18 Aug Exercises for Olympic Weightlifting
Do you love to clean, jerk, and snatch? Do you sometimes feel sore after doing so? Well, fellow lover of the barbell, fear not! Contained in this article are several exercises that will be sure to warm up your joints properly for any type of Olympic weightlifting you are performing on a given day. Whether you are a competitor in the sport, or simply love to Olympic lift for pleasure, it is imperative to make sure a proper, comprehensive warm up is performed to reduce risk for injury and ongoing pain issues (1, 2). Follow along in this article to learn why Olympic weightlifting is useful, different types of Olympic lifting movements with written and video description, and prehab exercises for Olympic lifting that will ensure you are moving optimally!
Why is Olympic Weightlifting Useful?
It has been widely reported that Olympic weightlifting is beneficial for both power development and producing movements that are kinematically similar to various sports. It would come as no surprise then, that Olympic lifts (defined as the snatch and clean/jerk) are incorporated into various functional and sport-specific training programs. The lifts are used to train explosive power, dynamic movement, and strength-speed relationships. Executing a proper and sound lift requires an athlete to move a heavy load over a distance as quickly as possible, therefore making explosive strength a necessity. There is also a large body of evidence to suggest that Olympic weightlifting is transferable to improved jump, sprint, and balance performance.
Speaking of jumping, are you an Olympic lifter or athlete who wants to improve their jumping performance? Check out our [P]Rehab Jumping Fundamentals and Plyometrics Programs!
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Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Static vs. Dynamic Warm Ups – The Heated Debate
This is a common question we get as movement specialists. Is it better to perform static stretches or more dynamic movements before initiating a specific exercise routine? It appears that the research jury is still out on which type of stretching, static or dynamic, is most useful to Olympic weightlifters (2). As with most unclear research, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle ground. Below are some factors to consider when deciphering what warm-up is best for you prior to performing Olympic weight lifts:
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: General Goals for a Warm Up
General goals for a warm up usually include 1) increasing the core body temperature, and 2) activating major muscle groups that will be used during the exercise itself. It has been shown that dynamic warm ups recruit more motor neurons on EMG and show improved transfer to power output during Olympic weightlifting. However, static stretching shows improved muscular flexibility and transfers to being able to hit positions with improved efficiency, a critical mark for being successful with Olympic lifting (1,2). Generally speaking, both static and dynamic stretching, given these scenarios, would support goals for a sound general warm up.
Although the barbell deadlift is not a specific type of Olympic lift, it is a common exercise that is excellent for improving lower extremity strength, core stability, and maintaining a healthy low back. Mike provides an excellent example of warming up prior to deadlifting that can help you further conceptualize why warm-ups are important, and the various systems of the body you are promoting activation for, which ultimately primes you for whatever activity you are going to engage in!
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Sport Specific Warm Up
The Olympic lifting athlete should be in constant assessment of their body and their areas of deficit. Are their tight hips limiting them from being able to hit a solid squat position at the bottom of a snatch or clean? Is their limited shoulder mobility making the barbell unstable overhead? Attention to these details and rehabilitative exercises to address them in the warm up should be included. Dynamic warm ups can be used to mimic the Olympic lifting movement the athlete will be performing that day, while static stretching can be called upon to open the hips or shoulders if the athlete is experiencing an imbalance or mobility issue that prevents a successful lift (2,3).
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Psychological
This factor comes into play for the very experienced Olympic lifting athlete most often. For athletes that have been Olympic lifting a long time, it is likely that they will have a very specific warm up or drills that help them to be successful in their training. This could be static-based, dynamic, or a combination of both. If an athlete is doing mostly static based warm up stretches and suddenly they are made to perform dynamic warm ups only, for example, their body may not respond favorably to such a sudden change and their mental concentration could be thrown off, ultimately decreasing their training performance (3). Such changes must be implemented slowly and carefully for the best results.
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: One size does not fit all!
