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Where do I start with Olympic lifting, are there any starter programmes?

I have been weight training 3-4 times a week now for the past three years. I'd like to start with the Olympic lifting but I'm not sure where to start.

I can clean ok, as I'd usually clean and front squat at the gym if the squat rack was in use. Recently I have started practicing hang snatches and I am getting a good feel for it, so now I'm wondering if I can go with the Olympic lifts full time now.

I'm UK based and there isn't a great deal of coaches nearby that I can use so I am thinking about going to a local [ish] CrossFit gym and get started there.

  • Joining a olympic liftin team so that you can get feedback on your form seems like a good idea. – Mårten Jun 22 '15 at 6:26
  • By weight training you mean strength training or body building? Answer to "where do I start?" depends on "where are you now?". 3 years is a decently large time. How much do you currently Squat (Back & Front), Dead Lift, Bench Press, Over Head Press, Clean? Current weight? – claws Oct 27 '15 at 15:11
  • @claws squat 140 kg/70kg I need to work on front squat more, deadlift 205 kg, bench 95 kg, ohp 60 kg, clean 80 kg, current weight 103 kg, and I'm 195 cm tall – spences10 Oct 28 '15 at 10:38
  • @spences10: age? For 3 year time spent in gym, these lifts aren't great which again forces me to ask the crucial question, strength training or body building? – claws Oct 28 '15 at 10:59
  • @claws I'll stop wasting my time going to the gym then shall I? – spences10 Oct 28 '15 at 14:33
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This is more an answer to "what are the prerequisites for training using Olympic lifts", but I expect you will find it useful since you are coming from a conventional weight training background. The Olympic lifts are great, but they are highly technical, so you will really benefit from a strong foundation.

1) Ensure you have adequate flexibility to avoid injury and poor form. For example, you should be able to do a full range overhead squat with at least of 1/3 of your typical back squat weight. This guide to mobility for Olympic lifts provides more detailed information: http://www.alexrothwell.com/articles/your-complete-guide-to-mobility-for-olympic-weightlifting

2) Ensure you have adequate core strength to stabilize and protect your spine during Olympic lifts. The above-mentioned overhead squat is actually quite good for developing core strength, although note that more conventional squats like the front squat you mentioned are better for leg development. Once you are fully into an Olympic program, you can drop the overhead squat.

3) Try to train somewhere where "missing" a lift doesn't break anything or make you look like a fool. You want to minimize your misses, but missing is scary enough already without having to worry about losing face in the gym or tearing up equipment. And you most certainly don't want to hurt yourself just to avoid a miss.

4) Start to develop your "explosiveness" with body weight exercises that have lower injury risk. For example, you can use box jumps, or sprint starts (with alternating leg staggers) where you only run the first 10 meters to mentally and physically train for power production.

I'm sure other commenters will have a lot to add. Have fun, be safe, and get strong!

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The honest answer is that if you want to be good, you need to be coached, there's no way around it. That's awesome that your clean is good, as that motion can take a while to nail.

But if you want to compete (even just locally) or start shooting for competitive weight levels, you'll need a coach in your area. It's frankly impossible to Olympic lift without a very qualified person watching you. Challenges you'll have clean and jerking 135lb are not the same as when you try for 185lb. Your great form will breakdown, and things you were great at will now be a weakness.

When you look for a coach, I would recommend checking for one via this (in the US).

It's also completely appropriate to ask the coach what their highest level trainee is. A 23 year old "coach", as good as they are, simply isn't as good as a 53 year old coach who has a list of true Olympic level athletes as success stories.

If you're just looking to have fun, join a crossfit gym. You may even be lucky and find a crossfit gym where a really good Olympic lifting coach is working. But if you want to be really competitive and take it seriously a quasi-qualified guy who can clean and jerk isn't remotely on the same level as a true professional trainer with a track record.

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Based on our discussion via comments, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Coach especially in your case. Why do I say that, you ask?

Well firstly because, Olympic lifting is mix of strength, power & technique. What beginners often fail to understand is that technique is not a static thing. It is dynamic. With increase in weight on the bar, your technique & form deteriorates and constantly you've to be corrected for the errors that creep in. That is where coach plays a crucial role.

Secondly, teaching a complete novice is bit easier than someone who is accustomed to certain exercises. In body building (through machines) muscles are isolated and trained. When such training is done for a long time, one develops imbalances in strengths of different muscles. But Snatch and Clean & Jerk, are full body exercises and practically every goddamn muscle is used. As we know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Hence your ability to lift weights will be limited by those under developed muscles. This is where, again, coach comes into picture. He is suggests supplementary exercises that are needed & more suitable to your body.

Your age when combined with what you did in Gym for 3 years decide your mobility. I don't know where you stand on this front, but my guess would be that you need to work on your mobility too.

With all of that said, assuming you'll do your best to get trained under a coach, taking unavailability of good coaches in to consideration, is there anything that you can do by yourself? Answer is YES, there is.

  1. Work on your mobility (if you lack it): Coach Christopher Sommer, of Gymnastic Bodies, has an excellent Foundation series. This series runs in two tracks, one track is for body weight strength training and another is for mobility training. Mobility training has very well thought out progressions. Best thing is that, they don't mostly interfere with your weightlifting.

  2. Feed technique into your brain via watching & reading:

    • Start with The Power Snatch with Mark Rippetoe. He does an excellent job explaining an absolute novice in snatch. Watch all of his instructional videos
    • Read Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition, even though its technically not a Olympic Lifting book, you are going use barbell and train for strength using different variations of Squats, Dead Lifts, Presses, Cleans and probably use all the supplementary exercises that are mentioned in it. Equally importantly, you'll learn principles of handling the bar.
    • Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches by Greg Everett. Well it can be used as a reference, you need to keep referring to it from time to time. This holds equally good to "Starting Strength" book.
    • Watch Olympic Style Weight Lifting with Jim Schmitz. Jim Schmitz, by the way, is a former US Olympic team coach. You can't get any better source of instruction online.
    • Hookgrip on YouTube does an excellent job in comparing & contrasting, technique of elite weightlifters, in slow motion. While watching these videos, take note of all the aspects of technique you learnt through all the other sources I mentioned.
  3. Practice technique with an empty bar Don't load weight for Snatch and Clean&Jerk, until your technique is decent. While beginning, do the movements in slowmotion and take care of all the cues you learnt. Keep in mind, that through this you are trying to learn the technique and not increase your strength or power. So, go slow and focus. You don't want errors to creep in, do you?

  4. Be part of the weightlifting community on reddit and keep posting your videos and get feedback from the community. I would even suggest going through all the top voted posts. Also be part of Catalyst Athletics & California Strength through their social media & youtube channels and their newsletters/magazines.

  5. Stay motivated and keep watching actual competitions :)

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