a relatively short time frame (ask anyone that’s done 5s on hang snatch), improve time-efficiency of workouts and build everything from strength to flexibility and core control.

Simply put, an Olympic weightlifting session is a complete workout and you’re going to see all-over changes in your body – as well as improvements in all athletic characteristics.

Equipment for Weightlifting

Belt

Dark Iron Weight Lifting Belt
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Weightlifting belts are for performance and safety – they use the same principles as belts for powerlifting. These belts protect your back by providing resistance: you push out into the belt, increasing the pressure in your core.

During the clean and jerk, you’ll be approaching maximum weights in your front squat. With the speed of the movement and the amount of weight used, its going to be important to keep your core and back strong and stable.

Shoes

Weightlifting shoes are designed to put you in the best positions for squats and Olympic lifts. They provide a lift to the heel to improve the squatting position, stability in 3 dimensions and a hard, flat sole to apply the most force through the floor.

Adidas Men's Powerlift 3 1 Cross Trainer
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There are many options available with Nike, Adidas and Reebok all providing popular options. These shoes range from $100 to $300 and each come with their own benefits. If it has a decent heel lift, feels stable on your foot and the sole is not squidgy you’re going to do fine.

Remember, however, that these shoes shouldn’t be a replacement for proper mobility, balance and stability. While you might have a better squat position because of the shoes, you don’t get to skip your ankle mobility work!

Wraps/Straps

Weightlifting does put pressure on the joints and you can take steps to keep your elbows, knees, or wrist healthy. The elbows need to be visible in competitions, but you can find knee wraps and wrist wraps in every top-level weightlifting competition.

MANIMAL Wrist Wraps
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These are designed to support the joints during maximal lifts, where the risk of injury is greatest and compressive forces on the wrists are at their highest.

The wrists are complicated and have many small bones, as well as a huge range of motion, so it’s key to keep them secure and safe. With the huge weights that can be lifted overhead, wraps reduce any unwanted movement and, in the worst-case scenario, they’ll keep you wrists safe.

Knee sleeves or wraps are used to keep the knees warm, reduce shock forces through the knee and keep you healthy during a deep, deep squat! If you’ve seen weightlifters at the Olympics, you’ll notice that their bottom position in the snatch or clean is very deep and protecting the knees from any stress is a good way to stay healthy and lifting well for longer.

Wrapping and other supportive gear should only be used when necessary – during periods of soreness or with maximal weights. There’s no real benefit to wrapping your wrists for warm-up sets, especially since you might be using them to compensate for stability, balance or proper patterns overhead. Practice the same movement with or without them and make sure that you’re not relying on external stabilizers!

Mava Sports Knee Wraps
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Thumb Tape

Watching weightlifters, you’ll notice that their thumbs are often covered in tape. This isn’t just for fashion purposes – even if it looks cool and comes in snazzy colors.

Thumb taping is a common practice because hookgrip hurts and it’s easy to cause damage to your thumbs – either the skin or the nerves – if you’re not careful. There’s no real risk, but with the amount of repetitions that weightlifters perform, it’s easier and healthier to provide a little protection.

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Thumb tape is starting to become popular – you can use a number of different tapes from elastic tape, zinc oxide and athletic strapping. There are even dedicated thumb tape providers like Lyft-Rx and AverageBroz that design products specifically for weightlifters.

Mobility and Stability for Olympic Weightlifting

If you’ve marvelled at the amazing feats of athleticism that weightlifters perform at the Olympics, you’ll know how demanding Olympic Weightlifting (or just ‘Weightlifting’ from now on) can be. It’s not just muscling big weights – it’s all about being fast and strong, stable but flexible.

Woman Weightlifter Clean and Jerk

You don’t get to choose between strength and flexibility – the two are linked in ways you’ve never thought about and you’ll never lift the best weights without developing both. We’re going to take you through everything you need to know about each of these, what they mean, and how you can approach them for maximum performance!

Mobility vs Stability: How do they Work?

Mobillity and stability have been thought of as being opposites: how many muscular, stretchy guys do you hear about? We’ve always thought of strength and stability as competing with flexibility but that’s not how it works.

