Thinking of trying Weightlifting?
For over a 100 years Olympic weightlifting has been a niche sport completed in dusty off the grid gyms that you could only access via secretive handshakes. It is not quite ‘mainstream’ but it is fair to say that it has enjoyed a boom in the last decade.
USA weightlifting reports that membership rates rose 125% between 2012 & 2016.
With this growth, you can now find dedicated Instagram accounts, sponsorship deals and a growing number of the population able to snatch without smirking at its connotations.
Below are some of my personal recommendations if you are considering Weightlifting:
Firstly, why Olympic weightlifting (Please don’t call it "Oly lifting")?
Weightlifting consists of the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. The former involves moving the bar from the floor to overhead in one movement and the latter in two movements.
Weightlifting movements and their derivatives have been shown to improve full body strength, explosive power, mobility, movement competency...the list goes on.
Personally I believe a proportion of the enjoyment gleaned is from the combination of highly technical movements and strength development. When compared to body building and powerlifting there is definitely more of a skill emphasis in weightlifting.
It becomes a ‘practice’ akin to playing piano or learning a martial art. It requires discipline and thus makes it an enjoyable long term pursuit.
If you are starting Weightlifting a little later in life (I.e. not as a 12-16 year old) then what I mention below will be of greater importance than if you are starting early. This does not mean you cannot start practicing technique but factoring these in will likely help your development.
Flexibility/Mobility/Range of motion
Whatever you want to call it, Weightlifting requires lifting weights in extreme joint ranges, particularly around the hips and shoulders. Unless you have a previous gymnastics/circus background then mobility may not be your friend. It can be improved upon through a combination of passive stretching and simple strength training through full range of motion. Better flexibility will result in more economical technique and less 'friction' when finding positions.
Fundamental gym skills
Weightlifting involves moving as quickly as possible with high load. When broken down to its constituent parts, two of the movements, in particular, that are involved in nearly everything that you do are the squat and the hinge AKA the RDL.
I would recommend that you are able to perform both of these with ease and a relative amount of load prior to starting a hard-core weightlifting programme.
How to start:
When starting any new activity you, no doubt, want to jump straight in and see what you’re made of. However, I implore you to keep the ‘fucking around’ stage as short as possible. For this reason here are my three (rather simple) recommendations for the new comer once they have decided to 'train for weightlifting'.
Your first aim is to find, learn and commit to memory what the optimal positions feel like for each phase of the lifts. Finding the right positions may take a bit of time to perfect but do not be disheartened. The effort put in here will compound positively in the future. Key positions to learn are:
You cannot escape repetition when trying to ingrain and improve them.
Find yourself a weightlifting coach, ideally at a weightlifting club but if not at a local gym/box. An online coach can work but face to face will always win, especially in the early stages where bad habits are grooved. An online coach will likely require retrospective coaching whereas a ‘live’ coach should provide you with feedback on your technique throughout the session.
At this stage I personally believe that a fancy programme is not necessary. A programme is required but should ensure the following:
- Allow you as much practice of weightlifting movements and derivatives as possible
- Ensure you are completing the correct level of derivative
- Ensure you don’t overcook it i.e. do too much too soon.
And that’s about it. Your aim is to improve your skills, hitting big numbers can and will come later.
This may seem simplistic but at this stage these are the rocks that really matter... oh and of course, drinking good coffee to make sure you are alert, invigorated and performing to your best.