Until about six months ago, I had no idea what “Olympic” weightlifting was. My experience in the gym with weights had been with doing back squats, deadlifts, presses, curls, and different kinds of raises and rows. Now, here I am a certified Olympic weightlifting coach with a new found appreciation for one of the most technically complicated and beautiful sports I have ever witnessed. I thought that maybe there might be a few people out there who, like me, would be glad to know more about this underrated Olympic sport.
Most of the lifting I did in the gym before I found CrossFit is considered “weight training.” The types of lifting done are usually with dumbbells, and use targeted movements to gain strength in very specific muscle groups. A bicep curl, for example, targets (you guessed it) the biceps muscles in the upper arm. As my main goal at the time was to lose weight, using resistance training in this manner is a commonly recommended program. My trainer at the time also introduced me to deadlifting and back squatting, both with a barbell. I found that I was fairly strong at these lifts, and began researching competitions. That research led me to “powerlifting.” Powerlifting competitions, I discovered, consist of three lifts; bench press, deadlift, and back squat. There are many different organizations that oversee powerlifting and all have different standards. So, if you hear that so and so has the “World Record” in bench press, you need to check if that athlete wore a special shirt that assists with stabilization, or if the competition was drug tested or not.
When I began CrossFit, it didn’t take long to be introduced to the alien and kind of “dirty” sounding lift, the snatch. I had no more an idea how to perform that lift than I knew how to dance a tango, and come to find out that learning it was just as complicated, if not more so than learning the dramatic dance. The clean and jerk made a little more sense to me, because it just seems natural to lift a bar up off of the ground, stop for a second halfway to gather your wits, and then push it overhead. After more research into competing, (I tried CrossFit competitions and learned that my strength is, well, my strength, so I wanted to specialize), I found out that there is an entire event in the Summer Olympic Games that I would have loved to know about years ago. Olympic Weightlifting consists of earning a combined score in both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Unlike powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting has one governing body, the International Weightlifting Federation. The standards for the lifts are universal all over the world. The 1896 Olympic Games saw the first weightlifting as part of the track and field athletic events. Throughout the years, the snatch and the clean and jerk won out as the only two lifts that are performed in its own Olympic weightlifting event. While women competed at national and local meets for years, the first time women lifted in the Olympics was in 2000.
After a year of performing these lifts in CrossFit and seeing the difference in what they have done for me athletically, I decided that I wanted to get certified to teach these graceful movements to my clients, whether I was coaching CrossFit or just personally training someone. I think that they are just too valuable to leave out of a training program. My certification seminar proved me to be absolutely right. While weight training and powerlifting focus on pure limit strength, Olympic Weightlifting adds balance, speed, ballistic movements, and mobility to its resume. Paraphrasing my certification coach, Mark Cannella, only Olympic weightlifting translates directly to other sports, from the way you have to push off of the ground, change direction quickly to get under the bar, and stabilize your entire body to maximize strength. While I find it a shame that there isn’t more attention given to this vital sport, I am glad that I discovered it’s profound impact on athletics in time to begin my career as a coach.