Towards the end of last year I was invited by Sally Moss, founder of Strength Ambassadors and pioneer of the original Ladies Who Lift classes in London, to take part in a five week course – Olympic Lifting For Beginners. Although Sally has carved out a niche for herself in training women in powerlifting, Olympic lifting and general weight training, she runs a number of courses for mixed groups, this being one of them (to find out more about courses coming up, check out her website).
Every Friday evening I joined a group of about eight people, who ranged from female personal trainers, a couple of Crossfitters, a semi-professional young sprinter and me – an enthusiastic amateur, to throw weights over our heads (and across the room in a few instances) as we attempted to learn the two Olympic lifts: the clean and jerk and the snatch.
It’s fair to say I was a bit worried before starting – I really hate doing things with people watching me, mostly because I’m horribly un-coordinated and have to do things a great number of times before I get through my thick head what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.
As it turned out, I needn’t have fretted – the format of the sessions was to break each of the moves down into a number of smaller progressions, which we would practise relentlessly, before putting them together to practise the move itself towards the end of the class. Perfect for someone like me, and I’m sure even experienced lifters benefit from this sort of approach (I apply this incremental approach to my calisthenics training and would recommend anyone else to do the same). Sally also did an excellent warm up each class – I’ve found it very easy to get stuck in doing the same old routine to get warmed up before training, which probably isn’t very good but y’know – better the devil you know than to invest some effort into doing something new ;)
We were split into smaller groups to work, which also meant constant feedback on technique, as well as encouragement from the sidelines. This was really helpful for me as being quite strong I have a tendency to use brute force, rather than technique, to get the weight up – not very helpful in a sport in which timing, momentum, skill and technique are paramount!
I’d had absolutely no experience of Olympic lifting prior to the course, bar a two hour taster session with Sally, before which I actually had to YouTube the lifts to see what I’d let myself in for. One thing I found was that my karate background was really helpful, partly for the obvious things like understanding the need for, and having, a strong stance, but also in understanding the generation of power.
Like karate, it’s about being in a relaxed state to efficiently move quickly into a position from which you can unleash your power. In karate that is often a fast and fluid hip rotation into a punch or kick, but in Olympic lifting it might be using an efficient movement and gathering as much momentum as you can to get the bar high into the air so you can quickly move your body into position underneath it and push it up.
I’m not sure I can see Olympic lifting becoming a very regular part of my routine though, not because it wouldn’t be beneficial (that combination of explosive movement and power would have a lot to add to any training regime) but because of a combination of not having anywhere decent to practise and also not having the time to commit to practising enough. Like the fact I moved to Japan so I could do lots of karate, it is something that I would want to commit to practising again and again, on a very regular basis. It reminded me of kata – almost a meditation in movement and something that the more you practise the more of the technique would reveal itself to you. At the moment though I am already trying to do too much and the thought of squeezing it in seems impossible!
However, if you’re curious to find out more, want to add something new to your routine, or just fancy finding out what’s actually involved when you see small people walk out onto that stage at the Olympics and proceed to power twice their bodyweight directly over their head, then this is definitely a very good way to find out!