The Basics of Olympic Weightlifting

January 29, 2017


In the first weightlifting blog post I shared my personal weightlifting story and why I love it. The second post focused more on the overall benefits. This time we’ll get more into the basics and what’s worth knowing before beginning weightlifting.


So as we already covered, there’s two lifts - the snatch and the clean & jerk.


The snatch is the faster of the two and involves moving the bar from ground to overhead in one movement.




The clean and jerk requires two separate movements - first cleaning the bar to shoulder height then jerking it overhead.


What training for weightlifting looks like

Like learning anything complex, weightlifting is broken down into smaller parts which are then brought together. With practice the whole movement becomes smooth enough that weight can be steadily added to the bar. Just like training for a marathon doesn’t mean running a marathon every week nor does rugby training involve a match every session, weightlifting training is primarily broken down into these smaller parts. As I mentioned before, a snatch takes less than 2 seconds, a clean and jerk just a little more. In order to make sure the full movements are executed as efficiently as possible, most of the work goes into ensuring that each part, or phase, of the lift becomes automatic to the athlete.


Another key part of training is squatting. Strength developed when squatting ensures that you can stand up out of the catch position, i.e. when you’re in a squat holding the bar overhead (the snatch) or holding the bar at shoulder height (the clean). Similar to any other gym session, a weightlifting session is structured by knowing exactly what parts of each lift you’re doing, for how many reps and sets, and with what weight. To begin with that weight will be as light as a wooden or plastic dowel to learn the basics of the movements.


Equipment - bars, plates and clips

The first essential piece of equipment is an Olympic Weightlifting bar. A 20kg bar is used by men and a 15kg bar (slightly narrower and shorter)  is used by women.


When initially learning the lifts, and consequently when warming up to heavier weights, large bumper plates are used which are 2.5kg or 5kg each. These are the same diameter as heavier plates and thick enough to be robust when dropped on the glym floor. The purpose is to ensure that the bar is at the correct height when setting up for the lift rather than much closer to the ground as it would be if the standard smaller 2.5kg weights were used. Getting used to using these bumpers also helps psychologically as they’re much bigger in size than even a 20kg plate. It’s 90% mental as they say!


Metal springs or plastic clips are used to keep the plates in place and don’t affect the overall weight. These are the same as the clips used for other exercises like deadlift or bench. Metal collars each weighing 2.5kg are used in competition but aren’t necessary for training.


Who can lift?

In competitive weightlifting there are eight weight classes for men and eight for women. Men’s weight classes range from 56kg (just less than 9 stone) to anything over 105kg (16 and a half stone). Women’s range from 48kg (7 and a half stone) to anything over 90kg (just over 14 stone). So if you thought your body type wasn’t suited to weightlifting, think again!


Below are snatches from two of the lightest and heaviest medal winners from Rio. The first shows some of the best mobility possible with 92kg overhead at 48kg bodyweight (7 and a half stone). The second is a world record of 216kg at 170kg bodyweight (almost 27 stone - think about that!).




So away from medal winning Olympic performances and back to real life... Whatever your size, when doing weightlifting you’ll be putting to use practically every movement you’ve worked on in FFS, particularly S&C classes. The strength, mobility and control you’ve developed will come together to ensure you’re able to stabilise the bar overhead and put it there safely in the first place.


Sign me up!

Keep an eye out on social media for more info about when weightlifting classes will begin at FFS. If you’ve any questions you can find me at 47 Leeson Street or drop me an email.


Can’t wait to get started!

Til then, stay strong,



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