The sport of Olympic style weightlifting (which I will refer to as weightlifting) is often thought to be dangerous. Think about it, you are essentially trying to lift as much weight as possible above your head. Surely this must be an accident waiting to happen right? WRONG. Don’t get me wrong, injuries definitely do occur but weightlifting as a sport actually has among the lowest rate of injury. Although strength is an extremely important part of the sport, speed, power, agility and flexibility are equally important. The sport itself is essentially built around 2 main lifts that are performed in competition: the snatch and the clean & jerk.
The goal of the snatch is essentially to lift a barbell from the floor to the overhead finishing position in one fluid motion, therefore the snatch is considered a test of speed as it takes tremendous quickness to be able to catch the bar in the overhead position. The snatch also requires excellent flexibility and strength.
On the other hand, the clean & jerk (as the name indicates) is really a two part lift where the lifter pulls the bar off the floor and catches it on the shoulders and then proceeds to “jerk” the bar overhead. The clean and jerk also requires tremendous speed and power but is generally considered a test of strength as it is possible to lift more weight in this exercise versus the snatch.
A weightlifter’s training is built around the two lifts themselves. However, there are many assistance exercises that are utilized to increase performance such as variations of squats, deadlifts, pulls, plyometrics, presses, grip work and countless others.
Before we go any further, let me mention that technique is extremely important in both lifts. There are varying schools of thought on which techniques are more efficient (a debate I will not get into here) but it is undeniable that to be successful at either, you must focus as much energy on becoming technically efficient as you are strong.
So what is the point of all of this? Well, contrary to what many people believe, Olympic weightlifting is not only safe but extremely beneficial for almost everyone. Here are just a few of the benefits of weightlifting:
1) Increased athletic ability: the nature of the sport is often referred to as essentially jumping but with a bar. Consequently, weightlifting will help improve your vertical jump tremendously as well as your sprinting ability as both these movements require high levels of explosive force. This is why many athletes utilize the Olympic lifts. Olympic weightlifting (as well as assistance lifts such as power variations of the lifts, pulls, squats, deadlifts and other assistance exercises) has a high carryover into other sports that require you to generate a great amount of force into a small period of time.
2) Better body composition: Performing the Olympic lifts requires you to utilize every single muscle in the human body. Weightlifters tend to have incredible back, leg and core development
. Studies have also shown that weightlifting can help lower body fat, blood pressure and increase cardiovascular health as it is a form of anaerobic activity.
3) Decreased occurrence of injury: Olympic weightlifting has the ability to develop strong and healthy bones as the overload of stress has a significant impact on bone mineral density. In other words, weightlifting strengthens the bones and even greatly reduces the chances of developing osteoporosis.
So, does all this mean that you NEED to be performing the Olympic lifts to be strong, fast, flexible and fit? NO. Many people (athletes and non- athletes alike) will get along just fine by sticking to other forms of exercise such as calisthenics and other forms of resistance training but it is an undeniable FACT that Olympic weightlifting is an amazing tool that, if utilized correctly can bring tremendous increases in performance, body composition and general health. Plus there’s nothing quite like throwing huge weights above your head!
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