Upper Body Mobility Exercises for the Olympic Lifts

by Gabby Haugh, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAWL1

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Background on the Olympic Lifts

The two Olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk. As defined by USA Weightlifting, the governing body of the sport of weightlifting in the United States, the snatch is a movement in which “the barbell is lifted from the floor to arm’s length overhead in one motion.” This movement is typically performed in under 2 seconds! 

In the clean and jerk, “the barbell is lifted overhead in two continuous motions – the clean, which brings the bar to the shoulders and the jerk in which the athlete raises the bar overhead.” 

In order to be performed optimally, both of these movements require tremendous mobility of multiple body regions. Impaired mobility in one or more areas, either as a result of injury or normal development, can lead to poor performance of the lifts. As a competitive weightlifter and a physical therapist, my goal is to help you gain and maintain mobility in order to perform at your best!

Who Is This For?

Before diving into specific mobility exercises, it’s important to cover who this is relevant for. The Olympic lifts are the movements performed when competing or training in the sport of weightlifting. However, these movements are primary components in the sport of Crossfit as well as generalized strength and conditioning. Even if you are not a competitive weightlifter, these mobility exercises can help you with your snatch and clean and jerk in any setting.

Upper Body Mobility Required for the Olympic Lifts

The three primary joints of the upper body that require mobility for the Olympic lifts are the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Additionally, the thoracic spine plays a role in overhead mobility. Limitations in these regions can contribute to a poor front rack position as well. Below are some common mobility issues seen for each of these joints:

  • Shoulders
    • Tight pec muscles
    • Tight latissimus dorsi muscle
    • Limited shoulder external rotation
  • Elbows
    • Unable to lock out
  • Wrists
    • Limited wrist extension
  • Thoracic Spine
    • Limited extension
    • Limited rotation

Exercises for Shoulder Mobility:

Standing Pec Stretch

To increase the intensity of this stretch, rotate your body away from the arm being stretched. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on both sides.

Banded Half Kneeling Lat Stretch

Make sure that the knee down is the same side as the arm being stretched. Let the band win and pull your arm. Drop your chest towards the floor for a bigger stretch. Hold for 1 minute on each arm.

PVC Pipe External Rotation Stretch

The hand that is reaching across to hold the bottom end of the PVC pipe is the one leading the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds on each side, repeat.

Exercises for Elbow Mobility:

Standing Biceps Stretch

Be sure to keep your elbow straight. The stretch is going to come from rotating your body away from the arm being stretched. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat, and perform on the other side.

Triceps Active Stretch on Wall

Perform 10 reps of active elbow extension and flexion. Then sink your armpit towards the wall to get a lat and triceps stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat and perform on the opposite side.

Exercises for Wrist Mobility:

Quadruped Wrist Extension Stretch

Be sure to keep your elbows straight and your palms touching the floor. If you feel your hands start to lift off of the floor, back off the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Perform a few wrist circles and then repeat.

Exercises for Thoracic Spine Mobility:

Foam Roll Thoracic Spine Extension Mobilization

Be sure to keep your legs relaxed and your bottom on the floor. Lean back as far as you can without your hips lifting from the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your neck and touch your elbows together under your chin to control your neck motion. Perform 2-3 extensions at each segment along your upper back.

Open Books with Foam Roll

The key is to make sure that your knee does not leave the foam roll. If you feel your knee lifting, you are rotating too far. The goal is not to touch your hand to the floor. It is just to go as far you can without losing foam roll contact. Perform 10 reps on each side and repeat.

By performing these exercises as a part of your warm-up or cool-down around your lifting sessions, you can help improve and keep your mobility so that you can perform at your best! If you feel like you need further help with your lifting technique or mobility, book an appointment with us!

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