An honest guide to Olympic lifting part 2

You may have read Olympic Lifts Part I and spent some time revisiting and learning the previous movements and mobility drills to help you become better at the Olympic lifts.

Before we break the lifts down into progressions, this article is to help you improve your technique, reduce the chances of injury and enable you to move more efficiently. If you want to compete at the Olympic Games I suggest get a lifting coach, this article will not take you to that level, it is only to provide the basics.

If you are adding these to your current training plan consider what you are already doing and how the lifts fit in. The Olympic lifts give you the most “bang for your buck”, as they work the most motor units and require the most coordination to complete. For this reason, the Olympic lifts should be completed first in a session. Add in 3-5 sets, of 3-5 reps (do not forget to warm up) at the start of your session, 2-3 times a week. Avoid maximal loads (1RM) and firstly become competent at the technique, catching the bar, dropping beneath the bar and being explosive, rather than ‘muscling’ the bar up. Use weights about 40-60% of your 1RM for this.

From experience of teaching the lifts, I always start with the snatch before the clean. The reason for this is that compared to the clean, I find the snatch allows you to get better at the technical side of the lifts. This is because you start with lighter weights compared to the clean. Starting with the snatch means you get use to pulling the bar into the body, contacting the mid thigh to abdomen. The overhead squat position also helps with mobility. Avoid rushing the lifts, you will have read “lighter weight” and thought, “sod that I will jump to the clean and start with heavy weights”. Avoid the temptation. The technical points that you learn mastering the snatch will transfer to the clean. The part I am particularly referring to is the point of the bar making contact with the top of your thigh to the lower abdomen as you bring the bar in during the lift.

Snatch

To determine how wide your grip is on the bar, measure the width from the outside of your right shoulder to the knuckles on a closed fist on your left hand.

To begin with, practice the movements with a dowel/PVC pipe, before progressing to an Olympic bar. Only when you are sure you are competent in the movements should you add weights to the bar.

Drop and catch

As you will have practiced the overhead squats from ‘Olympic Lifts Part I’ you will have got comfortable with the bar overhead.

To perform a drop and catch, rest the bar on your upper back across the back of your trapezius, and take your grip. Now ‘drop’ (pull yourself to the floor) under the bar and press the arms upwards to receive the bar. The drop should be as quick as possible and you should look to drop under the bar as opposed to pushing the bar over head. You should finish in the bottom of an overhead squat position. From here perform an overhead squat to stand. When you are standing tall lower the bar under control to the top of the trapezius and repeat.

Snatch from hip

Start with the bar at your hip height and take your grip, keeping your arms straight. Hinge at the hips, pushing them back slightly, whilst leaning forward (See hip hinge in Olympic Lifts Part I). This loads the hamstrings. Pushing the hips back and leaning forwards, place the shoulders slightly in-front of the bar, start the ‘jump’ (pull) by extending the ankles, knees and hips simultaneously. The bar should make contact with your abdominals for a little bit. I find if your t-shirt is un-tucked and the bar comes close enough into the body, your t-shirt lifts up a little at the bottom.

At the top of the ‘jump’ (extending of the ankles, knees, hips) shrug the shoulders and pull your elbows up. Whilst ‘pulling’ the bar up you should be pulling yourself quickly down under the bar. Drop around 10 inches, or if comfortable to the bottom of the overhead squat and catch the bar. To catch the bar, drive your elbows under the bar and lock-out – avoid a shoulder press movement. If this happens you have not pulled the bar high enough. It is likely to be too heavy, take some weight off and try again. The ‘jump’ is all about triple extension.

Hang snatch (bar at knees)

We are now progressing to starting with the bar just above the knee caps. Push your hips back, using the hip hinge you have previously learnt. Keep your spine neutral and core engaged. Your shoulders should be in-front of the bar, using hip extension, lift your shoulders up, simultaneously extending the ankles, knees and hip. The bar passes in-front of your thighs until it reaches mid-thigh. At this point you bring your hips towards the bar, pulling the bar in to the body. It should make contact between the top of your thighs or lower abdomen.

