Some things can be taught, others have to be learned by experience. Weightlifting is no different. While a coach can take us through the movements and cues that we need to perform the snatch and clean and jerk correctly, it takes repeated practice over several years to achieve any kind of mastery. But of course, there’s more to life as a weightlifter than simply putting the bar over your head and it’s this side of the sport that I’ve found has a particularly interesting learning curve. There’s a huge amount of information floating around the internet about how you should prepare for training, how you should eat, how you should warm up and how you should cool down. Some of this borders on misinformation, other stuff is more helpful.
Over the last 18 months or so I’ve tried out a bunch of different things to try and get a slight performance edge while completely missing out on other, more fundamental lessons until much later. Here’s the 5 things I wish I had known when I started Olympic weightlifting, that could have saved me many months of trial and error.
1. Learn to lower the bar properly
I’d have saved myself an awful lot of bruises. scrapes and pain had I actually taken the time to learn to control a descending bar properly rather than letting it crash on to me. It’s sounds silly when we devote so much of our training time to getting the bar above our heads but learning to actually lower it without owning yourself in the process early on in your lifting career will pay dividends. It’ll make jerks from the rack or for reps, drop snatches/snatch balances and push presses infinitely easier and more enjoyable. It’s still something I’m pretty bad at but I seem to be slowly learning at last – cutting up the back of my neck after mistiming a behind the neck jerk saw to that. If you’re a beginner and aren’t sure how to lower the bar correctly, Catalyst Athletics have a great tutorial.
2. Record lots of video
Early on I shied away from recording much videos of my lifts, or at least of publishing it online. After some initial schooling in the Olympic lifts I went off and trained on my own for a while and was aware that my technique sucked quite badly. So naturally I was quite hesitant to share it with the world, lest I suffer the embarrassment of somebody pulling me up for my shortcomings in public. Obviously, this is completely the wrong mentality – I should have been actively seeking out feedback from experienced lifters and taking their advice. As a rank beginner, you may think that you’re capable of coaching yourself but really, you’re not (I’ve written about this elsewhere on the blog). If you don’t have access to a coach for whatever reason, record videos of your lifts, stick them up on Youtube and get all the help you can.
3. You don’t need to spend forever warming up
Yes, mobility work is important in being able to hit the right positions for the snatch and clean and jerk and you want to warm up properly before you lift… but there’s such a thing as going too far. I frequently see other lifters spending anything up to 30 to 40 minutes foam rolling, doing static stretches and using resistance bands before they allow themselves to even touch a barbell. I’ve seen people exhaust themselves and loosen up to the point where it’s detrimental to locking out their lifts before they’ve gotten anywhere near a working weight for the day. Stop it. You don’t need to do this. Once again Catalyst Athetics are the voice of reason on this – they have a great suggestion for a 12-15 minute dynamic warm-up that covers all the bases.
4. Supplements are bunkum
At some point or another over the last couple of years, I’ve probably tried nearly all of the common (legal) lifting supplements. Creatine, BCAAs, ZMA, whey protein, CLA, Green Tea Extract and so on. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned in that time, the vast majority of supplements are bunkum; most are completely ineffective and for the handful that have been scientifically proven to have any beneficial effects (e.g. creatine), they have such a low percentile effect on progress compared to things like eating and sleeping properly. These days I take ZMA (I seem to sleep a little better when I take it, probably a placebo effect), fish oil (I don’t eat much oily fish in my diet) and vitamin D (I live in Scotland, the Land Beyond the Wall). I don’t even bother with whey protein anymore – I have no difficulty hitting protein macros from my diet and steak tastes much better than cheese byproduct.
5. Bodybuilding exercises are important
Many weightlifters love to hate on bodybuilders. While – and let’s be honest here – there’s certainly a few chuckles to be had from observing the more stereotypical bodybuilding bros at your local gym, it would be a mistake to just dismiss the way they train out of hand. The clue is in the name – bodybuilding is great for putting muscle mass on our frames. And while the high-rep low weight programmes that are the bread and butter of most meathead programming aren’t going to add kilos to your total directly, they are great for building up your week points and helping you to prevent and recover from injury. So long as it isn’t affecting your recovery from the main lifts, it’s well worth throwing 3 sets of 10 or 4 sets of 8 or whatever of an upper body pull, upper body push and a back and ab exercise to the end of your training session a few times a week. If nothing else, it’s good to look like you actually lift!
Your Mileage May Differ
Of course, each of these 5 things is quite specific to me; others weightlifters will have learned their own lessons over the course of their careers. I’d be interested to hear how other lifters have fared in filtering out misinformation and figuring out what works for them and what doesn’t. Let other readers know in the comments below.