To summarize the information above, if our goal is to improve athletic strength and power, but also the overall health and longevity of our athletes, quality movement must be of the utmost importance. Whether this comes in the form of dynamic warm ups or static stretching is yet to be thoroughly researched. But what we do know is that MOVEMENT itself is critical to our best chances for injury prevention for the Olympic lifter. When movements are limited, stiff, or sloppy, our joints and muscles cannot provide normal feedback. Simply put, there is more risk of damaging our joints or getting injured during lifting without a proper warm up!
So, what warm up movements should I be performing before I lift?
For the purposes of this article, we will provide some warm up suggestions for the clean/jerk and snatch separately. We will present a mix of static and dynamic movements for you to get those joints limber for lifting!
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Clean and Jerk
There are two pieces to this lift, the ‘clean’ portion (moving the barbell from a static position on the floor to a position on the shoulders, called a “front rack”) and the ‘jerk’ (moving the barbell from the shoulders to a fully locked out position overhead). Execution of a sound clean and jerk requires power, aggressive action, mobility, and stability. Here are some exercises to help develop these skills:
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Standing External Rotation Stretch
- ‘HOW: Start in a standing position. One hand holds the dowel in front of you and the other hand holds the dowel with your thumb pointing towards the ground, elbow up in the front, and the dowel applying some pressure on the outside of that shoulder. Use the lower hand to push your other hand out creating a rotational stretch in the shoulder.
- FEEL: You should feel a stretch in your shoulder muscles
- COMPENSATION: Keep the elbow that is up bent to form an “L” shape to ensure proper stretching. Don’t lean back as you stretch, stay straight up with your body.
Lat Soft Tissue Mobilization
In a side lying position place a foam roller just underneath your latissimus dorsi muscle, which is a big muscle just underneath the side of your shoulder. You have the option of rolling up and down, from side to side, or performing a pin and stretch. Work around this area and see what feels good for you. Focus on your breath as your perform these mobilizations.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilization
Place a step in front of you or use an elevated surface. Bend one knee and place your foot on top of the step. Hold a kettlebell on top of your knee as you shift your weight forward. Be sure to keep your heel on the step as your knee goes over your toes. Move your knee straight over and out to the side for different reps, changing the way your ankle feels the stretch.
Barbell Clean Warm-Up
There are a few pieces to this warm up:
- Stand tall with the dowel at your hips. Bend your knees slightly and dip your hips down. Then, squeeze your glutes and shrug your shoulders, maintaining grip on the bar. Perform this three times.
- Stand tall with the dowel at your hips. Bend your knees slightly and dip your hips down. Then, squeeze your glutes, and this time, add a high pull on the dowel, bringing your elbows high and outside your shoulders. Perform this three times.
- Stand in the same position as #1 and #2. Bend your knees slightly and dip your hips down. This time, when your squeeze your glutes and shrug, you will turn the dowel over, landing in a ‘front rack’ position with the elbows pointing forward.
- Repeat position for the previous three steps, but this time you can practice with the empty dowel for whatever lift you will be doing that day. (hang clean, power clean, etc)
For some great tips on how to unlock your full front rack potential for the barbell clean, check out our article on front rack mobility HERE.
Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting: Snatch
The snatch is a large, highly dynamic movement where the athlete brings a barbell from a resting position on the floor to an overhead, wide grip position without resting on the body at any point. To perform a proper and safe snatch requires a high level of joint mobility, stability, and coordination. Here are some warm up exercises to help develop your skills.
Snow Angels on Foam Roller
Place a foam roller on the ground long ways and lie down with it along your spine. Your head, upper back, and hips should all be supported on the foam roller in this position. Place your arms at your side and let gravity pull them down to a comfortable resting position. Slowly raise your arms above your head and back down, like making a snow angel in the ground. To intensity the stretch, you can actively try to push your elbow and/or hands even closer to the ground as you move them up and down.
