Olympic lifts – Where and How to Learn Them

By May 22, 2014Articles, Blog, Training Tips
1904-DB-lift

Note: Power Clean one rep maximum is directly correlated to size of moustache.

Olympic lifts – Where and How to Learn Them

Olympic lifts can be one of the best additions to your training regimen. They will help you build muscle, improve explosive power, and lose fat in the process. The only catch is: they are super technical, and if done improperly lead to some of the worst injuries a person can find on YouTube. This is why it is recommended that you seek out a professional before attempting Olympic style lifting.

So what is an Olympic lift?

The two competition Olympic lifts are the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. There are many different variations on both of these lifts, but when someone says “Olympic lift”, they are referring to one of these two.

This is the snatch. Easy, right??

This is the snatch. Easy, right??

Before I get into how and where to do these lifts, I will say this. I don’t always recommend someone who trains martial arts to perform these movements. A Snatch is an incredibly technical maneuver which, if performed improperly, can end up turning your shoulders into nothing more than a really good source of pain and agony. The same thing applies to the Clean and Jerk. If you try to perform these before learning from someone who knows how to do them, you give yourself a very high chance of becoming your local physical therapy office’s best customer.

Look at the “risk vs. reward” ratio of learning these lifts. For most people training Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai, the time that they would spend learning how to Olympic lift properly would be better off spent training their martial art. There are plenty of easier ways to build the power and explosion you want (like in this article here) without having to perform risky movements.

On to the good stuff.

Now the Clean portion of the Clean and Jerk is one of my favorite lifts. However, it takes some steps to really learn how to perform this without destroying your lower back. You are first going to want to break it down into pieces.

clean

The “Clean” portion of the Clean and Jerk.

The “Jerk” portion of the Clean and Jerk. No, I did not make these names up.

The Power Clean is a triple extension exercise. This means that the hip, knee, and ankle all have to extend to properly pull it off. Translation: tons of muscles working super hard to produce force, therefor burning a ton of calories, and building some serious power.

How To Practice The Clean And Jerk:

There are many pieces to the clean and jerk. It is difficult to hop right on the bar and start loading up weight, so I’ve broken it down into the main components that you can start practicing right away.

  1. Lift the bar from the floor to your hips – 5 reps – This is the beginning portion of the clean and jerk. Start with shoulders directly over the bar, feet underneath and shoulder width apart. Begin just as you would a deadlift, bringing the bar up to hips, shrugging your shoulders at the top, and then lowering it back down to the floor.
  2. Lift the bar from the floor to your shoulders – 5 reps – This time, after you pick up the bar and bring it to your hips, continue the motion, pulling the bar all the way up to shoulder level.
  3. Lift the bar to the “racked” position – 5 reps – This movement concludes the “clean” portion of the clean and jerk. You will do every the same as the previous exercise, except this time when you reach the top of the shoulder you will turn the bar over in your hands, and landing in a front squat position. Then squat yourself back to a stand posture, and lower the bar back down.
  4. Full Clean and Jerk – 5 reps – Building on the previous three exercises, you will do everything the same. This time after you have squatted yourself up to a standing posture, you will press the bar fully overhead and explode down into a lunge position where you will pause, and then stand your self back up. Congratulations! You just completed your first clean and jerk!

Quick Review:

  • From the floor to your hips – 5 reps
  • From the floor to your shoulders – 5 reps
  • From the floor to the “racked” position – 5 reps
  • Full Clean and Jerk – 5 reps

After practicing this a few times, you will be ready to start adding in more weight. As you add weight, continue to practice with an unloaded bar to reinforce the movement pattern even further.

Here are some tips to think about when starting to learn this exercise.

  1. Get the bar off the floor FLAWLESSLY. – The Clean is going to start on the floor, so we have to make sure that our technique for getting off the floor is perfect. If you cannot get the bar off the floor properly, don’t go any further! That is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Start out with a bare barbell to learn it. – Too often, ambitious lifters let ego get in the way of learning proper technique. I did this myself when I was in high school and started to develop back pain. I wanted so badly to go straight into loading up weight and getting yolked that I skipped the “learning” portion. Years later I sought out professional help on how to clean, and it was a really awesome addition to my strength and conditioning program. So when you start out, just use the bar. It will help you lift a lot more weight in the end.
  3. Start with Power Shrugs. – One of the most neglected pieces of the Power Clean is the shrug. People who leave out the shrug will often hit a serious plateau when power cleaning, because they are leaving it up to their arms to get the bar high enough to turn their hands over. If you start out with power shrugs, it will train your body to always shrug at the top of your triple extension and save you a ton of head (and shoulder) ache.
  4. Push from the heels. – Often times because of the jumping nature of the Power Clean, it is common for lifters to shift their weight a little too far forward when cleaning. The key here is to push through your heels almost as if you were trying to push the whole planet Earth away from you. This will cue your body to drive through the heels and enable a lot more power to be produced.
  5. Get strong on your other lifts first. – It is almost impossible to have a really strong Power Clean without out first having a strong squat and deadlift. If you are having trouble seeing progress with your Power Clean, you may need to alter one of your other lifts. For example, when I originally start cleaning, I had a lot of trouble with the landing. I could pull a lot of weight and turn it over, but I looked like a baby deer on the landing. A trainer friend of mine recommended doing front squats to build up my strength in that position. It worked like a charm! I was able to pull the weight AND stick the landing. Moral of the story: there are other lifts that can help your clean. Some of these includes row variations, farmer’s carries, deadlifts, front squats, and many more.

These are just a few of the things you will want to focus on when you venture in to Olympic lifting. It can be difficult to seek out a professional to help you with these lifts, but it is absolutely crucial. Make sure you find someone who has a lot of experience training and teaching these lifts. Just like there are many Karate schools who claim to teach “Muay Thai” and “BJJ”, there are many trainers who claim they can teach you Olympic lifts, but actually specialize more in Zumba. As long as you use your noggin and seek out a professional, you will see a lot of benefit from your new found power.

About Jon C

Jon Connelly is a ACE Certified Physical Trainer and Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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