What did I do when I was staying in Las Vegas for the Rock’n’Roll marathon? - I sat in my room and watched the IFW Olympic Weightlifting World Championships.
I like Olympic Lifting. It might be my favorite sport to watch, and the most difficult to learn. On December 5, Lasha Talakhadze set the World Record in the Snatch with a lift of 220 kg, that is 484 lb. He took that much weight from off the ground to above his head and controlled it. Incredible! If you are not into Olympic Lifting at all, Lasha is a once-in-a-generation type athlete, he is as (if not more) dominant as Michael Phelps was in the Beijing Olympics.
Olympic lifting consists of two lifts; The Snatch plus the Clean and Jerk. Each lifter gets 3 attempts at each of the 2 lifts in a competition with the Snatch coming before the Clean and Jerk. At a competition the athletes are broken up into weight classes and randomly assigned numbers. Then the athletes begin to lift and the fun starts.
As a sport, Olympic Lifting is not all about strength and speed. Strategy plays a huge role in a competition. A few of the rules that play into the strategy of the sport are:
Weight never comes off the bar - An athlete (actually coach) declares the weight that he/she is going to attempt and that is the order in which the lifters lift. So if Athlete A lifts 100kg and Athlete B declares 102kg, after Athlete A lifts the 100kg Athlete B cannot attempt anything less than 102kg. (a bit straight forward, but read the next few points)
Athletes may declare a weight for each attempt up to 3 times - Meaning if an Athlete declared 100kg from an attempt, if he/she is feeling good that person can go to 102kg, or if the athlete is feeling bad that athlete can declare 98kg (only if 99kg not been loaded onto the bar).
An athlete has 1 minute to perform a lift once the bar is ready, or 2 minutes if the athlete is following him/herself - If Athlete A and Athlete B are both attempting 100kg, Athlete B has 1 minute to start the lift once Athlete B is finished. Also, If Athlete A has attempted 100kg and declared 101kg for the next lift while Athlete B has declared 120kg, Athlete A has 2 minutes to start the lift once the bar is loaded to 101kg.
The Athlete that has waited the longest lifts first - If Athlete A and Athlete B are both attempting 100kg, wile Athlete A made an attempt 2 attempts ago and Athlete B made an attempt 4 attempts ago, Athlete B goes first.
If 2 or more athletes successfully lift the same weight, the first athlete to lift the weight wins - If athletes A, B, and C all successfully lift 100kg in that order, Athlete A wins.
Besides the ridiculous amount of coordination that goes into lifts, these rule are what makes Olympic lifting so fun to watch.
One example of strategy is for a lifter that knows the he or she is in the hunt for a top finish to open with a lighter lift as to have more time between lifts than his/her competitors so he/she has a heavy attempt before his/her competitor (because in a tie the first to fit the weight wins).
Another example is “burning the clock”. “Burning the clock” occurs when Athlete A makes an attempt, then declares the same weight as Athlete B for the next lift. Athlete B then declares a higher weight causing Athlete A to have to make an attempt on a 1 minute clock instead of a 2 minute even though Athlete a was the last lifter, because Athlete A was following Athlete B for a few seconds.
As a coach, fitter and just someone who enjoys biomechanics, I am really impressed with movement involved with Olympic wight lifting. At the World Championships back in November, Sopita Tanasan (a 49kg/107.8lb woman) Clean and Jerked 102kg/224.4lb. That does not happen by just being strong - technique is critical. Without making this a 20 page article here are the 10,000ft views of the basics to the lifts.
Snatch - The Snatch is the lift in which the bar goes from the floor to overhead in one movement. This is the one were the the Athlete looks like a Y at the end of the lift because their grip on the bar is wide (a snatch grip)
Clean and Jerk - The Clean and Jerk is the 2 part lift in which the bar is taken from the ground to the shoulders, then from the shoulders to overhead in 2 distinct movements. Many people recognize this one because most Olympic lifts use the Split Jerk where the one the athlete’s legs comes forward and the other goes backwards.
“That’s great Coach Adam, why did you put this in an endurance sports newsletter?”
I practice and teach Olympic Lifts because they are so important to proper form in running, cycling and swimming. The linchpin of both lifts are the hip, and more specifically the glutes. An athlete is not allowed to use his/her arms to push out a lift, making the prime mover in either lift the glute complex. The glute must fire quickly to break the bar off the ground, turn off/brace eccentrically to drop into a squat, then fire again to stand up from the squat. These are the exact same muscles that pull your leg behind you when you run, and pull your leg down during the pedal stroke. Learning and practicing how to use the glutes in Olympic Lifting can enable you to have more control over those muscles in running and cycling.
But what about swimming? Anyone who knows me knows I am not the greatest swimmer in the world, but lifting has helped. I am used to running, cycling and skating which are all sports that share a common moment axis - the vertical axis - meaning that those sports require my hips to rotate opposite my shoulders. Olympic Lifting, like swimming, requires movement along the transverse axis. So my hips must stay in line with my shoulders.
Olympic Lifting is pretty great. I recommend trying it, but only if there is a knowledgeable coach present to make sure you are performing the lifts correctly. I like to say “perfection comes before pride,” meaning you should make sure you can do a movement correctly before adding weight.