You need to be strong enough to hold your positions: your flexibility might suck because you’re immobile, but its also possible that you’re not strong or stable enough to hold the position.

Your body only reduces your mobility because you’ve not been moving or to protect you from injury. Getting stronger in the difficult end-range positions teaches your body to relax, reduces injury and improves your control over your own movements. You need to stretch and learn to control the new mobility you’ve gained!

Fix Your Core

You might have a 6-pack or a barrel, but you probably don’t know how to use your core properly. A lot of core training is all about crunches and planks without any real consideration for how the core works and what its designed to do.

If you’re training for strength or size in any sport, or just want to get bigger and stronger, you need to learn to move properly. Fixing your core dysfunction is the first place to start developing stability and mobility.

The most important thing to start with is finding a neutral spine, practicing that movement and strengthening the muscles in this position. This means performing stability-based exercises with a neutral core.

Planks and deadbugs are the best choices for this type of training – they challenge you to keep the core stable with light loading and you can add weight/resistance easily. They also train limb isolation.

Limb Isolation

Limb isolation is the training technique of learning to separate the movement of your limbs from the core. When you move in a snatch, clean and jerk or squat, you need to move the limbs while keeping the core stable and strong – this means not compensating through the trunk.

You might have incredible strength, but core-control is a real problem. If your hips rotate forwards/backwards when you squat, for example, you’re not using your core properly and this can compromise both your health and strength. You’re probably missing out on easy PRs because you can’t limb-isolate.

The deadbug (mentioned above) and bird-dog are two of the best exercises to train this type of movement. Keep your core and hips neutral while you move your arms and legs – this will train your core to function properly and carry over to a stronger snatch/clean and jerk.

Core Stability Improves Your Stretching

This also needs to be part of how you stretch: you should stretch your hips or shoulders while keeping the core neutral. This means less compensation in your core, more effective stretching, and better positions for your lifts.

Put yourself in the specific positions you want to get better at

If you stretch your quads but you’re compensating by tilting your hips forward and arching your back, you’re not training your mobility – you’re just overcompensating. Put yourself in the specific positions you want to get better at – it’s the first rule of training properly!

Fix Your Hips

Your hips need to be well-balanced for effective weightlifting performance. The hips are the engine for force production, but they also control your squatting positions.

If you’re going to be snatching or doing clean and jerk, you’re going to spend a lot of time in a deep squat – immobile hips are going to ruin your lifting and increase your injury risk.

Woman developing good form for Power Clean

Everyone has their own mobility and stability challenges, but the most common problems are simple and need addressing:

  • Tight Glutes/Adductors
  • Weak Glutes/Adductors

Remember – you can have tight, weak muscles – they aren’t strong just because they’re tight! Strengthening, stretching and controlling these muscle groups can drastically improve your technique, strength and hip health.

The best place to start is Kosack squats – perform them slowly and with as much control as possible. This exercise is all about lengthening and strengthening the adductors, as well as learning to keep your knees stable.

With the Kosack squat (and any other stretching movement), only ever go as far as you can control the movement – this is going to improve your flexibility and your control over this new flexibility. It’s no use developing more range of motion if you’re not in-control of that movement – that’s just going to lead to injury!

The pigeon stretch is the second key exercise – instead of working the adductors, this stretch is going to loosen the glutes and make sure you’re balanced across the hip. The glutes are a key part of hip, spine and knee health so you’re going to get a lot of bang for your buck with this stretch.

During the pigeon, focus on maximally tensing and relaxing the glutes (push your knee and foot through the floor) to really loosen your glutes.

Fix Your Shoulders

Your shoulders are going to take a real beating in weightlifting – whether you’re holding the bar or it’s over your head, you’re going to need serious stability and control. If you have dysfunction here its going to become an injury – quickly. If you’d like to not tear your rotator cuff, you’re going to need to bulletproof your shoulders.

Step one is learning to control your scapula. Your shoulder joint depends on the muscles around the shoulder blades and, if you’ve spent time working manual labor or sat at a desk, you’re going to need to teach these muscles how to move properly.

