When I decided to do a month of Olympic Weightlifting so many people said, “but you’ve been lifting for the past ten years in CrossFit.” Wrong. Not at all the same! Have I from time to time spent 15 minutes in a strength portion of class working on snatches or split jerks, absolutely. However, I never dedicated time to really focus on these lifts. As I quickly learned, there’s a reason weightlifters practice day in and day out at this sport. It was one of the most challenging, yet the most rewarding experiences of my Fit 12 Journey by far!
Olympic Weightlifting is the sport of weightlifting that consists of two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. In the snatch, the athlete takes the barbell from the floor to overhead in a single movement. In the clean & jerk, the bar is lifted from the ground to the shoulders (the clean) and then from the shoulders to overhead (the jerk). Simple enough, right?! 😉 In a competition, each lifter has three attempts at each lift, so six lifts total. The weight of the best of each lifts is added to create the athletes total, and the best total wins. There are different age divisions as well as athlete weight classes when competing. The sport was one of the first seven that made up the program of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896! Other than a few years in the early 1900s, it’s been a part of every Games since then. Women’s events weren’t added to the program until the year 2000! Crazy right?!
Always in awe of athletes that could perform these lifts, but as I said I never dedicated any time to practicing them. This was my chance though and the circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect since the owner of my new CrossFit home, Jason Anderson, began Oly (Olympic) lifting himself about ten years ago. He not only competed in some local meets, but also coached a younger athlete a few years ago up to national level for lifting! In addition to being a USAW Sports Performance Coach, Jason is also a Pendlay Level 1 & 2 trainer. So, I agreed to follow his programming and do lifting exclusively for a little over a month. I trained 5-6 days per week, but didn’t do any cardio. Rewind that…. What?!? That’s right, I didn’t do any cardio! I’ll get to that later! I did squats, more squats, and then even more squats! But hey, who doesn’t love that?!? The results were pretty amazing!
My typical day almost always involved working on both lifts since we had a specific goal in mind with a very short amount of time to prepare. I performed them at different percentages & reps, some from the blocks as well as different starting positions. I did SO many squats, front & back, to build leg strength, as well as overhead squats that focused more on shoulder and core stability. I did some sit ups, planks, pull ups, and occasionally the bike or rower. I was serious when I said no cardio! The programming obviously would’ve looked different for someone coming in who was completely new to lifting, or even exercise for that matter. A foundation would first need to be established. You would begin with the more basic lifts such as the squat, dead lift and shoulder press. There would be more emphasis on mobility, core work, muscle activation as well as body awareness before jumping right into the clean & jerk and snatch. However, that being said, I do believe this sport is something anyone can learn and the health benefits are great!
The following are some of the reasons you may want to consider Olympic lifting:
– Lifting sculpts a leaner, tighter body. It increases lean body mass and reduces body fat percentage. While adding muscle and burning fat, you’ll lose more inches than from doing cardio. This is because when you do cardio, your weight loss is both fat and muscle. By lifting weights, you’re actively adding muscle while losing fat. I am constantly hearing women say that lifting weights will make them bulky, when in fact the opposite is true. Everyone kept commenting on how much leaner I looked when, outside of heavy lifting, I wasn’t doing any other exercise. I did however combine this with a focus on clean eating to attain these results. (a paleoish/ketoish plan that I designed lol)
-You develop a strong core when you’re Oly lifting. Your midsection is constantly stabilizing, whether it’s holding the weight overhead in the split jerk or with your arms out wide overhead in a snatch. It’s so beneficial having a lifting coach to help you with accessory work to strengthen these muscles when you’re new to lifting and/or fitness. A few examples of these accessory movements would be squats, farmer’s carries and push ups since you need core engagement throughout these exercises. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities whereas when they are weak you are more likely to have lower back pain, poor posture as well as muscle injuries. They are the base of support for your entire body!
-Mental focus and concentration is improved from lifting. I’ve heard a few people compare Oly lifting to golf. I totally relate to this analogy. I was never that great at golf either when I played with the ladies 9 hole group at Charles River Country Club outside of Boston years ago. You’ll have one day where the lifts are so smooth and they seem to go up effortlessly, then the next day it’s as if you never picked up a barbell a day in your life! (exactly like the golf club!) I can’t tell you how many moments I had where I questioned what I was doing. The weights felt heavy, my body was tired, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get my body to perform the way I wanted it to. But guess what, it’s those moments where you feel frustrated, you push through and ultimately become STRONGER, in more ways than one! You have to focus, concentrate, visualize when it comes to these lifts. There is a great sense of accomplishment not only when you make a lift, that is an amazing feeling in itself, but also seeing your technique improve over time.
-Bone health is improved from Oly lifting. Lifters have a higher bone mineral density than average healthy people. Strong muscles lead to strong bones. Strong bones in turn can help to minimize the risk of fracture due to osteoporosis, a bone disease that women are at increased risk of developing. Lifting is the best way to maintain and enhance total- body bone strength which is so important for long term health.
-Doing Oly lifting improves other workouts. Lifting heavy weights at a quick pace requires all your muscle fibers to work together to produce the power your body needs. This improves your overall speed and coordination. While the Oly lifts don’t mimic many specific sport skills such as running, throwing, or catching, they do help develop that explosive power needed in the majority of sports in order to play to full potential. Okay, so you’re thinking, “I’m not a world class sprinter, so it wouldn’t help me.” Maybe you play tennis though, or do CrossFit. Oly lifting will improve your sport by increasing your strength, speed, and power!
CrossFit Blaze, home of Blaze Barbell, is a great environment to train in and Jason couldn’t be a nicer, more knowledgeable, and patient coach. If the above aren’t enough positive reasons to try this sport, well, I just don’t know. Lol. Even if you don’t have the desire to dedicate 4-5 days per week, just a couple of times per week, combined with another sport or exercise program you may already enjoying can only benefit you and your overall fitness! You can expect to see another blog in a couple months after USAW Masters Nationals!!! Yes, I said Nationals… 😉 #girlswholift #fitlife