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Olympic Lifting….what’s the big deal?

Oly floor colourful

We’ve all seen and heard about Olympic Lifting, but not many people are entirely sure what it is. Most people envision beefy looking men and women, usually from somewhere eastern European, grunting as they heave up buckling barbells, leaving powdered clouds of chalk behind. Either that or some moustauchioed dude in leopard print underpants doing something like this:

onearmmilitarypress

Both are accurate in a way, but modern Olympic Lifting is broadening its horizons, and is no longer only reserved for a few elite athletes. Or occasional circus strongmen!

Olympic Lifting has become more widespread recently due to a rise in it’s use in gym programs like CrossFit, and this has made learning the techniques more accessible to the everyday gym goer. Olympic Lifting involves heaving large amounts weight from the floor to over your head in one swift movement, or a series of movements. As you can probably tell, if performed incorrectly, it can cause injury, and can be quite dangerous. That’s why it’s important to find a fully trained coach, who can break down the moves for you, show you, and teach them to you from the ground up, in a safe and effective way.

The main Olympic Lifts are the Snatch:

Andrei_Rybakou snatch

And the clean and jerk:

Oly Lift Svetlana Podobedova_2012

There are loads of derivations of these moves, but for now we’ll keep it to these two main moves.

People ask me all the time why I do so much Olympic Lifting, surely I’m strong enough? Whilst the answer is yes, I am strong (I could always be stronger though!) Olympic Lifting is about so much more than strength. It’s about timing, speed, flexibility, power, core strength, precision, and more than anything, it has such amazing…..finesse. NOT something you would expect to be associated with heaving massive barbells about! When executed properly, an Olympic Lift has an astounding combination of power and poetry, it is almost a work of art. I spend so much time lifting because I want to perfect this art, and become more powerful in the sport I play. However strong you think you are, it will be nothing compared to the rock you will be carved from when you start Olympic Lifting.

Olympic Lifting is the ultimate in plyometrics (increasing central nervous system speed), and refines the muscle you have built to be fast and powerful. I have seen competitive bodybuilders unable to overhead squat an empty bar, purely from lacking the core strength, precision and power to perform the move. This is most likely a one off, but it just shows that big muscles are not always the most powerful. No point in driving a Ferrari if it’s got a Reliant Robin engine! Olympic Lifting can fit right into your workout, or can be performed once a week to ensure the body you are sculpting is strong as well as beautiful. Whether you’re a regular gym user who just wants to get stronger, a weekend warrior at football, netball, or rugby, a semi-pro athlete, or a professional sports person, Olympic Lifting can benefit almost everyone who wants to up their game. So the question is, when will you start Olympic Lifting?

Which comes first…. cardio or weights?

Ah, the age old question! You get to the gym, lace your trainers up, grab your water and your towel and head to the gym floor. But there’s so many machines….where do you start? Most people don’t have time to slog it out at the gym five days a week, and switch between upper, lower, and cardio, so how do you fit it all in, AND make sure you get the benefits of both?

Scientists used to think that it was all dependant on how tired you are; if you go for a 5K run first, you won’t be able to lift as much because of the lactic acid build up and general fatigue. But what about sports people who need to be fast, powerful and explosive, all at the same time?

Simple. It’s all down to enzymes. Research has shown that when completing exercise, either cardio or weight training, a protein called AMP Kinase is released. This protein determines whether a  workout session will be set to produce hypertrophy (bigger muscles) or increased cardiovascular function. Unfortunately, it can’t do both! Dependant on which activity is completed first, the sequence of cellular activation determines whether AMP Kinase is activated to produce bigger guns, or increased cardio function. But this means that you can’t do cardio and weights in the same day, right? True, if you’re training for a 10K or a bodybuilding competition. But most people kind of just want to look good and feel healthy. This isn’t to say there will no benefit whatsoever to you doing both on the same day, the effect just won;t be as substantial. So what’s the answer?

It’s easy to build in a small amount of cardio into every workout, just by putting it in your warm up. Ideally you should be aiming to get the blood pumping at an above average heart rate for a least 5 minutes before picking up anything heavy, and you can always finish your workout with a hardcore four minute High-Intensity Tabata style row (20 seconds all out rowing, followed by 10 seconds rest, and repeat seven more times, completed three times a week). Researchers at the McMaster University, Ontario, have found this to have a similar health benefits as people who do moderate exercise for up to an hour a day.

If you’re doing sport specific training, and want to be fast, strong, explosive, and be able to keep going for a whole match/game/bout, it’s best to warm up properly, then do weights and plyometrics on one day, and cardio on another. If there’s not enough time to split up your workouts in that way, a good bit of High Intensity Interval Training, like the Tabata round above, will definitely give your cardio system something to think about! For help, advice or training in weightlifting or Sports Specific training, feel free to drop me an email to hi@alexvalentinept.co.uk, or use our contact form.

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