T Nation

Learning the Olympic Lifts


Many of you have expressed interest in learning the Olympic lifts. Some of you may be lucky enough to have someone skilled in the lifts to teach you. But for many, this is not an option and reading a description or seeing a video of the movements isn't enough.

I have a suggestion. Try using a dumbbell or kettlebell and learn how to do them one-arm at a time. Using a dumbbell or kettlebell will make it much easier to learn and you will still have the same benefits. For more information, check out Coach D's article on the one-arm barbell snatch (but apply it to a dumbbell or kettlebell) or contact Mike Mahler (he also suggested this in an article he has written).

If you need more information, please feel free to ask questions on this thread.


Nate my good friend, I gotta disagree with you. As someone who has used both 1 arm and 'regular' O style lifts, they are similar but very different. Although the 1 arm is useful, I view them seperately as 2 handed requires a different coordination and other factors. Think westside v Olympic style squats for an eg.
If you are commencing O lifts, the first consideration is why? If you are competing you certainly need a vastly superior technique than an athlete wanting to benefit from inorporating them in your program. If competing then I suggest get a coach! If not you can 'muddle through' without one and use either hang or power lifts with great effect, both are realtively easy to learn.
Check out CT's money exercises and Other kind of Snatch artciles.


Not to gang-up on Nate, but I agree with the Hyphinator.



Although I agree with some of your info, I have to disagree as well.

Yes, if you want to compete in Olympic lifting, then by all means, you need to know how to do the barbell lifts correctly. If you are a high-level athlete, you may also want to have a properly trained coach teach you.

But for someone who wants many of the benefits of the Olympic lifts (explosive speed, power and strength), it can be safely done with a dumbbell or kettebell. Also, it is easier to learn how to do it with a kettlebell or dumbbell than it is to learn the power snatch or clean from the hang (using a barbell).

I'm only suggesting this as an alternative for those who are looking for some extra strength, mass and power, but without learning the Olympic lifts with a barbell.

I have used heavy dumbbell and kettlebell snatches with much success. Also, you won't have the same "fear" that you may experience when using the barbell.


Since I have, in my efforts to learn the Olympic lifts, cleaned a bar directly into my face and split my lower lip, I'd have to agree that learning with a dumbell would be both easier and safer. Of course, the fact that I'm an admitted clutz doesn't help. :wink:


doing the o-lifts using a dumbbell helped me learn the "unloading" feeling.

when i applied it to the barbell, learning the o-movements was easier.

you still have to learn the coordination and such with a barbell, but dumbbells can help with the feel aspect.


After almost 6 months of working on Oly lifts, I attempted power cleans with dumbells a few weeks ago just for fun and almost tossed them through a wall. I can't seem to go back. The feeling is so much different to me. Perhaps Nate is right and learning using a db or kb is helpful before you attmept with a barbell, but the other way around doesn't seem to work for me!


Olympic lifts with a bar and dumbell are completely different monsters. There are hardly any similarities at all. Infact, I don't even consider DB or Kettlebell olympic lifts as lower body exercises. Great for the shoulders and abs.


CGB,,,you gotta use more than the pink dumbbells in the corner :slight_smile:


I'm definitely not proposing that you use dumbbells or kettlebells as a complete replacement for the barbell variations.

My opinion is based on the fact that many bodybuilders could use these as an alternative to learning the Olympic movements so that they may benefit from the aforementioned benefits of the Olympic lifts.

Jeff, you are correct. The dumbbell and kettlebell won't have as much leg involvement, but if you are only doing the power versions of the Olympic lifts (with a barbell), then you aren't getting as much leg involvement then as well.

But, if you lift with a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell, you will feel the effects on your legs, back, shoulders, etc.

I have done heavy dumbbell snatches from the floor. I did feel it in my legs. But I wouldn't rely on them as a leg movement. I use them as an alternative and it does give a great workout.

The whole idea behind the dumbbell or kettlebell Olympic lift variations is to get yourself into the groove of doing highly accelerative lifts (F=ma) which can help increase strength and speed. These would be a good addition to a bodybuilding program (you will develop a nice back using these lifts) and even would be useful for some athletes who do not know how to do the Olympic lifts or for those who don't have a coach or someone skilled in teaching the lifts.

So the idea is to get similar benefits using an easier-to-learn variation.


Davies describes the one arm versions as finishing by driving the bell or bar through to the top; that's very different from the barbell version that requires getting under the bar then rising.


Wouldn't learning the barbell variations of the Olympic lifts such as power clean and power snatch be a better way of introducing oneself toward the Olympic technique?
As Hyphnz said they are easy to learn, and get you in the door without having to forgo the barbell for dumbbells or kettlebells.
Being someone that has yet to find a good coach for the Olympic lifts these have been the only way for me to get close to them.


Ok, as a person who could benefit from what y'all are talking about, perhaps someone could elaborate on the kettleball idea. HOW THE HECK is one supposed to hold that with one hand? is that what you're suggesting? i can understand the dumbells, and i'm considering that for a few O lifts i just can't do with a bar right now (OH squats and someday, snatch). but i don't think it's form that's my problem, i'm just a puny girl and the bar is too much for OH squats for me right now. what sort of tempo and number of reps would you suggest for learning these lifts?


As I see it, there are two major advantages to the barbell lifts:

  1. Increased loading potential. I can power clean 215. Anyone have a 215lb dumbell? I can't imagine how awkward (and unsafe) a 2x105lb DB clean would be.

