How to Warm Up for Olympic Weightlifting

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT

Warming up is essential for not only a productive workout, but for injury prevention as well. All athletes in every sport has a specific routine they go through to prepare their bodies for the physical demands of their practices. It no different in Olympic Weightlifting. Many beginners may not see the benefit of warming up or don’t know how to go about warming up properly.  Here are some important considerations when constructing an optimal individualized warm up routine.

  • Joint sparing
  • Raise the Body Temperature
  • Specific activation of key muscle groups
  • Skill prep

The beginning of the warm up should include joint sparing moves that take joints through their full range of motion with low compressive loads. Moving the joints around for a few minutes helps to change the viscosity of the synovial fluid surrounding the joints, allowing it to be more of a lubricant. It has to be low load as the body’s tolerance at this point is lower than where it needs to be. Rapid and ballistic stretching wouldn’t be appropriate at this point as these are stretches that can be particularly stressful on the tissues. They rapid motions cause reflexive contractions of the stretched muscle that may lead to even more restricted ranges of motion. Here’s some general recommendations to accomplish this portion of the warm up:

  • Cat-camel’s
  • Bird-dog’s
  • Dead-bug poses

After some light movement of the body, the next goal of the warm up should be to literally “warm-up”. There are a number of performance benefits to physically raising the body temperature including better blood flow, electrolyte circulation within muscles, nerve conductivity, tissue compliance, and power output. I like using really general dynamic warm-up moves that are common amongst all sports to accomplish this portion of the warm up. One’s own body weight should be sufficient for this. 2 rounds of  4-6 different exercises  should be plenty.  Here are my go-to dynamic exercises:

  • Inchworms
  • World’s greatest stretch
  • 5 cone reach
  • Quad pull into walking lunge
  • Face pulls with a band or light weights on a cable machine

After some general movement to get the body heated up, the athlete should go through some more specific prep. This portion can be highly individualized as every athlete needs to focus on different things. Some athletes need more focused work on activating their hips or shoulders for stability, while others like to do some jumps or explosive work to prime their bodies for powerful movements. Each athlete should create their own that they feel works for them best to prime their bodies up for the Olympic lifts to follow.  It’s common to use various bands, light weights, and body weight for this part of the warm up. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Side lying external rotation for the shoulder
  • Femur external/internal rotation in half side- plank for hips
  • Bottoms up KB carry for more shoulders
  • Box jumps
  • Broad jumps
  • Medial/lateral hops over a small box

After specifically priming important areas now it’s finally time to move to the barbell to do some skill work.  This is another area that is specific to the lifter where they will work on a specific aspect of a lift before they start loading more weight. Athletes can do anywhere between 2-4 sets of barbell work focusing on one or two technique aspects that they want to carry over into that particular training session. This will help rehearse the movement at full speed and complete the warm up needed for heavier Olympic lifting. The extra focus on a particular aspect of a lift can help to refine the lifter’s technique and drive home important biomechanical concepts for improvement. Some examples of this might be something like this:

  • Snatch pull +snatch
  • Pause Jerk in the dip and split
  • Tall snatch/clean
  • Muscle snatch + Overhead squat
  • No-foot snatch or clean