Stability and control here means bigger weights, healthier shoulders and putting muscle where it matters – the huge traps weightlifters are renowned for!

There are 2 main problems you’re going to face when it comes to the shoulders: tightness at the front and lack of strength/control at the back. This usually means a tight pec-shoulder complex and weak or poorly-controlled retractor/depressor muscles.

Start by loosening off the chest and shoulders using weighted dislocates – these are a common tool for developing strength, health and mobility in the shoulders among gymnasts. These athletes have some of the most impressive shoulders in all of sport, so you know they’re going to work for you!

Focus on slowly moving through the movement and reaching into the stretch – it might sting a bit but that’s the position where you’re tightest!

The second key exercise is a simple prone shoulder rotation. This exercise simply involves laying down and rotating your shoulder – it develops basic control over the shoulder girdle, improves strength in the weak muscles of the upper back and improves upper body posture significantly.

This is going to prepare the shoulders for effective movement and teach the shoulders-down-and-back position necessary for the best positions in weightlifting.

The final exercise for preparing the shoulders is the wall slide – another simple exercise designed to teach you how to raise your arms without compromising the stability of your upper back and shoulders.

This is key, considering how every movement in Olympic weightlifting is going to require overhead strength and stability. You’re not going to be able to deal with heavy weights with a soft upper back or shoulders.

Fix Your Ankles

The ankles are the last body part we’re going to focus on – they’re key to every squatting movement and they don’t get enough attention (except for when you’re lacking calves).

The ankles are a key part of keeping your lower body healthy and they require a significant amount of attention because they play a number of roles:

  • Keeping the knee healthy
  • Allowing for an upright position in the squat portion of the clean and snatch
  • Reducing the need for extreme hip mobility during every form of squat
  • Improved positioning from the floor in the snatch and clean
  • Proper dip positioning during the jerk

These are all key to lifting the heaviest weight you can with the lowest risk of injury or long-term posture problems.

You might have forgotten about your ankles with how far away they are, but they’re a common spot for injury and problems here will be felt up-stream in your knee and hip if you don’t solve them.

The ankles need mobility and stability work – just like any other joint. Mobility will be the main demand but adding extra range of motion means you need to teach better control, too.

Mobility starts with a complete ankle flexibility routine – a series of exercises designed to stretch and mobilize the ankles in different directions. Nobody likes working ankle mobility, but if you watch any top-level athlete train they’re going to have serious knee-tracking ability due to this important mobility work.

Stability work for the ankle should be involved at different heights and is best trained dynamically. While you might benefit from calf raises somewhere along the line, they’re not going to fix your ankle for the 3-dimensional stability they need. Controlled movement is your best friend here.

Start with progressions towards the pistol (or 1-legged) squat. This exercise challenges mobility and stability throughout the body, and there are a few easier variations that will teach you to stabilize in a way that is specific to the demands of weightlifting:

  • Step-down squat (steps 1-3)
  • Box pistol squat
  • Skater Squat

These all condition the ankles to carry your weight, stabilize in 3-dimensions and keep the knee properly aligned during a deep squat. Practicing these movements will develop the mobility and stability at the same time.

As ever, practice makes perfect and slowly, reliably practicing and loading these movements will make a big difference to your knee health, strength and squat positions.

Basics of the Olympic Lifts

There are 3 different key parts you need to master in weightlifting – the Snatch, the Clean, and the Jerk. While you have to complete the Clean and jerk as one movement, you’re going to need to master all 3 of these movements.

This is easier for some aspects of the sport than others – we’ve put together a simple graph to demonstrate the kind of difficulty of each movement.

The Snatch is the most difficult to deal with for beginners because of the huge demands on technique, balance and mobility/stability. It has a sharp learning curve but, after a while, becomes quite routine and familiar.  From there it will track your strength and power well.

The Clean is arguably the easiest part of weightlifting with the greatest room for error.

You can see plenty of heavy cleans by football players, sprinters and even powerlifters. Strength is a bigger factor here, but technique is going to make it easier and allow you to deal with bigger weights with reduced injury risks!

