Imagine pulling two and a half times your own body weight straight off of the floor over your head. Olympic weight lifters regularly do just that, and this type of training can build incredible power and strength. Composed of two competitive lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, Olympic lifts utilize all of the major muscle groups in your body. Since this type of training is a type of full-body workout, it should be incorporated intelligently into your exercise regime.
Clean and Jerk Part One: Squat Clean
The clean and jerk has two primary movements. In the first phase, you bring a loaded barbell off of the floor by squatting down and explosively drawing it upwards close to your body, employing a short but powerful vertical leap. As momentum carries the bar upward, you "pull" yourself downward back into a squat, catching the bar at chest height and allowing it to rest briefly across your chest and shoulders. The squatting aspects of this movement activates your buttocks, thighs and hamstrings while getting the barbell to your chest requires speed, coordination, and a powerful contraction of your shoulders, upper back and arms. This portion of the clean and jerk is known as a "squat clean" and is essential in mastering proper Olympic lifting technique.
Clean and Jerk Part Two: Push Press
The second phase of the clean and jerk requires tremendous strength but also the ability to carefully balance the loaded barbell. By bending your knees slightly, you gather momentum and then quickly straighten your legs while forcefully "jerking" or pushing the barbell straight up over your head, extending your arms at the elbow. In competitive Olympic lifting you need to then hold that extended position absolutely motionless before allowing the barbell to drop to the floor in front of you. In order to develop the necessary strength in your back, shoulders and arms to do this you can practice this portion of the lift by itself, a movement called a "push press".
While the clean and jerk consists of two movement patterns, an effective snatch is essentially just one. Coming into a deep squat, you grasp the barbell with your hands almost double shoulder width apart, and jump vertically while hoisting the barbell up off of the floor to bring it up over your head without bending your elbows. You can land with your feet in a lunge position, known as a split snatch, or with your knees bent and feet parallel in a squat snatch. You then rise to a standing position while balancing the barbell overhead.
The Olympic Lifts are Full-Body Workouts
Because this training technique requires mastering perfect form in many stages, it is best to learn Olympic lifting from a qualified strength and conditioning specialist with experience in teaching the movements. The clean and jerk and the snatch are total body exercises, and when practiced correctly can develop tremendous muscular power. Be certain to take at least one or two days of active rest in between lifting sessions, choosing cardiovascular training activities like jogging or cycling to allow your muscles to recover.