Olympic-WL: A Brief Introduction

The Squat Clean

The Squat Clean

The Squat Snatch

The Squat Snatch


Olympic Weightlifting: A brief introduction


CrossFit, that is intensity, variety, community, challenge. But its core is represented by Olympic weightlifting. No other discipline develops so many physical skill categories in one go: strength, power, speed, balance, agility, coordination, flexibility. So a training method that aims to forge elite fitness only works by including "the Olys". Also, a perfectly performed lift is true virtuosity and awesome to watch.

At the same time, many (potential) CrossFit beginner are quite intimidated by the Olympic lifts. Especially if there's no barbell experience at all, people are often afraid by being asked to do things they have only seen on the Olympic Games TV broadcast, done by 120 kilogram Russians. And yes, the movements are pretty complex and shouldn't be underestimated. But hey, you get a full body workout in less than a second -  and it is a lot of fun to learn and practice! So don't worry and just start. Today. If possible. Here is a brief introduction to the holy grail of CrossFit.


Olympic Weightlifting: 2 types only

Olympic Weightlifting is pretty straight forward. The goal is to get a barbell from the ground above your head. And there are two ways to do so: The Clean & Jerk and the Snatch.

While the Clean and Jerk is a two part movement where the weight goes from the ground to the shoulder first and from there above the head, the Snatch brings it up in one single movement. Therefore, the weight you can move by the Snatch is naturally lower than for the Clean & Jerk - as we remember from physic lessons in school: The longer the distance, the more energy I need to overcome it. Running a 10k is more effort than running a 5k, right?


The Clean & Jerk

Let's take a look at the Clean. You start with the barbell on the floor and bring it up to your shoulder into a front rack position. I don't go into details about the usage of legs, hips, arms, traps, the right starting position, extension, foot work  and so forth - this is a topic that fills books. Let's just keep in mind that the movement starts from the floor and ends up on the shoulder. There are 3 different types of the Clean:

  • the Muscle Clean
  • the Power Clean
  • the Squat Clean

The Muscle Clean is a movement that's mostly used for technique and strength training. It is the least explosive version - no jump from the feet, just pulling the bar up by extending the hip, using the arms and a shrug. 

The Power Clean involves the power of the legs. The barbell gets raised by energy generated from a jump, the hip opening, an arm pull and a shrug. The weight has to be received in a position where the hip is clearly above the knees. 

The Squat Clean works similar to the power version, but with a catch in the deep front squat position. It is the variation that enables you to move the highest weights since the height you need to bring the bar at is very limited. Again: The shorter the distance, the lesser energy you need to overcome it. That simple. In a competition setting, you would see athletes only using the Squat Clean. 

And then there is the Jerk, the second and final step to bring the weight above your head. There is two Jerk versions:

  • the Push Jerk
  • the Split Jerk

To be precise, there is a third variation called the Squat Jerks, but this is a very Chinese technique only for high level weightlifter with an outstanding shoulder mobility, so let's ignore this one for this blog post.

For both Jerks, you push the bar up by using a drive from bending and extending your legs and perform a quick jump. You receive the weight in a position with slightly bent knees before you stand up fully. The difference: For the Push Jerk (also called Power Jerk, same same) you land with your feet parallel, for the Split Jerk, you land in a big lunge. This allows you to lower your whole body and shorten the bar path by that - sounds familiar? It is!

Note: The Power Clean is quicker and less complex than the Squat Clean, and so is the Push Jerk in comparison to the Split Jerk. Therefore, the Power Clean and Push Jerk are suitable for beginner as for workouts with higher reps. The Squat Clean and Split Jerk are mostly applied when it comes to move heavy loads.


The Snatch

I was once told at an Olympic Weightlifting seminar: "While the Clean & Jerk is like break dance, the Snatch is ballet." And that is so true! The Snatch requires explosiveness and strength, an awesome sense for movements and timing. Remember: You need to bring the barbell from the floor above your head in a single movement. That calls for perfection.

As for the Clean, there are 3 Snatch versions:

  • The Muscle Snatch
  • The Power Snatch
  • The Squat Snatch

Same here: The Muscle Snatch is a lift coming from the hip, arms and traps. The Power Snatch means raising the bar by a jump and hip extension also, and receiving it in a position with the tights above parallel. For the Squat Snatch, you catch the bar in a deep overhead squat - a movement that feels very unusual, if not awkward for the majority of Weightlifting novices. But also, it shortens the bar path by a lot and enables to move the highest weight possible.

That's all you need to know for the beginning. I don't talk about lifts from the hang position, or high hang position, or the hip. I also don't talk about that you can lift not only barbells, but dumbells, kettlebells, sandsacks, odd objects ... just wanted to let you know that it is straight forward: Start from the floor, bring it up! It's magic lies in the simplicity and challenge at the same time.