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What Are the Olympic Lifts?

By Rogue Parrish

The explosive drive you need to lift a barbell above shoulder height while in a standing position distinguishes the two Olympic lifts from the family of powerlifts, such as the deadlift, bench press and squat. The classic Olympic lifts, the snatch, and the clean and jerk, require you to safely lift the weight, following correct technique, from the floor to directly over the head. This occurs in either in a single move -- with the snatch -- or two moves including a gathering or "clean" at the shoulder, with the clean and jerk.

Your Goals

You can perform the Olympic lifts either for the pursuit of general fitness; to improve explosiveness in athletic performance, particularly in track sprinting, and individual or team sports; or to compete in weightlifting contests. If you pursue these lifts in contests, your score represents the combined total of the weight of your best lift in three tries for each category.

Getting Started

To get started, you need a barbell, weight plates and solid instruction on form, from an experienced lifter or trainer. Advanced Olympic lifters might also benefit from a weightlifting platform and rubber plates, to unload the barbell after challenging lifts. As a beginner, start with an empty bar, which weighs 45 pounds, to polish your form. Practice the Olympic lifts at the start of your workout before fatigue sets in.

The Snatch

This move starts with the balls of your feet underneath the bar and hip-width apart. Bend over and grasp the bar with your hands spread wide apart. Your goal is to pull the bar up smoothly, shrugging your shoulders to help lift the barbell, and then jump up and land in a squat so that you stand underneath the barbell, arms locked out. Push into a standing position. Lower the bar to the floor in a controlled fashion, knees bent, until you become advanced enough to unload it. The snatch helps develop speed, while the clean and jerk develops strength. You can expect to lift 80 percent of your top clean-and-jerk weight when you perform the faster snatch.

The Clean and Jerk

In the clean and jerk, you raise the barbell off the floor with an initial move similar to that of the snatch, but you instead bring the bar up only partway, cradling it close to your collarbone. To complete raising the bar, shrug your shoulders, and simultaneously push up and jump into a split stance -- one foot forward, the other back and with the heel raised. While maintaining your grip on the barbell, reposition each foot so you are standing with your feet side by side again.

Related Lifts

A host of close cousins of the main Olympic lifts allow you to fine-tune your explosiveness training, so you can get out of the starting blocks or down the football, baseball or soccer field faster. For example, the power clean, which doesn’t require a full squat as part of the clean, as well as the hang clean and high pull, vary the details of the regular clean to achieve different muscle recruitment. Both the hang clean and hang snatch start with the barbell at the knees, rather than on the floor. You can also adapt these lifts to non-barbell equipment, including dumbbells and kettlebells.

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