If you're reading this then somewhere in your journey to be a more awesome human you've touched the magic that is Olympic Weightlifting. Whether that be from seeing others do it or by having the movements integrated somewhere in your own programming, whether that be in SOFLETE, CrossFit, or a sport specific program that uses the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
Weightlifting, also known as Olympic Weightlifting (because they do it in the Olympics) is actually a sport with refs and everything that goes with it. It consists of two movements: the Snatch and the “Clean and Jerk”. Both of these lifts test an athlete's technique when teamed with their strength, power, and speed as well as mobility and flexibility. In the sport lifters compete at meets and are given three attempts at each movement, with their highest two lifts being combined to give them their score, this is referred to as a Total. It's a little more complicated than that, but that gets you started.
Weightlifting has worked it's way into a large swath of the strength and conditioning world because it's movements are a great tool to develop explosive power, strength, mobility, and coordination. SOFLETE uses these movements for the same reasons as well as to elicit specific responses from different systems in developing a better Combat Athlete.
So...you want to be a better weightlifter?
To be a better weightlifter, the first thing you need to answer is why. Why do you want to be a better weightlifter? There are lots of great reasons to focus on getting better at the snatch and the clean and jerk. But your approach to them is as varied as the reasons why you'd want to.
The main body of people that say they want to get better are those who are doing the movements as part of a larger, more comprehensive program. In these programs the movements are programmed in interval training workouts and as part of a strength workout. They'll usually pop up in programming a few days or so a week and are put in there to illicit a response based on the athlete's abilities.
So let's break this down a tiny bit. And then let's do some expectation management.
First, in anything the intensity to volume ratio is going to affect the technique we use to execute any movement.
If I need to get from point A to point B in X time...Y number of times...and carrying a prescribed weight, those variables will dictate how I do it. Will I walk because I'm under a ton of weight and moving a long distance, or sprint because all the variables are less? Running and sprinting are very different, even though my goal is the same, Point A to point B.
This is very much the same in Weightlifting movements. The most efficient way for your body to snatch 50% of your max effort 30 times in a row as fast as possible is going to be very different from the most efficient way for you to achieve 100% of your max potential for a single lift. Aside from lifting the weight safely, the differences in the two techniques can be very large, and using one for the other will not have desirable results, especially using the light and fast technique when trying to achieve max potential.
But here's the thing: that's ok. If you are using these weightlifting movements as a tool to make you a better all-around combat athlete then let them be that. Focusing on them because you know someone else can do more than you and it's hurting your ego will only succeed in losing focus in other areas; if that's ok, then start deciding which areas you want to lose proficiency in so that you're better at a part of a sport you have no plans in competing in.
Which is fine. It's your life.
Let’s Start Making You a Better Weightlifter
If you do decide you want to get better at weightlifting just to get better then you'll still need to focus. "Supplementing" your current program won't do that program or your desire to improve justice.
The best way to achieve this small goal is to execute a short GPP program that is heavy on the Olympic lifts and their variations. A small "tweener" or in-between cycle can help reinforce better positions and make you learn a few lessons while not sacrificing overall or well rounded fitness for too long. Somewhere in the neighborhood of four to six weeks is what I'd recommend.
If you're this far it's because you really want to get better. And this is where I'll ask you why again: why? Weightlifting is hard. It hurts. It's unforgiving. It doesn't care how hard you're trying. And no one knows what it is. I think all that stuff is awesome. If we just became best friends, keep reading.
The question to ask yourself now is: am I going to compete? If the answer is no, change it to yes. If you knew someone that was on a baseball team and just went to batting cages and played pepper but never showed up to play games you'd think that guy was pretty silly, right? Yeah, he's developing some cool skills and is probably in decent shape compared to an average guy, but he's definitely not reaching his peak potential in anything as he hones the skills needed to perform on the field. All those skills take time to perfect. And all that specificity, time, and sacrifice will pay off nowhere except the baseball diamond. That's why no one practices baseball and never plays. Because that would be dumb. So yes, you need to compete. That should be your goal: whether it's in 12 weeks or 12 months, your goal is to go to a meet and get a total.
Now that you've come to this decision, you need someone to watch you. This comes in a few varieties. Basically: not good, better, and good.
Not good would be you and a friend training together with little to no background in it. I list this option only because I know lots of people are going to do it and I want to set them up as best I can. Lots of people get their start this way, but understand it has a short shelf life and it's far from ideal.
First, pick a program and stick to it. Don't tinker. This program should likely have videos attached to it, and if not then make YouTube your best friend. But again, be consistent. Pick one source for the duration of the program or you may encounter conflicting info. You're not that good yet, tinkering with programs or changing the basics in form to mimic a high level lifter will only produce inconsistency.
And second, side from safety, pick one maybe two cues or hitches a day to improve upon. Simple things like weight in mid-foot, full extension, flat feet. Not big ones like keeping the bar close or receive better. Remember that everything the bar does is a result of something you did or didn't do. So don't make cues centered around the bar does. If you concentrate on one thing a day, in a few weeks that list of cues or hitches will hopefully get shorter, and you'll start to get better. Don't try to fix it all every day and take note of your small progressions.
A better route would be to find a Barbell Club, any Barbell Club. Not all these clubs are created equal so this choice is where we talk about why. These Barbell Clubs are the ones located in CrossFit gyms and coached by CrossFit coaches with a couple of Weightlifting Seminars or certifications under their belt, but they've never been a competitive lifter themselves. Hopefully they'll still have a better foundation and some experience in movement and cuing.
This is where a lot of people start as well. This will have a shelf life dependent on how long you keep going. Once you go to a couple of meets and see legit Weightlifting coaches and their athletes, you'll be happy where you're at or you'll wonder what you're missing. Disclaimer: some of these CrossFit Barbell coaches are very credible and have a lot to offer.
The best option, when you've stuck with it awhile but your potential isn't being met with your current situation, or you just make good choices from the beginning, then it’s time to find a Weightlifting Coach. There are actually a number of very good articles out there on this subject, you can find them and compare to my advice.
Here are a few guidelines to finding a good weightlifting coach. In person is obviously better than online. But if online is your only option refer to these guidelines:
They have been a competitive weightlifter. And they've been to more than a couple of local meets. They don't have to have been great or competed at the international or even national levels, in fact don't look at this alone as some excellent lifters couldn't coach a fish to swim. They should however have been competitive for at least a year or two consecutively AS A LIFTER. You can't see indicators about how someone is reacting to cues and programming, meet jitters, home stressors unless you have experienced them as a lifter preparing for and competing in a weightlifting meet. No Certification, seminar, or mentor can teach that stuff.
Who coached them as a lifter? Ask yourself or them, did they learn the trade from an experienced lifter and coach, or from someone making it up as they go as well?
Look at their team. When do they meet as a team and is it going to work with your schedule? How many lifters do they have competing, and how are those lifters doing?
Do you get along? You don't need to like this person, but a little emotional intelligence and life experience are nice to have in a coach.
When you read a coach's bio online and one or more of these things isn't mentioned, consider them indicators that you can do better. The USA Weightlifting website has a full listing of Barbell clubs you can contact to find the best one for you.
Now you know a little more about the sport, and how to dip your toe in it. It is one of the most painful, frustrating, humbling sports in the world and will make you completely miserable sometimes.
I hope some of you find the zen and happiness in weightlifting that I have.
Jariko Denman is currently wandering the earth like Caine, from Kung Fu. His hope is to find his soulmate in a charming 69kg class olympic lifter. He is using the skills he acquired at Ranger Regiment to rescue kittens from trees and make better amateur olympic weight lifters. You might have seen him on TV, he's kind of a big deal.