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Technical Glitches I'm Seeing A LOT These Days, Pt.1
Matt Foreman  |  Olympic Weightlifting  |  October 28 2013

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Technical Glitches I'm Seeing A LOT These Days, Pt.1, Matt Foreman,
Believe it or not, I hate writing about weightlifting technique. No matter what you say, somebody is going to disagree or challenge it. Even if you write one of the most basic, universally understood ideas in weightlifting, it’ll still get second-guessed by some keyboard legend. I could write "To win weightlifting competitions, you have to lift more weight than your competitors" and some numbnuts would tell me I was wrong. This gets annoying.

But I'm gonna write about technique anyway, because I refuse to be held hostage by a bunch of toolbags.

So…about this whole "pull slowly from the floor" thing.

Most of the people I'm working with these days have already learned the OLifts somewhere else before I start with them. And I'm seeing some of the same technique problems over and over and over and over.

One of the biggest ones is a painfully slow first pull (from the floor to the knees). Many athletes seem to think that you're supposed to intentionally use a slow movement during this phase of the snatch and clean.

Wrong...wrong...wrong...wrong...

I think I understand where this mistake comes from, though. People watch videos of the Olympics and World Championships and they see the best lifters in the world. When these lifters pull their snatches and cleans, there's a change of speed after the bar passes the knees. The second phase of the pull (from the mid-thigh to the finish of the pulling movement) is almost always more accelerated and explosive than the first pull from the floor to the knees. I think inexperienced coaches are watching this and thinking those lifters are deliberately pulling the bar slowly from the floor and then ripping the crap out of it once it passes the knees.

This isn't what's happening.

These top international lifters are snatching and cleaning massive weights, more than most people in the world can even deadlift. Because of this, that first pull is simply going to look a little slower. When a 170 lb man cleans 450, the bar isn't going to fly off the floor like an empty broomstick. The initial part of the movement is going to be slower simply because the weight is so enormous. But those lifters are NOT thinking to themselves, "I need to go really slow at the beginning of this lift." Believe me, they're trying to build speed as quickly as possible.

When you watch their light warm-up attempts with 150 lbs or whatever, the first pull from the floor usually looks a little faster. But it's not insanely faster than their heavy record attempts because there's an overall rhythm of the movement that needs to be kept consistent.

In 25 years of competitive weightlifting, I've never heard a coach of any significant experience tell an athlete to pull the bar slowly from the floor. Now, there might be times with new lifters when the athlete is pulling the bar from the floor with so much speed that it's causing some other technique screw-ups (rounding of the back, lunging forward onto the toes, butt shooting straight up in the air, etc.) When this happens, I think the best feedback to use is something like "Keep your back tighter" or "Don't let your butt shoot straight up at the beginning," something like that. There might be a few rare cases where the words "slow down at the beginning" will be necessary, but I wouldn’t make a coaching practice out of it. I think most of these technique problems can be fixed by giving the athlete some other kind of feedback instead of "go slower." Generally, you don't want to tell a racehorse to stop acting like a racehorse.

When I started lifting, I was taught the rule, "You want to pull the bar as fast as possible from the floor while still maintaining proper balance and positions." And I was taught by some pretty successful weightlifting coaches. This is what I've always believed, and always will. Please read that rule carefully and consider the whole statement before you start to misinterpret what I’m saying. You don’t want to take complete beginners and tell them to start uncontrollably hauling ass. Proper movements have to be taught sensibly. But as the lifter develops, it’s a big mistake to teach deliberate slow pulling.

This is a speed sport, people. Many of you have had the experience when you went to your first big weightlifting meet, you watched the lifters in the warm-up room, and you just couldn’t believe how fast they were. Remember that? You’ll always see more explosiveness and acceleration in the finishing phase of the pull, but that doesn’t mean the initial phase should be slow. If you want to be a good lifter, you have to start generating speed as soon as the plates separate from the floor.

Speaking of top world-level lifters, here’s another way you could look at this. Many of the biggest weights in the history of the sport were lifted by the Bulgarian athletes of the 1980s. Most of you didn’t know that because the weight classes have been changed in weightlifting a couple of times over the last 20 years, and the old world records were erased when this happened. People are in awe (and they should be) of Lu Xiaojun currently clean and jerking 204 kilos (449 lbs) at 77 kilo bodyweight (170 lbs). But those of us from the old school remember Alexander Varbanov of Bulgaria hitting 215.5 kilos (474 lbs) at 75 bodyweight (165) back in 1987. The reason I’m mentioning this is because you can learn a lot about speed from watching those Bulgarians from the 80s. Get on YouTube and see if you can find old videos of guys like Varbanov, Asen Zlatev, Mikhail Petrov, Borislav Gidikov, etc. You’ll see what I mean.

This blog is actually going to be #1 in a three-part series about common technical errors I’m seeing all over the place. There are two other big ones I’ll address in the coming weeks. But if this speed issue applies to you, work on it. And if you’re teaching people to move slowly, you should consider some retooling of your methods.

