One of the reasons many strength athletes don't attempt to learn the Olympic lifts is they assume they are too difficult to learn.
They also believe they must have a coach present at every workout to plan their routines and scrutinize their.
Neither of these concepts is true. In fact, the snatch and clean & jerk can be learned rather easily and while it is certainly nice to have a coach available, he is not really essential.
Nearly all the greats from the past learned the Olympic lifts on their own. Some never had the luxury of having a capable coach. But that did not prevent Tommy Kono, Norb Schemansky, John Davis, Jim Bradford, Ike Berger, Tony Garcy, Doug Hepburn, Dave Sheppard or Ken Patera from excelling at their chosen sport.
True, some of the greats did have the benefit of proper coaching early in their careers. Joe Mills set Bob Bednarski in the true path, but after Barksi moved to York, he was on his own. Likewise, Pete an Jim George had the wisdom of Larry Barnholth, but by their own admissions, they really did most of their training on their own.
Most lifters learn by watching others. Coaching came from teammates, who spotted form flaws and gave advice on how to set up training schedules. Even during the heyday of the York Barbell, in the sixties, this was how the lifters learned, for there was not a true coach at York. Most were led to believe that Bob Hoffman attended every workout and provided sage advice to his lifters, but this is completely false. Hoffman knew little about lifting form. He certainly didn't understand how to attack a heavy poundage because he never lifted a heavy weight in his life. Even at 280 pounds, he never succeeded in getting 300 pounds overhead in any manner, regardless of what he wrote.
Terpak was useless as a coach. He really didn't like the lifters to begin with, rarely watched a workout and didn't have the slightest clue as to how to set up a training program or improve technique errors. His constant, single piece of advice in any circumstance was always the same, "Pull the hell out of it!" Which had its merits at times, but certainly didn't qualify him as a coach by any means.
So we picked up pointers from one another. And since none of us had the luxury of a coach, we listened to everyone because we knew that if we didn't learn something new along the way, no one was going to jump in and help us.
One of the most useful training tips I learned was at a clinic in Rutgers, New Jersey. I was part of the program, and following me was a presentation by Morris Weissbrot, the able official, administrator and coach of the Lost Battalion Hall weightlifting team out of NYC.
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He taught a group of athletes, mostly football players, how to do a full clean and full squat snatch in about an hour. None of them had ever tried either of the lifts before. I was quite impressed and asked Morris to write up his routine for Strength & Health. [see above]
It was so simple and effective that I started using it right away at the clinics I was holding in the area.
Since that time I have taught hundreds of athletes the two competitive lifts in a short period of time. Morris really have a name for the routine so I called it
There are a few prerequisites that are essential before anyone can successfully perform the two Olympic lifts. A person must have sufficient flexibility in his shoulder girdle to allow him to rack the clean on his frontal deltoids properly. And he must also possess enough flexibility in his shoulders and hips to allow him to sit in the bottom positions of the clean and snatch.
This is why it is so important to expose these two lifts to young men before they begin to lose the capacity to improve flexibility. This attribute starts to wane in the mid-twenties and once it is lost, it is nearly impossible to regain to the point where the two Olympic lifts can be done correctly.
But it should be noted that nearly everyone who has not done the lifts before will most assuredly experience some problems in flexibility. There just aren't any other movements like the two lifts, so it's nearly impossible to possess the required flexibility prior to doing the lifts themselves.
In other words, a lack of flexibility is to be expected but it should not discourage anyone from trying to learn to do the lifts.
It only indicates that more time must be spent in improving shoulder girdle and hip flexibility. Stretching will always be a vital part of any Olympic lifter's training routine.
If an athlete can do a full front squat with the bar resting on his frontal deltoids and maintaining reasonably high elbows, he can do a full clean. Even if he dips forward a bit initially, he can learn the movement.
Likewise, if an athlete can manage a full squat with the bar held overhead with a snatch grip he can learn the squat snatch.
If he cannot do either of these movements, but is willing to spend a few weeks, or even months, trying to improve his flexibility, he can still learn the two Olympic lifts. Keep in mind that there were really only a handful of lifters who started out with better than average flexibility. Most gained it through hours and hours of hard work.
Tom Hirtz is a perfect example of a person who spent a great deal of time and effort improving his flexibility. When I first saw him lift in the teenage Nationals in 1966, I really didn't think he had much of a future in the sport. He was strong, but his shoulders and hips were so tight he could only do power snatches and his jerks were so far forward he had great difficulty in holding them. From all indications, he would never be able to compete on the national level.
But Tom was determined, some would even call him hardheaded. Recognizing his weak area, he worked on it and worked on it until he not only became extremely proficient in the snatch, bet he was actually sitting lower than any other lifter in the country, and he was also establishing national records in the lift many thought he would never be able to learn to do correctly.
Another requirement to do the drill properly is that the athlete must use the hook grip. Straps are too dangerous. The hook needs to be learned by anyone who wants to improve his pulling power or is serious about learning the Olympic lifts anyway, for it is absolutely essential when dealing with the heavy weights.
Hooking means locking thumbs under the bar with either your middle and index fingers or, for some with chubby fingers, just their index fingers. The more slender your fingers, the easier it is to hook. Yes, there is some discomfort but there is discomfort in any sport. The simple trick of eliminating much of the discomfort is to wrap a 1/2-inch wide strip of athletic tape around the second joint of the thumb, the one closest to the palm -- only two revolutions, however. Any more than this will tend to bunch up and make matters worse.
