Heart of America: T-Minus 1 Day – Olympic Techniques
Crossfit and specifically The Outlaw Way place a good deal of emphasis on Barbell Gymnastics, more commonly referred to as Olympic style lifting or variations there-in (there’s no such thing as a split snatch in the Olympics.) In any case; since we do these practically everyday, and since I spend the majority of my time pouring over mobility, footwork, form, and speed in some way related to these movements – I figured it wouldn’t hurt to spend some time going over what a great Olympic Lift looks like.
In the last 8 months (since I first learned the Clean&Jerk and Snatch outside of Crossfit), I’ve spent countless hours watching Olympic weightlifting videos. It fits my personality, classic obsessive, must know everything, knowledge is power mentality. Regardless of whether or not I could even do these things, that’s not important right, I plowed ahead. European nationals, Olympics, anything with the name Burgener attached to it – I watched them all. My youtube search history looks like a hall of fame for weightlifting. I became obsessed with this french guy who could C&J a house. Okay, story time aside, youtube is a great asset in this department because so much of learning these lifts is knowing the difference between a good one and a bad one, and how to get from one to another. I consider myself above average in the knowledge department, and about average in the lifting department, though improving steadily. I’m far from an Olympic class lifter or coach, this should just be primer, a collection of tools that have helped me and might help you. There are of course many many other sites including Catalyst Athletics, Stumptuous, Mike’s Gym, and even Wikipedia.
This post is focused on the two Olympic lifts, but it’s worth noting that you should always warmup appropriately before jumping into something as explosive and technical as Olympic lifts. Some people have their own variations of this, it will all depend on your own comfort level. The Burgener warmup is widely regarded as a standard baseline.
For you in Saint Louis, these are both from one of the best Olympic lifting resources in the area, The Lab Gym, great place. Tell them Dan sent you.
Clean & Jerk
Easily the less technical of the two lifts, but still very technical in the world of barbells. I’m going to work from the ground up, but first a description. Catalyst describes the clean and jerk thusly, “The second of the two Olympic lifts. The clean brings the bar from the floor to the shoulders and the jerk brings the bar from the shoulders to overhead. “Jerk” without any qualifier implies the athlete’s chosen jerk style for maximal lifts, which will for the overwhelming majority of athletes be the split jerk.”
Approach the bar with feet roughly hips width, likely a bit narrower than your natural squat position. Squat down to grab the bar, place hands about a thumb length from the hips, grab the bar using the hook grip; bend the thumb parallel to the bar & wrap your index and middle finger around your thumb, this should not be painful. The squat should be deep enough to comfortably grab the bar with arms relaxed, hip depth will vary by person but will likely be close to parallel if not slightly lower, keeping the back straight or a bit hyperextended, pull the bar to your shins, it should settle over the balls of your feet. Toes should be pointed straight forward, but might be slightly out turned to compensate for mobility or lifters preference.
This is the bulk of the lift. The lift initiates with a pull from the floor, the bar should remain very close to the shin, keeping the lats engaged and back straight. Hips and shoulders should rise at equal pace. You will accelerate slowly at first, but much more quickly passed the knee, as you pull from the knee towards the hip, the hip will also drive forwards, but not so much as to launch the bar outwards, a very common mistake. The bar should reach the top of the hip pocket roughly the same time as the back becomes vertical. When the bar reaches the hip pocket, this initiates the second pull. This is also referred to as “tripple extension.” This is the violent “jumping” motion wherein the bar is shrugged violently starting from the trapezius, at the same time the hip is extended violently, which brings you up onto your toes extending upwards. At the top of this pull but not before, you will break at the elbow, once you break at the elbow, the power of the pull is gone and the goal now becomes to get under the bar as quickly as possible. Breaking at the elbow also initiates the catch portin of the clean. This is the area of another common mistake, to keep pulling beyond the tripple extension, at this point the bar should go no higher; the goal should be to get low, very low, very quickly. At the top of the pull, the next step is drop immediately, while rotating your arms around the bar. This concept is lost on most beginners. The idea is not to rotate the bar, at the moment when the bar is most weightless, you simply let go of it, driving the elbows up, the speed at which accomplished lifters can get their arms under the bar is astounding. Speed under the bar is paramount to successful cleans. In addition, it’s important to finish the clean on the heels, at the bottom of the catch this will resemble a front squat. The next step is to drive out of the bottom, keeping the weight more or less on the heels, knees out, chest up and back straight. This should find you standing straight with the weight across the front of the deltoid and clavicle, with hands just outside the shoulders and elbows up and inside of the hands.