Just a thought.
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Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams.
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16 Comments
Brian 1 | 2013-10-28
I've also noticed the first few strides of sprinters are slower than at the middle and end of the race.
Louizandre Dauphin 2 | 2013-10-28
A great start to this discussion. Your argument is very straight-forward and there really is no sense in "ripping" from the floor with no sense of balance or control. I look forward to the next part of this discussion. And, Brian: Trust me, the sprinters you see are moving as fast as they can out of the blocks. The initial steps of the drive phase may look "slow" but they are the most violent and explosive steps of their race. Remember, like a lifter's first pull, they're fighting Newton's First Law of Motion (Inertia).
scholle 3 | 2013-10-28
Yes, you should'nt sleep when you start to pull. But technique isn't a one way. There a different betwen nations like bulgaria, russia or other countries. And i guess it's a differnt betwen the lifters .
Whit Matthews 4 | 2013-10-28
Slowing down my first pull was a very useful tool for me for learning to stay in good position, but the goal is to speed up the more comfortable i get. The goal is always to go fast.
Nick Ruscoe 5 | 2013-10-28
So wait, you're trying to tell me that whoever lifts the heaviest weight wins? Sounds bad for your back...
Tim Retzik 6 | 2013-10-28
The Bulgarians haven't won anything in years. At least that was the response I got last time I got into it about pulling slow. Nice post Matt
Frank 7 | 2013-10-29
Matt you're absolutely right. I just started coaching a few lifters who had terrible habits that I had to break. I HAD to make them slow down from the floor in order to retool and fix their technical errors. As their mechanics improved I then had the problem of getting them to move faster. While they were able to perform with more speed at the second pull, they still felt the need to pull slow from the floor which reduced the speed of the entire lift. Perhaps if I took a different approach to fixing the original errors as Matt suggests, I wouldn't have become my own worse enemy.
Nathan 8 | 2013-10-29
Varbanov's best competition snatch was 165kg (1), It might be ignorant of me to say this but snatch seems to be the more technique dependent movement. Although Lu isn't super slow, it definitely seems like the slower Chinese style (2), outsnatching Varbanov by 11kg. Also watching Lu attempt 211kg (3) he cleans it like it's nothing, The jerk seems to be the limiting factor for him. (1) chidlovski(*dot*)net/liftup/l_athleteResult.asp?a_id=284 (2) youtu(*dot*)be/d8u6MM00_ig?t=22s (3) youtu(*dot*)be/2QQ5U8vTZ1M?t=11s It seems a poor comparison to make in this case.
Matt Foreman 9 | 2013-10-29
Nathan, Those are legit comments. First, I don't think I agree that the snatch is a more technique dependent movement than the clean. I think they're both equally technical. Second, I know Lu isn't slow. You can't clean 211 if you're slow. Third, he outsnatched Varbanov because...he's a better snatcher than Varbanov. The point I was making is that the Bulgarian style of those days utilized maximum speed right from the beginning of the lift. When you watch the lifters I mentioned, it's pretty obvious that they're trying to accelerate as much as possible as soon as they initiate the movement. Some (not all) of the athletes from this era lifted weights that still haven't been surpassed, so their technical approach obviously has some merit. The Bulgarian comparison isn't the center of my whole argument. It's just an additional thought about the matter. Plus, the main point is that none of the best lifters in the world, from any country or era, intentionally try to move slowly when they pull from the floor...at least not the kind of "slowly" I'm referring to.
Nathan 10 | 2013-10-29
Hi Matt, Got it. I may have misinterpreted you as suggesting something like a dynamic pull. I've also been getting a little frustrated with people online (basically exclusively westerners such as myself) being dismissive or critical of the Chinese and particularly Lu, as he's in the spotlight due to his success. Might have come off a little strong, sorry bout that. Looking forward to hearing more
Matt Foreman 11 | 2013-10-29
Thanks Nathan. And I'm in awe of Lu Xiaojun. A 176 snatch at 77 bodyweight is one of the best lifts I've ever heard of, period. If he hits 180 at 77 before he quits, I'll call him the best snatcher of all time.
Nathan 12 | 2013-10-30
Amen!
Steve 13 | 2013-11-04
Thanks for writing this article! At my old box (from a few years ago) our coach was explicitly telling us to go slow until we hit our knees just as you described. Due to injury I took a break from Crossfit for over a year. Getting back into it at a new box (with better coaches) and am pumped. Looking forward to reading the next installments of your series!
Vincent 14 | 2014-01-28
"To win weightlifting competitions, you have to lift more weight than your competitors" If you weigh less than the competition you win by lifting the same weight.
Rich Kite 15 | 2014-08-03
Hi Matt, good read. I agree and disagree with some parts, but that's the fun in coaching, right? As long as we end up at the same place, it's all good. However, I would say that it's a bit of a double edged sword, if you pull faster from the floor to the knee, then from the knee to the hip, you have some serious technical problems that you will need to address. I'm sure you're aware of this, just to make others aware though.
Tandra 16 | 2014-08-04
Call me a tool if you must, but I have been to Burgeners many a time and been told to slow down the first pull to get it correct and Burgs protege Casey uses the same method at his Cf gym. So perhaps this cue has its place in a gym where folks do oly once a week and if you don't make them get the first pull right it's just a sloppy dead lift/row as they rip it from the floor all in a CF lather. I know my lifts feel better, and yes, now I work on speed as you mentioned. It works well for exercisers but not weightlifters it's all context.
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