Olympic weightlifting is a sport where a lifter attempts to snatch and clean and jerk as much weight as possible. While the lifts and rules are pretty straight forward, training for the movements is not.
Many beginner lifters (and coaches) attempt to develop lifers using a wide array of methodologies and programs. While there is no one right way to do things, there are plenty of wrong ways to develop a beginner lifter.
That’s why I put together my top 5 Olympic weightlifting tips for beginners:
Find a coach
Improve your mobility
Keep weights lights
Perform partial movements
In this article, I will discuss the basics of Olympic weighting training and discuss my beginner weightlifting tips in greater detail.
Are You a Beginner?
Odds are, if you are asking yourself this question there is a chance that you might be a beginner, or at least still will find this article extremely useful.
While there is no magic threshold to determine a beginner versus an intermediate, many weightlifting coaches will suggest that someone who has at least 6 months of specialized training for Olympic weightlifting (not just simply doing snatches and clean and jerks in a workout or WOD) has moved past the “beginner” phase.
That said, other coaches, myself included, look at the actual performance markers (how much they can lift) of an athlete to determine their level of competency, ability to withstand the rigors of a more challenging intermediate and advanced program, and their overall ability to perform movements with fluidity, timing, and precision.
Use this guide as a refresher or crash course on Olympic weightlifting, how to get started (or rather, things you should be doing already), and get training!
Key Olympic Weightlifting Movements
The below movements are essential for the sport and training of Olympic weightlifting.
It is important to note that within each movement category, there are a wide variety of movement variations that exist that can be extremely helpful for coaches and athletes to integrate within a training program for special purposes.
For the sake of simplicity, I will cover just the main movement classes to give a broad overview of the training for Olympic weightlifting.
The snatch is one of the two competition lifts for the sport of Olympic weighting. In this movement, the lifter takes a weighted barbell from the floor to the overhead position in one, fluid movement without stopping at the shoulders.
In competition, they can do this be receiving the load overhead in the overhead squat (snatch, also known as full snatch), and standing up, or receiving the load overhead in a partial squat, and standing up (power snatch)
Related Article: Strength vs. Power: 5 Main Differences You Should Know
The clean is one of the two competition lifts for the sport of Olympic weightlifting (when combined with the jerk). In this moment, the lifter takes a weighted barbell from the floor to the front of the shoulders in one fluid movement, either receiving the barbell in the front squat (clean, also known as full clean), or partial squat (power clean).
The jerk is the second part of the clean and jerk movement that is done in a formal Olympic weightlifting competition. The jerk has a lifter take a load from the front of the shoulders (front rack) to the overhead position (allows fully extended) in one explosive movement, without receiving the bar with bent elbows (called a press out).
There are various styles of jerks that a lifter can use to place the barbell overhead, however, all of them utilize leg strength and power to dip and drive the bar overhead (power jerk, push jerk, split jerk, squat jerk). All of these jerk variations are acceptable in a formal competition.
Related Article: Weightlifting Complexes: 10 Complexes You Should ALREADY Be Doing
The back squat (high bar back squat) is done to increase the general back and leg strength necessary for the sport of Olympic weightlifting. It is important to note that not all back squats are created equal.
Many lifters may transition from other forms of lifting in which they perform back squats with the bar lower on the back (low bar back squat) or simply with poor positions (not maintaining a vertical torso). Both of these exercises have great excessive forward lean and are not applicable to the specific positions and strength demands needed for the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
Therefore, it is important to remember to perform back squats using the high bar placement and maintaining a vertical torso position while loading the quadriceps.
The front squat, first and foremost should be done in the EXACT position with the EXACT grip and front rack position as the clean and jerk. While this is a necessary strength movement, this should alway be trained with the utmost emphasis on proper position, joint angles, and front rack position necessary for the clean.
Many beginners (and even intermediate lifters) sacrifice proper technique (rounded upper back, not taking a full grip on the barbell) , excessive forward lean, hips shooting back in the squat) which ultimately will diminish their overall performance in the clean and jerk. Therefore, be sure to use this lift as a means to specifically strengthen the exact position needs of the clean and jerk, not just “front squat heavy”.
Similar to the front seat, the overhead squat is a position squat that is needed for the stability and strength in the receiving position of the snatch. The ability to perform this movement with mobility, stability, and precision will ultimately increase your ability to snatch heavier loads, receiving them at lower points, and do so in a stable and safe manner.
Again, this should be done using proper technique so that the specific positional needs of the snatch are developed and can be carried over to the competition lift and its variations.
The snatch pull (and snatch deadlift) are two foundational pulling exercises to develop strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back. This movement should be done in the EXACT position needs of the snatch.
While many beginner weightlifters have done deadlifts before (conventional, sumo, trap bar, etc), the snatch pull and snatch deadlift must be done in the EXACT positions of the snatch to train the specific movement patterning and perosotan strength demands of the formal lift.
The clean pull (and clean deadlift) are two foundational pulling exercises to develop strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back. This movement should be done in the EXACT positional needs of the clean.
While many beginner weightlifters have done deadlifts before (conventional, sumo, trap bar, etc), the clean pull and clean deadlift must be done in the EXACT positions of the clean to train the specific movement patterning and positional strength demands of the formal lift.
