the joy of strength training


December 10th, 2007 at 5:57 pm

Olympic weightlifting: starting out

I have been working recently on olympic weightlifting exercises. These tend to be full body exercises and will contribute greatly to all-round strength. They are working my body in ways it is not used to and I am enjoying the business of learning a new set of skills and techniques.

Below are some useful assistance exercises to prepare you for the demands of olympic weightlifting.

Front squats

Front squats are a useful precursor to the clean as they involve squatting with the barbell balanced across the front of the shoulders – which is the top position of the clean.

Front squats are a great exercise in themselves, even if you never intend to clean and jerk at all. Mike Boyle, for example, recommends front squats over back squats as you get a similar result much more safely. Read more about Mike’s position on front squats and injury-free training in general.

Hang power clean

I’ll be honest with you, I’m partly into this exercise because I think it looks good! Fortunately, it’s also a good strength exercise. The hang part means that it starts from a hanging position not from the floor; the power part means that it is performed only with a partial squat not a full squat.

Some people argue that unless you are training to be an olympic lifter, there’s no need to do full squat cleans; you will get good results with the hang power clean, which is easier to perform than the full clean. You can see where front squats come in, as practice for catching the bar in the clean.

Push press

This exercise is good training for both of the olympic events, as it involves pressing the bar overhead. It’s also a great shoulder exercise.

The push press is actually the second of three exercises that form the progression to the ‘jerk’ part of the olympic lift. The first exercise is the military press, which is the same as the push press except you don’t bend your legs as you press – all the effort comes from the arms and shoulders. The push press is the second exercise, using the legs to initiate the move and get the bar off the shoulders. The push jerk takes it one step further by incorporating not just the bend in the legs but the actual jump as well.

Overhead squat

I have heard about the merits of this exercise from a number of sources and it is an important precursor to the snatch. But mainly I was inspired to do it by seeing the Crossfit women training this move so much. It takes incredible strength and hip power to perform this exercise, especially for high reps and with a lot of weight. My hips were aching after this session as they weren’t used to being worked so hard!

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  • 1

    Great lifting! Way to go! I have trouble getting a proper arm position during the front squat as well. I’d like to think that it’s because my giant biceps get in the way but that’s hardly the case 😉 I far prefer them to back squats, even though back squats allow me to go much heavier.
    Super work on the overhead squats and hang cleans too. Snatches aren’t easy to get going with, but once you get the hang of them, they’re quite fun (despite, perhaps, some stares at the gym).

    Jamie on December 12th, 2007
  • 2

    Thanks for the kind words! I really enjoy snatches but I do need to work on my form for the full squat snatch (the overhead squats will help). I can probably do a decent enough power snatch at this stage. Might try that next session!

    gubernatrix on December 12th, 2007
  • 3

    I commented on your YouTube page, but thought I’d add something here. There is another technique to one arm cleans that you might enjoy as well, and since you seem to pick up on this stuff pretty quickly (written with much envy) someday i might post info on what it entails.

    Chip Conrad on December 13th, 2007
  • 4

    Stick a pair of lifting straps around the bar for front squats if you have trouble with elbow position. Work on stretching using the smith machine if you have one to practice the rack position. External rotation and wrist extension are the essentials along with thoracic extension. Will pop something on my blog about it!

    Graeme Marsh on December 14th, 2007
  • 5

    @ Chip – sounds intriguing.

    @ Graeme – thanks for the advice. I do have access to a smith machine but I’m not entirely sure how I would use it to do what you suggest.

    gubernatrix on December 15th, 2007
  • 6

    Chip, are you talking about the way you get the weight up in order to do a bent press? Was watching your bent press video clip.

    gubernatrix on December 15th, 2007
  • 7

    That video with all the barbell snatches is really fun! I’ll have to make sure I progress with shoulder dislocations (err the stretch) before I try that, though. Wouldn’t want to tear something if the bar goes backwards! But it’s nice to see so many mess-ups too. Gives you a sense that it’s pretty safe as long as you’re careful and flexible enough..

    Shawn Fumo on December 24th, 2007
  • 8

    Yes, it’s important to learn how to bail safely!

    gubernatrix on December 24th, 2007
  • 9


    this is totally out of subject, but could you (or anybody else) help me? I’m visiting London for the first time of my life and I’d like to continue my olympic weightlifting training during my visit. Is there a gym in London where I could train? If the situation is at all the same than in Finland there’s only a few places you can go and train real weightlifting. Normal (commercial) gyms don’t want people coming there and dropping weights (which is going to happen when I’m not that good). Also the use of Magnesium is strictly prohibited in many places here. But anyhow if anybody could help me I’d appreciate that a lot =) (also training company welcome…) Thanks (and sorry for writing here… couldn’t find any other chatting forum or similar place)

    FinnishLifter on December 7th, 2008
  • 10

    Yep, there aren’t many places unfortunately. The ones I know about are:
    Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club – see Col’s write up and address etc here:
    Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, Ledrington Road, Crystal Palace, London, SE19 2BB, Tel: 020 8778 0131 – I think you might need to be a member to use it, maybe call and ask them.

    gubernatrix on December 8th, 2008
  • 11

    Thanks a LOT!

    I contacted Crystal Palace and it seems that it might be possible to train there. Christmas saved (and maybe next years national Champs medal)!

    I’m just wondering if other people think that Christmas is having way too many days without possibility to train. I think the holy days would be exactly the best days to work out. No need to stress about work or school or anything else. Just sleeping and eating enough and then working out with rested body…

    I thought the best idea we had in Finland was that we had a competition at 26th December. =) (now it’s cancelled when the place where we held the competition is asking too much money… =( )

    Maybe in future…

    FinnishLifter on December 9th, 2008
  • 12

    Hey I’m glad you have sorted something out! I feel exactly the same way about training. With a full time job I would relish the chance to get some good training and sports in over the Christmas period but will have to make do at home. I will be going for my traditional Christmas morning run though!

    gubernatrix on December 9th, 2008
  • 13

    […] Here are some ideas to get you started: olympic weightlifting – starting out […]


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