  2. Increased involvement of the legs. I'll put the full versions of the snatch and C&J aside as they obviously involve the legs more than power versions with either BB or DB. While I think the full versions are tremendous training tools, I don't think they're necessary - or possible - for all athletes. The power versions with a DB are typically started from the hang, with limited hip and knee flexion. This limits the involvement of the leg muscles. The power clean with BB, and particularly the power snatch with BB, put the lifter in a position of much greater hip and knee flexion, and therefore aid the development of the leg musculature to a greater extent. Isometric strength in the torso is enhanced, and strength/power in the legs is developed through a greater ROM.


Cool, Seminole Chick said snatch... I love it when girls say that...
Oh yeah, I agree with Hyphnz here. They're not really comparable and I think you should have a different learning curve for both types. I tried doing exactly what Nate is suggesting when I wanted to start the O-lift hybrids, but I think it actually taught me bad habits. It sounds perfectly logical to go this route in theory, but it didn't work for me at all.
Also, I just like to disagree with Nate Dogg out of fun...


I'm one of those who discussed learning Oly lifts with Nate. No one in my gym does them, and I'd guess that no one knows how they are done.

I think Nate was saying for someone like me, it would be better use dumbbells, because it is easier to learn the movements with them. And that I could learn them through reading descriptions of the movements from some of the articles on T-Mag.


Jeff Rage,
I know how you feel, noone at my gym does anything remotely close to O lifts. Imagine being the only one, and on top of that being a girl. I get quite a few looks from the guys, and a few have even told me that it's intimidating... hahaha, i love that! i'm most worried about smashing a bar into someones face really, so i'm careful about where/when i lift because there is no good floor space.

i think perhaps dumbells can help me get strong enough to try the 45lb bar for some lifts. does anyone have a web page with examples of use of dumbells for O lifts? I'll do a search now myself.


Don't get me wrong, I'm not disagreeing with those of you who prefer the barbell lifts and the reasons for using them. I agree completely.

But as in the case of Jeff and Seminole Chick, they may be better off using a dumbbell or kettlebell because A) There is no one in their gym to teach them the Olympic barbell lifts B) It would be easier to learn with a dumbbell/kbell C) They will still get many of the same benefits as the barbell lifts.

When I first began learning the Olympic lifts, I had two people that taught me (we also competed together as a part of Team Florida - they still do). But there is a lot more to learn regarding technique when using the barbell. I found that doing one-arm cleans, jerks and snatches with a dumbbell or kbell worked very well and it was much easier to learn.

So in no way am I saying that it is better than the barbell, but for those who would like to use variations of the Olympic lifts without having someone teach them, then using dumbbells or kbells (one arm at a time) is a great alternative.

I believe the carryover will be almost as good without having the same learning curve. If you read CT's book, you will see that there is a chapter devoted to the Olympic lifts and many of the "form breaks" that occur when people learn them. Without being properly coached, you can easily ingrain bad form and find it very hard to correct in the future.

As for safety, I feel that using a dumbbell or kbell is much safer than the barbell variation, as I have also experience hitting myself in the chin or the top of my head while using a barbell, and my friends have also had busted chins and lips. The chances of this happening with a dumbbell or kbell is greatly reduced.

Also, I perform my one-arm movements from the floor, rather than the hang. This does recruit the legs, lower back, upper back, shoulders, arms, etc.

Again, I'm not saying that this is better than using the barbell variations, I'm only saying for those that do not have a coach or do not understand how to do them with a barbell, they can use a dumbbell or kbell and get many of the same benefits.

Try them for yourself and see!

Seminole chick, what is your goal? Mass or strength? If training for mass, I would suggest 2-4 sets of higher reps 8-10 using a moderate weight. If strength and explosive speed/power is your goal, I would suggest more sets, lower reps and more weight. You would want to focus on really exploding with the weight and "popping" the hips forward when you explode upward. I highly suggest reading Coach D's article "Grip and Rip" and applying it to the dumbbell or kbell.

As for the kbell, I enjoy using them. But they are much more difficult due to the thicker handle and the way the weight shifts when performing the lifts. As Pavel has stated, they add an element of "evil" to the lift, but the carryover is great.

By the way, I just ordered another kbell. It's time for me to step up from my 16kg (36lb) kbell to the 24kg (53lb) kbell. I'm looking forward to some heavy one-arm snatches and more!


Doing two reps with a 105lb DB isn't the same as doing a single with a 215lb bar anyway, obviously. Trying to do two-DB cleans? Well... let's just say I wouldn't try it either.


Doesn't this depend on what you're looking for?

Ike - I know you're fairly enthusiastic about Olympic lifts but you do seem to come from it from more of a Dreschler-like perspective in terms of purity of the classic lift. I've kind of garnered from other threads that you want the reps low and don't entirely approve of conditioning with them. However, Coach Davies has extensively advocated performing various derivations of the Olympic lifts with all sorts of objects. Obviously, for an Olympic lifter this isn't the best way to learn the most efficient technique, but for an athlete, who will probably be focusing less on load than on how explosive they can be during the lift - this might be useful. Ever see the pictures of Coach D doing Kbell cleans? He's airborne -- Word is is he can clean 340 with a barbell. Is it olympian? no.. but it is athletic.

Nate - I think it might be good to clarify what the intended goal of these learning efforts are. For those who do not see the olympic lifts as an end unto themselves, what benefits are being sought by doing O - Lifts? What is it that the lifter is learning to do that couldn't be done otherwise?
Maybe more importantly, what must the lifter be able to do BEFORE they start doing this type of lift?

I've struggled with learning the lifts for nearly a year now, and I'm taking a break from it for a while to get my body into better condition in terms of my flexibility and some bad-posture induced issues. I've always wished someone could come up with requisite requirements for things a person should be able to do before they attempt to perform exercises with additional loading. For example - "one should be able to squat with proper technique to beneath parallel holding a broomstick at the following tempo for x reps before attempting to introduce outside loads."

If TEK knows of the article, bring it on, but I've yet to find one in the last 4 years.