The Benefits of Practicing Olympic-Style Weightlifting
The snatch and the clean & jerk are the two exercises the make up the sport of Weightlifting. We call it Olympic-style, because it is the only form of lifting performed in the Olympics. Other sports or competitions that involve weights are Powerlifting, Strongman and Bodybuilding. Olympic-style Weightlifting is vastly different compared to the other three. The Olympic lifts are dynamic, explosive and demand flexibility, focus and precision. They are skill-intensive and should not be attempted without the supervision of a skilled instructor.
While the snatch and the clean & jerk require more time for learning, even the short-term training effects are substantial. And, once you learn them, they could end up saving you time, as the two lifts can be used as an efficient way of working the whole body and the cardiovascular system with only a few sets a day. The greater skill complexity of the Olympic lifts develops a wider range of physical abilities than does traditional weight training, and it transfers better to the performance of sports and other activities of daily life.
It is the explosive nature of Olympic weightlifting that produces its unrivaled benefits. In the snatch and the clean & jerk the force through your body is moving upward, and you work to meet the load efficiently in a strong, solid bottom position. This is opposite of most exercise where most of the force is propelled downward through your body, which results in an absorption of shock that can be detrimental to joints and ligaments. With the Olympic lifts, the propelling of weight and the demand for full range of motion preserves the joints and strengthens the ligaments.
Metabolic and hormonal benefits have also been associated with the Olympic lifts. Full body exercises that incorporate power and explosiveness have been the only ones shown to increase human growth hormone, which results in healthier, leaner, biologically younger bodies. Also, more calories are burned during Olympic weightlifting workouts, and more muscle fibers are used. A 2007 study by The American College of Sports Medicine compared the effects of explosive versus slow contraction exercise to study the rate of energy expenditure during and after weight-based exercise. They used the squat exercise and found that explosive contractions with moderate intensity induced a greater increase in the rate of energy expenditure compared with squats using slow contractions or high intensity. The results were consistent in all subjects tested. The study recommends that experienced recreational exercisers use explosive contractions and moderate exercise intensity to increase energy expenditure during and after resistance exercise to enhance weight loss. If these results happen with the squat—a primarily lower body exercise, you can imagine the results of performing a full body exercise.
Not only for the metabolic effects, the Olympic lifts have been widely accepted as the best way to strength-train for sports. Unlike other exercises, the lifts allow for additional overload in a manner similar to other sports movements. They also offer added neural benefits in the form of optimal motor unit recruitment and the maximization of energy transfer between movements. Balance, coordination, and flexibility are also improved in a way that transfers readily to sporting activities.
Many athletes also enjoy the benefits of injury prevention. The lifts develop core strength like nothing else. They work a vast array of muscles to achieve a muscular balance between the front and back muscles of the body. This contrasts with many sports and daily activities that under develop the back, abdominal and scapular muscles and overdevelop shoulder and pectoral muscles. Most don’t realize it, but Olympic weightlifting has one of the lowest injury rates of all sports. It is safe and even important for us as we age. As we age, athletic-type lifting contributes most to maintaining a high level of functional living through each decade of life.
Last but not least: Physique, physique, physique! If for no other reason, perform the Olympic lifts for the aesthetic benefits! This is the best way to stoke the metabolism. You’ll burn more body fat with the explosive lifts, and since they are multi-joint, you’ll naturally achieve a balanced musculature. Because of the neuromuscular properties, it is the best way to increase strength without gaining weight or bulking up. Those who compete in the lighter weight classes know this best; they can’t afford to gain an ounce, but they are always getting stronger.