One of the most frustrating technical problems as a weightlifter, and as a weightlifting coach, is the dreaded forward jump. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common, and worse, it often proves extremely difficult to correct. In fact, there are a few world-class lifters who jump forward, which goes to show you that even teams of the best athletes and best coaches in the world struggle to do things perfectly. Don’t mistake this as my saying don’t worry about your jumping forward with the excuse that you saw some guy at the world championships do it; I’m just saying, go into this process knowing that it may be a long, discouraging one, and that you may never fix it completely. That said, you should keep trying, because even if the problem lingers on some of your heaviest lifts, a reduction will be beneficial; and, of course, if you can’t fix it completely in short order, don’t resort to buying a snowmobile quite yet (those of you who don’t train with the Catalyst Athletics team won’t understand how astoundingly funny that joke is—that’s your own fault).
With any technical problem, we can use a couple different approaches to correcting it. There’s the shotgun, scorched earth, kill everything that moves approach, which can be quite effective, and is a lot easier than making an accurate diagnosis and then determining corrective strategies; and there’s the finesse approach, which requires a solid understanding of lift technique and mechanics to allow the correct diagnosis of the source of the problem and subsequent selection or creation of appropriate corrective exercises, drills, athlete education and/or coaching cues. I’m going to cover both approaches below, listing some of the most common sources and corrections under the finesse section.
The scorched earth approach is kind of like a weightlifting analog of conventional medical practice: treat the symptoms with near-fatal doses of pharmaceuticals and worry about collateral damage later. In other words, we’re not going to even bother considering the cause, and simply find ways to make the lifter stop jumping forward one way or another with just about anything short of blunt force trauma to the head.
Coach Mat This is as simple as it possible gets: provide a physical obstacle to jumping forward. I use a scrap of ¼” rubber flooring about 3’ x 10”: lay this on the platform in front of the lifter’s toes and you won’t even need to say anything to them. Now, because we don’t actually want to kill or disfigure our lifters, a couple points: Use a thin mat. Don’t throw a 3” thick piece of lumber on the platform. With something like a ¼” or 3/8” rubber mat, if the lifter does happen to land on it, the consequences aren’t dire. A strip of thin mat will also slide forward out of the way if the lifter kicks it. In either case, the consequence of jumping forward won’t be one that prevents the athlete from even lifting again. The other important point is to not start with the mat right against the lifter’s toes—when first beginning this, place it about as far in front of the lifter’s feet as he/she normally jumps (e.g. if the lifter jumps 3” forward, leave 3” of space between the mat and the front of the lifter’s shoes). Remember, this is a threat, not actual battery. The mere presence of the mat, even if it’s a few inches away, will often be adequate to keep the lifter from jumping forward, or at least reduce how far he/she moves forward. Over time, as the lifter gets better and better with the problem, begin starting the mat closer and closer to his/her toes. Use the mat in every snatch or clean training session the lifter does until the problem is sufficiently improved.
Coach PVC This is the same idea as Coach Mat but vertical. This is more appropriate if you think the bar is moving forward away from the lifter significantly as the cause or part of the problem. You can kneel alongside the lifter with a PVC pipe standing vertically a few inches in front of the bar (near the end, outside the plates). Hold the pipe below the bar so that it can travel up without hitting your hand at any point, and be ready to get out of the way if needed. But the genuine Coach PVC is a little device I invented to get out of this sketchy position and also allow a lifter to work on the problem without me there. Get a galvanized pipe flange and screw it onto the end of your PVC pipe, and you have a pipe that will stand vertically on its own, but will also fall over easily if hit, getting out of the way. Just like with Coach Mat, give the lifter more space initially and gradually move it closer, although there will always need to be a few inches of space.
Chalk, Tape & Hot Lava Similar to Coach Mat is the placement of a line with chalk or strip of tape on the platform that the lifter will line the toes up behind when starting a lift—everything on the other side of that line is hot lava. Because there is no actual physical obstacle involved, the toes can be right against the line in this case. Some lifters respond identically to such a barrier as they do to a physical one—others don’t because deep down inside, they know full well that no harm will come from jumping over it, because the hot lava, as creative a concept as it may be, is of course imaginary.
No Feet Snatches and cleans without moving the feet are sometimes used to correct this problem, which is why I mention it here, but I don’t find them particularly effective for this—it changes the movement in such a way that the lack of forward jumping is not really the result of correcting the problem, but of changing the movement in a fairly fundamental way. That said, it can work at times with some athletes, so it’s worth experimenting with to find out how it works for a particular athlete if you’re exhausting your options.
