Olympic Lifting: How to Start
Transform Your Body With Olympic Weightlifting
Dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite for Health is as into fitness as she is food. And Olympic lifting is her go-to workout. Learn how it changed her body.
I've been doing CrossFit — varied, high-intensity functional strength and conditioning training — for nearly four years, and I've found that Olympic-style weightlifting (one of the program's core elements) may be the secret to getting the strong, ripped build of an elite-level CrossFitter.
Olympic-style weightlifting (called Oly or Oly lifting) requires moving heavy weight fast and has been shown to help build strength and power better than any other type of strength training. It consists of two explosive barbell lifts — the snatch and the clean and jerk (C&J), both of which challenge your strength, power, balance, coordination, and flexibility. It's no wonder that the Oly lifts are part of most collegiate and professional athletes' training, from swimming and track and field to rowing and rugby. (Don't confuse Oly lifting with bodybuilding or powerlifting; these are entirely different sports.)
The potential body-transforming benefits stem from the foundation to completing the lifts: squats. As an Oly lifter, you'll do squat workouts (front, back, overhead, pause, and so on). After just a couple of months, I noticed how much firmer and perkier my butt became. In fact, we call Oly lifting, "The Original Brazilian Butt Lift," at San Rafael Barbell at Tamalpais CrossFit, where I do CrossFitt and take Oly classes. At the same time, my middle became rock-solid from stabilizing heavy weight overhead.
The snatch and C&J are extremely technical, so you'll need instruction to complete them. Keep in mind: it takes time to get the hang of it — even after a year of twice-weekly sessions devoted to the lifts, I'm just now feeling like I'm doing them correctly. Fortunately, because the sport has grown so much thanks to CrossFit, you can now find local Olympic-style weightlifting events where women compete against each other in age and bodyweight categories. In fact, you may be surprised to find out that most Oly classes have more women than men!
How to Get Started
To learn more about Olympic lifting, look for a USA weightlifting club in your area. Or you can check local CrossFit affiliates to see if they offer Oly lifting classes, as many of them now do to fulfill the growing demand for the sport.
Gearing Up For Oly
You don't need much to get started, says Olympic lifting coach Diane Fu of FuBarbell. "All you need is a pair of low-profile CrossFit-style shoes (like Reebok Nano or Innov-8), which will allow you to get into a better position for squatting." After you've been doing Olympic lifting for three to six months, Fu recommends the following gear:
Olympic Lifting Shoes: While you can get by without Oly shoes, they put you in a better position for all the lifts. The Reebok CrossFit Lifter 2.0 are a good choice and have a stable, rigid platform that allows you to transfer power better from your body to the barbell, rather than dispersing it via a squishy midsole. They also have a heel lift to put you in a more optimal start and finish position, and they help you squat more upright, which equals more stability. Not only do Oly lifters use these shoes whenever they're practicing the snatch or C&J, but they also use them for any type of squat.
Knee Sleeves: Because Oly means lots and lots and lots of squatting, most serious lifters wear some type of neoprene knee sleeve, primarily options from Rehband, to keep the joint warm and give more security and strength when lifting heavy weights.
Weightlifting Belts: Avoid using a belt on lighter weights so you develop your back muscle and core strength, says Fu. But when weights become heavier and you feel that your back is compromised, go for a belt like Harbinger women's belt or Schiek belt, which is contoured for your back and has a dual-closure system for a more secure fit.
Wrist Wraps: Wrist wraps are made from cloth and provide extra support for your wrists when weights get heavy. They are designed to offer stability and support to your wrists. There are many brands, and you can find lifting boutiques that make some in neat designs like Beastette Apparel.
More Inspiration to Lift
Oly lifting does more than make you stronger. In the words of Jenny Werba, owner and head coach of United Barbell at CrossFit SOMA in San Francisco, "Olympic lifting has become how I meditate — despite its explosive nature, it brings me peace and quiets my mind from the rest of my hectic day. I have never felt more beautiful — nor have I felt more like my own superhero. As I get stronger, my self-confidence grows and I feel incredibly capable in my day-to-day life. It gives me a great sense of empowerment and accomplishment."