The benefits of the Olympic lifts have remained in the shadows of strength and conditioning programs since variations were implemented in the modern Olympics back at the end of the 19th century.

However, in the recent past there has been a reemergence in the popularity of the Olympic lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

Despite the rising popularity, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the differences between the two.

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The Sport, or the Exercise

Technically, the snatch and clean and jerk are the two lifts used in the sport of Olympic weightlifting (not to be confused with power lifting, which includes squat, bench press and deadlift).

Three attempts are given for each lift, with the goal of lifting the maximum amount of weight possible.

However, the benefits of the snatch and clean and jerk are not limited to competitive weightlifters.

Olympic lifts and their variations are great tools for nearly any strength and conditioning program

Some of the major benefits of including the snatch and clean are as follows:

1. Power development:

The Olympic lifts are designed around a very rapid rate of force development. Essentially, this means a combination of both strength and speed, which can lead to faster sprints, higher jumps and increased agility.

2. Sport Cross-over:

The principle of specificity suggests dynamic lifts that mimic sport movements are most effective at improving sport performance. Olympic lifts rely on a motor program that revolves around multi-joint, large muscle movements very similar to activities like running and jumping.

3. Metabolic demand:

A result of benefit #1 is a greater energy expenditure per repetition. High volume training (ie 3 sets x 9 reps) is especially good at elevating the physiological demands of a snatch or a clean workout. Greater metabolic demands lead to greater anaerobic power, or for the more recreational athlete, greater calorie burn for weight loss/maintenance.

benefits of olympic lifting _2Similarities

Before the differences can be fully appreciated, some similarities should be outlined to understand why the snatch and clean and jerk are so often confused.

– Both lifts rely on explosive triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips in order to power a loaded barbell from the floor to an overhead position.

– Both lifts require substantial core strength and shoulder mobility and stability in order to maintain control of the bar throughout the lift.

– Both lifts are highly technical, requiring a complex movement pattern that is not easily mastered. Any time I teach an Olympic lift to a newbie, I make the comparison of learning to ride a bike for the first time—there has to be attention to detail, and a lot of practice before the movement pattern becomes natural.

Differences

The differences are in the phases of each lift. A brief explanation of the snatch and the clean and jerk should help highlight how the lifts are unique.

Snatch:

The snatch begins with a wider grip (eg a grip width equal to the distance between elbows when the arms are raised laterally at the sides). A narrow shoulder width stance with a flat back is the starting position. In an instant, the athlete raises the shoulders as the knees shoot back, bringing the bar to about the level of the knees for the first pull.

benefits of olympic lifting _3The next phase brings the hips forward into the power position where the athlete will simultaneously extend the ankles, knees and hips while shrugging the shoulders to guide the bar’s upward trajectory in the second pull.

The final stage of the snatch is the catch, where the athlete will drop down—without pressing—underneath the bar into an overhead squat (squat variation #7) position. The snatch ends with the weight overhead in a fully erect, standing position.

Clean and Jerk:

The narrower grip of the clean is the first difference between snatch and clean; the foot width will be similar, but the grip width for the clean is just outside the knees. The starting position is otherwise very comparable.

The first pull into triple extension and the second pull are also nearly identical between the two lifts. The difference picks up again for the final catch. After the legs create the impetus to get the bar moving, the athlete drops down under the bar to get into a front squat (squat variation #1) position with the bar racked on the front of the shoulders. The clean ends with the athlete standing in an upright position with the bar racked.

The major difference between the snatch and the clean and jerk is the two-stage technique to get the weight overhead; the clean, then the jerk.

The jerk begins with the athlete narrowing his/her stance and dropping the elbows. A shallow dip immediately transitions into a forceful overhead press, with the legs generating most of the power to get the bar overhead.

benefits of olympic lifting _4
After the initial bending of the knees, there is a re-bending as the athlete drops under the bar into a split stance. Once control is regained, the athlete then brings the front foot back to center, followed by the back foot.

Olympic lifts for Olympians or everyone?

Maxing out with the snatch and/or the clean and jerk is a feat best left to trained athletes, but submaximal Olympic lifting and related variations can be a great addition to anyone’s strength program.

The benefits of Olympic lifting are vast and varied, and can readily be incorporated into even the most basic routine.

My advice – find a good strength coach or personal trainer who can not only teach the lifts correctly, but can also help with programming.

As with every new training program, even if the new exercise is the best ever, it won’t help at all if you do it wrong and get injured in the process.

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