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Looking for a new challenge?
Want to gain speed, flexibility, coordination, muscle, and strength?
Olympic Lifts and their derivatives are exactly what you need.
Weight training not only builds muscles, but it helps develop bone mass too. Heavy lifting improves posture, boosts metabolism, helps you sleep better, and improves the immune system.
Olympic weightlifting is suitable for anyone interested in power and control of the body.
Olympic lifting is ideal for men (bodyweight between 56-105kg) and women (bodyweight between 48-75kg). Along with the many health benefits, you’ll also gain discipline.
Let’s look at some of the most popular Olympic lifts, to add to your workout.
Olympic Lifts and Derivatives
Also known as The King of Lifts. This movement allows more weight above the head than any other lift. It’s a full-body workout. Expect to tune-in the nervous system, improve the musculoskeletal framework, keep the heart-healthy, and work muscles.
Stand as close to the bar as possible. Bend knees and squat. Look to the front with backline straight and feet at shoulder-width apart. Shoulder line over the bar itself.
Use a Hook grip. Grip with thumb first, then curl fingers over the thumb.
Straighten legs and lift the bar from feet to mid-thigh. As you do so, drop into a slight squat. Flick wrists back so grip is now underneath the bar. Pushing feet into the floor, allow shoulders to flex backward. As the bar jumps, move feet out and pull down on the bar, in a slight squat.
In this Front Rack position, the bar should be level with upper ears, keeping elbows high. Stand still and breathe. Keep elbow line in front of the bar, don’t let them fall behind the bar. Torso should feel tight with shoulders and upper back taking the strain.
Ensure hand grip remains strong and comfortable, using palms of hands, not fingers. Adjust if needed. With knees bent slightly, feet apart at shoulder width, back aligned, take a deep breath and lift the bar above with head upright and taking weight on heels. Move front foot back a little and back foot forward a little, to steady yourself.
Lower the bar to your chest before dropping to the floor.
You have worked on legs, upper back, shoulders, and core, as well as stamina.
Another overhead weight training exercise and a great Olympic Lift from the 1970s. For any beginner to Olympic Lifts, start with lighter weights while you master the moves. Build up the lower back by performing squats so you won’t suffer an injury with overhead lifting.
See Clean Jerk.
Use the overhand grip to grab the bar.
Clean and Extension
Brace the core and lift the bar, allow heels to balance you and push hips forward. As bar reaches hipline, stand on tiptoes, shrug shoulders and pull on the bar in an upwards motion, using the elbows.
Squat a little as you lift to shoulder line. Allow elbows to move forward and bar so bar rolls back on the hands, taking the weight with the shoulders. Bend knees slightly, readying to straighten the legs as you push the bar up above your head. Arms are now in a straight position, elbows locked.
Reverse the move.
You have worked arms, abs, legs, back, and shoulders. as well as stamina. It’s a full-body workout focusing on traps and triceps, middle and lower back, abs and glutes. In the legs, it works quads, hamstrings, and calves.
On average work 1-5 reps in each set. Speed is more important than the load to reach maximum intensity. Ideal for building up bulging arms.
Did you know that you can adjust the technique to perform this Olympic Lift on one leg, to strengthen the core?
This is a powerful overhead lift, completed in one motion. It’s all in the technique, get that wrong and you may injure yourself. One of the most important parts of this exercise is ensuring you have a wide grip with your hands on the bar.
Slightly different to the others in that your feet should be under the bar at hip-width stance.
Use a wide gap between your hands of at least 30inches. Some even use the full width of the bar, with a hand at either end.
The wide grab puts the arms straight. Keep the back alignment straight too. With head facing forward, hips should be higher than knees as bend down. Lift bar past shins, keeping it close to the body. Put the strain on glutes, back, and legs. As the bar passes the knee-line, pump up the power. Use a triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles), and lift, standing on toes as this lift goes upwards.
When the bar is about to pass the head, shrug shoulders and pull hard on the bar. Your body should begin to squat as the knees bend. Keep going down into the squat and turn wrists, so you can now push the bar up with the triceps and shoulders. Keeping back straight, feet may go a little wider at this point. Stand up by extending first the knees and then the hips, keeping that bar aligned with ankles.
Stand still with the bar above the head. Congratulate yourself, you’ve done it. As with the Clean Jerk, lower the bar to your chest and drop it to the floor.
4. Front Squat
This Olympic Lift doesn’t start on the floor. You will be taking the bar from the rack at chest height.
Stand upright, feet apart to the outer shoulder line, head forward.
There are a couple of ways to take the bar from rack. Stand in front of the rack with bar touching collarbone. For both holds, lift arms straight out, in front of the body and at shoulder height with palms facing up.
Pull arms back towards body and cross them over so each hand falls on the opposite shoulder. Pull hands inwards towards throat, so hands are not far apart. Take the bar with an underhand grip so it falls between fingers and body. Now follow the technique.
When you pull your outstretched arms back towards the body, allow elbows to move backward keeping palms up. The bar should be balanced with underhand grip on your two main fingers. If preferred, use all fingers. Now follow technique.
Once you have the bar, step backward. The load is taken at the top of the shoulders. Drop into squat position keeping bar at shoulder level. Lift load up as you go into a standing position. By taking all strain at the front, you work the quads (thighs) and glutes (butt).
Place bar back on the rack once reps are complete.
You’ve worked on legs, hips, and butt.
Did you know you can do the Front Squat using straps instead of fingers? You can see an example in the video above.
Not a favorite exercise of many lifters but great for the core.
See Front Squat.
Take bar from rack with hands positioned wide and nearer to plates than middle. Position across shoulders resting on traps (shoulder muscle). Keeping upright, deep breath, bend knees, drop hips as you lift bar above head. Lock elbows with arms straight up. Wrists should be bent back a little. Align bar with feet.
