The Olympic lifts require great speed and power. But that speed and power should not only be imparted to the barbell, it should also be used to get the athlete under the bar into the receiving position. A lot of CrossFit athletes rely too much on the arms and too little on the hips and legs to generate that upward force on the bar. An even greater majority floats his or her way under the barbell to receive a snatch, clean, or jerk.
One of the most common errors I see coaching athletes is impatience. Impatience rears its ugly head wearing many different faces. There is the impatience in setting up for the lift. There is the impatience of ripping the bar from the floor without being mindful of positions. And there is also the impatience of not waiting long enough for the bar to make its way up to the proper 2nd pull position. I want to briefly touch on these three particular instances of impatience while weightlifting in hopes of getting you all to understand a more nuanced version of your weightlifting.
I will begin with your setup. This is not an article to delve into the specifics of your setup. There are some gross principles that everyone can apply, but remember that body segment length and flexibility play a role in how you can set up to pull from the floor. What I do want to hammer home in this piece is being deliberate in your setup. Take your time. Do the easy stuff first. The bar should be roughly over the middle to ball of your foot. Your knees should be pressed wide into the inside of your arms. Shoulders should be directly over to slightly in front of the bar. Your back should be set into stiff extension and shoulders pulled down and back. And finally your head should be up looking straight ahead somewhere above the horizon – your gaze should not leave this unmoving spot for your entire lift.
So when you set up for the lift, do all of those things intentionally. Take your time. Do them the same way each time. Create routine. Snatching is already difficult enough, but if you set up a different way each time you only make it harder. Get into YOUR setup position with intention each time. Do the easy stuff first.
Next is the impatience of ripping the bar from the floor. This is often done because the athlete knows the O-lifts require power and speed. But everyone needs to understand that the first pull is not the powerful and fast portion of the lift. The first pull is simply a means to put the bar into the proper, mechanically advantaged position to initiate the most powerful 2nd pull possible. It is unhelpful to carry great speed into the 2nd pull, and this is especially true if you are an athlete missing body and bar contact in the clean or snatch.
It is very difficult to impart force to a fast moving object. The analogy I always like to use has me taking you back to your days on the playground. Remember the merry-go-round? Do you remember pushing your friend around on it? It was difficult to begin accelerating it from a dead stop. But after a few heaves it started spinning. Once you broke the initial inertia and got it spinning, it became easier to accelerate it. You were able to grab hold of the bar and give it a good pull and push. But then it hit a speed at which it became difficult to accelerate it again. It was hard to time your pull/push correctly. This is what happens in your clean or snatch. If you rip the bar off the floor and carry a lot of speed into your 2nd pull, chances are you will miss your proper position or not be able to fully accelerate the bar further. And this only sets you up for inevitable 3rd pull woes.
So finally, let me talk about the rushing of the 2nd pull. I will discuss this by beginning with the final portion of the lift. The 3rd pull begins once you reach full hip and knee extension – the top most portion of your pull. This is the point at which the athlete must then change direction and head under the bar. It is important to use both the arms and the hips to pull yourself back down into the receiving position. But this cannot happen effectively if you are initiating your 2nd pull too soon. If your 2nd pull is not happening with the bar in your hip crease in the snatch, you are not being patient enough. If your clean 2nd pull is happening with contact right above your knees, you have either been gifted incredibly long arms and a short torso or you are not waiting long enough for the bar to come higher up your thighs. Do you get scraped up by the bar after a bunch of power cleans? Check where your scrapes are happening. With your arms extended and hands by your sides, the scrapes should be very close to where your thumbs are.
If your 2nd pull has you contacting your thighs too low on a clean, you will inevitably have to use your arms to pull that bar back to you and up. You will be doing this when your arms should really be pulling you under the barbell (3rd pull). A picture is worth a thousand words; so let this video be worth the ten thousand words I could write on this subject…
Technique Tip: Suffer from “Slow Elbow Syndrome” in the clean? *Turn sound on* 1. Bar is farther away from me on LEFT bc I made contact so low (farther from my center of gravity) 2. PUT bar on your shoulders instead of letting it fall there 3. By being patient you create more acceleration & can pull under when the bar is “weightless.” – When impatient you’re always pulling up on bar & racing gravity to the bottom (slow elbows). You never experience the weightless feeling of the bar & bc of this you can’t pull under as fast (slow elbows). So, for FAST ELBOWS – be patient in your pull! PS- It’s easy to tell pulling UP vs UNDER if you look at my feet – Tag someone who might enjoy this!
I hope that you will practice patience in your weightlifting as you move forward from here. Practice patience in the process, but especially practice it in these three key pieces of your lifts.
P.S. – I should add here that the dip, drive, and punch under of the jerk follow the same exact concepts. The dip is akin to the 1st pull, so remember that the focus is position and setting up the next piece. The drive is like the 2nd pull, so remember that this is where I want to impart the highest acceleration values to the bar. The punch under is the 3rd pull, so utilize both the arms and the legs to push and pull yourself back under the bar for your split/power/squat jerk.