As I outlined in Part 1 of What is Olympic Weightlifting, the sport of Weightlifting itself is competitive by nature. Now, that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily be competitive, but for someone that is truly involved in the sport, they will participate in events that are considered competitions. The majority of people I have coached and/or trained with have had some kind of exposure to competitive athletics — whether their parents enrolled them in a city recreation league at an early age for a particular sport or have competed at a collegiate or national level. Weightlifting is no different. Just like any other competitive sport, Olympic weightlifters train for a specific goal which is to increase their numbers in the snatch and clean & jerk. That is our primary objective as weightlifters and the thing that drives us day in and day out and keeps us coming back for more..
So, now you’re interested in the snatch and clean & jerk but you have no idea how to get started or what to do…Take a breath — let’s start with the basics. How do you get started in the sport of weightlifting? How do you learn the lifts? What kind of equipment do you need? Where are you allowed to even do this? Never fear — you have questions and we have answers (most of the time), so let’s just run right down the line.
How do I get started in the sport of weightlifting?
There are now a TON of resources out there on the internet geared toward the beginning lifter. A 5 minute Google search can turn up everything from Glenn Pendlay himself teaching his 3-step progression on how to learn the lifts from scratch to some shirtless guy in Canada slamming bars while screaming along to Let The Bodies Hit The Floor. But seriously, there are books, articles, videos, multimedia quick start guides, and theoretical books designed to take you from newbie to expert in 10 minutes or less. These resources are awesome — I own most of them and love every bit of them.
There is no replacement to enlisting the help of a competent coach. With something as technical as the Olympic Lifts, I strongly recommend seeking out a weightlifting coach to teach you one-on-one or in a small group setting. Reading about Weightlifting is much different than the actual practice and the beginning stages of any kind of technical movement are the most critical — you’re teaching your body to do something new and it’s best to teach it correctly from the get-go. I’m not saying that you’re not going to make mistakes along the way, but developing a strong and competent foundation will give you a better chance of coming out of any dark ages later.
So what is a weightlifting coach and what should I look for?
Think of a Weightlifting coach as a specialized coach. Take a baseball team, for example; every baseball team has a pitching coach that works with the pitching staff. Pitchers have a specialized job to do that requires a specialized coach to teach them. Weightlifting coaches are pitching coaches. Since Weightlifting is a sport of its own, there are two types of experience that one should look for in a coach:
1) Experience as a Weightlifter
Coaches should have some level of experience as a Weightlifting athlete. They don’t need to be a world record holder or a national competitor, but actually training as a Weightlifter for longer than a few weeks or months helps a coach to understand that training as a Weightlifter can be a difficult experience. It adds a level of education that is only available through physical experience and knowing what that journey is like over years makes relating to athletes a little bit easier.
2) Experience with Weightlifting athletes
Coaches should also have experience working with athletes — beginner through advanced and of all different ages and sizes — which could include both Weightlifting and CrossFit athletes who may be looking to improve their lifts for CrossFit. Also, bringing athletes through a Weightlifting competition should ensure that the coach knows the rules, regulations, and standards that must be met by each individual athlete.
These two types of experiences help a coach develop a vision for the larger picture. Coaching is all about getting the best out of an athlete at any given time while keeping that big picture in mind. Every coach has their own particular style. Some are very vocal and energetic while others are more reserved and analytical. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one coach is better than another, but different athletes will respond to different styles. Find a coach, work with them and see what kind of relationship works best for you.
What kind of equipment do I need? / Where can I even do this?
Here is a run down of some equipment that you will need to perform the lifts safely and properly:
- Shoes. Specifically weightlifting shoes. If you have any interest in this sport and want to be a weightlifter, invest in a pair of shoes. People often ask me if this is a requirement, and I say YES. Do you go bowling in ice skates? Golfing in high heels? Catch my drift? If you don’t know which shoes to get, I think I read a detailed review on some random website that might be of value.
- A Barbell. One that is made for Olympic weightlifting. A men’s bar is 20kg and 28mm in diameter; a women’s bar is 15kg and 25mm in diameter. Both of these types of bars should spin freely.
- Bumper Plates. Big, rubberized weights that are designed to be dropped from overhead and absorb impact. These can be in pounds or kilograms — weight is weight, however, if you want to actually compete in the sport, you’ll need to know kilograms. Why? Because in weightlifting, everything is measured in kilograms, so training on a set in KG will make things much easier.
- Lifting Platforms. This is more of a “nice to have”. Weightlifting platforms are elevated and made of plywood and rubber to give your awesome weightlifting shoes something to grip on. Rubber shoe soles on rubber mats sounds like a low ankle sprain waiting to happen.
The good news is that if you want to do this in your own garage, you can buy all this stuff yourself and crush it in the comfort of your own home — by yourself. However, f you’re a fan of social interactions with other human beings, there are more and more gyms in existence that not only allow this type of lifting to occur, but that also have the proper equipment and space for it. Yep, you guessed it. CrossFit gyms!
So, I’m a beginner. Now what?
There are two different types of beginners that come to weightlifting: beginner #1 is someone who has some kind of limited exposure to the snatch and clean & jerk, and beginner #2 is someone who may or may not know what the Olympic lifts are but has never performed or attempted to perform them. One scenario isn’t necessarily better than the other, but someone like beginner #2 who has almost zero experience with the Olympic lifts can make the learning progression much more straight forward. Most the time, beginners who come to the sport with some kind of experience usually come from CrossFit or are just someone with an obscure taste in sports and an Internet connection.
Being referred to as a “beginner” isn’t something that is meant to be derogatory, but simply something that describes technical competency or classification. During the beginning stages, the lifter is developing patterns of movement, comfort, confidence, and general strength. As a coach, it is our job to support this process to the best of our ability. The goal is movement, not loading. This concept of having beginners “max out” every week (or every day in some cases) is already elevating my blood pressure. I’m not saying don’t test baselines along the way, but if the goal of training a beginner is developing movement, loading a lifter too heavy too soon or even too often can be detrimental to them long-term.
So how do beginners start out in this sport? Very slowly. As I mentioned before, the goal when training as a beginner is developing movement patterns and muscle memory which is a process that can not be rushed. Probably the best approach to doing this is by finding a competent coach to teach and supervise you while the learning process is occurring. This will ensure that exercises are being performed correctly, any and all positions are being achieved, and also to make a judgement call on whether or not a particular exercise is working for the individual.
Typically, a beginner’s training program will have many more exercises to perform in a single session than an intermediate or advanced lifter’s program. The thinking behind this is to expose the lifter to many different movements that are related to the snatch and/or clean & jerk. This doesn’t mean that you train them for 2 extra hours, you just expose them to more movements over the course of their training session to encourage proper development. For example, a beginner’s training day might look like:
- Power position snatch: 4×3
- Hang snatch: 4×2
- Snatch: 6×2
- Overhead Squat: 4×3
- Back Squat: 5×5
Over time, the number of exercises will reduce as the lifter begins to develop technical competency and will start to concentrate more on the core movements themselves. Beginners will tend to respond to any kind of training very quickly and will want to push their new-found skills to the limit. As they become more comfortable and confident in their lifting, coaches can make a judgement call whether or not it is both safe and effective to increase the loading.
If nothing else, remember these words: Long-Term Development. Abbreviate it if you want…that sounds easier. LTD. This is a sport of patience (in more ways than one) and a little bit of patience goes a long way!
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