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Beyond Awesome Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

9 Reasons Every Woman Should Try Olympic Weightlifting

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Olympic weight training for women is on the rise. USA Weightlifting, the national governing body for Olympic weightlifting, has seen the number of female members double since 2014. Plus, "more fitness facilities are accommodating the growing interest in weight training," says Anthony Wall, director of education at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "For women, Olympic weightlifting is a relatively new style of training and the practice will evolve as more women adopt it."

This burgeoning interest can be largely attributed to the mainstream popularity of CrossFit, which incorporates elements of this type of lifting into its workouts. "We are definitely seeing a growing number of CrossFit defectors getting into Olympic weightlifting, and many of them are women," says Ryan Hopkins, co-owner of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. "For some people, CrossFit can get extreme with the repetition and they may not have the recovery ability necessary to keep up with the program. But they love the Olympic weightlifting aspect of it. I think we are going to see this happening more." Read on to learn why that's awesome news.

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Olympic Weight Training 101

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Olympic weightlifting consists of two types of lifts: the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Both are overhead lifts and involve a full body range of motion. The goal is to lift maximum weight at a rapid speed using a barbell.

To do a snatch, start with your feet hip-width apart in a squat position. Lift the weight up past your legs to your chest. Then, shrug your shoulders and pull yourself under the bar, going into a full squat. As the bar passes your head, push it and straighten up — all in one motion.

The clean and jerk is two motions. Start by bending over and grabbing the bar with a shoulder-width grip. Drop your hips into a squat position with a flat back and straight arms flat. Lift to your shoulders, pause, then jerk or thrust the bar overhead and straighten arms again.

Speed is what sets Olympic weightlifting apart from powerlifting. Powerlifting segments the lifts into the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift and the movement can be done slower as the lifter increases weight. But with Olympic lifting, the lift combines several of these movements into the snatch, and the clean and jerk into one, quick, fluid motion. "A lot of women love it, because unlike power lifting, which is picking something up, squatting, or benching, this is a lot more artistic," says Hopkins. "The snatch is very technical, and when it's done well, it's a really beautiful thing to watch."

The benefits of spending 30 minutes twice a week working on your clean and jerk form can yield impressive results. Here are just a few of the reasons to give picking up some serious weights a try.

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Reason #1: You'll sculpt a leaner, tighter body.

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Let's start with a benefit that will clarify the biggest misconception about Olympic weightlifting. Training with heavy weights will not make you look bulky (unless you combine your weight training with a significant increase in calorie consumption and supplements). In fact, most Olympic weightlifters have a body type that resembles that of sprinters.

According to several studies, Olympic weightlifting increases lean body mass and reduces body fat percentage. Olympic lifting focuses on coordination and speed, building strength more slowly and creating lean muscle.

"Olympic weight training is not like body building where you are forcing your muscle to grow," says Sean Waxman, owner of Waxman's Gym in Los Angeles. Waxman, a nationally competitive Olympic weightlifting coach, says women make up 50 percent of general membership at his gym and more than half of his competitive team.

Reason #2: It's a full-body workout.

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Olympic lifts aren't just good for your core. You'll work your back, arms, and shoulders, too. One of the unique benefits of Olympic weightlifting is the efficiency of the training—you get a full-body workout in a recommended 20- to 30-minute session.

"A lot of sports are segmented but Olympic weightlifting uses your whole body at once," say Hopkins. "The deadlift, catching the barbell in a front squat, and pushing it over your head all in one movement requires the use and coordination of all your muscle groups."

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Reason #3: Your core will be stronger than ever.

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These lifts are killer for your core. "Nothing is more intense on your abs, legs, and butt than when you catch a barbell on your shoulders in a clean and jerk," says Hopkins.

The farther you move weight away from your core, the more strain it puts on your midsection to stabilize. When you do a snatch, a heavy load is as far away from your body as it can get.

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Reason #4: You'll be motivated to take better care of your body.

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A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, and a former U.S. Army surgical nurse, has been incorporating the snatch and the clean and jerk into her weight training routine for three years. In addition to increasing her endurance, she has also noticed the training led to a heightened appetite. "But because most of my body weight consists of muscle, I can eat more calories a day because my body will burn it off," she says. "I've also found that because I feel and look good, I'm motivated to eat well, too."

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Reason #5: You'll supercharge your other workouts.

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Lifting heavy weights at a quick pace using a full body range of motion requires all your muscle fibers to work together to produce the power your body needs. This improves your overall speed and coordination.

"Olympic weightlifting is a very rapid up to immediate down," says Hopkins. "Your muscles go from being fully tense in one direction to fully relaxed in the other direction as fast as possible. Your nervous system has to fire at a very rapid rate—improving sprinting, jumping, and other movements."

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Reason #6: You'll improve your bone health.

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Olympic weightlifters have a higher bone mineral density than average healthy people. Because women have an increased risk of osteoporosis, this is important for long-term health.

Reason #7: Lifting ridiculously heavy stuff is cool.

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"When you get stronger and more aware of your body, your feel more able in life," says Heather Farmer, a nationally ranked Olympic weightlifter and coach at Solace New York. "You get a huge sense of empowerment. When you can lift your own body weight over your head, what can't you do?"

Farmer says she's noticed a big improvement in her own self-esteem as well as in the self-esteem of the women she trains. The discipline and confidence developed in this type of training carries over into all aspects of their lives.

Marsden agrees and says, "Lifting has given me a confidence that I haven't experienced with other sports. I feel strong and that gives me the confidence to try new things, such as rock climbing with my brother or surfing with my husband."

Reason #8: It's safer than you might think.

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When you see a barbell racked with 100 pounds, you may think trying to lift that over your head might end up with you killing yourself in any number of ways. But the truth is, when done correctly, Olympic weightlifting causes fewer injuries than Major League Baseball and many other sports.

According to Farmer, poor form and hesitation are the biggest causes of injuries. She advises women just starting out to take the time to learn how to properly miss a lift and to focus on the basics of form before adding weight to the barbell.

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Reason #9: Olympic lifting is a mental workout, too.

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Farmer, who started Olympic weightlifting five years ago, says what sets this type of exercise apart from other fitness and athletic activities is the sense of accomplishment she gets from improving her technique. "I equate Olympic lifting to playing the piano," she says. "It requires a high level of skill, and even at the most elite levels of Olympic weightlifting, you never stop refining your skills."

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