Olympic Weightlifting Program Basics


What are Olympic Weightlifting Program Basics?

Since the popularization of Cross Fit Workouts, Olympic Weightlifting has become a thing among athletes and trainers. If you are looking to increase your athleticism and become stronger, Olympic Weightlifting might be just what you need.

What’s more, special Olympic Weightlifting programs are ideal for beginners. In Olympic Weightlifting, a lifter attempts to snatch and clean and jerk as much weight as possible.

Olympic Weightlifting Program Basics

The lifts and rules are pretty straight-forward, but training for the movements is not.
Some of the benefits of incorporating Olympic Weightlifting are;

  • To improve mobility. Olympic Lifts that are part of the program involves a great deal of mobility. This helps work on your personal thus improving you in that aspect.
  • Improving your body composition. The full-body intense lifts will help you build muscle and improve your athleticism.
  • Improving your core strength. Olympic Lifts require a lot of midline strength. A tremendous amount of core strength is needed for holding positions for technique work and finding stability with the clean & jerk and snatch

Because of their tremendous benefits, Olympic Lifts for Cross Fit has become popular among athletes and trainers. Proficiency in the Olympic Lifts directly helps you to improve your training in Cross Fit. Your strength improves with your Clean & Jerk and Snatch, and you become more explosively athletic.

Is Olympic Weightlifting Good For Beginners?

Select Olympic Weightlifting programs are ideal for beginners. Following a program that puts emphasis on positional work for each lift is key.

A beginner learns exactly how each position of the lift feels, creating better awareness when performing the lifts.

As a rule of thumb, a good program should at least include the Snatch, clean, jerk, back squat, front squat, and some type of pulls twice or thrice in a week.

Beginners Olympic Weightlifters

It is important to note that there is no one right way to go about Olympic Weightlifting. However, the wrong methods exist when it comes to developing a beginner lifter.

Some tips are pretty essential for Olympic weightlifting training, namely;

  • Find a coach. You need professional guidance that saves you time and ensures you are doing the right thing.
  • Improve your mobility. This will ultimately help you to be better at your training.
  • Keep your weights light.
  • Perform partial movements.
  • Remember consistency is key.

There is really no magic threshold that distinguishes a beginner from an intermediate lifter. Most coaches suggest that lifters with at least six months of specialized training for Olympic weightlifting under their belt qualify as intermediaries.

The actual performance markers include how much an athlete can lift, their competency level, ability to withstand advanced and rigorous challenge, and an athlete’s ability to perform movements with fluidity, timing, and precision.

The Key Olympic Weightlifting Movements

Worth noting is that for each of the specific movements that we will look at, there is a wide variety of movement variations, so coaches and athletes can integrate within a training program for special purposes.


In the sport of Olympic weighting, the Snatch is one of the two competition lifts. This is when the lifter takes a weighted barbell from the floor to an overhead position without stopping at the shoulders. In other words, in one fluid movement.

During competitions, the lifters receive the weight in the overhead squat (full Snatch) and stand up. Alternatively, they can receive the load overhead in a partial squat and then stand up.


The clean, combined with the jerk, is one of the two competition lifts in Olympic weightlifting. A lifter usually takes a weighted barbell from the floor to the front of the shoulders in one fluid movement. They can either receive the barbell in the front squat (full clean) or a partial squat (power clean).


In the second part of the jerk and clean movement, the jerk is done in a formal Olympic weightlifting competition.

Lifters take a load from the front of the shoulders (front rack) to the overhead position in one explosive movement. This is done without receiving the barbell with bent elbows (also called a press out).

The lifter can use several styles of jerks to place the barbell overhead. However, all of them should utilize leg strength and power to dip and drive the bar overhead. These jerk variations (power jack, push jerk, split jerk, and squat jerk) are allowed in a formal Olympic weightlifting competition.

Back Squat

The back squat (also called high bar back squat) increases the general leg and back strength to levels needed for the Olympic weightlifting sport.

Not all back squats are created equal. Performing back squats using the high bar placement while maintaining a vertical torso position while loading the quadriceps is ideal.

Some lifters transition from other forms of lifting where they perform back squats with the bar lower on the back or with poor positions. These types of exercise have an excessive forward lean and are not applicable to the Olympic weightlifting sport.

Front Squat

The front squat is done exactly like the clean and jerk. The exact position, grip, and front rack position are key. It should be trained with the proper emphasis on proper position, joint angles, and front rack position necessary for the clean.

