Best Olympic Lifts and How to Do Them

by Evelyn Valdez

When it comes to lifting weights, the competitive factor is what drives a lot of people to work their hardest. Some lifters train for powerlifting competitions, which consist of squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, while others train for weightlifting competitions, consisting of the snatch and the clean and jerk.

These two lifts that make up the weightlifting competition are known as Olympic lifts, and they’re considered some of the hardest lifts to master because they require a lot of power, strength, and mobility – not to mention balance to deal with such heavy weights!

To help you master these Olympic lifts so that you can enter competitions, or simply use them to build strength and power at the gym, we’ve created a list explaining the two official lifts as well as some popular Olympic variations, along with a step-by-step guide to successfully perform all of them. So keep reading!

Official Olympic lifts

The two official Olympic lifts are movements that start with the bar on the floor and finish with an overhead barbell press, and they test explosive, functional, and overall strength.

These are the two movements performed in Olympic weightlifting competitions:

Snatch

To perform a snatch, you grab the bar with a wide grip and lift it overhead from the floor, going into a front squat to catch the bar over your head with straight arms, and then immediately getting up into a standing wide-grip overhead press.

This quick and intense movement helps improve your speed, mobility, power, balance, and strength. Because you’re dealing with a heavier weight and the goal is to go through the full range of motion without pausing, the proper technique needs to be mastered first.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand in front of it with your feet under the bar at a hip-width distance and your toes slightly pointing out.
  2. Bend your hips and knees with your thighs parallel to the floor and your shins touching the bar, then grab it with an overhand grip that’s wider than shoulder-width apart, as close to the plates as you can.
  3. Keeping your back straight and your shoulders down and back, begin the movement by standing up and straightening your knees, lifting the barbell along your legs.
  4. Thrust your hips forward to create momentum for the bar while it goes up and, when it passes your torso, quickly lower your body back into a squat and catch the bar overhead with straight arms.
  5. As quickly as you can without losing your balance, stand back up while keeping the barbell overhead. This is the final position.

Clean and jerk

This lift comprises two main movements: the clean and the jerk. During the clean, you lift the bar off the floor and catch it from a squat position over your chest and shoulders. Then, for the jerk, you explosively lift the weight overhead as you get into a split stance, before adopting a regular standing stance and finishing the overhead lift.

The clean and jerk is often considered an easier lift than the snatch because it has a pause, and the overall setup for the lift also allows you to lift heavier. Still, this is a difficult movement to master, but it’s worth it if you’re serious about improving your power, brute force, balance, and overall strength.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand in front of it with your feet under the bar at a hip-width distance and your toes slightly pointing out.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees with your thighs parallel to the floor and your shins touching the bar, then grab it with an overhand grip just outside of your legs so you can lift comfortably.
  3. Keep your back straight and your shoulders down and back, and begin the movement by extending your knees and hips, lifting the bar off the floor along your lower body.
  4. As the bar goes along your torso, shrug your shoulders and pull your body under the bar by bending your elbows and driving them forward while you twist your wrists so that the bar rests on your palms.
  5. While you do this, drop into a full squat position and catch the bar over your chest and shoulders, with your elbows pointing forward, then return to a standing position while keeping the bar in a front rack position. This is the end of the clean.
  6. Engage your core, bend slightly at the knees and hips, then explosively extend them while you jerk the bar overhead.
  7. Land in a split stance position to catch the bar over your head with your arms completely extended, then come back to a standing position while keeping the bar balanced overhead. This is the end of the jerk and final position.

Olympic lifts variations

While not official, these variations are still widely considered Olympic lifts because of the level of strength and specific technique that they require. These movements are used to practice, develop your strength, and build your way up to the two official lifts.

Here are the three most popular variations:

Power clean

The power clean is a clean that you perform without fully squatting before catching the barbell. Naturally, this is a great practice exercise for those who want to eventually master the clean and jerk because it allows you to develop lifting power and speed.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell on the floor with your feet under the bar at a hip-width distance and your toes slightly pointing out.
  2. Bend your hips and knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your shins touch the bar, then grab it with an overhand grip just outside of your legs.
  3. Begin by extending your knees and hips, lifting the bar off the floor along your legs and hips, and shrugging your shoulders to keep the bar moving swiftly.
  4. While the bar passes along your torso, drive your elbows forward as you twist your wrists so that the bar rests on your palms and immediately drop into a quarter squat position to catch it in a front rack position.
  5. With the bar resting over your chest and shoulders, return to the standing position while keeping the bar balanced. This is the final position.

Power snatch

Similar to the power clean, the power snatch is just a snatch that you perform without fully squatting down. The squat part of both Olympic lifts is usually the toughest to pull off successfully, which is why practicing with the power variations is a great way to build your way up to the official lifts.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand in front of it with your feet under the bar at a hip-width distance and your toes pointing slightly out.
  2. Bend your hips and knees with your thighs parallel to the floor and your shins touching the bar, then grab it with an overhand grip that’s wider than shoulder-width apart and as close to the plates as you can.
  3. Begin the movement by straightening your knees and hips, lifting the barbell along your lower body, and explosively thrusting your hips forward to create momentum for the bar.
  4. When it goes over your torso, quickly get into a quarter squat position as the bar goes up and catch it overhead with straight arms.
  5. Immediately go back to a standing position without losing the balance of the barbell overhead. This is the final position.

Squat clean

The squat clean is essentially the first part of the clean and jerk, stopping once the bar is in the front rack position and you’re standing back up. This is the perfect intermediate exercise to master after the power clean but before the clean and jerk for increased power and strength.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell on the floor with your feet under the bar at a hip-width distance, toes slightly pointing out.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your shins touch the bar, then grab it with an overhand grip just outside of your legs.
  3. Keeping a straight back, begin by extending your knees and hips, lifting the bar off the floor along your lower body until it reaches your torso.
  4. Shrug your shoulders and bend your elbows, driving them forward while you twist your wrists so that the bar rests on your palms, then immediately squat down to catch the bar in a front rack position.
  5. Return to the standing position with the bar balanced and resting over your chest and shoulders. This is the final position.

Other popular variations include the hang clean, which is a clean that starts with the bar hanging below your knees, and the push jerk, which consists of the second part of the clean and jerk when the bar is already in the front rack position. No matter which lift you choose, don’t forget to pick an appropriate weight and always have a spotter with you!

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