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Strength

Olympic lifting for athletes made easy

Patrick Beith explains how to develop a sound technique to perform the Olympic lifts effectively and efficiently

Strength training and power training are critical components to the success of any athlete competing in sports that rely on speed and power for success. More specifically, the proper use of the Olympic lifts (the snatch, clean and their variations) facilitates improvements across a variety of modalities. When learned and executed correctly, Olympic Lifts increase and improve strength, power, speed, coordination, balance, flexibility, as well as overall conditioning.

Teaching the lifts

However, the Olympic Lifts require extreme focus on the part of both the coach and the athlete in order to take advantage of the many benefits that these movements provide. If these lifts are not performed correctly, athletes drastically increase the likelihood of sustaining potentially serious injuries. For this reason, if athletes have not learned the correct way to perform the exercises they should not attempt to execute the exercise at all. Fortunately, the Olympic Lifts can be taught and learned easily by following progressions.

During instruction, each lift should be broken down into simple movements that athletes should master before progressing to more complex movements. With the number of exercises available, athletes of every level will be able to quickly learn and execute the movements. Therefore, you will be able to improve the efficiency and explosiveness of your athletes the very next time you step into the weight room.

When learning any Olympic Lift, it is critical that emphasis is placed on learning proper, explosive technique by using light weights. Most of the time, athletes employ the "more is better" philosophy, thinking they will see greater benefits by using as much weight as possible. This will only lead to injury. Our goal is to increase power output and that comes from moving the weight quickly. If the weight is heavy, the weight will move slowly, the athlete's technique will suffer, and injury potential is increased. Mastery of technique must be emphasized in order to reap the full benefits of these exercises.

The Snatch - Learning the movement complex and progressions

Here are the exercises we use to teach our athletes how to Snatch. We first breakdown each part of the lift before having the athlete attempt the Snatch as a whole. Many years ago, Strength & Conditioning Expert Mike Boyle taught me that it is much easier to have your athletes learn the lifting progressions in order to perfect the movement pattern before you put it all together. It speeds up the learning curve and makes certain that the athlete does not get into bad habits when performing the lift. Use the following exercises in your weight training routine. This will ensure that you take the necessary steps in learning to execute the Snatch properly, as well as derive strength and power benefits from the movement progressions themselves.

Snatch

Stand with the barbell in your hands with a hook grip, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Make sure that the chest is over the bar. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hamstrings runs out. Quickly return to the starting position by driving the hips forward and standing up straight. The goal of this exercise is to get the athlete used to the starting position as well as understand the need to drive the hips forward to create momentum.

Snatch to Power Shrug

Stand with the barbell in hands with hook grip, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hamstrings runs out. Quickly drive the hips forward, as the hips reach full extension, explosively shrug the shoulders and rise up onto the toes. Here the goal is to expand on the skills of the previous exercise and begin to implement the correct upper body technique. Many athletes begin bending their arms at the elbows, lifting the weight with their arms. Instead the focus must be on shrugging the shoulders and keeping the weight close to the body.

Snatch to High Pull

Perform this drill as you did the previous exercise. Once you are up on the toes, continue to elevate the bar to mid-chest height by bending elbows and continuing the upward movement of the bar. Be sure to lift elbows up and keep the bar close to the body. When performing the high pull, it is important to keep the arms straight until you achieve triple extension. Only upon full extension of the ankles, knees and hips should the arms begin to bend at the elbows. Premature flexion of the elbows is a very common mistake among young athletes and will result in improper execution of the exercise.

Muscle Snatch

Standing erect with the barbell held with a snatch grip and feet at hip width. Slide bar upwards along the body to near shoulder height. Once at shoulder height rotate elbows underneath the bar and continue to move bar upwards by pressing it into a catch position. Descend the bar in reverse order. I have found that teaching the snatch is much easier if you first break down each of the movements and teach them as partials or stages of the entire lift. Once your athlete has perfected each individual movement, they will find performing the whole snatch a much simpler task. Also, if you have an athlete struggling with a particular stage of the lift, you can use these exercises to clean up their form.

The Jerk

Jerks are considered assistance exercises to the clean and snatch. They are useful additions to the athlete's Olympic lifting program but must follow the same strict adherence to technique as some these movements involve greater levels of shoulder and core stabilization.

Military Press

The standing military press, from an Olympic lifting standpoint, is a basic exercise that is used to teach the range of motion that athletes will go through as they learn to perform the jerk. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and use the shoulders to extend the weight above the head, keeping the bar on a consistent plane.

