In this blog I’ll share 5 benefits of Olympic Weightlifting that are either unique or at least more apparent than for other forms of weight training or exercise. As usual, these benefits are multi-faceted and extend beyond simply physical benefits to psychological and social.
The aim of this is not to tell you that you should try or take up Olympic Weightlifting but merely to share the benefits and give you some insight so that you can make the decision yourself if it is right for you. Like any high-skill movement, Olympic Weightlifting should be performed with the expert guidance of a coach. In-person is always better but there is guidance, tutorials and advice available online which means if you aren’t able to find a local coach then there are still options to get involved.
Olympic Weightlifting is comprised of 2 competitive lifts. The Snatch requires a barbell to be lifted from the floor and caught above the head in one smooth motion whereas and The Clean and Jerk requires it to be lifted to the shoulders first and then overhead. It relies on and develops the physical characteristics of strength, power, flexibility and co-ordination.
#1 - Open To All
Although Olympic Weightlifting involves a steep learning curve and some pretty complex movements, it is open and accessible to all. Technically, the lifts can be broken down into key positions which can be drilled using a variety of exercises and using little to no weight. These fundamental positions are often learned using a broomstick or pvc pipe so there is no actual pre-requisite for strength to get started. When you train and even compete, you get to choose your own weight and are never required to lift something that you aren’t ready for. Similarly, although the starting and catch positions of each lift can be pretty demanding on your mobility these can be adapted to suit where you are currently at. That means there will be a variation of the lifts that are appropriate while you work on increasing your flexibility for the full movement. In competitions there are a wide range of weight classes to keep it fair and there are also age-related categories from youth all the way through to masters which starts at 35! You are never too old to get started.
#2 - Community
No matter where you choose to take up Olympic Weightlifting, there is always a strong sense of camaraderie. I think because it can be such a tough endeavour both mentally and physically, it’s easy to feel a connection with those who go through the same thing. While the community aspect is most obvious with a dedicated Weightlifting Club, it can also be experienced in regular gyms and even remotely. Within the club environment, everyone has a sense of what is a particularly difficult lift or if they are having a rough session. The support and respect for each other comes across when everyone pauses to observe a lifter going for a pb. At competitions, the other lifts in the crowd and competing are often willing you to succeed, even if you are in direct competition with each other due to the empathy they have for you putting yourself in that position.
#3 - Skill Acquisition
Weightlifting involves highly technical barbell movements, in fact they are probably the most complex exercises which can be performed within a gym environment. This means a lot of time must be spent learning movement patterns, drilling key positions and working on rhythm and timing as you work to peak the barbell then skillfully move under and receive it in a stable position. This skill-acquisition process is never ending which helps you develop patience, resilience and consistency. Due to this, it can be very rewarding when something clicks and the movement starts to feel much simpler or you manage to add more weight to the bar. It also helps to keep your workouts and exercise program a bit more exciting as you progress onto movements that require greater levels physical capability and also which progress beyond simply just adding weight to the bar. This could be the breath of fresh air your training needs to kick-start your newly found motivation.
#4 - Improve Body Composition
Over time as you progress in the sport and start to pursue better results, body composition becomes an important factor in increasing your score. As increases in strength slow down and you start to develop more consistent technique, the weight on the bar will inevitable stop progressing so quickly. Improving your body composition - that is shedding a bit of excess fat - can be an easier win in improving your overall score as it is based on how much you lift relative to your bodyweight. Thus reducing your ‘non-functional’ fat mass can help boost this! With weightlifting being a weight-category based sport, the more competitive trainers will have this in their mind as a constant reminder to help with diet awareness and adherence. They need to stay within reach of the class that they compete in so that they don’t have to cut too much weight leading up to a competition which can hamper their performance.
#5 - Improved Physical Abilities
These benefits are probably the most obvious and so have been grouped together as they need the least explaining. Weightlifting requires high levels of strength, power, co-ordination and flexibility while it explicitly might not be the best way to develop these abilities individually it can serve to highlight certain areas that need work. Training for Olympic Weightlifting can help develop these characteristics in unison and can serve as a great way to maintain levels of flexibility for instance that you have worked hard to achieve. To succeed at Olympic Weightlifting, you need to be able to hold a rigid back position meaning your core has to be super strong while big muscles around your hips and legs work together to give speed and momentum to the barbell to allow you to get under and catch it. This requirement of your full body to work together to exert your strength into the barbell makes Olympic lifting variations a great way to train the full body in a usable and functional manner.
If you've always wondered what sort of benefits you can get from Olympic Weightlifting aside from just getting stronger then hopefully this should give you some insight. It has been the biggest reason why I have been so engaged with the gym, health and exercise since I took it up in 2012. Before you forget, here's a quick summary of the key benefits:
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Allan Young is a Glasgow based Personal Training who runs Strength Coach Glasgow and is a 4x Scottish Champion Olympic Weightlifter.