Overcorrecting The final approach in this category is to attempt to exaggerate the correction. Instead of trying to get the lifter to not jump forward, we’ll instruct the lifter to try to jump backward. Because this lifter’s natural mechanics are such that they produce a forward jump, typically an attempt to jump backward will result in them staying in approximately the same place. Of course, specify that you’re not looking for them to jump back significantly—somewhere around half an inch. You want them to exaggerate a bit, not go completely nuts.
Now we get into the more complex and difficult approach to correctly the problem—actually figuring out why the lifter is jumping forward, and then figuring out an exercise or collection of exercises that will help retrain the bad habit and result in a correction. Coaching cues may factor in here, but if the problem is legitimately ingrained, no amount of chitchat is going to make a significant difference. Use cues to reinforce the lessons of corrective drills and exercises, not to correct independently.
Following are some of the most common causes of a forward jump in the snatch or clean, and some effective methods of correcting them.
Improper Starting Position
It should be fairly obvious that if a lifter begins the lift with a forward imbalance, it’s likely the rest of the lift will be out of balance forward. This imbalance in the starting position may be visible, such as with the shoulders far over the bar and hips too high, or it may not be perceptible until the lift begins and the effects take place. Part of a proper starting position
is being set up to establish the correct balance throughout the rest of the lift. Oddly enough, having the balance too far back in the starting position can set a lifter up to be too far forward once the lift begins. If a lifter tries to start with the weight on the heels, it’s likely there will be an overcompensation early in the pull and the lifter will end up farther forward than he/she would have been with a balanced start.
The correction for this problem is really just re-educating the lifter on the proper starting position and then monitoring and correcting in training until it becomes natural. Partial pull variations like snatch/clean lift-offs
, halting snatch/clean deadlifts
, or snatch/clean segment deadlifts
can also be used along with the new starting position to help the lifter experience the effect and know what it should feel like when done properly in the snatch or clean.
Failure to Shift Back in First Pull
One of the most important elements of the first pull is re-establishing the proper balance over the feet that will be used the rest of the lift—while the balance will be centered on the foot or even slightly in front of center in the starting position, the lifter must immediately begin shifting his/her body and the bar back slightly as the bar leaves the floor to move the weight balance slightly behind the middle of the foot. If the bar moves directly vertically rather than backward somewhat, the weight of the bar-body complex will be forward of the lifter’s base, and continue to shift farther forward as the lifter stands.
Additionally, we can focus on this part of the lift with snatches and cleans rather than just pulls and deadlifts with variations like segment snatches/cleans
, slow-pull snatches/cleans
, snatch/clean pull/deadlift + snatch/clean, halting snatch/clean deadlift + snatch/clean, or snatch/clean lift-off + snatch/clean. These exercises will work even better after the athlete has spent some time with the previous collection both practicing and strengthening the proper movement.
Tipping Over in the First Pull
Related closely to the previous error, because it will prevent the proper backward shift in the first pull, is tipping over the bar. In other words, rather than the lifter moving off the floor with the shoulders, hips and bar essentially moving at the same rate, the lifter’s hips rise much faster and leave the bar and shoulders behind, naturally moving the shoulders farther forward. Being attached to the shoulders by the arms, the bar will naturally want to move forward with them. Some lifters are able to control the bar well enough to move it back enough to keep their balance where it needs to be despite this tipping, but since it confers no real benefit, it warrants correcting if possible anyway to reduce the potential for losing control.
Conveniently, we can work on correcting this problem with the exact same list of exercises supplied for the previous one—anything that allows the lifter to both practice and strengthen the proper movement will help.
Bar Moving Straight Up Past the Knees
In order for the system to remain balanced in a direct sense, the bar needs to continue moving back toward the body slightly as it passes the knees; additionally, this backward movement maintains proximity of the bar and body, which then helps prevent the bar being kicked forward as the hips or thighs contact it in the finish of the second pull, further shifting the system’s balance forward. This is a subtle movement, not anything dramatic, but it can have a huge effect.
Snatch/clean segment deadlifts, snatch/clean segment pulls, halting snatch/clean deadlifts, and snatch/clean pulls with a slow movement until mid-thigh can all be used effectively for this problem by again allowing the lifter to focus on this part of the movement and strengthen the body to be capable of performing it correctly. Additionally, the uncreatively-named Everett snatch/clean pull
or snatch/clean transition deadlift
can be used as a remedial drill to help with this problem. For purely strength-related causes, stiff-legged deadlifts, RDLs and bent rows can all help, although the latter to a lesser degree.
Finally, we can focus on this movement during the actual snatch or clean with a slow-pull snatch/clean, halting snatch/clean deadlift + snatch/clean, segment snatch/clean (pausing at mid-thigh and possibly the knee first), and 2 or 3-position snatch/clean
working top down from mid-thigh.
