Just Lift the #%@# Weight!
by Denis Reno (2007)
When it comes to crunch time in an important competition you really can't deal with a re-read of the complete instructions for proper technique and physical performance just before you lift!
At most, you can handle about one or two KEY words of action to help you make the lift. And the KEY phrase indicated in the title of this article may work for you. Other single words or phrases will also work for you only if you have been perfectly trained to properly perform the lift. For coaches working with athletes whom they have never coached personally, using keys like 'loose arms', 'strong legs', 'keep it close', 'high chest' usually help to make something positive happen in completing a lift. 'Keep elbows over wrists' during pulls, 'push your feet into the platform' and many other keys from decades ago are still very valuable. But key words specifically used by a technique coach in teaching Olympic (or other) lifting may help complete an attempt.
So, what is really needed for performance of a maximum Snatch or Clean & Jerk in competition?
The answer -- you need "almost perfect technique." Perfect technique in all positions of the lift, perfect technique with light as well as heavy weights, perfect technique over and over again in training. Each and every workout, continual training in -- you guessed it -- PERFECT TECHNIQUE.
-- Learn Balance of the Body, and Upright Posture ('Stand Up!')
-- Learn Balanced Support of Barbell on the Body.
-- Learn Proper Positions of Each Lift.
-- Learn Proper Movements from One Position to Another (partial movements).
-- Learn Proper Transitions from Pulls/Jerk Drives to Catches.
-- Combine Partial Movements, and full Snatches and Clean & Jerks.
-- Practice, Practice, Practice with gradually increasing weight.
-- Along with the Olympic Lifts Do Various Squats and Pulls.
-- Include Physical Conditioning Movements With/Without Weights.
-- Find Yourself an Experienced Olympic Weightlifting Coach.
Proper Coaching - Along with developing overall physical fitness, the coach first teaches body balance and the various positions of each lift. The first thing I usually teach is how to support the body in perfect balance (keeping hips over feet, shoulders over hips), without any added weight, and then with a stick, and then an empty bar. Feel your full foot on the floor. Keep the bar over the hips.
Snatch - We go from holding a bar behind the neck with a snatch grip, then pressing the bar slowly over the shoulders to a locked arm support overhead. We go from standing with a stick/bar held in front high on the torso, to a squat/screw-under to snatch support overhead (stand up on toes, elbows over bar, then drop into squat while rotating wrists and shoulders under the bar). We build snatch balance with overhead squats and "drop" squats. We build snatch strength with snatches from above knees, snatch pulls from the floor to upper thighs, snatch grip shrugs, and Snatches.
Cleans - We first teach the 'elbow turn' or 'screw-under' from the pull to catch position (stand up on toes with elbows over bar, then drop into half squat position while rotating elbows close to the ribs to bring elbows under and forward of the bar which is now on your shoulders). I am convinced that this is most important. Then we teach the clean from the upper thighs. In the same session we teach the pull from the floor stressing the knees moving backwards -- because this causes what we are really after -- 'keeping the angle of the back constant' until the bar reaches the upper thighs. We remind the lifters of their foot's full contact with the floor, including the heel. We stress tightness in the hip/lower back area.
Jerks - We teach holding the chest and hips high. We show the lifter that his tibia (lower leg bone) goes down to his heel. We tell them to feel their full foot and especially their heels on the floor as they partially squat down, and then extend their legs upward to throw the weight up (and slightly backward) over their shoulders. We tell the lifters to catch the weight with straight arms and shoulders reaching up while splitting their legs fore-and-aft with the hips directly below the shoulders and the barbell.
Hips - We key the hip area as the general center of balance for the athlete. We stress keeping the barbell close to the body and felt at the hips.
Legs - We stress using the legs in all positions of the lifts.
Arms - We stress relaxed arms and wrists.
Elbows - Keep elbows over wrists during the complete pull.
Back - We stress keeping the back straight, with lower back somewhat arched. We stress keeping the complete back held tight.
Shoulders - We stress keeping the shoulders relaxed on the pulls, forward or above the chest during the complete pull, reaching up on the Snatch/Clean catch, and reaching up on the Jerk support.
Butt - USE IT! It's full of muscles. It ties the upper body to the lower body.
Only after learning how to perform the lifts do you have to worry about a workout program (I'm speaking about the program for an intermediate or advanced athlete). This will vary the intensity of the weight (percentage of your best lift) that you use, the total load (the total amount of work that you do), variation of intensities and loads (called periodization or cycling) to maximize your strength development over the week, month, year or other period. There are a number of workouts in the various literature. Many of these will work for you as long as you pick/guess the correct maximum (best lift?), go into each workout with a positive attitude, are able to adjust poundages, sets and repetitions up or down depending on your situation for that day, etc.
Don't Be A Stubborn Athlete!
Give a new idea or key word a try! Unless you're a 40+ lifter who has been at it for years, figure that you can make improvement. If you're an older veteran lifter you can improve by trying for that perfect technique. And keep trying new ideas (like more, less, shorter or longer workouts, more rest, a change to a healthier lifestyle).
Enjoy a tough, productive workout.