Top 5 Warm Up Exercises For Olympic Weightlifting
We all know the sport of olympic weightlifting is extremely difficult. It is hard, hard. Like new game plus difficulty levels. There are a whole bunch of movement patterns that need to be mastered for technical precision. There is a whole bunch of stress that is put upon the joints of the body: knees, elbows, shoulders, hips and ankles to name a few. There is also a lot of strength work that goes into the sport of olympic weightlifting.
The accumulation of the movement patterns, technical proficiency, joint stress and the labors of strength gainz leads into the fact that olympic weightlifting athletes got to warm up properly. Coaches have to make sure their lifters warm up; athletes have to make sure that they do the warm up as optimally as possible.
To start, the athlete needs to be able to handle all the different stress that revolves around the sport of olympic weightlifting. Again, there are a ton of different factors that go into it.
Let’s take a step back and answer a few questions.
What do we even need to warm up for? Why do we need to warm up?
To start, we’ve got to think about joint mobilization patterns. Athletes need to realize that in the sport of olympic weightlifting, we’ve got to have really mobile ankles. Athletes also got to have a really mobile thoracic spine. Those two factors are pivotal for the various positions that the athlete needs to hit. In addition, athletes benefit from having very mobile lats so that their shoulders can hit different positions. If that wasn’t enough demand upon mobility, athletes need to be really mobile in their lower backs so they can hit deep positions throughout their hips as well.
Essentially, it boils down to joint mobilization being a key factor behind warming up. Now, once the athlete starts to feel and work through the positions, they can then start to hit different, better positions--optimal positions--in the warm up. These optimal positions simulate the actual positions the athlete wants to hit in the actual training session while doing the competitive movements. This triggers athletes’ mental aspects and cognitive abilities during the warm up to carry through can bridge the warm up with the actual training session.
Let’s take a walk across that bridge and take a look at the top five warm ups for olympic weightlifting.
5. Overhead Split Squat
First thing we recommend when doing this warm up movement is to start with a little bit more narrow of a grip, something along the lines of a clean grip. Taking the clean grip in the overhead position will immediately start to wake up the upper back. Lifters will start to feel the upper back and lats opening up. That’s good for joint mobilization patterns involved in the sport.
Now the athlete needs to get into that split squat position. There is a catch though. If the lifter typically jerks with their right foot forward in the split, we recommend they start doing the split squat with their right foot back! We recommend this because putting the non-dominant limb forward will help wake up the posterior chain on the non-dominant side, and it’s going to help wake up the lower back on the athlete’s non-dominant side. Things don’t stop there with the wake up calls for the non-dominant side there though, the thoracis on that side is hearing that rooster crow as well.
As a result of starting with the non-dominant side, when the athlete switches to putting their dominant foot forward they will be able to feel positions and joint mobilization a little bit more effectively.
Typically we recommend when doing an overhead split squat that the lifter does two to three sets for five to six reps on each side.
And just be clear: do the non-dominant leg forward first. That is going to be key to warming up the hips, thoracic spine and the body overall.
4. Side Band Walks
All of the movements we utilize and recommend for olympic weightlifters to use warming up can be done in the gym, can be done while traveling and, most importantly, can be done regularly when going to compete. That’s a big thing. That’s a key factor behind good warm ups. Good warm ups are things that can be done all the time so that it is repeatable and relatable to the situation.
A familiar warm up is a must. When the body and mind become familiar with the warm up, so that when the athlete is competing, doing the exact same warm up they feel really good. It makes the rehearsal for the performance on the competitive platform feel routine. It creates an inner confidence, signaling to the athlete, “Been here. Done that,” so that they are ready to go.
Side band walks are simple. Very simple for that matter. The band can be put just above the knee or just below the knee. With the band positioned, the lifter can walk forward with the knees striding wide, or the lifter can even walk side to side in a shuffle pattern (just make sure to shuffle back leading with the trail leg so the other side gets treated as well).
This movement is going to wake up the glute mead. It’s going to wake up the posterior chain, and it’s going to wake up the quads quite a bit as well. Side band walks are also going to help the lifter get a little bit more activity to get the blood flowing for joint mobilization and muscle activation.
We recommend doing side band walks for two to three sets for seven to nine reps in each direction--that way each leg gets what it needs.
3. Snatch Press In The Hole
In a training session for olympic weightlifting, typically the snatch movement is going to be the first movement executed. By warming up with the snatch press in the hole, the athlete needs to establish their snatch grip and start at the top, standing tall with the barbell overhead. Then bring that bar down to the neck and lower the hips down into a nice, secure ass to grass squat, allowing the knees to track over the toes. From there, the lifter needs to apply tension and force through the foot first. The lifter needs to think about applying force through the front portion, mid portion and heel of the foot in an effort to establish the catch position. Now, with the bar on the shoulders, the lifter drives the bar overhead. The bar should go directly to where it needs to be when catching a snatch.
