Lu Xiaojun

Okay lets get the giggles out now.  Yes, for some reason whomever named the olympic lifts had a sick sense of humor that immediately brings out the dirty little kid in people.  All “that’s what she said” jokes aside though, the olympic lifts can be hands down some of the best weapons in your arsenal to building a strong, lean, athletic body as well as keep your mind sharp.

If you are an avid reader of my site I’m sure you already appreciate the functional side of training and enjoy everything from heavy deadlifts to farmer carries to joint mobility work.  You understand you are not only meant to move but you are meant to move well and move heavy objects.  This is what will keep you strong, young and toit like toiger.

I know you already squat, deadlift, press, squat, do pullups, and more squats followed by more deadlifts so why should you bother with the olympic lifts or their alternatives?  Besides doing things that no one else in the gym is doing (you know you love doing that!) they have some added benefits that traditional strength exercises don’t.

  • Build explosive strength (e.g. moving weights/bodyweight faster) which translates into sport as well as IRL IMO.
  • You get quite strong without bulking up. (note: this shouldn’t be a factor but it holds some truth)
  • Stay mentally sharp.  Just practicing the olympic lifts creates an environment for your brain to problem solve which will, uh, make you wicked smaht.  (Yes, I am from Boston)
  • Stay neurologically sharp.  This is a littler harder to explain but your body’s neurological system will increase connectivity (via increasing myelination….think the rubber coating around electrical wire) which will thus increase strength, balance, coordination, and your ability to do Gangnam Style.
  • You like making people stare at the gym.  This is inevitable due to your sheer awesome factor.

The challenge here is really learning how to do the Olympic lifts well in the time period most trainees are accustomed to: NOW.  Well, speaking from experience it just doesn’t happen like that.  Especially when things like mobility, stability and coordination all come into play at higher speeds than most people are used to lifting at.  This is a recipe for ‘oh shit!’ if ever I saw one.

Well, that’s the rub.  But if you are interested in taking a step back to really hammer all the moving parts and work towards learning one of the most beneficial weightlifting exercises I will give you some things to master.  Try hard, you must.  That was Yoda in case you were wondering.  (P.S. the new Star Trek movie blows the newest Star Wars out of the water)

Components of The Clean and Jerk a.k.a. The Exercises to Master

1. Deadlift

Get good at conventional deadlifting as the first moves to master are the hip hinge and the pull.  Use all different weights, reps and speeds to really hammer technique and learn how to control the bar.  I’m a big fan of using both heavy pulls (such as sets of 3 with the most weight you can do with good form) and dynamic pulls (such as sets of 3 with lighter weight e.g. 1/2 of what you used in the heavy pulls but done fast) in the same training cycle or program.

 Note: The closer you can get your deadlifts to look like Eric Cressey’s deadlifts the more starving 3rd world children will be saved.  There is direct corrolation.

2. Kettlebell Cleans

If you are asking why you should clean with a kettlebell before the bar then you have realized it is basically the same exercise.  Using the kettlebell, though, is much safer, requires less time to master, is easier on the wrists (when done properly) and works on imbalances (done with one arm at a time).  I like to call these entry level olympic lifts for the business class.

Marianne’s accent makes it legit.

3. Front Squat

There are few exercises that make you as awesome at everything (including life) as good ‘ol front squats.  I think it is reasonable to recommend that most trainees move towards a comfortable front squat to depth with bodyweight or more on the bar.  This is a great start towards getting into the clean and jerk.  Even better is learning to do it with the olympic grip which becomes increasingly important if you want to get into weightlifting.

Here is a video for grip setup:

Front Squat Video (Molly Galbraith 210lbs x 3)

4. Push Press

If you are unsure of your shoulder and spine mobility (if you have no clue what that means then I highly recommend) then I recommend starting with the dumbbell version or even better the one arm dumbbell version.  This exercise is NOT a slow movement.  Done properly it will teach you how to transfer force from the ground, through your core and into your press.

It is challenging at first to get the move but think of pushing the weight up with your legs and punching the ceiling.  To do this you need a minimal bend in your knees.  Also, make sure to pause at the bottom and top of the exercise to make it more sequential.

Yes, that video is in Swedish.  Booyah!

One of my favorite super sets which I have come across in many different programs is pairing front squats with dumbbell push presses or one-arm push presses. It is a brutal combo to get you stronger in no time!

If you want to crush weights and look good nekkid then I recommend doing one or all of these exercises in a workout and progress towards increasing the weight and slowly learning how to incorporate them all into the clean and jerk.  To give you an idea of what that exactly is, here is video of my c&j attempts.  It definitely needs some TLC but not too shabby for not training the olympic lifts since college.  Practice, practice, practice!


Written by Steve