Olympic weightlifting is fantastic sport, and a great way to develop insane strength and power. It’s also tricky as hell to learn or even know where to start. I’ve written this complete guide on how to start olympic weightlifting to help you get the best possible start.
We’re going to cover…
- What Do We Mean By Olympic Weightlifting?
- Biggest Obstacles to Successfully Starting Weightlifting
- Essentials for Starting Olympic Weightlifting
- Looking for An Olympic Weightlifting Programme?
- How to Start Olympic Weightlifting: 2 More Useful Things
- Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get Started With Weightlifting
- How to Start With Weightlifting: Summary
- Next Steps
This article is also available in video format if you prefer…
What Do We Mean By Olympic Weightlifting?
This guide is specifically talking about how to start the sport of weightlifting, which consists of the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk.
So we’re not talking about starting general strength training. For that, check out my article on how to get stronger as a beginner.
Are You a Reliable Source of Weightlifting Info?
I’m a tutor and educator for British Weightlifting (I coach other coaches), and I’ve coached hundreds of weightlifters independently.
I’ve also worked for 7+ years as a strength & conditioning coach for 2 major UK universities, 3 national talent pathways and a selection of national and international level athletes.
Biggest Obstacles to Successfully Starting Weightlifting
Poor Weightlifting Technique: You’re new to the sport, so your technique sucks, it can be frustrating, and makes a lot of people quit too early.
Poor Weightlifting Mobility: Many people can’t achieve a deep overhead squat position, or a comfortable rack position for the clean. This makes it next to impossible to perform the full versions of the olympic lifts as seen in competition.
Lacking Positional Strength for Weightlifting: The snatch, clean & jerk involve unique positions where most people haven’t yet developed strength. I’ve seen guys who deadlift 250+kg shaking after holding a 50kg bar at their knee for 5 seconds in a snatch grip.
Now let’s talk solutions…
Essentials for Starting Olympic Weightlifting
To overcome the obstacles of poor technique, poor mobility and a lack of positional strength, you need to do 3 things
1) Manage your expectations and reframe the weightlifting learning process
2) Use simple exercises to improve your weightlifting-specific mobility (I’ll go into these in a couple of minutes time)
3) Build strength in key positions for weightlifting
Managing Expectations when getting started with olympic weightlifting
Many people start Olympic weightlifting with the expectation of quick progress. They assume that because the snatch and clean & jerk are performed in a gym, that they’re just a fancy looking deadlift plus squat combination.
In reality, learning olympic weightlifting is more like learning gymnastics, or jiu-jitsu, it’s a skill that you need to master over many weeks, months and years.
How to Improve Mobility for Weightlifting
General static stretching and dynamic mobility routines are okay, and can provide a good base of general movement and flexibility to build from.
But the most time-efficient and effective way is with targeted weightlifting-specific mobility exercises. The two that I most frequently recommend are…
1) Tempo Overhead Squats
“If you want to get better at overhead squats, then you need to do more overhead squats.”
And maybe you’re sat there thinking “well if I can’t do overhead squats how can I possibly use them to improve my overhead squats?”
To which my answer is always that you CAN do some version of an overhead squat, you just need to adjust depth and load.
Grab a stick or light technique bar and start practising. Go slowly down as far as you can whilst staying upright and balanced, when you can’t go any further, pause for a few seconds, then stand back up.
For your first session, this might only be halfway down, that’s fine. Get the reps in, then come back and try again next time. Each session you’ll get a bit lower until BOOM, you’ve got a full depth ass to grass overhead squat.
2) Front Squats with a FULL GRIP on bar.
If you want to get better at front squats and Cleans, then you need to do them. A big trick is to set up by dipping under the bar, setting your elbows and then pushing up into the bar with your elbows already in position. Here’s a video demo with the key drill at the 4-minute mark…
From there, slowly go down as far as you can with an upright posture. Pause for a few seconds, then stand back up.
And yes, sometimes when you’re starting olympic lifting your elbows and wrists might be a little uncomfortable for the first few weeks. That’s part of the process, and it will go away after a few weeks of consistent practice.