The lifter needs to make sure that when they drive up they have their scaps retracted, hugging the spine while simultaneously applying force into the heel, toes and midfoot. Tension needs to be being felt all the way from the hands, down through the thoracic spine, into the lumbar, through the hips, onto the quads and grounding with the feet. The lifter needs to feel those positions!
That’s the key with the snatch press in the hole--this movement establishes a strong snatch catch position. And if the athlete can feel that in their warm up, it is going to transfer over to their training session.
We recommend doing this movement for three sets of five reps. Make sure it isn’t too taxing, but make sure that it is being felt and triggering kinesthetic awareness with the position.
Now if the athlete is really tight in their thoracic and can’t get down in the hole, do this movement standing by bringing the barbell right below their neck and then drive, press and lock out those elbows.
2. Reciprocation Point Pause Snatch
When a lifter is pulling off the floor, they want their knees to track back and the shins to get vertical. As the bar comes to no man’s land, the part of the pull that is just below and above the knee, and the bar gets to the reciprocation point, the exit point of no man’s land. More specifically, the reciprocation point is the part in the pull where we see the knees flex forward. Ideally the chest stays forward and the heels stay grounded while the reciprocation of the knees occurs. This is a key, technical opponent all lifters and coaches need to understand.
The reason why we really like to do reciprocation point pause snatches as a warm up is that the lifter is ingraining technical movement, waking up the posterior chain, through pulling off the floor, feeling the hamstrings as the knees are being brought back and then feeling the quads flex forward into the pause at the reciprocation point.
The pause is where the magic really happens.
The pause is going to light up the back like an Xmas tree. Think about the research of Dr. Stuart McGill and how it has shown that the lower back responds very, very well to isometric contractions. Waking up the lower back by pausing just above the knee at the reciprocation point, the lifter’s lower back is going to be a little bit more aware, a heightened sense of the position even. Pausing for o-n-e, t-w-o, t-h-r-e-e and then snatch!
The reciprocation point pause snatch is nice and easy. It’s not crazy. Do two to three sets of three to four reps. If a lifter has never done this, they will feel it in their hamstrings, quads and lower back. It’s also going to help loosen up joints, and it is going to help create positional awareness to improve technique.
1. PVC Pipe Walks
This is our favorite warm up movement of all time.
This is one of the most challenging movements to be done. We have all our athletes at Garage Strength do this movement (throwers, wrestlers, football players, 9-5ers, etc.). But we especially love it for our olympic weightlifters.
We have to remember that in the sport of olympic weightlifting the force of the movement is starting in the foot. If the lifter has an active front foot, the toes are grabbing, the foot can begin to operate like hands. We want this! If our toes are grabbing the ground and the pad on the foot is also applying pressure, with the heel acting as the thumb, the lifter is now grabbing the ground and applying pressure. They are being more active.
Science tells us that sprinters who have more active big toes and pinky toes can run faster because they can apply more force. It is the same thing in olympic weightlifting!
If the lifter does pvc pipe walks and thinks about grabbing the pipe walking forward and backwards, they will be waking up their nervous system, kinesthetic awareness and balance through a movement that is not stable. This unstable movement pattern will wake lifters feet up, strengthen the feet and lead to a greater sense of awareness. If done right, this heightened awareness can be applied to benefit the lifter throughout the training session.
Added bonus: lifters who don’t have strong feet and are not grabbing the floor, as seen in lifters who’s toes pop or lifters that tend to rock forward early, pvc pipe walks are an easy tool to fix the technical problem and strengthen the foot to feel more stable when pulling off the floor.
We recommend doing this movement for a distance of a lifting platform forwards and backwards twice for two to three sets.
Warming up is a must. Joint mobilization and the feeling of the various positions the lifts require is paramount to a productive training session or a podium level competition. Olympic weightlifting athletes needs to make sure their ankles are warm, their thoracic is tuned up, the lats are rackable and the lumbar, hips and knees are oiled up.
Utilize overhead split squats using a clean grip, making sure to place the non-dominant leg forward first. Don’t forget to get the glutes going with side band walks and sinking deep into a squat to do some snatch presses in the hole to coordinate the body from the feet to the hands. Do reciprocation point pause snatches to make sure that lower back is good to go.
And, most importantly, remember to take off the shoes and walk on a pvc pipe to create kinesthetic awareness and strengthen the feet first. Then go and sling some kilos overhead!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.