My exercise science program in college was centered on Olympic Weightlifting. One of the professors is a very successful coach, judge, and competitor. I also have not seen anyone else that has as much respect from the students and faculty as she does.
I like to think that I have learned from the best because of this experience.
This experience has also made me biased towards actually learning the lifts the right way. They should not be done with an attitude of getting the bar over your head by any means necessary.
Weightlifting, technically, is an Olympic sport where competitors perform the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.
Obviously, the term weight lifting pertains to any kind of weight training. The name to describe these exercises and variations, therefore, has become Olympic Lifts. They have been used to train for sport for many years.
Now, it seems that more and more people are trying them and there is a huge problem with that. You should not try, but should train for the Olympic lifts. Somehow we allowed this high precision sport to become a trendy means of training.
Weightlifting is one of the safest sports as far as injuries go but once technique is compromised the risk skyrockets. Proper progressions should be in place so that someone who cannot even hinge at the hips is not trying a snatch. No one should get hurt performing these lifts, save for the freak accidents.
It is estimated that one can master weightlifting with 5 years of practice. I know most people are not going to be competitive weightlifters, but any task that takes that long to master deserves some real attention.
There are some things that need to be cleared before starting with these exercises.
-Do you have the right equipment?
This includes bumper plates, platforms, Olympic bars, etc. The bumper plates are meant to survive drops and the Olympic bars spin to ensure safety in the lift. A platform is necessary because it provides a solid footing, space to dump the weight, and an area for people not to walk in the way.
You should also have weightlifting shoes. You would buy cleats for football. Wear the right footwear for the job.
-Who is coaching your lifts?
If the answer is no one, you better have learned from someone before and can reference them with questions. If Youtube is your coach, I hope you know a good Physical Therapist.
Finding a good coach is tough but ask who, where, and when they learned the lifts. Make sure they know what they’re talking about before trusting them.
-Are you injury free?
Olympic lifting will not make you healthier. Injuries will probably get worse rather than get better.
-Do you have the necessary mobility and stability to perform the lifts?
If you do not know, then get an assessment to find out. I am willing to bet that if this is unknown, some mobility and stability training is needed.
Every answer to these questions should be a confident yes. Anything less is adding danger to your training.
My main pet peeve with just anyone cleaning, jerking, or snatching is that they probably do not move very well to begin with. The essential movements of weightlifting include a deep squat (not even a parallel squat makes the cut), a forceful hip hinge, spinal stability, and an unrestricted overhead reach. I promise you people in the general population do not meet these criteria.
So part two of my Olympic lift qualification system involves the movements that build the right foundation. Tremendous amounts of mobility and stability are needed, yet many people are lacking.
1. Can you front squat to full depth? This means chest up, neutral spine, and your butt almost touching your heels.
2. Can you overhead squat? See this post for whether or not you pass.
3. Is your spine neutral? You must be able to squat, deadlift, clean, and snatch without rounding your back. This is essential for health and performance.
4. Can you lock your arms out overhead?
This lifter has her arms straight and behind the ears (from the side view). You cannot do that with a straight torso you should not be jerking and probably not snatching. The tendency is for people to go into hyperextension due to a lack of shoulder mobility.
Not everyone is qualified for weightlifting, yet almost anyone can find and enter a class. I remember how long it took me to really be above average at the lifts (I have not even mastered them in 3 years). The time needs to be spent not performing the lifts, but learning the lifts.
It is very concerning that people are willing to use metal weights on a concrete floor to perform the movements while moving like a scarecrow.
Make sure you pass the 8 questions I have outlined above. If any of them are uncertain then you should work on the issue before going headfirst into the weightlifting pool. It would be a shame to ruin your training your goals by performing the Olympic Lifts unprepared.
Weightlifting variations are safe methods for power development with secondary strength gains when done correctly. You would not build a house on quicksand, so do not try to stack these exercises on a poor foundation.