Deep Squat – Hip Prying
Get set up in a standing position in your ideal squat stance and form. To begin the exercise, squat down as low as you can and hold the bottom of the deep squat position. Then with your arms and elbows positioned on the inside of your thighs, one at a time try to rotate your hip/knee out as far as you can and push against your thigh with your elbow to help. Hold the end position for a moment, then return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
Face Pull to Overhead Press with Band
Straighten your arms and bring them slightly above shoulder height. From this position, squeeze your shoulder blades and pull the bands to your face. Keep your elbows high straight out to the side of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward. While holding the tension in the bend in this position, press your arms straight up overhead. Lower down and return to the starting position.
Halo – Kettlebell
Start in a standing position holding a kettlebell upside down by the handles. Begin the exercise by slowly moving the kettlebell around your head/neck keeping it as close as you can to your body. Drive the motion by moving your elbows to initiate and guide the movement. Do a full rotation, return to the starting position and repeat in the opposite direction.
Barbell Snatch Warm-Up
For this snatch warm up, you will follow these steps:
- Start standing tall with the dowel at your hips and a wide, outside grip on the dowel. Dip your hips and knees slightly down, then squeeze your glutes and shrug your shoulders, maintaining a steady grip on the dowel.
- Start in the same position as #1, standing tall with the dowel at your hips and a wide grip. Dip your hips and knees slightly down, then squeeze your glutes and shrug, this time adding a high pull on the dowel. You will bring your elbows up toward your ears, outside your shoulders, keeping the dowel close to the body.
- Start in the same position as #1. Dip your hips and knees slightly down again, then squeeze your glutes. When you shrug and pull high, turn the dowel over and ‘punch’ toward the sky, landing with the elbows straight and locked out.
- Repeat position for the previous three steps. Here, you can work with the empty dowel on the specific lift you will perform that day (hang snatch, power snatch, squat snatch, etc).
To perform many Olympic lifts, such as the snatch, for example, individuals need to have optimal overhead shoulder mobility to perform them correctly and safely. If you are lacking overhead shoulder mobility, look no further than our [P]Rehab program dedicated to this movement!
Overhead Mobility Overhaul [P]Rehab Program
The Overhead Mobility Overhaul [P]Rehab Program is the ultimate resource for those looking to improve their overhead mobility. If your mobility is limited due to an injury/surgery in the past, or you’re just dealing with a stiff upper body that is limiting your workouts and athletic performance, this program is perfect for you. The best part of the program is that you will gain access to us as your [P]Rehab movement coaches. We are here to help you now and into the future! Learn more HERE!
Whether you are a novice Olympic lifter or an experienced level athlete, proper preparation, warm ups, and rehabilitative exercises before and around weightlifting have been shown to reduce injury rates and risk for chronic joint issues. It is important to prepare your body for specific tasks it is going to perform. As you get into a routine of warming up, your body will feel better as you are lifting, and you also will recover better! If you experience pain in your joints or other chronic medical issues, it will be important to seek advice from your medical provider before beginning a weightlifting program. Happy lifting friends!
- Irizarry, Jesse. “Your Warm-up Doesn’t Need to Be That Complicated • Stronger by Science.” Stronger by Science, 31 Aug. 2016, http://www.strongerbyscience.com/warm-up/
- Walker, Owen. “Olympic Weightlifting.” Science for Sport, 16 July 2020, http://www.scienceforsport.com/olympic-weightlifting/.
- Taylor L., Sheppard J.M., Lee H., Plummerb N. Negative Effect of Static Stretching Restored When Combined With A Sport Specific Warm-Up Component. Published Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 12 (2009) 657–661
About The Author
Taryn Everett, PT, DPT, CLT, CF-L1, CNC
Taryn was born and raised in Maine and still resides there with her boyfriend and son. Taryn received her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Husson University in 2010, and also carries a Bachelors in Kinesiology and Human Movement Science. She is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, a Certified Crossfit Level 1 Trainer, and a Certified Nutrition Coach. Taryn has extensive experience in many different realms of PT, from the young athlete to the geriatric patient. She has special interests in oncology care, dry needling, and Crossfit training. In her free time, Taryn enjoys working out, education, writing, and reading, and is very excited to be a part of The [P]Rehab team to educate others on the importance of health and wellness.