Weightlifting For Everyone: How Anyone Can (Kinda) Olympic Lift and (Probably) Not Suck at It

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Today is my girlfriend’s birthday.  And anyone who knows Lisa knows she looooooooves her birthday – to the point where it shouldn’t even be considered a birthDAY, but a birthWEEK.

In any case we have a jam packed day today – a late breakfast, a tandem workout “date,” and then we’re heading to a fancy schmancy spa for the afternoon.  Holla!  Followed by a decadent dinner of chicken wings and pizza.

Yeah, it’s going to be an awesome day.

Thankfully my good friend, Michael Anderson, who’s written several guest posts on this site before, came through in a pinch and sent along this gem.


The topic of weightlifting  (when used as one word it references the sport of Olympic Style weightlifting) has become a hot topic lately and is polarizing in many ways.  Some coaches live and die by it and still other coaches won’t touch it with a 7-foot barbell. As usual, the answer lies somewhere comfortably in the middle.

Note from TG:  I wrote a post not too long ago on Why I Don’t Use the Olympic Lifts (<—-maybe you should check it out. It’s not as polarizing as the title makes it seem.  Promise).

With the popularity of CrossFit rising at a rapid rate, the sport of weightlifting has finally become something that the masses are aware of. For many years it has been the “other” iron sport; hidden behind the behemoths of powerlifting, the veiny striations and posing briefs of bodybuilding and the ESPN coverage of strongman. I myself have been training as a weightlifter with Coach Ivan Rojas of Risto Sports since last April and had been “training” (i.e. dicking around) for another six months prior to that.

The polarizing topic for many coaches is not whether or not weightlifting is beneficial for athletes, but whether or not it is beneficial enough to employ in their programming.

Some coaches, like Wil Fleming  have great success with it, while others find it cumbersome to teach and can do a host of other things in the time it would take to make someone proficient in the competition lifts (snatch, clean and jerk).

Note from TG:  speaking of Wil Fleming, for anyone interested in learning more about Olympic lifting I can’t recommend his resource Complete Olympic Lifting enough. While I don’t go out of my way to coach the OLY lifts, I still do own this DVD and think it’s fantastic.

I agree with both sides.

For some populations it’s just not worth teaching them all of the steps to have a decent looking snatch, or the stress that the clean and jerk can put on your wrists. Too, some athletes just shouldn’t have a loaded barbell overhead, and to do so would be irresponsible of the coach.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from some variations of the classic lifts that are both easy to teach and will produce some of the great benefits that you can get from the full variations. One of the marks of a great athlete is the ability to contract, relax and contract explosively all at the exact right moments; this skill is exactly what weightlifting is all about.

NOTE: these are NOT necessarily weightlifting-specific exercises, but variations that are applicable and beneficial to a certain population.

Also, know your population. If you are working with athletes with particular contraindications then don’t force them into an exercise they shouldn’t be doing. There are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated lifters (thanks Tony and Eric!).

Note II: I am not a professional weightlifter, I’m quite aware that my form is not perfect. If you have some constructive criticism please let me know, but don’t just remind me that I am painfully slow.

Power Clean

In terms of weightlifting variations that can help create better athletes, the power clean is at the top of the list. There’s not much that I could say about the power clean that hasn’t been said already (and said better than I’m able to), but it fits this list of variations very well.

You produce power, move big weights, get stronger and then dominate the world.

The biggest limiting factor would be the athlete’s mobility to pull off the floor or their ability to get their elbows around to catch the bar in the correct rack position. If your athlete can’t get down to the bar in a good position, then start them from a hang position or from blocks. If they can’t rack the bar due to mobility restrictions, then take some time and work on it; it’s not a particularly complex position and your athlete would benefit from the mobility required to do it.

(For the most in-depth look possible at this exercise, please refer to THIS post by Wil Fleming.

Snatch Pulls

Let me start by saying that I despise snatch pulls.

With Coach Rojas we finish almost every training session with a few sets of snatch pulls; it’s the dingleberry on the ass of a long, hard workout when all you want to do is shower and eat.

However, they are an exceptionally simple and beneficial exercise and are a staple in the program of nearly every weightlifter on the planet.

The snatch pull is the first half (give or take) of the full snatch and ends at complete triple-extension of the hips, knees and ankles. Complete a big shrug and use your hips to absorb the weight when it comes back down. If your athletes don’t have the mobility to get down to the floor with a snatch-grip, you can pull from blocks or from the hang position.

You can also try adding in a pause at the knees to help reinforce this position. This is a great way to develop a strong hinge pattern that transfers into powerful hip extension. It also does a great job of building the entire posterior chain.

Note: I don’t personally find snatch high pulls  to be a great lift to teach athletes. If you don’t fully understand how it carries over to the classic snatch then it’s too easy to form  deteriorate while they just try and muscle the weight up as high as they can. 

Jerk Behind The Neck

The jerk is the most violent and explosive movement in weightlifting and, arguably, in all of sports.

In competition jerks are done from a front rack position, but for training purposes jerks from behind the neck work because they don’t put nearly as much strain on your wrists and elbows.

The pre-requisite for this exercise is being able to support a loaded barbell overhead without putting yourself at any risk for injury. Assuming that, this exercise is a fantastic way to develop leg drive, uni-/bi-lateral lower body stability and a ton of core stability. You can use either a power-jerk (bi-lateral) or a split-jerk (uni-lateral) to complete the lift, and you can either eccentrically lower the barbell to your shoulders or you can use jerk boxes and just drop it to avoid any eccentric stress at all.

That’s It, Yo

At least one of these three variations should fit into nearly any training program for any athlete. The amount of time it takes to coach them is pretty minimal and the benefits that your athletes will be able to see are significant.

Add them into your program as your first exercise after your warm-up and, generally speaking, do 4-6 sets of 2-3 reps.

Do not use weights that require any sort of grind. The name of the game is power production (aka how fast can you be strong); so make sure the barbells are always moving at top speed.

Add these into your programs for a little while and see what kinds of benefits you can get. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

About the Author

Mike is a Boston area personal trainer and also completed a successful stint interning with Boston University Strength and Conditioning.

Mike is also finishing his degree in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He loves bacon, beer and his 7 year old pit bull Lexi. You can reach him with any questions, comments or notes of affection at michaelkaneanderson@gmail.com. You can also visit his website HERE.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

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