The Olympic Weightlifting Primer
Start With a Good Coach
- Record: The easiest way to evaluate a coach is to research his or her competitive record.
- Feedback: Talk to some of the athletes this coach has worked with and find out about their experiences.
- Credentials: There is no licensing of weightlifting coaches in the United States. However, USA Weightlifting does have a certifying body, and you can check to see if they hold any sort of accreditation.
- Education: A degree in exercise science or some related field is important. A Bachelors or Masters degree in biology, biomechanics, physiology, or anatomy would assure a good formal foundation for a coach’s knowledge base.
- Certifications: Look into a coach’s professional credentials. The CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) is considered one of the premier training certifications for performance-based conditioning. Other credentials that carry a good deal of respect are the National Academy of Sports Medicine PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist) and the ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist.
Get the Gear
Hard, flat sole: The soles used to be made of wood, but companies today often use a hard plastic sole. The reason for these hard, flat soles is to get as much force off the ground as you can. The soles of regular shoes are slightly squishy and will result in as much as 10 percent loss of power off of the ground.
Elevated heel: The elevated heel is the game changer when it comes to specialized shoes. Have you even noticed how much easier it is to squat with a raised heel? That’s because the elevated heel allows you to get a fuller range of motion and consequently a deeper squat. People who have tight ankles and hips will see a huge improvement in their ability to squat while wearing Olympic weightlifting shoes. If you don’t believe it, put 5lb plates underneath your heels to mimic a lifted heel, and notice the difference in your position.
- Straps: Straps give your foot a snug fit feeling and keep them from slipping around inside your shoes. You want your feet in a secure and stable positions while performing Olympic lifts and squats.
Bar diameter: Olympic competition bars are 25mm in diameter for women and 28mm for men. These diameters have two effects. First, they allow most people to properly perform a hook grip, which is discussed below. Second, the thinner steel is able to produce a “whip.” The whip allows an advanced lifter to use the bar as a spring by taking advantage of the fact that the bar bends under the load and acceleration of the lift and then springs back to its original shape.
- Knurling: The best knurling texture for Olympic lifting is a fine knurl that is not sharp. This is accomplished by closer spacing and deeper cuts than what you would see on a bar from your local sporting goods store. Knurling like this takes precision equipment and is time-consuming to create, which is one of the things that makes bars like this so special.
Knee/elbow sleeves: You do not have to purchase elbow and knee sleeves. Although compression gear can provide comfort and warmth, there is no guarantee they will provide additional protection. They certainly will not make you move better.
Wrist wraps: Wrist wraps might provide a little extra support against strains, especially under heavier loads. However, you would be better served to work on your mobility. Properly mobilizing your wrists, elbows, and shoulders provide a better defense against strains and lead to long-term success.
- Chalk and tape: If the facility you are training in does not provide these consider finding a new facility. If you really like facility despite such a glaring omission, then go ahead and purchase these two items. You will use them virtually every training session and they are cheap.
Develop Your Fitness Foundation
The squat trains your basic ability to raise and lower your center of mass. It is a motion essential to all of life’s pursuits. The real-world application, the expression of posterior chain strength and flexibility, and the need for spinal stabilization during execution create an incredibly functional and intense movement.
Recovery Is Part of Your Training
- You are what you eat: Lean protein will support muscle growth and repair. Fruits and vegetables will provide antioxidants to protect against cellular damage and reduce inflammation.
- Drink: Stay hydrated. Drink at least half an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day and even more on hot and humid days.
- Sleep: Your body regulates the hormones that affect how your muscles adapt to training during your sleep cycle. Depriving yourself of the recommended eight hours of shut eye is a sure-fire way to strip yourself of some much needed recovery.
- Cool Down: When your workout is complete, walk around a little bit or jump on the rower to keep circulating blood and nutrients through the body. Then do some light stretching. Your muscles will feel less stiff and sore afterward.