Weightlifting is back in the limelight in India. Indian athletes, led by Olympic silver medallist Mirabai Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Sheuli, bagged gold medals as India reeled in a total of 10 medals (three silver and four bronze) in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham, UK.
After such a showing, there is going to be plenty of interest in the sport and even more questions as to how someone can so easily lift weights more than double their own weight. Chanu performed the snatch with 88kg and the clean and jerk with 113kg, which is 2.3 times her body weight. Lalrinnunga, who competes in the 67kg category, pulled off a snatch of 140kg, well over twice his weight, and a clean and jerk of 160kg (2.38 times his own weight), setting a Commonwealth Games record for the combined lift. As for Sheuli, who weighs in at 73kg, the snatch was 143kg and the clean and jerk was 170kg (2.3 times his weight).
Now, you might not be competing in weightlifting as a sport, and might not want to attempt lifting such heavy weights, but they can very easily be assimilated into your workout routine. Since they are compound movements, they would do wonders for your fitness, strength and muscle gain as well. Both movements include multiple moves such as deadlift, high pull, squat, overhead squat (for snatch), and push jerk. Mere strength is not enough. You need flexibility, mobility, a full range of motion, explosive power, technique and balance in order to pull off the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Both moves are extremely scientific, and anyone remotely interested in a challenging workout is likely to get hooked to them. Most people would encounter these moves in CrossFit, where these two movements are an integral part of the training programme. About 90% of your time is spent in training the accessory movements which build the requisite skill and ability to perform the two big moves, says AK Abhinav, coach and founder of Namma X-Fit in Bengaluru. “Only after your performance on the accessory movements are refined, you attempt the full movement to test your skill,” he says.
Typically, people start out on a PVC pipe and spend hours working on technique before progressing to an empty barbell. Only once you can perform the movements with proper technique with the empty barbell, should you go on and start adding weights. Training this way reduces the incidence of niggles and injuries and the full movement is performed very sparingly while still building your strength, explains Abhinav. However, special care must be given to technique and intensity and the athlete should not be rushed into lifting too heavy too soon, he warns.
Olympic lifting involves a lot of neuromuscular coordination and muscular involvement, which makes it more potent than any other weight-based training programme, adds Abhinav. “Since weightlifting emphasizes overall fitness, you will realise that it leads to increased muscle mass and a drop in body fat. It also vastly improves general athletic capacity so that you can perform better in your weekend sports. Since you make significant gains in muscle strength and flexibility, you also become less prone to injuries,” he says.
Weightlifting can help you broaden your understanding of fitness instead of accepting the social definition and also teaches you to be happy with the relationship with your body and adopt a healthier approach to body image. For example while lifters in the lower weight categories such as Chanu, Lalrinnunga and Sheuli are lean, ripped and devoid of fat, those competing in the heavier weight categories are definitely not going to be the same. They are big and often don’t have any abs to flaunt. But they are fit, flexible, strong and have great balance. When it comes to lifting they can move much heavier loads than the athletes in the lower weight categories.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.