The Jerk is easy to begin with, as the clean isn’t going to be heavy enough to tax your legs, but you’re going to find that it gets really tough when you get towards your max front squat weight.

The Jerk is the hardest part of weightlifting, requiring the same technical accuracy of the snatch but the leg and back strength of the clean – as well as being tough after a difficult clean.

The Snatch

The snatch is going to present the greatest trouble for the beginner – it’s a really strange movement that’s unlike anything you’ve done before. It requires you to take a wide grip on the bar (so that, when standing, the bar rests in the crease of the hips), extend forcefully and catch the bar in a deep squat.

You can’t muscle this movement – technique is a key part of the snatch in a greater way than the clean. It’s often said that nobody misses a snatch because they’re weak, but because they’re off-balance or out-of-position.

The Snatch Lift

Before You Snatch

The snatch is the first lift in competition and it’s the lighter of the two lifts. It also has greater demands on back strength and mobility than the clean and jerk. This is why its often considered the “most athletic” discipline in weightlifting: it requires greater coordination, balance and flexibility than the clean or jerk.

The progression for the snatch is pretty simple: If you can’t overhead squat properly, you can’t (or shouldn’t) snatch. This is a test of mobility and a cool exercise by itself – it challenges everything from balance to upper back and core strength. If anything, the overhead squat is the easy part of the Snatch so you need to master it before you can snatch.

Simply put, trying to snatch without being able to overhead squat isn’t just running before you can walk: it’s running before you can stand. Developing the mobility to overhead squat is essential – here’s a simple progression to get you ready:

  1. Paused Air Squat (arms down to the floor – this helps to keep your spine neutral)
  2. Deck Squat
  3. Paused Back Squat
  4. Paused Front Squat
  5. Overhead Squat to Box
  6. Overhead Squat + Sotts Press
  7. Drop Snatch (from tiptoes) + Overhead Squat
  8. Drop Snatch + Overhead Squat

You should work through these until you can do them all with out pain and into a nice, stable, balanced position. Wherever you begin to struggle, stay there and work through it. You’re going to improve at your own pace and nailing down these foundations now will mean better long-term progress.

How to Snatch (Like a Weightlifter)

When dealing with the Snatch, what makes a good lift is simple: you must move the bar overhead in one movement, receiving on locked elbows and standing up to full height. This also means keeping the feet in line and remaining stable under the bar.

The Snatch is one of the most explosive barbell movements and, as such, is great for power training for sports other than weightlifting. You’ll find variations like the power snatch in the training of power athletes from bobsledders to football.

As we showed in the chart above, the Snatch is the hardest part of weightlifting for the beginner – you’re not going to have much experience with the movement pattern no matter what sport you come from.

Setting Up starts when you touch the barbell and is a delicate and precise process:

  • Grip the bar wide enough that, when you stand up, the barbell is resting in the crease of the hips (between the pubic bone and crest of the hip bone)
  • Take a stance that is the same as your jump stance
  • Sit with your hips just above your knees, keeping your back flat
  • Relax the arms but keep the shoulder blades back and down
  • Look at something directly in front of you and keep your eyes there throughout the lift

The first phase describes everything between the bar being on the floor and passing the knees:

  • Start the lift by pushing the floor away with the legs
  • Keep your torso angle in the same place while you push, making sure the knees and bar ease backwards (don’t let your chest drop)
  • Keep the bar close to the body and your weight somewhere between mid-foot and the heel

The second phase is where all the explosive action happens, begins when the bar passes, and ends when you’re at maximum extension:

  • Gently raise the chest, keeping your weight through flat feet
  • Keep the arms loose and upper back tight to keep the bar in contact with the thighs
  • Stay over the bar with the shoulders and ease the hips in (it should be a 50/50 effort of the bar coming back and your hips coming into the bar)
  • Push through the floor with the feet while opening the hips forcefully – think of pushing your head through the ceiling (do not throw the shoulders back)
  • Keep the shoulder blades down at the top of the movement and allow the elbows to rise as you change directions

The Transition/Catch begins when you reach full extension and ends when you catch the bar and return to a stable standing position:

  • Keep the elbows high as you drop under the bar
  • Reach down and in with the hips (not backwards), keeping your hips under the bar
  • Bring the knees up towards the chest and keep them turned out for a deep, secure squat position
  • Keep the chest up and back (upper and lower) tight, applying upward pressure on the bar with the arms
  • Sit down there until you’ve achieved good balance and stand up, keeping the chest tall and standing up still

What is the Clean and Jerk in Weightlifting?

