Okay I just can not take it anymore! Well that's always a great way to start into a blog post, but really I am fed up and I have kept my fingers immobile long enough. It is time to address the olympic lifts and the performance of these lifts and their derivatives in commercial gyms.
I am going to take a huge leap and make the hypothesis that the increase in frequency of people I have seen attempt to perform an O-lift and the rising popularity of crossfit are directly correlated considering the crossfit methodology makes use of both olympic lifts and their variations. I am not ostracizing crossfit for doing so I think its wonderful that they have generated such interest in a forgotten discipline, but I am upset that some affiliates allow their crossfitters to perform olympic lifts and their variations with terrible form, in a competitive atmosphere with load.
Instead of stopping to correct improper technique or correctly progressing individuals toward either o-lift it is preferred to demonstrate the lift in in 10-15mins get in a few quick warm-up reps and start throwing load on from the get go. It is highly irresponsible and I cannot imagine watching a client of mine perform an exercise with awful form and continue to cheer them on. TREASON I SAY!
I am tired of watching people who can't move well attempt to perform a snatch or clean and jerk or something that resembles either lift. Both are heavily steeped in technique and should only be loaded after many repetitions practicing the mechanics and if possible having a good strength coach or trainer overseeing the learning process.
I am not writing this to shame the individuals who have taken up the O-lifts, but rather to condem the atrocious technique that has been demonstrated and circulated by supposed knowledgable individuals, especially those calling themselves coaches.
I am not going to argue that olympic lifts need to only be used in athletic population or upon request because it is an argument that is futile against the wave of interest sweeping through commercial gyms
Rather I want to help those wanting to incorporate these lifts into their programs by sharing the proper technique for the olympic lifts.
Feats of human strength long predate the modern world. Strength has been a desirable quality from the beginning of time. Strength even takes major roles in mythology in stories such as Hercules and Atlas.
It is impossible to estimate the first ever competition involving weightlifting, but the first documented organized weightlifting competition began in Europe during the late 1800's with the first world champion crowned in 1891.
Weightlifting appeared in the first olympic games in 1896 and then went on hiatus until 1904 when it reappeared again in the games. These early years of competition were much different then what we seen today with divisions based on height and weight as well as categories split into lifters who used one hand and those who used two hands.
By 1932 though five weight divisions were established and three disciplines (lifts) comprised the competition: press, snatch, and clean-and-jerk. But in 1972 the press was eliminated from competition leaving the snatch and clean-and-jerk as the only two lifts in the sport. In 2000 the sport took another step forward with the debut of the women's competition in Sydney, Australia.
Before diving into the the technique and execution of both lifts let me preface my instructions with the following statements:
1. Before beginning any exercise program or sport it is important to be completely screened for any structural, functional, or systematic abnormalities and receive clearance from a medical clinician when appropriate.
2. Everyone can perform olympic lifting. But not everyone should. Many individuals do not move extremely well do to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. It is important that you obtain the proper prerequisite mobility and stability before under taking any specific lift especially those involving high loads at high velocities.
3. These lifts are both high risk and high reward activities. There are plenty of other modalities that can give you the same training effect without ever having to hoist a loaded barbell from the floor to an overhead position. I simply mean to share the proper way to execute these lifts due to the large amounts of individuals I have observed trying to perform them and failing horribly.
4. Just like with any thing in health and fitness opinions differ and I am by no means the guru of olympic lifting. There are others out their who know more and may teach or instruct the lifts differently. That is fine. I am sharing how I was coached and how I coach others to do them (which is few due to my client base). I do however feel I have a strong grasp on proper technique and I continue to study the sport regularly.
5. My following instructions are guidelines and principles. They are not rigid rules. Everyone will usually look a bit different performing either lift. Some have wider stances and grips. Some stop their feet into the platform, other's foots do not leave the ground. But there are guiding principles of technique and if you watch anyone who does perform these lift correctly you can see them.
6. No one should ever start olympic lifting by learning the clean and the snatch first. You should begin with simpler variations and progress up to the full movements. For example working on the hang clean first, then the power clean, and then the full clean.
Okay in actual olympic competition the clean is accompanied by a Jerk at the top, but I rarely see many people in the gym doing the full clean-and-jerk. Rather it is usually just the initial clean, so that is the particular aspect of the lift I am going to discuss.
Traditionally olympic lifts are done with rubber bumper plates which are all the same circumference putting the bar at the perfect height, but if you are using traditional metal plates to clean with you need to make sure that the bar is at the same height it would be if it had a forty-five pound plate on each side. You can use stacks of plates or blocks to rise the bar higher if you are beginning with smaller metal plates. But typically the bar will come to just below mid-shin in the start position.
Stance width is mostly preference based. I have my clients begin with a stance similar to the width that they use to front squat. Grip width should be shoulder width or slight outside the shoulders. In addition you should be gripping the bar with a hook grip. Below is a picture showing an example of this specific grip. It will take time to get used to, but this grip will give you the ability to clean large loads.
Once you have adjusted your stance and grip to the appropriate widths you can begin to assume the start position. Your knees should be inside your elbows. Your arms should be straight and completely locked out with your knuckles facing the ground. Bend you knees and squeeze your hips down so that you hips are below your chest and your shoulders are over the bar. The bar should be right up against your shins. Below is a picture of the correct set-up.
This refers to the initial movement from the ground until the bar passes above the knee. This pull should be slower and more controlled then the subsequent second pull. Primary goal is to stay in good position while gaining momentum.