Many beginners may miss the proper technique, which ultimately diminishes their overall performance in the clean and jerk. Rounded upper back, not taking a full grip on the barbell, excessive front lean, and hips shooting back in the squat are some of the problems.

Using the front squat will strengthen the exact position needs of the clean and jerk.

Overhead Squat

Like the front seat, this position squat is necessary for the stability and strength in the Snatch’s receiving position. When you can perform this movement with mobility, stability, and precision, your ability to snatch heavier loads increases significantly.

It is important to do this movement using the proper technique to ensure the Snatch’s specific positional needs are developed.

Snatch Pull

The snatch pull develops strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back. It needs to be done in the exact position needs of the Snatch.

The snatch pull (and snatch deadlift) can be confused by athletes and trainers who have done conventional, sumo, and trap bar before. It is important to note that the snatch pull and snatch deadlift have to be done in the Snatch’s exact positions.

Clean Pull

The clean pull is a foundational pulling exercise that develops strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back. This movement needs to be done in the exact positions of the clean.

Many beginner weightlifters may have done deadlifts before, and it is worth noting that the clean pull and clean deadlift must be done in the exact positions of the clean.

Olympic Weightlifting Basics

Powerlifting and other such sports will only test your strength. This means the heavier you can lift, the better. When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, not only is your strength tested, but your speed, technique, and explosive power.

In Olympic Weightlifting, the movements are done fast and require more incredible speed and range of motion. There are only two competition lifts, but you will need a complex training plan that helps you build on strength and power.

Traditional weightlifting programs emphasize on the snatch and the clean and jerk movements. Competitors perform each movement three times. Their performance is then measured by combining the total of the best two successful lifts.

Most weightlifters reach their performance peak at the age of 25 or 26. They report the biggest annual increase in total weight lifted during teenage or in early adulthood.

The two Olympic lifts are complex and will require a lot of training to get them right.

Becoming a Snatch Lifting Master

This is an explosive total body movement that requires strength, power, and flexibility. Snatches give you power that transfers to any other sport you undertake.
Below are steps to follow when starting out:

  1. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, position the balls of your feet under a barbell.
  2. With your shoulders positions over the bar, squat and grab the barbell with a wide overhand grip.
  3. Before initiating the actual pull, pull slightly against the barbell. This creates tension in your back, glutes, and hamstrings.
  4. Using your back, glutes, and hamstrings to initiate the lift, lift the barbell slowly and increase your body under it.
  5. Pull yourself under the bar and while shrugging your shoulders, go into a full squat. Push the barrel to a full lockout as it passes your head.
  6. Ensure you secure the barrel overhead and then stand up.
  7. Slightly bending the knees, lower the bar to the starting position with slow, controlled motion. After learning the movement, you can easily unload the barbell from the final position.

Improving Your Snatch

The key is to lift the bar over your head in one fluid but an explosive movement to improve the Snatch.

The key is for the Snatch to feel natural and smooth, not rigid. The initial part of the movement should be slow and controlled.

Ensure that you;

  1. During the lift, ensure that you pay close attention to your posture, the extension of your hips, knees, and ankles.
  2. When you initiate the movement, keep your back and arms straight. Your gaze should be focused forwards and your chest over the bar.
  3. Ensure that your hips are positioned over your knees and lower than your shoulders.
  4. Try to have your barbell close to your shins when you do the first pull.
  5. Ensure the barbell is 6-8 inches above your head at lockout.
  6. Pull yourself under the barbell, avoiding to just drop under it.

Whenever possible, incorporate squats into your workouts so you can build a solid foundation for the Snatch. Pulls are also very important for strength and should be done as much as possible.

At least twice a week, start your workouts with the Snatch. Follow this movement with bench presses or back squats.

An example would be;

Day 1

The Snatch. Do 10 sets of 8 repetitions.

Barbell back squats, 5 sets of 10 repetitions.

Day 2

10 sets of 8 repetitions of the snatch and its variations.
Bench press. Do five sets of 10 repetitions.

Perfecting Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk are arguably one of the most challenging exercises to do. It needs a lot of core strength, power, and balance, just like the Snatch.

This movement is great at helping you develop explosive force, improving your strength, speed, power, and size.

