The barbell is in front of me on the floor. I chalk my hands and approach it, focused like a laser. I bend down and set my hands in exactly the right place, drilled in through countless repetitions. A deep breath goes in, I tighten my core, and move with as much explosive power as I can muster. If physics and technique are on my side, the bar moves as straight upward as possible, and I catch the weight over my head (a lift called the snatch) or on the front side of my shoulders (the clean) and then push it overhead (the jerk). I stand with arms locked out, weight perfectly balanced.
Every time I lift, I feel invincible, even if it’s not such a great day on the platform. My journey to Olympic weightlifting (called weightlifting or Oly for short) came about through CrossFit, which I started two years ago. CrossFit combines weightlifting / powerlifting, conditioning and gymnastics skills across a variety of time domains–some short, some longer–but most of which are high intensity. It took about a year before I decided that I really loved olympic weightlifting and the feeling I get when I lift heavy weight. The ladies out there reading this may be especially reluctant to try weightlifting because, as the refrain goes, “I don’t want to get bulky.” Ladies, you lack the amount of testosterone needed to build huge muscles and bulk up! Also, weightlifters generally don’t perform many reps at lighter weights, the staple for building muscle mass that the bodybuilding community uses. Oly lifters are generally lean, muscular (but not overly so) and powerful.
Why should you consider giving weightlifting a try?
Develop explosive power! If you are an athlete who primarily does another sport, learning power cleans or power snatches (where the weight is received above parallel) can help develop speed and explosivity in the hips, a major generator of power in the body.
Build lean muscle mass. If you don’t want to get bulky like a bodybuilder but still want plenty of lean muscle (which is often marketed to women as “toning up”), weightlifting can help. As you progress to lifting heavier, you will likely notice muscular definition increasing while body fat goes down. Admittedly, this process is closely linked with dietary choices, and if you eat poorly, you probably can’t expect to have positive changes in body composition.
Simplicity and complexity. The olympic lifts are at once so simple–pick weight up over the floor and put it overhead–yet so complex. It’s easy for beginners to acquire the basics, but will generally take time and practice to understand the nuances of the movements. If you were once a competitive athlete or participated recreationally in another sport, weightlifting can present both a mental and physical challenge, keeping you sharp and always learning.
If you are interested in trying olympic-style weightlifting, search for a quality gym in your area devoted to the sport or visit your local CrossFit affiliate to learn in the context of a strength and conditioning program.