Execute a powerful ‘ jump’. At the top of the ‘jump’ shrug the shoulders (contract the trapezius) and start to bend the elbows. Pull down against the bar, squatting (dropping) under the bar about 10 inches or to the bottom of an overhead squat, as you do this rotate the elbows forwards and up against the bar. Catch the bar in an overhead squat position and squat up.

Snatch

Remember the deadlift technique you have been practicing in the Olympic Lifts Part I? This is the same exercise to start the snatch.

  • Starting Position

Setting up place your feet hip width apart, align the bar over the end of your laces, nearest your toes. Bend down and take hold of the bar using the hook grip. Wrap your index finger around your thumb – which is already placed against the bar. Your shoulders should be over or in-front of the bar, elbows extended and wrists slightly tucked. This position should be your hips in line with or slightly higher than your knees. Retract your shoulder blades, lift your chest – you are ready for lift off.

  • Lift Off

The first part of the lift-off causes the bar to come towards the shins, this tightens up the latissimus dorsi and the scapulae retracts giving you a strong base of support. Extend the hips and knees the bar lifts off the floor, sweeping towards your shins, moving the balance from front foot to mid foot. Maintain your torso angle, so when the bar reaches your knees the angle between hips and shoulders has not changed. The bar will sweep in towards your shin slightly.

  • Scoop

The knees almost straighten, but remain slightly bent. Further elevation occurs by extending hips (lifting your shoulders). The bar passes in front of your thighs until it reaches mid thigh, at which point bring your hips to the bar, the bar contacts the top of your thighs or lower abdomen. This movement results in flexion of the ankles, knees and hips returning your balance to the front part of your foot.

  • Jump

Execute a powerful vertical ‘jump’, this accelerates the speed of the bar. At the top of the ‘jump’ strongly shrug the shoulders contracting the trapezius and begin to quickly bend your elbows.

  • Pull Under

This begins before the barbell loses its upward momentum. After you have completed the shrug accelerate your descent by pulling under/against the bar whilst keeping your feet on the ground. Wrists remain flexed and pulling is direct and rapid lowering your body weight under the bar.

  • Catch

Rotate elbows forwards and push up against the bar. Your wrists, arms and shoulders should form a solid base actively pushing up against the bar, ready to catch the bar before it begins to drop.

  • Recovery

Stand up by pushing your heels down into the ground, allow your hips to drift back slightly, extend the knees to start the movement out of the overhead squat position. After you are past the sticking point, bring your hips back under the barbell and stand, if necessary walk in any direction to control the bar.

Clean

The grip placement will depend on your shoulder flexibility. Grip position pointers are your hands should be outside shoulder width, start with a position where your little fingers are at the end of the smooth part of the bar and on the knurling. Another option is to take a grip from a thumb width from the smooth section.

After you have completed a lift, lower the bar by rotating your wrists under the bar and elbows by your side, whilst pushing the bar off your shoulders and catching it at the top of your thigh. If using heavy weight and your gym has bumper plates and a platform dropping the bar is OK from this height. As the bar drops, take a step back and keep your hands near the bar (don’t grip it) as the bar bounces up you will be in a position to control the bounce. Ask you gym if it is OK to drop the weights before you start. Dropping some plate can/will do more damage than good to the bar, plates and floor.

High clean

Start with the bar resting at around mid-thigh. Arms straight, small hip hinge about 10 degrees, bringing the shoulders in-front of the bar, whilst loading the hamstrings, keep your shoulders over the bar.

Explosively ‘jump’ extending the ankles, knees and hips, the bar should stay in contact with your mid-thigh to lower abdomen. Once you have performed the ‘jump’ part of the lift you can shrug the shoulders and move your elbows upwards. Look to keep your elbows and shoulders over the bar. The bar should come up to around neck height. Do not hold the bar in this position, as the bar loses its upward momentum control the bar back down.

Clean from hips

Start with the bar at level with your hips, keep your arm straight and hip hinge, bringing your shoulders over the bar. In this position your scapulae is retracted and you need a slight bend in the knees. Perform a ‘jump’ simultaneously extending the ankles, knees and hips. At the top of the jump shrug the shoulders accelerating the bar up, whilst pulling yourself down under the bar. Rotate the wrists around the bar. Co-ordinate catching the bar on shoulders as in a front squat, keep the elbows high as you stand from the squat.

