Erika Asks: Hi Coach, I’ve just started Olympic Lifting a couple months ago and I'm having issues with my catch position in the clean. I can easily power clean 115#s but I'm unable to do a full clean with more than 110#s and I can't figure out what the issue is since I can also front squat up to 125#s. I'm also having the opposite problem with my OHS. I can't OHS more than 65#s but my PR snatch is 95#s. Since OHS are part of a program I'm wanting to start I feel like I can't make proper gains without being able to train with a heavier OHS weight. Any ideas on why I'm so much weaker with the OHS?
First, let’s take a look at the ratio of clean to front squat and see if having trouble cleaning more than 110lbs with a 125lb front squat actually qualifies as a problem. 110lbs is 88% of your front squat. If you take a look at the chart in my book,
you’ll see the clean & jerk should be 85-90% of the front squat—so you actually are not only in there, but toward the higher end. Conclusion? The issue isn’t your ability to clean relative to your ability to front squat.
Now, let’s take a look at your power clean. You can easily power clean 115lbs and have trouble cleaning 110lbs. I don’t need to consult a chart to tell you that’s a major issue, but I’ll give you some numbers just for a frame of reference: the power clean should be 80-90% of the clean. If your best clean is 110lbs, I would expect you to power clean 88-99lbs; or if you look at it from the opposite perspective, if you power clean 115lbs, I would expect you to clean 128-144lbs.
We can reverse-engineer this and see what you should be front squatting to get your lifts in proper range of each other. If we expect to clean 85-90% of the front squat and are looking for a 128-144lb clean, that would mean you need to be front squatting 142-169lbs. It should be apparent now that the problem is not your clean at all, but a lack of squat strength.
This is very common in CrossFitters and other non-weightlifter athletes because of the lack of regular squatting in their training and excess of power variants. Quite simply, you need to start squatting more frequently and with more emphasis. You can keep doing power cleans, but I would do at least as many cleans in any given period of time, and I would also squat after every power clean (i.e. after receiving the power clean and stopping in that position, sit into a squat). The only way you’re going to fix the problem is to squat.
Regarding the snatch and overhead squat conundrum, this is a bit more complicated. First, you don’t necessarily need to overhead squat more than you snatch—unless you overhead squat pretty regularly for a decent period of time, it’s common actually to not be able to, especially for women who typically have less relative upper body strength. So this is not a deal breaker.
That said, this is a pretty significant disparity that suggests a problem of some kind in the overhead squat. Very likely this is a combination of mobility and stability—an overhead squat requires more mobility and stability than a snatch even though that may seem counterintuitive.
The overhead squat requires push pressing or jerking the bar overhead first, which has its own stability demands, and then requires at minimum double the time and distance to keep the bar secured overhead relative to the snatch, and often more than double in terms of time because of the typically slow descent. Without a strong and stable overhead position, which requires the proper upper body mobility, and a strong and controlled squat and bottom position, which requires proper lower body mobility and stability, the overhead squat will be a disaster.
Based on your clean and power clean problem, I have to assume there is a dearth of squatting in your training, suggesting your squat movement and bottom position are not as dialed in as they need to be. So step one is increase the frequency of squatting in general (back, front and overhead).
Now, I don’t know if this low overhead squat is actually holding back your snatch or not. It may not even be a problem. But I’ll take your word for it in order to answer the question.
I would approach it pretty simply like this: spend 2-3 weeks in each of the following phases, working to add weight each week. Hold the bottom position of the last overhead squat in each set for 3 seconds before recovering. Use 4-6 sets.
Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat – 5+3
Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat – 3+2
Overhead Squat – 3
Snatch Push Press – 5
Overhead Squat – 2
Snatch Push Press – 3
Overhead Squat – 1
In addition, any time you snatch, hold it in the bottom for 2-3 seconds, and add an overhead squat at the end of each set. Warm-up at least 3 days/week with overhead squats with an empty bar or up to maybe 50% of your best overhead squat for a few triples.