It is an exciting time to be an Iron Tribe member as the 2016 Olympics just concluded. Watching these competitions made me excited to attack my next workout, especially if Olympic Weightlifting was involved!
Most of our members are likely familiar with the snatch, clean and jerk because we use them in our programming at Iron Tribe. I think it is valuable to review the different ways that we use these lifts, and the kinds of results that we can expect to see from different training approaches like high weight/low reps, low weight/high reps, etc. Also, since these lifts are highly technical, I will offer my top five tips for improvement.
The sport of Olympic Weightlifting is pretty straightforward. It has only two lifts, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. The athlete receives three attempts to lift a heavy weight for the Snatch, and another three attempts to lift a heavy weight for the Clean & Jerk. The winner is determined by the heaviest total sum of their best Snatch and best Clean & Jerk.
Strength and power are the primary training adaptations that weightlifting movements produce. We help our athletes to develop muscular strength by using a barbell with weights to perform a Snatch or Clean & Jerk. These movements are total body movements, so they develop strength in most major muscle groups of the body.
Strength and power are the primary training adaptations that weightlifting movements produce.
The type of strength these lifts develop can be thought of as “functional” strength. This means that it has great carryover to performing activities of daily living. We also help our athletes to develop muscular power through emphasizing speed during these lifts. These lifts should be fast and explosive. Emphasizing speed improves the rate at which our muscular system can produce force. Improved rate of force production leads to faster reaction times, which can help our athletes to react quickly to untimely events and prevent injuries.
Strength and power development are maximized when we program heavier weights; however, an alternative method is to program lighter weight with higher repetitions. High repetition exercises are great for burning lots of calories, and for developing muscular endurance. Since weightlifting movements are total body movements, calorie burn is extremely high, and muscular endurance improves dramatically.
Too many athletes approach a clean as though they are performing a deadlift. This approach forces the weight forward, making it very difficult to keep the bar close to your body and to stay tall. Instead, start with your butt down and chest up, and maintain that position throughout the clean. The correct clean position will most likely lead to a slower pull off of the ground, as compared to a deadlift, but you will have considerably more power once you get the weight past the knees.
Throughout the clean, you should strive to keep your knuckles pointed toward the ground, and pull your elbows up for as long as you can. This will help keep the bar close to your body throughout the lift, which will help to maintain proper positioning and maximize power output. You should try this cue if you find the bar hitting low on your thighs, moving away from your body, or if you feel like you are performing a reverse curl.
Just like a squat, deadlift, or kettlebell swing, we often cue athletes to “drive through your heels”. Cleaning and snatching are no different! Stay on your heels as long as you can throughout the pull. This cue will help you to hit the proper positions, and prevent the weight from moving away from your body. You will inevitably go up onto your toes as you reach your maximum pull height, but the goal is to drive through your heels for as long as possible. This will help to get the bar higher on your upper thighs/hips, maximizing power generation.
If you struggle with the front rack position, you have probably heard your fair share of “elbows up” during a workout. Elbows up is certainly a great cue, but it is limited by your current ability to drive your elbows up, and dependent on your mobility. Another option to try is to press your shoulders forward (i.e., protract) to improve your position and that front rack “shelf”. To achieve this position, stand up tall, put your arms straight out in front of you, and push your shoulders forward as far as you can without rounding your back. You should be able to push your shoulders forward another inch or two. This is the “shelf” we need to have so that the barbell can rest appropriately on the shoulders and NOT in our hands, straining our wrists. This takes some getting used to, and some mobility work, but with your shoulders forward and elbows up you should start improving your front rack position.
Have you ever considered this question? If not, that is perfectly okay. There are certainly pros and cons to both jerks. Here are a few tips and pointers to help you decide which may be best for you.
Split jerks require more technique and timing. I like to see athletes first learn how to power jerk, and then progress to split jerk once they are proficient with the power jerk. Power jerking teaches you how to stay tall during the dip and drive phase. It also teaches you how to keep the weight balanced over your base of support. These are essential foundations to master prior to learning the split jerk.
Do you have a narrow split? I see a lot of athletes who don’t split their legs far enough apart. This disrupts timing, and results in either a missed lift or press out because the athlete did not get low enough to catch the bar with arms extended. If you press out when the weight gets too heavy, you are probably not splitting far enough to get under the bar. This is a sign that you might need to switch to a power jerk or do additional footwork drills.
Do you have limited mobility in your shoulders and thoracic spine? If you do, then a split jerk might be the better option. But, as stated above, it takes more technique and timing, so get with your coach for some good footwork drills and mobility homework.
I hope that you found this article useful, and that it made you start thinking about how you can improve your weightlifting. Keep in mind that these are general tips for common flaws that we regularly see in our athletes. Take this information, and consult with your coach to determine if some of these strategies make sense for you. After all, your coaches know your movement patterns and capabilities better than anyone!