Clean from knee

Continuing on the progressions, start with the bar just above the knee. Star with your hip hinge, loading the hamstrings. Your shoulders should be in-front of the bar with your spine neutral and scapulae retracted. There will be a slight flex in the ankle joint at the start position, meaning your shins are not quite vertical.

The same as the snatch, when you start this movement you start the movement with a strong hip extension, lifting the shoulders straight up. As the shoulders move up, the bar rises and comes in towards the thighs. At this point the ankles bend bringing the hips forwards making the bar contact your mid-thigh to lower abdomen. As the bar reaches your chest height pull under the bar (drop under the bar), bending the ankles, knees and hips. As pull under the bar rapidly move your elbows under and in-front of the bar, extending the wrists around the bar to co-ordinate catching the bar on your shoulders.

Clean

  • Start Position

Starting position, place your feet directly under the bar (first lace/widest part of your foot), feet hip-width apart, toes pointed straight ahead or slightly outward. Once your feet are set bend the ankles, knees and hips. Squat down until your thighs are parallel, your shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar. Balanced on the front part of the foot, take a hook grip, grasp the bar and rotate elbows outwards and lock. Inflate chest, lock spine (neutral) and look straight ahead and slightly down, your torso should be in a more upright position compared to the start of the snatch – hips in line or just below your knee height (depending on limb length).

  • Lift Off

Extend the knees and hips. The bar will lift off the floor and sweep towards your shins (balance shift middle of foot). Pushing your heels down into the platform, concentrate on lifting your shoulders straight up, perform strongly. Avoid straightening the knees before the hips. Maintain your torso to floor angle, shoulders stay over the bar, keeping the same angle between the hips and shoulders.

  • Scoop

Continue pushing the floor away, the shoulders remain over the bar. As the bar reaches mid thigh, your ankles and knees end up flexed under the bar. At this point drive your hips towards the bar. Keeping your feet on the platform, the hip drive results in a bending of the ankle, knee, hips under the bar. Keep your arms perfectly straight. Depending on your grip width, the bar should make contact with your mid thigh mid thigh to hip joint. Keep your shoulders over the barbell as long as possible.

  • Jump

Feet flat, ankles, knees, and hips slightly flexed. ‘Jump’ explosively up (but don’t actually jump, triple extension). Before the momentum of the ‘jump’ is lost, violently shrug the shoulders contracting the trapezius, bend your elbows as you begin to pull yourself under the bar. The bar does not need to be pulled any higher than your navel.

  • Pull Under

As the bar is pulled up, it stays close to your body. Pull yourself under the bar.

  • Rack

Rotate your arms forward and under the bar, and as the bar continues to move upwards, the wrists extend as the shoulders are raised to cushion the bar landing. Your elbows need to be, to keep the thoracic region of your back upright, high enough so they do not make contact with your knees / thighs when you are in the bottom of the squat position. Once the bar is ‘racked’, ride down into the bottom of the squat. Grip the bar completely with your hands, maintain flat and rigid torso with your chest high.

  • Recovery

Keep your elbows pushed up to keep the bar in the racked position, thoracic region upright and chest inflated. Rise with hips over your knees and torso inclined forward. To get beyond the sticking point keep your hips under the bar and push your hips forwards.

As you can see, the snatch and clean require good mobility and flexibility around the hip and shoulder joints to perform a good lift. As you will have seen from the pictures and videos, I need to work on my own mobility to get into a better starting position, as well as off the floor and get improve the triple extension through the ankles as I execute the jump phase of the lift. If you are having problems with the bar overhead, keep your elbows high, and concentrate on getting good depth in your squat. If you cannot even get into a good starting position, then revisit the mobility drills in Olympic lifts Part I. Why not even add the mobility drills in between your lifts here?

Reference

Eric Cressey www.ericcressey.com

Boyle, M. (2004). Functional Training for Sports: super conditioning for today’s athlete. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

Newton, H. (2006). Explosive Lifting for Sports. Enhanced Edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

 

Feature Photo Credit: Weight lifting by Flickr user Farrukh, adapted and used under a Creative Commons

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