Olympic Lifting Program Introduction

As a reminder, our Olympic Classes start this week. They are every Tuesday at 4:30, Thursday at 7:30 and Saturdays at Noon.

The Olympic Lifting Program:

The Olympic lifts (aka. O-lifts) are the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk – two methods for moving weight from the ground to overhead without re-gripping the bar.  These movements are distinct from other barbell lifts because they are the only two lifts contested at the Olympic games (hence the “Olympic” lifts).  The O-lifts are also faster and more technically challenging than other barbell strength lifts (e.g. squat, deadlift, press).  Because the O-lifts are so challenging, it makes sense to periodically train them with relatively high frequency in a workout setting that prioritizes skill development over metabolic conditioning.  Beginning this week, you will have the opportunity to participate in O-lifting sessions three days per week.  These sessions consist of a series of drills that will help you to develop and memorize the complex movement patterns necessary to be a proficient O-lifter and a good CrossFitter.  These sessions are intended for anyone who is interested in learning or improving technique on the O-lifts.  Most workouts will consist of one major skill-intensive exercise that will be the focus of the session, followed by a supplementary strength or mobility-intensive exercise that will prepare you for future sessions.

Following the Program:

How much weight?

In O-lifting workouts, the prescribed weight will be described by “feel” as maximal, heavy, medium or light.  Maximal or heavy work will involve weights that produce some chance of failure or “missing” the lift.  Medium work will involve the heaviest weights possible that can be moved without any major deterioration in form, and without any significant chance of missing lifts.  Light work will involve weights that feel “easy” and that can be moved at very high speed.  In every session, you will begin with an empty bar, and will gradually increase the weight on the bar until you have reached the prescribed “feel” for the exercise – this is your “working weight.”  Having reached that weight, you will perform all of the prescribed sets at the working weight.  To get the most out of these sessions, you will need to keep a running log of the working weights that you use for every exercise.  This log will help you and me to make decisions about what your target weight should be on heavy and maximal days. See second page for notes on beginner vs. intermediate training and appropriate scaling for beginners.

How much warm-up?

LOTS.  Ideally, you will arrive 10 minutes early and begin to warm up on your own.  Follow this sequence: 1) general – run, row or jump rope for about two min; 2) mobility – six min of dynamic mobility work on shoulders, hips and/or hamstrings; 3) specific – two min of Burgener or other “specific” warm-up exercises.

How much recovery?

Ideally, you will participate in all three O-lifting sessions throughout the week.  The O-lifting program does not include any metabolic conditioning, so, ideally, you will do at least two standard WODs during the week, in addition to the three O-lifting sessions.  The better you are at the O-lifts, the more these sessions will fatigue you.  If you are just learning the lifts, you could do up to four to five standard WODs during the week in addition to the three O-lifting sessions.  If you are a relatively experienced lifter, you will need to budget more time for recovery, meaning that you will be able to do fewer metabolic WODs during the week, probably two or three.  Please consult with me if you intend to do 2-a-day training as part of this program.

Training Philosophy and Goals:

Perfect practice makes perfect.

To oversimplify: the focus of Olympic lifting is training a violent, accurate “vertical jump” or hip and leg extension, which sends the barbell flying straight up in the air.  During our O-lifting sessions, Beginners will focus on:

  1. Developing the “vertical jump” (second pull) as a skill.  The vertical jump must be accurate (sending the bar in nearly perfect vertical path) and precise (sending the bar in nearly the same path every time)
  2. Developing requisite flexibility and joint mobility.  Having launched the bar into the air, the lifter must be able to catch or “receive” the bar in a position that is mechanically efficient and safe.

SCALING NOTE: This means that beginners will be scaling the prescribed workouts to do hang-power variations of movements (placing maximum emphasis on the second pull) until they attain the requisite flexibility to pull from the floor and receive the bar in a full squat.

Intermediate lifters will focus on:

  1. Developing the timing necessary to execute the full movements – i.e. the skill of accelerating the bar from the ground (first pull), and the skill of “pulling under” (third pull) to receive the bar in a full Olympic (or ass-to-ankles) squat.
  2. Developing the confidence necessary to begin lifting substantial weight.

The following training principles will apply to all Olympic-lifting workouts, no matter the level:

  • Workouts will not be timed.
  • Unless specified, rest intervals between sets will be as long as necessary.
  • Achieving perfect reps takes priority over finishing the prescribed number of reps or sets.
  • Achieving perfect reps takes priority over increasing the weight from week to week.
  • Achieving perfect reps takes priority over everything.

If you have any questions about this program, please post in the comments below.  If you feel the need to consult with me at any point during the program, don’t hesitate to send me an email: jon@crossfitcharlottesville.com


7 thoughts on “Olympic Lifting Program Introduction

  1. Awesome! About how long do you expect each class to be? Could someone train the 4:30 pm O-lifting class and the 5:30 pm CrossFit class? (Or should they?) Thanks so much.

    1. @Chris: In general, I am programming about 50 minutes of material, not including the warm-up (which, ideally, you will start on your own prior to the beginning of the session). In terms of timing, I think that you could do the classes back-to-back. In terms of optimal programming, I would not recommend doing classes back-to-back. If you’re bent on doing two-a-days, you should allow at least 3 hours (and a big meal) between workouts. Any less rest than that, and the second hour will be a complete waste of time. This advice goes for pretty much anyone who is able to Clean and Jerk more than their bodyweight.

  2. If we can only make it to one of these classes a week is it still okay to come?

    1. Folks are welcome to attend as many or as few classes as they like. Understand that your returns will be proportional to your level of investment.

      1. I’m once/week as well (at least until the crossfit games are over) due to other “investments” (i.e. work).

        It’s too bad this overlaps with the games, I’d love to do both but I assume that will be to the detriment of both workouts.

      2. unacceptable. i demand exponential returns.

  3. Sebastian B. Vaneria March 14, 2011 — 4:43 pm


    It’s pretty sweet that your gym is offering this type of programming. I’m jealous. Hope to see you guys soon.


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