Bar Swinging Forward in Second Pull
There are a few possible reasons for the bar swinging away from the lifter’s body in the second pull, such as the hips moving too far forward through the bar, the legs not driving hard or long enough during the extension, the bar having moved too far away from the body prior to contacting the hips or thighs, or simply a lack of active control of the bar.
Some coaches seem pathologically averse to snatch or clean high-pulls
, as if they represent some kind of unimaginable evil in the world of weightlifting; I happen to love them—when implemented and performed properly, of course. This is one of those times when the high-pull can be very helpful: they address every one of the problems I just listed. The lifter has to keep the bar close to the body until it gets to the hips, drive aggressively and completely with the legs, finish with a net vertical motion, and then actively control the bar as it continues rising following final knee and hip extension. Is the snatch/clean high-pull action identical to what happens in the snatch or clean? Of course not, but neither is anything else other than a snatch or clean, so don’t lose sleep over it. Use it as a tool to improve the snatch/clean, not as perfect facsimile for the competition lifts.
Of course, you have more options: snatch/clean pull, snatch/clean pull + snatch/clean, snatch/clean shrug
, or hang snatch/clean pull
, all of which will allow the lifter to focus on the proper extension action and control of the bar afterward. The dip snatch/clean
will help train the vertical and aggressive drive of the legs at the top of the pull, as well as make it easier for the lifter to work on maintaining proximity of the bar to the body following the finish of the second pull.
Bar Swinging Forward in Third Pull
Closely connected to the previous is the lifter allowing the bar to swing away from the body during the third pull. This is very common, as many lifters aren’t even aware of the need to do ANYTHING in the third pull—they seem to think the job is done after extending the legs and hips and then just float through space hoping they and their bars happen to land in a perfect stack at some point. However, the third pull needs to be just as active and aggressive as any other part of the lift. Part of this is maintaining the proximity of the bar to the body—not just because the close the bar and body are, the easier it is to move them properly into place—but also because a forward-traveling bar will result in a forward-traveling lifter who has far more trouble than necessary receiving and stabilizing the bar overhead or on the shoulders (if it doesn’t just result in an immediate miss).
The mechanics of the third pull are critical—elbows up and out before the turnover to accelerate the lifter down while maintaining proximity. Our old pal the snatch/clean high-pull can help with this initial part of the movement. The muscle snatch/clean
and tall snatch/clean
will help with the complete movement in all respects (technique, strength and aggressiveness), and the snatch/clean long pull
will help indirectly by strengthening the movement.
Failure to Bring Bar Back in Third Pull
Finally, we have the failure of the lifter to bring the bar back into position when finishing the third pull. This may seem like the same problem as the previous, but it’s not—even if the bar stays as close to the lifter as possible as they pass each other, the bar still needs to be actively moved back into its final position overhead or in the rack position for the lifter to finish in the proper position with the proper balance. A failure to do this won’t result in the dramatic pulling forward of the lifter that the previous errors—it will result more in the bar being too far forward to be supported well or at all—but it can bring the lifter forward, especially with heavier weights.
If the problem is with the mechanics of the third pull in the sense that the lifter is stopping short, the corrective exercises from the previous problem will help. If instead the cause is the lifter either not being sure of the proper position in which to receive the bar, or not being confident in that position, and as a consequence, unconsciously stopping short, work directly on the receiving position will be more helpful. For the clean, this pretty much comes down to front squats, although tall cleans and dip cleans can also be used to focus on bringing the bar back into the rack position and placing the feet directly under the bar. For the snatch, we have more options. Snatch push presses
are a very simple but effective way to teach, train and strengthen the proper overhead position, as are overhead squats
; these two combined into a complex are even better. The snatch balance
, drop snatch
and heaving snatch balance
will all be helpful as well, especially if part of the problem is a lack of aggressiveness in establishing the receiving position.
So What’s What and When Do You Use Which?
The good news is that I just gave you a ton of corrective exercises for a handful of common causes of the problem of jumping forward. The bad news is that I didn’t explicitly tell you how to determine what the cause is of this problem on any given lift. Of course, I did give you seven elements of the lift to consider when trying to diagnose, which should get you most of the way there. All you need to do is compare what you’re seeing to what you should be seeing—if they’re different, there’s a problem.
Knowing what you should be seeing during all of these parts of the lift requires a firm grasp of lift technique and experience with watching a lot of lifts by a lot of lifters. This only comes with time and practice—it’s not really something I can present to you in an article. Work with more lifters, experiment with more corrections, keep good notes, talk with other coaches and athletes, and you’ll get better and better at it.