In Olympic lifting, athletes attempt to quickly lift as much weight as possible using movements that test their explosive muscular power (speed and strength), such as the clean and jerk and the snatch. In the snatch, a barbell is lifted from the ground to over the head in one smooth movement. In the clean and jerk, a barbell is lifted from the floor to the shoulders and then over the head. These movements involve the whole body and require the muscles and joints to provide functional strength throughout maximum ranges of motion. This type of lifting is an essential training method for athletes in various sports.
Olympic lifts are not recommended for the average fitness enthusiast. Observing a highly conditioned athlete perform an Olympic lift might lead you to believe that the movement is a simple matter of quickly thrusting the barbell from one location to another. However, Olympic lifts are highly technical whole-body movements that call upon an exerciser’s strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, and balance. Needless to say, this type of training is highly taxing and most fitness enthusiasts do not have the requisite skills needed to perform the lifts correctly.
That said, there has been an emerging interest among the general fitness population in this type of exercise due to organizations such as Crossfit promoting Olympic lifts as part of their structured workout regimen. Although a person new to exercise should not attempt to perform Olympic lifts, those who have proper instruction, supervised practice time, and a reasonable level of conditioning can pursue these complex lifting techniques. The key is to find a fitness trainer or coach who is experienced in teaching Olympic lifting who can set you up on a program to gradually progress your conditioning level and skills to the point where you can safely perform the lifts. In addition, programming for these techniques requires specific periodization to reduce the risk of overtraining and overuse injuries. You can find excellent technique and coaching resources related to Olympic lifting at the Team USA Olympic Website. You can also search for a personal trainer or coach in your area who specializes in sports conditioning and Olympic lifting.
People who safely and effectively perform Olympic lifting as part of their workout programs enjoy tremendous performance benefits. While these techniques are not for everyone, those who do train with these lifts experience myriad benefits, especially if increased sports or athletic performance is a primary goal.