What Muscles are Trained in the Olympic Weightlifting Movements?
‘Hey! I saw you doing that snatch looking thing from across the gym. I just wanted to ask… what muscles are you working?’ said a curious gym-goer at your local aesthetics-improving facility.
In short, the main muscles you’ll work are your legs, trunk and arms.
Hold on a minute… but that’s basically everything!
Yes, you’d be right in assuming that. In fact, if we placed electrodes on your various parts of your body (this is how they measure muscle activation), you’d probably find that almost every part of your body is ‘used’ during the Olympic Weightlifting movements.
Does this mean that I should use the Olympic Weightlifting movements as a way to train my entire body? Perhaps. However, if your primary goal is to ‘work’ a particular muscle group – then there are better movements than the snatch or clean and jerk.
So then, what is the utility of the Olympic Weightlifting movements?
The utility of these movements changes depending on the paradigm at which you view it. Training does not have to be purely for the reason of ‘training’ a particular muscle, although this is the primary reason many people train.
If we were to look at the Olympic Weightlifting movements from the perspective of technical mastery, then our reason for training completely changes. Just as there is no apparent reason why we would want to become experts at playing the darts, aside from the fact that there is something intrinsically satisfying about hitting bulls-eye, there is something about the Olympic Weightlifting movements that satisfies the same neuro-circuitry.
There is however a key physical difference between darts and Olympic Weightlifting. The physical characteristics required to achieve technical mastery at darts is drastically different from those required in Olympic Weightlifting. In order to lift progressively heavier weights, we must build strength properties that benefit this skill. That is, it is in our best interest to become stronger in movements that specifically relate to our sport. This could be in the form of shoulder presses, deadlifts, squats and rows. An improvement in these qualities maximises our ability to hit bulls-eye in Olympic Weightlifting.
So you see, the degree to which we are able to execute Olympic Weightlifting movements well is assisted by the pursuit of becoming stronger in the ‘strength’ versions of these lifts. This is why you will observe professional Olympic Weightlifters doing ridiculous loads for the squat, deadlift and presses.
The muscles that Olympic Weightlifters build are a reflection of the training demands placed upon them. It is no secret that Olympic Weightlifters have very developed back, leg and trap musculature. Their ‘chest’ is comparatively less. This is because the pecs are recruited relatively less in the Olympic Weightlifting movements compared to the ‘developed’ muscles you see. If you couple this with the fact that the accessory ‘strength’ lifts used are in relation to the skill, then you will see why Olympic Weightlifters don’t have typically ‘built’ chests like bodybuilders and powerlifters do.
If your goal is to train a particular muscle, then traditional bodybuilding methods are the way to go. However, in the event that you would like to pursue a complex skill that benefits from the integration of strength training, then you might enjoy Olympic Weightlifting.