To initiate this first pull you should think of driving through your heels while keeping your full foot in contact with the platform. Do not I repeat do not lift your toes in order to drive through your heels. As you are driving through your heels you should be lifting the load from the floor by extending the knees. I like to think about getting my knees out of the way of the bar. But your torso should maintain the same relation to the ground. The initial pull finishes when the bar is just above the knee and you are nearing full extension in the knees. This position will resemble the bottom of a romanian deadlift. Remember to bring the bar back toward you as you extend the knees making sure it stays as close to your body as possible. Below is a picture of correct position following the first pull.
This the most aggressive and violent motion during the movement. It begins with the bar just above the knees and ends when the athlete fully extends the hips.
If you are looking at yourself from the side your body should form a triangle at the beginning of the second pull. The triangle is made by your hips shoulders and the bar above the knees. Below is a correct triangle position before initialing the second pull.
To initiate the second pull begin driving your hips forward toward full extension. As the bar approaches mid-thigh you are doing to rebend the knees to produce a scooping action. This movement is important to translate the power being produced by your hips vertically instead of horizontally.
You will then finish the second pull by fully extending the hips and knees and the torso will be close to perpendicular to the ground. This is the point at which you will accelerate you on to your toes and achieve triple at extension at the knee hip and ankle. Below is a picture at the top of the second pull.
After completing the second pull the bar will contain tons of inertial energy which you will take advantage of so remember to keep the arms relaxed with the elbows up and out to guide the bar close to your body. This does not mean to pull on the bar with your arms rather allow the bar to continue to elevate and allow your arms to bend and give with the bars vertical path.
This next part of the lift is what some refer to as the receiving portion. I prefer to call it the catch.
Once the bar has elevated to a position where you have bent elbows above the bar it is time to catch the load. To begin you are going to punch the elbows through toward the wall ahead of you. This will allow the bar to land on top of your shoulders with your arms bent and your elbows pointing straight ahead parallel to the ground. At the same time you punch your elbows you need to drop your toes to the ground then your heels to the ground. Push your hips down and way from the bar.
This portion of the lift is not passive. You need to actively relocate your body underneath the barbell you have just elevated off the ground by dropping your hips and creating a great catch position by punching your elbows forward underneath the bar.
The depth of hips in the catch position depends greatly upon the load on the bar and how high you were able to elevate it with the second pull. But no matter where you catch the bar initially you must drop into a full front squat and stand back up to consider it a full clean.
Below is a video of me demonstrating the clean.
This lift is a whole other breed of exercise. It brings incredible benefits, but make a mistake and it can be fatal especially when you start increasing the load. The full snatch is great for developing upper body and core stability, impressive lower body strength, and mobility. But it is by far the most technical of the two lifts and should be approached humbly if not it will humble you, I promise.
The initial starting position for the snatch does not differ much from the clean except for the exceptionally wide hand grip that is required. A great way to make sure you have the right grip width is to pick-up a barbell and move your hands out on the barbell wider and wider until the barbell sits in the crease of your hips. You still use a hook grip during the lift.
Assume the starting position by approaching the bar with your feet placed somewhere between hip and shoulder width depending upon your preference. Grasp the bar with your new found snatch grip width. Bend your knees and squeeze your hips down to a level below your chest. Your back should in a straight line and your lats should be engaged. Below is a picture of a good initial start position.
Similar to the clean the snatch has two distinct pulls. The first of which begins by driving through your heel keeping your foot in full contact with the platform. Begin to lift the load off the ground by extending your knees and maintaining the same upper body position in relation to the ground. The first pull with stop at about mid-thigh instead of just above the knee due to the extra wide grip, but the knees will still be just short of full extension. Below is the finished position after the first pull. Notice the hip dominant position and my shoulders still covering the bar.
The second pull should begin as with the clean in a solid triangle position produced from the romanian deadlift like position the first pull put you in. The triangle is created with your shoulders, hips, and the barbell at mid-thigh. To initiate the second pull drive the hips toward the barbell allowing the bar to accelerate more. As your hips near full extension you should rebend your knees in a scooping motion to redirect force produced from your hips vertically rather than horizontally. After the scoop you will continue to triple extension getting full extension in the hips, knees, and ankles. This pull should force the bar vertically upward with inertial energy. Remember to keep the arms relaxed and allow your elbows bend upward and out above the bar. Below is the finish of the second pull and start of the catch. The bar is a little to far away from me on this one the closer the bar is to your body the better.
This is the portion of the lift in which we vastly deviate from the clean. To catch the snatch and finish the lift you need to relocate yourself under the bar catching the bar with straight arm's with hips down in an overhead head squat bottom position.
This position is done by quickly changing from placing effort into elevating the load to pulling yourself down against the load and under the bar. To begin this motion you knee to sit the hips down and back underneath the bar while maintaining balance. Be sure to pull your heels back down to the ground before sitting the hips underneath the bar.
Once you have begun to drop underneath the bar you will simultaneously rotate your elbow from above the bar to underneath the bar. Then violently extending your elbows punch up on the bar. This will establish a strong catch position. Be sure to maintain balance during the catch by keeping yourself underneath the load. Don't allow the load to migrate backward behind your head or out in front of your shoulders. The depth of your catch position will just like the clean vary with the load being lifted, but no matter where you catch the bar you must descend into a full squat to be considered a full snatch.
Below is a video of me demonstrating the full snatch
I hope that this post can help shed some light on the basics of performing and executing these two very technical lifts. If you are interested in seeking out coaching in person please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com. In addition if you want to read and learn more I highly recommend looking at Wil Fleming's website and products as well as Gregg Everett's website and products. These two guys are highly knowledgable about the sport of olympic weightlifting. Both having competed at high levels themselves as well as coached others to high levels of performance. I own some of their products myself and have been using them to help me improve my own technique.
P.S. Sorry for some of the poor picture qualities.
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