Should You Be Olympic Lifting?

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The Olympic lifts have gained huge popularity in the last few years. Like it or not, this is due to Crossfit becoming so prevalent within the mainstream. Maybe you’ve seen some muscled up individuals heaving massive weights above their chiseled physiques and thought to yourself “hey, I should do that!” We’ll get to that in a second. Let’ cover the basics of Olympic lifting.

There are two Olympic lifts: the clean and jerk along with the snatch. In a nutshell, they both involve grabbing a barbell and launching the weight in the air and catching it overhead. They can improve athletic performance and are a very useful tool on the training floor. They’re also a lot of fun. Nothing matches the feeling of throwing a weight above your head and catching it like a superhero.

So maybe you should do them. But there’s also the chance that you shouldn’t. Confused? Its okay, this article with help you make the decision if you should start Olympic lifting.

Olympic Weightlifting is a Sport. The origins of weightlifting are based on competition. Whoever can lift the heaviest weight, in their weight class, wins. Some people do the lifts for the sole reason of competing in a sport rather than seeking to be fit. Every good weightlifting program is designed for one thing: to lift more weight.

They help improve performance. The lifts do help improve athletic performance. The clean and jerk along with the snatch can improve your power output, thus allowing your body to do certain things faster. This is beneficial in sports and in some cases, everyday life (like trying to keep up with my two year old). This is why other athletes, like football players or MMA fighters will use the full lifts or their variants. If you want to be a better athlete, you might want to start using these movements.

Olympic lifts focus on just a few elements of fitness. Doing the lifts will get your very strong and very powerful. But those are just two elements of fitness. If you’re looking for all around fitness, you need the other components: muscle mass, flexibility, different forms of endurance, etc. No matter what you want to do with your body, if you’re using the lifts, you should be adding more weight on the bar. For many, more weight on the bar is not a priority thus negating any reason to do the lifts.

They’re very complex. Olympic lifting is very, very technical and will take years of steady practice to get good at it. Those who excel started at a young age and have at least a decade of experience.  If you want to be good at them, then patience is the name of the game.

You need a base of strength. You do need basic levels of fitness to even start learning the lifts. You should be able to overhead press, deadlift, and front/back squat decent numbers. If you can’t, start there first. If you don’t even know what a front squat is, you’ve got a few years before you can do a clean and jerk. Mobility is an issue for a lot of people as well since you have to catch the weights in a full squat.

They have a huge hormonal response. These are full body moves that can have a significant impact on your hormones. Research has shown that doing heavy snatches/cleans can cause an increase in your body’s testosterone levels. More testosterone can help you build strength and muscle. But…

The lifts won’t lead to significant physique changes. The lifts themselves won’t do much for your physique. Those who have developed lean bodies from Olympic lifting are the exception, not the rule. Those individuals are blessed with the specific muscle cells (referred to as fibers in the sports science world) that respond well to this form of lifting. They probably have that physique from years of doing accessory lifts or they were athletes in another sport. But the Olympic lifts are missing two things: a metabolic demand and significant tension.

Tension and metabolic damage is that burning feeling you get in your arms when you do a set of biceps curls. That sensation you feel can cause the body to burn fat and build muscle, something most of us who workout want from our efforts.

A full snatch can be over in a second. Impressive, but it won’t – and shouldn’t- cause a burning in any of your muscles. To give you a frame of reference, my clients do a minimum of 20 seconds per set and in some cases will do up to 70 seconds of work for a single set.  There’s other reasons why but just understand that only a few lucky individuals can change their physique with this style of training.

So taking all that in, should you be Olympic lifting?

I would say YES if…

-You want to compete in a sport

-You’re an athlete looking to enhance your performance.

-You’ve been working out for several years and want to try something new that will make you a ‘jack of all trades’ when it comes to fitness.

-You’ve gotten stronger but want a new challenge to try.

I would say NO if,

-You’re new to fitness or aren’t necessarily concerned with tapping into all elements of fitness.

-If you’re just concerned with looking good naked – and that’s perfectly okay – there are other forms of training out there much more beneficial.

-You haven’t strength trained for a minimum of two years.

-Heavy weights freak you out.

Olympic lifting is definitely fun and rewarding, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re not concerned about your athletic performance, there are certainly other forms of training that are much beneficial to you. Regardless of whether you do the lifts or not, just make sure to keep on training.

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