The clean and jerk is a well-rounded challenge – it’s the greatest test of strength in weightlifting, requiring far stronger legs than the snatch and, overall, being a heavier lift. This is when the really big weights start!

The clean isn’t as difficult as the snatch in terms of technique but it will be a big challenge to your leg and core strength when you become more efficient.

Before you Clean and Jerk

You’re going to need a lot of leg strength and back/core stability to perform this movement properly – especially since a technically-efficient clean is likely to be around 90% of your best front squat. Remember, you’re not just squatting the bar: you have to accelerate it upwards, drop under it and catch it – then you have to squat it.

If you don’t have the mobility or balance to perform the front squat, you’re not going to be able to perform the clean – you need to master the basics to get good in this sport. Mobility is often a key factor and you’re going to need to stretch your chest/shoulders/lats for a strong front squat position.

There’s a simple progression for improving your clean catch position and stability:

  • Paused Air Squat (arms down to the floor – this helps to keep your spine neutral)
  • Goblet Squat
  • Paused Back Squat
  • Paused Front Squat

A strong, balanced front squat is the first place to start for an effective clean and its going to be key for developing huge legs, a solid core and the famous weightlifter’s upper back!

The jerk requires a lot of shoulder mobility and stability, as well as good control of the hips and core.

The shoulders are vulnerable to injury because they have such a large range of motion so, if you’re planning on lifting heavy weights, you need to strengthen your shoulders and upper back, as well as stretching off the chest and lats.

Developing overhead stability is a key player in weightlifting and it also means a big, meaty back. This progression will take you from wobbly jelly arms to a snappy, solid overhead position:

  1. Strict Press
  2. Behind-Neck Press from Split
  3. Push Press
  4. Power Jerk
  5. Power Jerk + Split Jerk

This approach strengthens the muscle groups you’re going to need to hold the bar effectively overhead and, in the long-term, will reduce the chance of injuries to the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

Weightlifting is the sport of putting things over your head, so you’re going to need to get good at it and this progression ensures that you’re not going to fold under the bar like wet tissue paper.

Woman Doing the Power Clean BW

How to Clean

The clean is, obviously, the first movement in the clean and jerk. It’s the heavier, second competition lift and the clean is about getting the bar from the floor to your shoulders. You’re going to need to get the barbell to your shoulders and the pull’s going to be similar to the snatch, though the differences in grip and shorter distance to the shoulders (instead of overhead) means you’re going to shift much bigger weights.

There’s a bigger demand on strength and power in the clean and you’re going to need to focus on strength in the legs, core and upper back to make sure you’re performing this movement well and staying safe.

Setup:

  • Take a grip that you can maintain when the bar is on your shoulders and the same stance as in the snatch
  • Keep your chest high with the shoulders above the bar and the hips just above the knees
  • Set the back and core tight with the shoulder blades tucked back and down
  • Keep your weight back between the mid-foot and the heel

First Phase:

  • Keeping the torso angle constant, push the floor away with a positive leg drive
  • Keep the bar close to your body as you push, easing the knees and bar back from the floor
  • Keep the arms long and relaxed, with a tight back

Second Pull:

  • Keep the bar close to the thighs by keeping the shoulder blades down and the arms loose
  • Keep your weight through the heel, bring the bar back and chest up
  • Ease the hips in and stay over the bar as long as possible
  • Push through the heels, pushing your head to the ceiling

Transition/Catch:

  • As you finish extension and push tall, keep the chest up and the head pointed to the ceiling
  • Keep the hips under the bar and the weight through flat feet
  • Keep the core tight, shoulder blades down and focus on turning over with the elbows, not the hands
  • Bring your shoulders back up into the bar
  • Try and “catch the bounce” by remaining tight and standing up as soon as you land in the squat position
How to Jerk

The jerk is the final, hard part of the clean and jerk. It’s the movement of that heavy weight you just cleaned from the shoulders to arms’ length overhead. Only rare athletes are better at the jerk than the clean at an elite level – the jerk is all about power, positioning and stability.