The jerk has several variations but the most common and most efficient is the split jerk – so thats what we will discuss. The split jerk initiates with a dip and drive, the dip should start at the knee and ankle, but is relatively small, the heel should stay in contact with the platform, the knees go out and hips slightly back. The drive should be similarly violant but controlled, at the top of the drive you should shrug the weight up off the shoulder with the traps. This is not a press. THIS IS NOT A PRESS. One of the biggest mistakes is to try and press the weight up. Like the catch of the clean, the goal is to drop quickly and efficiently, the split is the fastest way to drop. The front leg should come forwards only slightly, the shin needs to remain vertical and the knee should be slightly out. The back leg should go backwards about as far as the front went forwards, though often goes a little further. The back leg should be bent at the knee to support the load and balance the torso. The amount of lateral spread will be variable to the lifter, some people are more comfortable narrower, some like to spread a little further. I’m somewhere in the middle. The speed of the drop should be equally matched to the speed in which the arms are locked out overhead to receive the weight. The idea behind the split is to create room under the bar for your arms, the hardest part will be receiving the bar with enough speed such that the arms are locked, shoulders engaged and torso tight, any breaks in that chain and you will most likely suffer for it. The final step is to stand up, in order to remain stable you should push first back with the front foot and then bring the back foot forward to meet it. At lighter loads you would think this step trivial, but under heavy load any imbalance in standing up will result in a missed lift.
U.S. Olympic Team Coach
What the clean and jerk is for power and speed, the snatch is for balance, finesse and coordination. It literally draws on every muscle system of the body, and will point out each and every point of weakness. As Catalyst defines it, “The snatch is the first of the two Olympic lifts, in which the barbell is lifted from the floor directly to overhead.” Sound simple enough doesn’t it? The snatch is incredibly complex, and even the smallest errors are amplified one hundred fold.
Before approaching the bar, pick up an empty one, pull it to your waist and begin inching your hands wider until the bar settles directly in the hip pocket when standing absolutely vertical; that is your snatch-width grip. Similar to the clean, the feet should start about hip width apart with toes pointed forwards or slightly out-turned. Again the bar should rest on the shin, directly above the balls of your feet, take the bar in your snatch-width grip, again using the hook grip. The chest should be upright and back straight if not slightly hyperextended. The arms should be tight but relaxed at this point.
The pull begins with a slow controlled deadlift from the floor, accelerating gradually, it’s important, especially with the snatch but also to a degree with the clean, to accelerate as quickly as your mechanics will allow, whatever you might gain pulling harder you will certainly suffer in compromised positioning if you make sacrifices to do so. Keeping the knees back and out turned, accelerate passed the knee, and up the femur, again keeping the bar as close as possible to the body. As with the clean, you will pull until the bar reaches your hip pocket, at which point a violent shrug, matched with hip extension that rallies you onto your toes. At the top of the shrug the elbows will bend, as soon as the elbows are bent, the pull is over – time to get under the bar.
The Catch Overhead
The determining factor in the snatch is going to be your stability in the receiving position affected by the mobility at the shoulder, hip, lower back, and ankle. (annnnd pretty much everywhere else) The idea behind the catch in the snatch is a combination of the catch in the clean and the catch in the jerk. The drop needs to be smooth but quick in order to make room for your arms to lock out overhead. Your arms should remain at snatch-width, your arms should be straight, trapezius actively squeezed towards the ears but shoulders actively pressing outwards. Think of shrugging up, while also trying to bend the bar in half, this will force stability and proper positioning. The torso should be upright, with your bar directly over your shoulders, supported by lats and a tight back. The feet will spread at the catch, outwards to a shoulder width if not a bit wider, when receiving the knees should go out not forwards, weight should remain on the heels, and your butt should be directly above the ankles. From here it resembles the overhead squat, drive up using the torque of the hip and knee. It’s crucial that the bar remain over the shoulders when you drive upwards, any stray will throw you immediately off balance, and likely cause a missed rep. The rep is finished when you stand with the bar overhead, feet together, arms locked out.
U.S. Olympic Team Coach
2011 World Record Snatch
That’s all folks – so when I post those Olympic videos – this is what I’m talking about.