Tension and timing are critical elements of successful snatching and clean & jerking. A primary part of the motor skills an athlete has to learn and develop as a weightlifter is how to create and maintain huge amounts of tension in certain parts of the body while relaxing or reversing tension in others, and to be able to switch between states and locations instantaneously, and eventually without any conscious effort.
A problem I see frequently is a loss of tension at the top of the pull in the snatch and clean. A lifter may have an amazing pull to that point, and then suddenly look like Peter Griffin when he wished he had no bones
. It’s as if the upward explosion uses up all of the electrical reserves in the body and the muscles suddenly go completely limp.
This creates a number of problems. First, potential barbell elevation is lost—it can be surprising for many athletes how much elevation that last tiny bit of extension can produce. If you relax at any point before the extension is truly completed, the force you’re producing with the legs and hips just dissipates into movement within the body rather than creating movement of the system as a whole that transfers that force into the bar—the trunk collapses, the shoulders roll forward, the knees soften.
Second, this sudden lack of tension means that it takes time to create tension again to move under the bar actively, slowing the transition at the top, which means you have less time to get under that bar successfully.
Finally, related to the previous, you have to create tension again to establish a solid receiving position, and often this slight delay means you’re not ready. This produces a soft, weak structure to support the bar, which can mean anything from collapsing forward and dropping your clean from the rack position, to pressing out your snatches and jerks, to developing chronic elbow and wrist pain from having your snatches slam down onto loose arms and shoulders.
Here are three rules to make sure you have bones:
Set tight to stay tight:
If you’re not tight before the lift starts, it’s unlikely you’re going to manage to get tight at some point along the way. Part of your pre-lift preparation needs to be getting a full breath, creating a forceful back arch, and locking it all in with tension throughout the entire trunk. Remember that this trunk tension never
changes until the lift is over and you’re dropping the bar.
Tighten more at the top as part of the effort:
The yell at the top of a snatch or clean isn’t just to get the ladies’ attention. Go listen to Nolan Ryan pitch a fastball, or a martial artist punch someone in the kisser. That yell, grunt or whatever it comes out as actually creates additional tension in the trunk, increasing its rigidity. However, you need to make sure that first, you already are tight, and second, you don’t release so much air making this noise that you actually reduce the pressurization and rigidity of the trunk afterward. Don’t put all your effort into making noise—instead, aim to make noise as an unavoidable result of an extremely aggressive effort.
Maintain continuous tension:
Keep in mind that the entire lift is active and aggressive, from start to finish. You don’t explode upward, relax and fall down under the bar, and then try to get tight before the weight smashes you. You are continuously pulling against the bar (until it’s overhead and you’re pushing against it)—the only thing that really changes is whether you’re pushing against the ground with your legs, or squatting down under the bar. Never is there a lack of tension against the bar.
When you reach the top of your pull, you should feel like someone hit you with an electric cattle prod—extended in a rigid position—and when you change directions, the only tension that should change is your legs in order to squat under the bar. Get tight, be tight, and stay active from start to finish.