Weight Lifting the Jerk

The jerk won’t allow you to make mistakes: you’ve got to be super precise and make sure your body and the bar are in the perfect position. It’s going to be as heavy as the clean, but as unforgiving as the snatch! Work on your technique here – there’s nothing more frustrating than working hard for a clean and missing the jerk.

The setup:

  • Keep the chest high and the shoulder blades tucked back and down
  • Breathe deep, brace the core and let the bar rest on the shoulders
  • Keep the elbows up and out, with the hands relaxed

The Dip:

  • Keep your hips in and head up
  • Bend the knees a small amount (if you go too deep you’ll lose momentum or positioning)
  • Keep the weight into the heels, with the elbows up and out (don’t let them drop as you dip or drive)

The Drive:

  • Push the floor away using the legs, driving your shoulders through the bar with the elbows high
  • Keep the arms relaxed: it’s a throw and catch, not a press!
  • Keep the hips under the bar as you drive – do not allow them to pull behind the bar
  • Keep the chest high and head pointed to the ceiling

Transition/Catch:

  • Change direction after extension, moving under the bar
  • Drive the bar to lock by unfolding the arms
  • Keep the hips ‘in’ and chest tall in the split position
  • The balance should be aimed primarily at the heel of the front foot
  • Your weight should be distributed fairly evenly between the feet, with a slight bias towards the front foot
  • Keep the back knee bent and the corresponding glute/hip tensed and ‘in’ the bar
  • Stabilize the split position with the front quad and the glutes, keeping the core tight and stable under the weight of the bar
  • Bring the front foot back to the standing position and follow with the back foot, standing stable under the bar to complete the movement

Building Strength: Olympic Weightlifting Programs

Programming for weightlifting is a whole science and some of us (me, particularly) have spent a lot of time and made a career of studying it.

Weightlifting is all about the snatch and clean and jerk, but getting good at these requires a whole bunch of smaller exercises and strength exercises – from squatting to weightlifting-specific deadlifts. Programming has only 3 roles:

  • To improve your individual technique with the correct choice of exercises
  • To make you as strong as possible, at the right time (especially competition day)
  • To prevent injuries and improve your long-term health in the sport

The most important thing to remember is that the best weightlifting program is the one that is designed to meet your needs and combat your individual technical/strength problems.

Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program

Everyone has their own goals, so we’ve put together a simple weightlifting training program that will be a great way to try it out, get started in the sport, or simply use weightlifting for the amazing benefits it provides to your physique and performance.

This program balances the needs of weightlifting and other forms of exercise so that you can use it as a head-start to get good at weightlifting or simply dip your toe into the sport while getting stronger and fitter.

Closing Remarks

Olympic weightlifting is one of the most engaging and challenging sports out there, with a huge range of benefits. Not only will it make you look good, but it will mean better performance in almost every field of athleticism and confidence.

Woman Doing the Power Clean

The technique tips and weightlifting programs we’ve shared today are going to give you the basis of the sport, but it’s an amazingly deep and interesting type of training. You can take this basis and build on it with your own experiences.

Whether you’re looking to add weightlifting exercises to build power, strong legs and a mountain range upper-back, or you’re looking to fight your way to the Olympics, the best time to start is now. It’s a sport for the patient, the technique-obsessed and those who want to shift huge weights while being incredibly athletic.

Follow these tips and get in touch if you want to learn more – this is a deep sport but it has some of the most amazing ‘highs’ of anything out there.

Published by Liam Rodgers

Good coaching and good writing rely on attention to detail, forward planning, and a deep knowledge of the technical aspects. As an Olympic weightlifting coach and the director of Apex sport and fitness content, Liam lives these out: he has huge enthusiasm for sports performance, nutrition, narrative and immersive, engaging writing.

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