Steps to follow:

  1. With the toes pointing forward, stand with your feet hip-width apart and flat on the ground.
  2. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip from a squatting position. Ensure your arms are straight and your shoulders are over the bar.
  3. To pull the bar off the floor, extend your hips and knees. While pushing your hips forward, push through the entire foot to pull the bar up to your body.
  4. Shifting your torso to a vertical position, jump up explosively by performing a triple extension. Rotate your elbows around the barbell and shrug your shoulders.
  5. Catch the barbell in front of your shoulders. Bring it over your head while slowly dipping down.
  6. Split one foot forward and another backward as you lift the bar overhead. Your arms should be extended fully over your head.
  7. Bring the front foot back to ensure your feet are in line. With the barbell positioned over your head, stand up straight.
  8. Lower the bar to your shoulders and then to your mid-thighs to return to the starting position.

Using light to moderate loads as a beginner will save you from injuries. Performing 3 to 5 sets of 3 reps at least twice a week is great.

To improve your technique, you should;

  • Correctly learn how to perform a power clean as well as master the front rack before beginning.
  • Tuck your chin before completing the jerk.
  • Imagining you are doing a partial lunge, use a wide split stance in the jerk position.
  • You can break this movement into several phases. Upright rows, deadlifts, shrugs and hang cleans.

Exercises that help you to perform this movement and are worthy adding to your training routine include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Ball cleans
  • Power jerks
  • Power snatches
  • Goblet squats
  • Bend over rows
  • Shoulder presses
  • Barbell power cleans
  • Clean and press
  • Block cleans
  • Kettlebell clean and jerk
  • Front squats and jerks
  • Hand cleans

IWF notes that is not possible for any athlete to simply grab a barbell and execute this exercise without form. Keeping your workouts varied and trying out different training methods helps you to build a good foundation.

For best results, it is advisable to use a combination of core exercises, bodyweight exercises, and foundation exercises.

3 Day Per Week Olympic Weightlifting Program Examples

There’s a no one-size-fits-all training program as all athletes perform differently. But we can lay out a few examples of plans that maximize exposure and technique training.

The programs here all incorporate both the Snatch, clean, and jerk in every session. The exercises are followed by a set, reps, and intensity progression.

An example is when the lifter performs four sets of 2 reps on the first day. The lifter uses 65% of their max Snatch in the first week, 68% in the second week, and 71% in the third week. In the fourth week, they deload and use the same loading they used in week one, 65%.

This program can be used by beginners and intermediates, and is an accumulation phase.

Day 1

  • Power snatch and Overhead Squat. 4 sets of 2 reps at 65%- 68%- 71%- 68%
  • Hang Clean , 3 sets of 3 reps at 70%- 73%-75%- 70%.
  • Back squats, 4 sets of 6-8 reps at 65%- 70%- 75%- 65%
  • Snatch Pull, 3 sets of 2 reps at 90% for all weeks.
  • Military Press, 3 sets of 8 reps at challenging load. Weekly progression by 8-10 llbs.

Day 2

  • Muscle Snatch, 3 sets of 3 reps at 50% of snatch max for all the weeks.
  • Snatch Deadlift, 4 sets of 5 reps at challenging load, weekly progression of 5-10lbs.
  • Block Clean, 4 sets of 2 to 3 reps at 70%- 73%- 75%- 70%.
  • Push Press, 3 sets of 5 reps at 60%, weekly progression 5-10lbs.
  • Pull Up, 3 sets of 8 reps at challenging load, with a weekly progression of 5-10lbs.

Day 3

  • Hang Snatch, 4 sets of 1 rep at 70%-73%- 77%- 70%.
  • Clean and Jerk , 4 sets of 2 reps at 70%- 73%- 77%- 70%.
  • Romanian Deadlift, 3 sets of 6-8 reps at 70% of clean and jerk max.
  • Front squat, 4 sets of 3-5 reps at 75% of clean and jerk max.
  • Lunge , 3 sets of 8 reps per leg at challenging load. Weekly progression of 5-10lbs.

By increasing the amount of weight at the bar, you can progress the main movements. This should correspond with the percentage of maximum in the exercise prescriptions.

The speed and technique will not diminish as the weights increase per week. If this happens, you should work with the same weight as the previous week, challenging yourself to do the movements with more precision and power.

After completing a program, do not dive in or change every element of the workout. A perfect program should systematically progress such that the tweaks are small and noticeable.
Avoiding program hopping will yield better results for you in the long run.


After all, is said and done, every program should include snatches, cleans, jerks, squats, and pulls in order to cover the basics of Olympic weightlifting comprehensively. Accessory movements will help address any weakness, muscular imbalances, and movement disorders.

Having a trained coach is recommended as you get informed and professional guidance throughout the training.