Olympic Lifts for Non-Olympians

I had seen the word “clean” on the wall in the high school weight room, but aside from the thought that it was a reference to putting away my weights after I lifted, I had no idea what it was. I’m confident
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PVC Lift

I had seen the word “clean” on the wall in the high school weight room, but aside from the thought that it was a reference to putting away my weights after I lifted, I had no idea what it was. I’m confident the word “snatch” probably lead to uncontrollable giggles among the groups of 17-year-olds (and probably still does today), but I was equally ignorant of the actual meaning of the term as it pertained to lifting.

I never would have guessed that 20 years later, I would gain a very clear understanding of what these terms meant in relation to lifting and strength training. Furthermore, because I now have a certificate that states that I am a CrossFit Level-1 trainer, I can train people to perform these lifts. I can, but should I be doing it?

What I’ve learned from observing the On Ramp class (beginners) being taught the basics of these lifts is that there are two things you need in order to become familiar with Olympic lifts in a safe way: one is a good piece of PVC pipe and the other is an experienced instructor.

I learned very clearly during my Level-1 experience that a PVC pipe can be an unbelievably useful tool in the demonstration and instruction of all kinds of lifts and movements. With this stick, you can teach newcomers proper grip, lay it on the floor to mark off proper stance and foot placement, and simulate the path that the barbell will eventually take by using it in place of a loaded barbell.

More often than not, CrossFit athletes around the world train and complete snatches and clean-and-jerks with success. Despite the danger involved, more people at more CrossFit boxes are doing more Olympic lifts than ever before. With the growth of the number of people performing these complex movements, there will also be an increase in the potential risk of injury. (Without risk, there is no reward.) However, this risk can be decreased if the person who is offering the instruction has a solid background and years of training in Olympic lifts. If that is the case, then these complex movements can be performed with relative safety (factoring in the ability of the lifter to make smart choices).

Common sense should guide the lifter not only in safely completing these lifts but also in all the elements of training. Starting with light weight and becoming comfortable with the weight and the movements before trying to toss more than 200 pounds overhead would be a good place to begin. Technique is so important in all things CrossFit and lifting related. Learning various positions from the power to the squat snatch and clean, push jerk and split jerk, and various spots from which to hang the bar before moving it efficiently overhead will go a long way in becoming a safer and stronger lifter.

What is your experience with either teaching Olympic lifting or the learning curve associated with these lifts? Post your Oly stories in the comments on our Facebook page.

Stay on the Grind.

Jamie Toland
CFL-1 Trainer
Twitter @JTolgrinder
JTolgrinder@gmail.com