Move hips back a little, inhale, bend knees and angle them outwards, squat as far you are comfortable. Keep chest up, head forward, back straight. Don’t lean forward, it will unbalance you, keep the weight stacked.
See Front Squat.
You’ve worked shoulders, upper back and legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings).
6. Squat Clean
Let’s look at a couple of variations on Cleans. Also, here’s a great site giving some useful information on clean adaptations.
The Squat Clean is a full-body workout that will power the legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves), core (abs and traps), shoulders, and arms (biceps). Always do a warm-up before doing any heavy lifting, to avoid injury.
See Clean Jerk.
Use an overhand grip to grab the bar.
Pushing through the heels, pull the bar upwards. As it passes knees, straighten hips, knees, and body. Shoulders should shrug and heels will leave the floor. When bar levels to the stomach, bend and push elbows forward and catch the bar in fingers. Rest bar on delts (top arm/shoulder muscle).
The body should lean under the bar as you move into a squat position. Use the glutes (butt) to pull up the bar to reach the collarbone, extending the hips and torso.
Lower the bar to the floor.
Ideally, you should do around 5 sets of 3 reps, with a few minutes rest between each set. If you’re experienced then the load can be around 45 lbs, if not, then lighten it.
7. Power Clean
Similar to the Squat Clean. The biggest difference is that you won’t be doing a squat. The knees will still bend only slightly.
See Clean Jerk.
Use the overhand grip to grab the bar.
See the beginning of the Squat Clean. Once you’re resting the bar on the delts, instead of a full squat, only bend the knees a little as you “catch” the bar.
This is a good Olympic Lift to develop speed but still works on the core, shoulders, and arms.
8. Muscle Snatch
The Snatch is fundamental to Olympic Lifting. One of the variations is the Muscle Snatch.
You’ll be working the upper back and shoulders if you perform the Muscle Snatch with heavier weights, known as the “Soviet” snatch. Or, you can do it with a lighter load to also work the arms (triceps) and chest. This is a real strength builder.
You’ll lift the bar from the floor to overhead, in one flowing movement. As the bar goes behind the head your overhand grip turns into an underhand one.
Picking up the bar from the floor the first Pull, or Overhang. The second Pull is when the bar reaches mid-thigh. Pump up the power at the second Pull. The bar needs to stay close to the body all the way up.
Even allowing it to slightly brush the thighs as it passes, that’s how close it needs to be. Continue with the movement and Press the bar to an overhead lift. Although you’ll start with a squat to pick the bar up, you won’t do any squats during this lift.
Drop the bar to the floor.
9. Push Press
This exercise works on shoulders, chest, arms (triceps), core, hips, and front thighs (quads), so it’s a full-body workout. If you want to increase muscle bulk on shoulders or to lift a heavier load on Bench Press, this is a good exercise to include in your workout. This is another Lift where you take the bar from the rack.
Stand close to rack, the bar is at shoulder height. Feet should be shoulder-width apart.
See Front Squat.
Once you’ve taken the bar and stepped back from the rack, the bar should be balancing on the front shoulders. With hands at shoulder-width apart, bend knees a little, push power through the feet and lift the bar above the head.
Stop once the bar is at arm’s length. With arms outstretched, old it for a few seconds. Slowly bring the bar back down again with elbows moving forward. The bar should rest in the fingers, with the wrist bent back and palm up.
Place bar on the rack once rep is complete and have a brief rest. Repeat until all sets are done.
Be careful not to squat before the Lift. You only need to have a slight bend in the knees, to help with the Lift. Keep your back straight.
Here are more detailed instructions on how to perform the Push Press and other tips.
10. High Pull
Similar to the Rack Pull, but the High Pull begins with the bar on the floor, involving more movement in the squat. It’s a move that’s quite short and fast and benefits the whole body. You’ll work on all the traps (back), glutes (butt), hamstring and quads (legs), shoulders, and also the hip joint.
With balls of feet under the bar, stand straight, head forward, ready to squat.
When you take the bar, use an overhand grip so that hands fall a little wider than the shoulder line. Keep arms straight.
Squat down keeping back aligned straight and head forward. As you Pull on the bar, knees remain bent and you will extend hips. Keep the bar close to the body. Once it reaches knees, raise shoulders, allow elbows to lean outwards and jump up to swiftly lift the bar to neck level.
With knees bent, lower bar to mid-thigh level. The back should remain straight. If using rubber plates, you can drop the bar to the floor from this level. If not, then reverse the Pull movement but slower so you don’t strain anything. The mainstay of the exercise is in the Lift or Pull, not the drop.
Here’s are some useful tips on how to perform the High Pull.
Olympic Lifting can involve many techniques. How you do them may differ slightly to how others perform the same Lifts. So long as you practice control and work those muscles, then these are ideal Lifts for building up strength and bulk.
Much of the technique is in the hip movements, getting the squats or knee bend right, and focusing on the point of each Pull. Start with lighter loads if you’re a beginner, as it means you can do more sets and reps as you practice the technique. Though you do need to hit the maximum load on a regular basis so your body gets used to the feel of that strain. At your best, these should be aggressive exercises with heavy loads.
Also, if you’re a beginner, you could consider using dumbells to start with, while you build up stamina. You should build up your individual muscle strength with the help of a GHD, power tower, bench press rack, and bench press bench. Protect your knees and hands with quality knee wraps and wrist wraps.
If you want to get out of the gym, then add some other exercise routines, such as battle ropes. They’ll keep up that full-body workout, with a great change in scenery.
This article was last updated on March 13, 2021 .