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Clean and jerk: Train like an Olympian

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Q: I see a lot of people at the gym doing “Olympic lift” variations like the “hang clean” or the “barbell snatch.” Should I be including these exercises in my routine? If so, what areas do they target?

A: Several hybrid versions of the traditional Olympic lifts (clean and jerk/snatch) have become increasingly popular in recent years. Although these highly athletic movements have always been part of weight training, the popularization of CrossFit and other such training styles have brought them to the forefront in gyms everywhere.

The purpose of including these lifts in your regime is to develop explosiveness. In other words, you are training to move the load (barbell, etc.) in as short a time as possible to develop your ability to accelerate. The principle is the same as using jumping exercises, medicine ball throws or short sprints in order to get faster. This is the reason why competitive athletes have always used these movements.

As for muscle groups, the Olympic lifts target the entire body. This efficiency is yet another reason why these lifts have become so popular. (Athletes tend to think of training for speed in their sport more so than developing specific body parts.)

Mastering these highly complex lifts requires some practice and the direction of a specialized coach. After you consult a coach, try the lifts in an area of the gym designated for this type of lifting. Not everyone is qualified to perform these exercises—there is a risk of injury involved. Furthermore, due to their complexity they may not necessarily be the right choice for you if your goal is simply to develop a lean and fit physique.

You can get some of the same benefits of these lifts by including kettlebell swings into your routine. The powerful hip extension involved in the swing can be a much safer and easier way to develop your ability to move quickly.

Another simple version of a movement derived from the Olympic lifts that one can easily include is the overhead squat. By squatting with the barbell above your head with your arms extended, you will promote increased flexibility in your shoulder girdle and upper back. This is a simple movement, but still worthwhile. Get some instruction to make sure your technique is correct.

Have a question? Email Nichelle at

Nichelle Laus is the owner of Optimum Training Centre ( in Toronto, Ontario. A fitness and cover model, figure and bikini competitor, competition preparation and transformation coach for Team Laus (, she is a certified personal trainer, and kickboxing and kettlebell instructor. Nichelle is also a motivational speaker and proud mom of four boys under the age of eight.


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