Exercises to Build Strength in Key Positions for Weightlifting
Weightlifting positions can be awkward, and you won’t be strong in them. You need more time in them to get comfortable and build that specific positional strength. Here’s my top 4 list of exercises to get you started…
- Tempo Overhead Squat
- Tempo Front Squat
Yep, the best mobility exercises are also some of the best positional strength builders, so you’ve got a great crossover between mobility and strength. Other good exercises I have my lifters perform are…
- Tempo Snatch Deadlifts or Pulls
- Tempo Clean Deadlift or Pulls
In these variations you might lift the weight as normal then take anything from 3-5 seconds to return to the floor, making sure to hit every key weightlifting position on the way down. Or you can raise yourself off the floor and maintain tension throughout the whole set. These are incredibly tough even with light weights. Give them a try.
Pro Tip: Start light and record yourself side-on to check your form.
Olympic Weightlifting Program for Beginners
This is a great 3 day per week beginner weightlifting programme. Each session should start with a 5-10 minute general dynamic warm-up.
Looking for An Olympic Weightlifting Programme?
I’ve been putting together an evidence-based library of olympic weightlifting programs, each designed with a specific training style or goal in mind.
There’s a 13-week classic weightlifting programme, a 6- Week “Bulgarian” Weightlifting Programme, and even a Weightlifting + Bodybuilding Programme for people looking to improve their total and get jacked.
Each programme comes with full instructions, Q&A access, and a guide to auto-regulation/individualisation.
You can learn more by clicking right here.
How to Start Olympic Weightlifting: 2 More Useful Things
1) Get a better start by learning the Hook Grip
Thumb on bar, fingers over thumb. It feels weird but it improves grip, which is important for keeping control of the bar with these explosive, fast movements. For a full guide check out this article by catalyst athletics.
2) Learn the Key Terminology
Hangs: Any lift not starting from the floor. So, the bar might start at your shins, knees, above knees etc. If the exact hang position isn’t specified, I would assume most people mean from around the knees.
Powers: Any lift caught above a parallel squat. So if you catch your snatches in a 1/4 squat or 1/2 squat, they would technically be called power snatches.
First Pull: The movement of the bar from floor to above your knees
Second Pull: The explosive triple extension of ankles, hips and knees.
Third Pull / Catch: The active pull under the bar to receive the weight.
Recovery: Standing up from the overhead squat in the snatch, or front squat in the clean, plus bringing your feet back in line after a split jerk.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to Get Started With Weightlifting
Is Olympic weightlifting hard?
Yes. It takes time and dedication to learn. If you’re the type of person who starts things and gives up after a couple of weeks, then it’s not the right sport for you.
How long does it take to become an Olympic weightlifter?
That depends on the level you want to reach. Most lifters at the elite level have 8+ years of training experience. Many have 10-15 years of experience. However, if you just want to learn for fun, or for local competitions, you can get a reasonable level of competence within a few months of practice.
What is olympic weightlifting best for?
If you’re not wanting to compete in the sport of weightlifting, athletes may want to learn basic Olympic weightlifting variations for power development
Can you teach yourself Olympic lifts?
You can, but it will be slower. When learning any skill, weightlifting included, research (and years of experience) tells us that regular feedback accelerates the speed of learning. It’s why we send our kids to schools rather than just hoping they learn loads of things by themselves.
How to Start With Weightlifting: Summary
- Reframe your expectations – weightlifting is a skill that takes time to learn.
- Work on your mobility with a combo of general stretching + specific OHS and FS drills
- Build Position strength with Tempo’s, Pauses and Slow eccentrics
- Follow a structured beginner’s programme like the one I provided
1) Get in the gym and follow the beginner’s weightlifting programme for 8-12 weeks.
2) For more weightlifting training advice, workouts and programmes, consider joining my mailing list
3) If you’re looking for 1:1 coaching for olympic weightlifting, check out my coaching services here.
‘Til Next Time