Olympic weightlifting is a demanding sport. Not only do the movements require power and strength, they have underlying flexibility and mobility needs that every lifter must be aware of.
Improving flexibility in Olympic weighting can be done by first assessing the limitations of the lifter, and programming a flexibility routine that can be done before or after training (in addition to mobility and corrective exercise that go along with any movement issues).
In this article, we will discuss the importance of having a flexible body, mobile joints, and the ability to assess the muscle and joint individual needs to better program a flexibility routine.
Why Do You Need Flexibility in Olympic Weightlifting?
Flexibility (and ankle, knee, and hip mobility) is necessary to assume low and stable positioning in the deep squat of the snatch and clean, while chest, lat, and triceps flexibility (and shoulder and thoracic mobility) is needed to properly stabilize loads overhead in the snatch and jerk.
The snatch requires serious total body flexibility and mobility. Every joint in the body is needed to promote movement and stability. Common issues with snatches are limitations in lower body flexibility (hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps) as well as tight lats, triceps, and thoracic immobility.
Many flexibility exercises can help improve flexibility, however mobility movements are also necessary to properly train motor movements and restore active range of motion; as weightlifting is a dynamic sport.
Refer to the below video links and sample flexibility routine to improve both flexibility and mobility.
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In the clean, flexibility of the lats and triceps are needed to assume a correct front rack positioning with the elbows up, barbell on the front deltoid, and the full grip on the barbell.
The lifter must then have sufficient ankle, knee, and hip mobility (as well as basic flexibility in the calves, quads, and hamstrings) to allow for a front squat with a vertical torso.
Limitations in flexibility can result in collapsed front rack positioning and/or increase forward torso lean in the receiving position.
Additionally, tight hamstrings can impact the pulling positioning of the clean, which requires a lifter to pull the knees backwards during the first pull and to keep the shins parallel to the floor in the second pull.
The jerk requires overhead stability and strength, which is expressed through proper overhead mobility and flexibility of the lats, triceps, and thoracic spine (mobility).
Tight lats and triceps can impede a lifter’s ability to place a load overhead correctly and/or assume the proper front rack positioning in the jerk.
If a lifter has issues with the overhead position of a barbell, they should first assess if their flexibility of the lats, triceps, and chest are responsible for such issues.
They can perform the below static stretching exercises (see sample flexibility program) prior to training sessions. If their issues overhead are more of a mobility or shoulder stability concern, they should also retrain thoracic mobility and scapular stability as well.
Squatting is an essential part of Olympic weightlifting training and movements. The snatch, clean, and jerk all require deep degrees of ankle, knee, and hip flexion to assume a low and stable squat position in the bottom of the snatch and clean.
Understanding limitations in flexibility (and mobility) of the major lower body joints is only the first step in addressing flexibility and movement limitations.
Here’s my full assessment protocol for ankle, knee, and hip mobility for squatting.
In this video, I discuss how to assess ankle, knee, and hip range of motion and offer flexibility and mobility techniques athletes and coaches can use to improve squat mechanics and maximize performance.
In the end, limitations in hamstrings, calf, and quadriceps flexibility can impede proper joint function of the ankles, knees, and hips; as well as manipulate positioning of the pelvis that can create a cascading detrimental effect throughout the core and spine.
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Should You Stretch Before Training?
Stretching can be categorized as static and dynamic in nature. Static stretching is the typical method most individuals choose when attacking flexibility issues.
Static stretching is performed when a muscle is lengthened to passive end range, and held in this position for a predetermined time period.
Dynamic stretching differs, in that it moves a muscle and joint throughout the full range of motion (defined on an individual basis), going between both active lengthened positions and un-lengthened positions.
Prior to training and athletic events, research indicates that dynamic strengthening is a more effective method at preparing an individual for dynamic, ballistic, and fast-paced movements like Olympic weightlifting. Static stretching, on the other hand, has been shown to negatively affect muscle stiffness and strength (muscle stiffness is not always bad, especially for explosive movements).
If you are able to perform static stretching prior to lifting, which is not always a bad thing for individuals with higher limitations of flexibility, be sure to then go through a dynamic stretching or warm up routine that progressively brings you up to speed before you go into ballistically-loaded movements like Olympic weighting exercises.
What About Dynamic Warm-Ups?
Dynamic warm-ups are a critical part of a training program, one that increases core body temperature, increases neural drive and muscle activation, and enhances mental awareness necessary for hard training.
While static stretching is beneficial at increasing passive flexibility, it does not always correlate to improved movement under high velocities and speed: which is why integrating an Olympic weightlifting focused dynamic warm-up is needed to bridge this gap.
You can add this Olympic weightlifting full body dynamic warm-up to any training routine and start reaping the benefits of improved mobility today.
Better yet, perform this after the below flexibility routine, and then go into your empty barbell snatch warm-up!
Sample Flexibility Program for Olympic Weightlifting
Perform the following flexibility routine before or after training sessions.
Please note that if you are to perform static stretching prior to Olympic weightlifting, you should go through a thorough dynamic warm up protocol afterwards.
For best results, briskly go through the following routine as needed prior to training, and/or perform the routine afterwards or on recovery days for longer durations (30-60 second holds).
Regardless of what you choose, it is important to always perform a dynamic warm up or empty barbell warm up prior to Olympic weightlifting sessions.
Need a good pre-lift stretch? Try the Russian Baby Maker.
Hold each exercise for 15-30 seconds per side, or 30 seconds total. Perform 1-2 total rounds, then go into a dynamic or empty barbell warm up (like the ones listed above).
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How Flexible Should You Be?
Improving flexibility is a commendable goal for many Olympic weightlifters, however do understand that increasing flexibility for the sake of doing the splits may or may not result in better (or safer) lifting.
It is key that a lifter and coach understands the balance between flexibility and muscle stiffness, and how Olympic weightlifting requires both.
Failure to understand that there is a point of diminishing returns of flexibility in Olympic weighting (and all sports) can potentially increase injury risks and decrease strength and power.
While there are no predetermined guidelines for flexibility in Olympic weightinling, it is generally accepted that most individuals should be able to assume proper positions for movements.
If there are limitations in expressing those positions, then a coach and lifter should look at flexibility and mobility needs on a muscle/joint basis.
Understanding flexibility and how it can impact movement during dynamic exercises like snatches, cleans, and jerks is a vital complement to Olympic weighting training.
Using the videos and sample flexibility program above, you can take a deeper look at your movement patterns, determine the underlying causes of such issues in a method manner, and address movement patterning specific to the needs of the muscles and joints.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.