Push Press

Push press is used to improve jerk drive through the use of the legs as the primary mover and teaches the athlete to aggressively push up on the bar after driving the legs. Unlike the military press, the athlete should not be using the arms to drive the weight, but instead use the hips and legs. Be sure to drop the hips slightly during the initial movement before exploding up.

Dumbbell Push Press

A variation of the barbell push press, use of the dumbbells requires individual stabilization and symmetric drive of the arms after exploding through the hips.

Power Jerk

Similar to the push press, in the power jerk, after exploding up, the feet should move slightly sideways and usually with the toes pointed out, similar to the position one would use when performing a squat.

Behind Neck Jerk

This exercise is performed the same as the Power Jerk. The goal is to teach the athlete to hold the bar well behind the head when in the overhead position.

Overhead Lunge

In addition to the standard jerk movements, we often use the split jerk with our speed and power athletes. The overhead lunge allows athletes to simulate the position and range of motion that they must master when performing split jerk variations.

Split Jerk

The split jerk is performed like all the jerk movements. Keep underneath the bar while moving one-foot forwards and the other back. The front leg thigh should be parallel to the floor, and the rear foot should be on the toes, with a small bend in the leg.

Dumbbell Split Jerk

Jerk forehead

Performing the split jerk from the forehead requires an emphasis on driving the bar up as the split is initiated.

Behind neck split jerk

Again, performed like the standard behind the neck jerk, focus on keeping the bar behind the head when performing this exercise. Again, I am not understating the importance of the Snatch and Clean, because they are (or should be) vital to your weight training program, I just wanted to introduce you to variations that can help clean up your lifting technique, but also add some explosive power to your athletes.

Safety First

When learning any Olympic Lift, it is critical that emphasis is placed on learning proper, explosive technique by using light weights. Most of the time, athletes employ the 'more is better' philosophy, thinking they will see greater benefits by using as much weight as possible. This will only lead to injury. Our goal is to increase power output and that comes from moving the weight quickly. If the weight is heavy, the weight will move slowly, the athletes' technique will suffer, and injury potential is increased. Mastery of technique must be emphasized in order to reap the full benefits of these exercises. The safety of the athlete is the most important factor in their strength and power training. To perform the Olympic Lifts safely we recommend:

  • A lifting platform with a non-slip surface
  • Bumper plates to reduce the impact on the platform or other surface
  • Chalk to improve grip once athlete progress to heavier weights
  • A lifting partner and/or coach to guarantee safety and fix technical errors

Clean

Stand with barbell in hands, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hams runs out. Quickly return to starting position by moving hips forward and standing up straight.

Clean to Power Shrug

Stand with barbell in hand, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hams runs out. Quickly move the hips forward as the hips extend explosively shrug shoulders and rise on toes.

Clean to High Pull

Stand with barbell in hands, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hams runs out. Quickly move the hips forward as the hips extend explosively shrug shoulders and rise on toes. Continue to elevate the bar to mid-chest height by bending elbows and continuing the upward movement of the bar. Be sure to lift elbows up and keep the bar close to the body.

Muscle Clean

Standing erect with barbell in hands with a clean grip and feet at hip width, slide bar upwards along the body to near shoulder height. Once at shoulder height rotate elbows underneath the bar, releasing the hook grip and letting the bar fall onto the shelf created by the shoulders. Return bar to starting position the same way it got there.

Power Clean

Stand with barbell in hand, feet at hip width, shoulders back and chest up. Keeping arms straight and eyes fixed straight ahead raise the bar by moving the hips backwards while maintaining a slight but fixed bend in the knees. Stop once the bar reaches the top of the knees or when the flexibility in the hams runs out. Quickly move the hips forward as the hips extend explosively shrug shoulders and rise on toes. Continue to elevate the bar to mid-chest height by bending elbows and continuing the upward movement of the bar. Be sure to lift elbows up and keep the bar close to the body. Once at shoulder height simultaneously rotate elbows underneath the bar, releasing the hook grip and letting the bar fall onto the shelf created by the shoulders while falling into a quarter squat. The quarter squat should be reached at the same time the barbell is received on the shoulders.


Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • BETH, P. (2006) Olympic lifting for athletes made easy. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 31 /April), p. 3-5

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • BETH, P. (2006) Olympic lifting for athletes made easy [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni31a2.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Patrick Beth is a co-owner of Athletes' Acceleration, Inc, a company devoted to performance enhancement whose mission is to improve the knowledge base of motivated coaches and athletes in order to improve athletic performance. He is a Performance Consultant certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS), the American Council of Sports Medicine (HFI), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES) and is a USA track and Field Level II Coach in the Sprints, Hurdles and Jumps.

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