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What is Olympic Weightlifting? A Full Breakdown

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Jan 2,2024|12 min| 963
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A full breakdown of the popular sport

When it comes to joining a gym and getting started with your fitness journey, it is not often that you see people following an Olympic Weightlifting styled training routine. Often, you will see people come into the gym and choose the path of powerlifting or bodybuilding, or even just doing cardio and staying in shape. To put it simply, you see people looking to get muscular and strong, or get shredded, but not train to be as functional as possible. That being said, we are going to take an in-depth look at Olympic Weightlifting, what it is, and where to start.

Let’s dive in.

What is Olympic Weightlifting?

Weightlifting is seen as an activity that is used to build and tone muscles, as well as improve strength, and even endurance. However, it is worth noting that not all weightlifting is classified as Olympic weightlifting. Some weightlifting falls under the style of bodybuilding or powerlifting. So, what is Olympic weightlifting, exactly? 

Many people confuse Olympic Weightlifting with the popular sport of “CrossFit”, but that is not the case at all. Though they are similar, Olympic Weightlifting is a competitive weightlifting event that is governed by the rules and guidelines of the U.S. (and International) Olympic Committee. The main objective of competitive weightlifting is to lift more weight than your competitors and take home the highest placing, but just like any other sport, it is not that simple and there is more to it than that. The amount of weight attempted varies by each individual lifter, and the lifters are divided up by weight classes, and the weight classes are different for men and women. 

Not to mention, all lifts must be executed according to Olympic standards, and there are two or three judges who evaluate if a lift is successfully completed or failed. That being said, there is certain form that needs to be utilized, and time limits on each lift that they need to be completed in, so Olympic Weightlifting is not as simple as “picking things up and putting them down”.

What Lifts are Used in Olympic Weightlifting?

Olympic Weightlifting focuses on two compound lifts, but no, they are not your typical bench press and deadlift. Instead, the Olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk.

The Snatch

Starting with the Snatch, this is a challenging and dynamic weightlifting exercise that uses a combination of strength, speed, and technique to properly perform. On top of that, it requires a high dose of explosiveness, agility, and balance to perform to a high degree. The exercise involves lifting a barbell from the ground up into an overhead squat position, then standing up.

The Snatch is a compound exercise, which means it targets multiple muscle groups. These groups mainly include, but are not limited to: 

The exercise also requires a high degree of core stability and strength to maintain balance and control throughout the movement. While the snatch works multiple muscle groups, it may not be the best for hypertrophy, but more so strength and explosiveness.

Clean & Jerk

The Clean and Jerk is the second of the two Olympic lifts. Much like the Snatch, the clean and jerk is a compound exercise that requires strength, speed, and technique, as well as explosiveness, agility, and balance to execute properly. Some will say that it takes less strength to pull off, but the movement is more complex due to it being a two-part exercise and requires more practice to perfect.

The Clean and Jerk involves combining two distinct movements - the “Clean” and the “Jerk” - hence the name.

  • The Clean part of the movement requires you to lift the barbell off the ground into a racked position on the shoulders, coming into a front squat position. This part primarily targets the lower body muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, but also a bit of the posterior chain and the traps/rear delts. 

  • The Jerk part of the movement requires you to push the barbell from the racked position into an overhead position, primarily targeting the upper body muscles, emphasizing the shoulders, back, and arms.

Since the Clean and Jerk has distinct lower and upper body sections, it’s often favored as the more well-rounded and safer full-body exercise than the Snatch, which makes it more popular in cross-training workouts.

How to Start Olympic Weightlifting

When it comes to Olympic Weightlifting, you don’t want to just throw yourself into it and start tossing around weight like you’ve been doing it forever, that will just lead to injury. Instead, following a routine and incorporating things like progressive overload, deloads, and tracking your workouts is the way to go to make sure that you are staying on the right track and making the right steps. 

3 Day Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program

The team at Boostcamp has hand-selected an Olympic Weightlifting program for you to start, and that is the 3 Day Beginner Olympic Weightlifting Program from Glenn Pendlay. This is an outline for beginner athletes looking to learn and train in Olympic lifts, and it is written by one of the greatest American Olympic weightlifting coaches ever, the late Glenn Pendlay (RIP). It was originally published on Glenn's blog in 2010, which is now defunct.

The program is designed for you to be in the gym only three days a week for about 45 minutes per training session, giving you plenty of time to recover between sessions. It also allows you to get down the basics of Olympic Weightlifting, learning the movements and getting comfortable before transitioning into a more vigorous training program.

Boostcamp: The Last Lifting App You’ll Ever Need

The 3 Day Beginner Olympic Weightlifting program is one of many that are available. To help you find some more awesome workout programs, consider using the Boostcamp App. The Boostcamp app is a top of the line workout app, that offers plenty of free science-based workout routines, an advanced custom program builder, and a workout tracker to help you stay on top of your progress, and make sure that you are hitting your goals and getting where you need to go, so there is no reason to give up.

By using the Boostcamp App for your training routine, whether you are looking for Olympic Weightlifting or some other type of program, you'll have all the tools you need to develop a strong mind-muscle connection and break through plateaus, continuing to make progress. Download the Boostcamp App today and take your workouts to the next level!

Olympic Weightlifting Wrap Up

Overall, Olympic Weightlifting is a sport that you do not often see in commercial gyms or gyms that are more designed for bodybuilders and powerlifters. However, it is an intense sport that helps greatly with functional strength, and can bring a lot of benefits to you. That being said, if you are looking into trying it out, check out the 3 Day Beginner Olympic Weightlifting program right on the Boostcamp App.

Will you be giving it a try?

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