“Weightlifting as a sport could do so much to help all sports understand how to work in a gym”
Sir Clive Woodward (Source: Twitter)
Olympic Weightlifting is undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles of the Olympic Games; anyone who has ever lifted weights can appreciate just how strong and powerful these athletes are. Lifters perform truly superhuman feats in the quest of gold, pushing the human body to the absolute edge – sometimes even beyond – but how can their exploits help us mere mortals?
If you’re a novice when it comes to Olympic Weightlifting then check out the beginners guide on the BBC website – just ignore the bit that mentions ‘Tabata’! It’s a nice, user-friendly walkthrough with an accompanying video.
Requirements of Olympic Weightlifting
- Flexibility & Mobility
Of all the Olympic athletes, Olympic weightlifters are only trumped by gymnasts in the flexibility and mobility stakes. Both of the full lifts necessitate catching the weight in a deep squat position; this requires tremendous dexterity to perform correctly. Individuals commonly lack adequate flexibility in the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders to be able to get into this position. Once an individual can achieve this position, performing squat cleans and snatches regularly will maintain this range of motion without the need for hours of additional mobility work.
If you’ve ever overhead squat I’m sure that you can appreciate the magnitude of holding twice your bodyweight above your head, let alone with your backside hovering just a couple of centimetres above the floor. Whilst, isolated ‘core’ exercises may have a place in certain circumstances, performing the Olympic lifts is a superior modality for strengthening the trunk. The levels of trunk muscle activation achieved during such lifts far exceed what can be achieved by planks and similar exercises.
- Proprioception (Balance)
You don’t have to snatch on a Bosu ball to challenge your balance, the lift will do that on its own. During the Olympic lifts the barbell moves in two and a bit vectors (dimensions) – primarily the axial (up and down) and anterior-posterior (front to back) vectors but there’s a small bit of rotational force acting in there too. As a result of this 3D motion, the body has its work cut out to maintain balance during the catch.
Why Choose the Olympic Lifts
- High power outputs
Power is the rate at which work is performed. It’s impossible to Olympic lift slowly – at least with any semblance of weight on the bar – and this rapid speed of movement makes Olympic lifts phenomenally powerful. Train with high power outputs regularly and naturally you’ll get more powerful.
- Target the whole body
From head to toe, the Olympic lifts will give you a complete body workout. The often weak and neglected musculature of the posterior chain (from the calves to the upper back) respond really well to these lifts, good news as these carry the greatest potential to improve sporting performance. Also, because you’re hitting the whole body, Olympic lifting workouts are very efficient on time; 30 minutes is more than enough for an intense session!
- Target Type II muscle fibres
Explosive contraction recruits a huge amount of Type II muscle fibres. This is important to us as these Type II fibres carry the greatest potential for improvements in power, strength and hypertrophy. Also of importance is that fact that these fibres rely on an inefficient energy metabolism. Power exercises burn far more calories, and for a longer period of time, than other exercises.
- Stress the cardiovascular system
Add together the last two points and you can start to see why the physiques of Olympic lifters are so impressive! Because of the whole body and explosive nature of the lifts, the cardiovascular system has to work incredibly hard to recover from them.
Hopefully that’s given you a little summary of the acute demands of Olympic lifting. In the next part of this article I’ll outline some of the benefits you’d expect to experience when incorporating the Olympic lifts into your training. In the meantime, if it sounds Olympic Weightlifting would be the perfect way to take your training up a gear, then take a look at the 8 week coaching course on offer here.