Powerlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting – you’d be well forgiven for not being totally clear what any one or all of these are. Here’s a quick visual explanation:
What is weightlifting?
Olympic weightlifting (often referred to simply as weightlifting) is a competitive sport which involves two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. During the snatch the bar is brought overhead in one movement, using a wide grip. The clean & jerk has a narrower grip where the bar is brought overhead in two movements - to shoulder height (the clean) and then overhead (the jerk) usually with feet split - one to the front, one to the back.
It sounds a bit caveman, it begs the question ‘but why?’, and it seems like it could break your back. For me, weightlifting is a bit like going for a run a few times a week – I can’t quite explain why, but it feels awesome and I always want more. When running, your mind can wander and it’s great that it can. When weightlifting your mind has no choice but to 100% focus on exactly what you’re doing. Whatever else is going on in your day, there’s no room for it when you’ve got a bar in your hands. While weightlifting might look like just throwing weight overhead, it’s very technical which makes learning it both challenging and hugely rewarding.
How I began weightlifting
I started training specifically for weightlifting three years ago. I had strength from sprinting all my life but I was a technical disaster. I was less than impressed initially when my athletics coach said that she’d got some tips for our gym work from a weightlifting coach. Weightlifting?! Oh hell no. Thanks, but no thanks lady. I reluctantly did a session with that weightlifting coach so he could see my movement first hand. And well, I got the bug. But we’ll call it a small bug as I then went travelling and figured I’d probably pick it back up when I came home. Either way, I was 27 and finito with competitive sport. Fast forward to January 2017 and I’m lucky enough to have been training for weightlifting for the last three years and competed at European and World level.
Focus, focus, focus
Weightlifting is a competition to see who can lift the heaviest weight overhead, so the caveman part is understandable, especially when compared to something so much more tactical like rugby. Having said that, there a so many pointers to focus on when learning each lift, which makes it extremely technical, even if not tactical. Nailing one of those technical points for the first time is a serious kick of ‘Aha! I can do this!’. Coordinating more than one of those pointers together really fires your confidence. Getting them all right at the same time feels down right amazing. The challenge continues to do it consistently and then all over again with a heavier weight. Like with anything complex the trick is to put all the pieces together without overthinking it. A snatch takes less than 2 seconds, a clean and jerk a few more, so to say you need to be focused and 100% in the moment might even be an understatement.
The best of the rest
Even though focus and the challenge of technical movements is at the heart of it, there’s much more to it. What makes weightlifting so addictive and rewarding for me are the relationships I’ve built through training with others who are equally trying to achieve that elusive, perfect snatch, clean or jerk. Doing it once doesn’t mean it’ll work that way again in two minutes, two days or two months. On top of that there’s the endorphins, feeling myself improve and get stronger, taking feedback and implementing it, thinking about nothing but the lift I’m about to do – it’s meditation really. Meditation with friends and bangin’ tunes.
Aside from all of that, I’m proud to be part of the growth of weightlifting in Ireland. Particularly the increase in women considering that before Sydney in 2000, weightlifting was an Olympic sport only for men. And in 2015 I was one of the first four women to represent Ireland at World Championships. G’wan the girls!
Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for a couple more blog posts about weightlifting and why you’ll be missing out if you’re not signed for our upcoming class at FFS.