Related Article: Do Olympic Weightlifters Train Every Day? (And, Should You?)
How to Get Started: Top 5 Olympic Weightlifting Tips For Beginners
Below are five (5) tips to get started in Olympic weightlifting. Learning and abiding by the following five tips will start you out on the right foot in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.
TIP #1: FIND A COACH
Finding a qualified coach who has experience working with beginner and intermediate athletes is a key to setting yourself up for success. At beginning phases of training, lifters are very impressionable and prime for growth. While this is an existing phase of training, it is also critical that the guidance you are getting is good. Be sure to do your research on coaches, gyms, and training plans, as many of them are good options, and many of them are not good options.
TIP #2: IMPROVE YOUR MOBILITY
Unless you are one of the select few individuals who comes into weightlifting with great mobility, odds are you will find some if not most of the movements challenging. It is important to address any flagrant needs for mobility (guidance of a coach can help) and prior to loading that range of motion.
It is also important to note that you will develop better control and range of motion in movements by performing them in controlled manners, so don’t overdue mobility work. It is just a piece to the entire beginning weighting puzzle.
For example, the best way to get better in the front rack (front squat), is to stretch the lats, forearms, and triceps (partner stretching) and then… front squat with a full grip, correctly.
Need a good pre-lift stretch? Try the Russian Baby Maker.
TIP #3: KEEP WEIGHTS LIGHT
As discussed above, the key for any beginner should be technique, timing, technique, and technique. Loading is one way to progress, however this is not the best way for beginners to do so.
Many beginner lifters and coaches try to progress loads too soon, and in doing so diminish the speed and technical qualities of a lift… for the sake of a new PR. Instead, de-emphasize the loading of a movement is key, as a PR in a beginner phase at the expense of technique and timing is just an ego-driven lift.
Keep weights light enough that your movements are smooth, fluid, and snappy. If you are using a weight where you begin to lose any of those qualities, the loading is too high.
Related Article: How Many Times Per Week Should You Max Out?
TIP #4: PERFORM PARTIAL LIFTS
Breaking down the full snatch, clean, and jerk into their individual parts is a good idea for many beginners. This allows you to attack one segment of the movement at a time, making it much easier to learn proper positions and really focus on one to two things at a time. Performing movements like hangs, powers, and lifts from blocks are all direct variations of the full lifts.
For example, when teaching the full clean (clean progressions), we can break down the full movement into individual segments and train those for a few weeks, one after another until the day comes when we can put the individual segments together. This is a deconstructed way of teaching moments, which can be helpful for many beginners to understand the various positional needs of a movement and/or to address issues with beginners, intermediates, and advanced lifters during certain phases of a lift.
TIP #5: BE CONSISTENT
Like anything, weightlifting takes time. It requires practice, and a lot of it. Many beginners get discouraged or impatient when trying to learn the lifts, and end up adding too much weight, too soon. Take your time when progressing, and with the help of a good coach and program, you’ll see long term progress!
Related Article: Hip Adductor Exercises: 10 Must-Do Exercises
Sample Weightlifting Program
The below program is a 4-week beginner program that is geared to introduce a beginner Olympic weightlifter to the sport and training of Olympic weightlifting. The workout should be completed in 45-60 minutes, with the movements being done with light to moderate loads. Lifters should be sure to feel rested in between sets and focus on performing each repetition with focused energy and an intention on moving as smooth and fluid as possible.
Seated Snatch Press (Behind the Neck): 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Hip Power Snatch: 4 sets of 2-3 reps
Overhead Squat: 4 sets of 5 reps
RDL: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Pull Up: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Behind the Neck Split Jerk: 3 sets of 5 reps per leg (do both legs)
Hang Power Clean: 4 sets of 2-3 reps
Pause Front Squat: 4 sets of 5 reps
Push Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Dip: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Hang Snatch High Pull: 3 sets of 5 reps
Snatch Balance: 4 sets of 2-3 reps
Tall Clean + Power Jerk: 4 sets of 2-3 reps
Back Squat: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg
Since most beginners have no knowledge of what their maxes are, we cannot simply progress week to week using % increases. Furthermore, the emphasis on a weekly basis should be on proper technique, timing, and fluidity of the movement. Therefore, it is best to work with moderate to light loads, and keep the intensity relatively low for the first month to establish proper movement patterning, positions, and technique, while also setting a baseline that can be progressed upon in successive weeks.
It is important to note that weekly progressions can be subjective in early stages. For example, only looking at a loading (which is not recommended for beginners) is not advised. Instead, focus on the speed of the movement. Did the athlete move better? Did they exhibit better timing and control? Where are they more fluid performing the lift? All of these are ways to analyze weekly progression without having to add load.
Developing proper weightlifting technique and timing can take years to develop. Many beginners, while commendably eager to master the sport, often rush into things, sacrificing technique, positional awareness, and timing. It is important to remember that Olympic weightlifting is a long-term training goal, and progress is not always linear. Starting with a sound program under proper training guidelines is one of the smartest (and safest ways) to have long-term growth and success in the sport.
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.