Also, always start hooking with the lightest weight. If you wait to use it on the heaviest poundages, the discomfort factor goes up significantly.
I also recommend bumper plates for the drill since no one has ever learned how to do a full squat clean or a full snatch without being thrown on his butt a few times. But failing is merely a part of the learning process.
Practicing the Drill
The drill for the snatch and clean are the same. It consists of a three-part sequence, done without any rest.
I'll use the clean as my example:
Power clean the first rep, then ride it down to a full squat position. Recover, lower the bar to just below your knees, or a bit higher, and hang clean the second rep, trying to move into full clean position more dynamically than you did on your first rep Recover and lower the bar to the platform. The third rep is a full clean.
The idea behind the drill is to force the athlete to concentrate on the many keys that are required in the exercise, and as he becomes more tired, to have to concentrate even harder. The power clean teaches the lifter to pull through and to seek more height with the bar. The hand clean forces the lifter to concentrate on his timing at the top of the pull and to explode to the bottom just after the traps have made the bar jump upward. The hang clean also makes the lifter transfer his keys of pulling into his feet. I can think of no other sports activity that requires this particular transference. All the others require a transference from the feet upward to the shoulders and arms, but the clean and the snatch require just the opposite.
And this is one reason this movement is so difficult to learn:
The line of pull must be exact and the bar has to be pulled so dynamically at the top that it is moving upward while the lifter jumps downward into the platform.
In addition, the lifter's feet have to his the platform in the precise position to enable him to do a solid front squat so he can recover easily.
The third rep is the meat of the drill. Because it is the third rep in a rather demanding exercise, the muscles of the shoulders, back, hips and legs are tiring. So the third rep demands even more concentration than the first two reps. But . . .
this third rep really acts much like a limit attempt, even when done with a moderate poundage.
When a lifter is able to handle a heavy triple in the drill, relatively speaking, he is ready for a much heavier single.
I once trained a teenage lifter who always broke his otherwise fine form once he tried any weight over his best. So, I had him do the drill exclusively for six weeks and never let him try a heavy single. He was a hard worker and moved his drill numbers to within 10 pounds of his best single in the clean & jerk. At the contest, I had him start with 20 pounds over his best and he made it like an empty bar. He went on to better his PR by 50 pounds that day. For the most part, his success in the drill improved his confidence more than it did his form.
Perhaps the greatest value of the drill is that it helps improve timing and coordination. Learning to pull through completely, then jamming the feet to the platform in the very same place every single rep is one of the more difficult aspects of learning and perfecting the two Olympic lifts. But by doing the drill over and over, the rhythm will start to come and when you do everything just right, it seems almost magical. The bar will leap upward, you jump to the platform and there is the bar, resting comfortably across your front deltoids. When done right, the move seems almost effortless.
There is often a tendency to allow the bar to crash downward when the lifter jumps to the platform. Any time the lifter allows the bar to float free, he is not in control of the situation. When the lifter explodes to the bottom position, he should literally try and pull the bar down with him. In this manner, he is able to control where the bar will end up and not merely let it crash down wherever it chooses to go. True, some very good lifters are able to get away with letting the bar crash down on them. Barski, in fact, did this often but he was an exception and it's not really smart to try and emulate the exceptions.
Another tip that may prove beneficial is to draw chalk outlines on the platform or floor where you want your feet to end up in the bottom position. After each rep, you can easily check to see if you are hitting your mark and make the necessary adjustments.
The drill for the snatch is done in the same manner:
Power snatch, ride to the bottom,
Hang snatch to a full bottom position,
It would seem logical that light weights be used while learning to do the drill, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, moderate poundages work better because they force the lifter to have to do more things correctly. With light weights, he is not required to pull as hard or to move as fast. But any time form gets sloppy, lower the poundage, for this really is a form drill and not a test of strength.
Once a person has mastered the clean drill, he may want to add in a jerk after the third rep. This is especially useful for anyone who is having difficulty with the jerk portion of the clean & jerk for, once again, it forces a higher degree of concentration because of the fatigue factor.
It may seem that the drill would only fit into a beginner's program, but this is not the case. It is also most useful for an experienced lifter who has fallen into some bad habits, such as cutting his top pull or moving to the bottom position more quickly and solidly. One session doing the drill will quickly reveal whether a lifter has poor timing, is not utilizing his traps correctly, or is moving much to lackadaisically to the platform. Once you become proficient with the drill, move the numbers up. Way up.
Anyone can practice the drill, with or without a coach. It will help establish confidence in doing the two Olympic lifts. When you are able to do a legal snatch and clean & jerk, enter a meet. Don't wait until you think you are good enough to make a trophy-winning total. Jump in and get your feet wet. Experience in Olympic lifting is as critical as any other facet of the sport. Don't be afraid of failure for if you learn anything at a contest, and I guarantee you will learn a great deal, you have not failed. You will quickly learn that everyone supports your efforts on the platform, regardless of how much weight is on the bar or how proficient your form.
And once you step out on the platform, totally alone, dependent on your own abilities, you will have entered a sacred arena which can only be experienced by doing, not watching. I assure you that you will never be the same. You are part of one of the greatest athletic fraternities: Olympic Weightlifting.
Enjoy Your Lifting!