I get this basic question in one form or another constantly. Why is my jerk worse than my clean? Why is my snatch so low compared to my clean & jerk? Why can’t I clean more relative to my front squat? Why is my front squat so low relative to my back squat?
You get the idea.
This article is my answer to every single one of those questions, because to every one, I have to say: there are many possible reasons. Sometimes those reasons are correctable problems that need to be diagnosed and addressed; sometimes they’re the product of uncorrectable physical qualities and need to be accepted.
We can break down the possible reasons into five basic categories: technical ability, mobility, strength, immutable physical qualities, and conceptual understanding.
Let’s tackle the simplest one first: conceptual understanding. Your lift might be terrible because you don’t actually know how to do it. Hopefully this doesn’t surprise you, but this is common—while there’s never before been more good information more easily accessible on learning and perfecting the Olympic lifts, it’s embedded within a total body of information that’s overwhelmingly awful, just like anything else. Part of learning to lift is first sorting out who you should trust. Find reliable coaches with a proven track record of successfully coaching good weightlifters for a long period of time, and trust that history over packaging and marketing (If you’re reading this, you’ve found at least one). Use their resources to learn or relearn lift technique
Related, but not as simple, is technical ability. By this I mean you understand conceptually what you’re supposed to do, you just can’t make it happen. The advice here is essentially the same as above—use the resources of a reliable coach to learn methods of correcting your technical mistakes
, and then invest the time and effort into those corrections. I realize it’s hard, but give it more than a week.
Mobility (or immobility, really) is going to affect different lifts to different degrees and in different ways. We’re generally going to see its limiting effects more in the snatch than the clean, and more in the jerk than the snatch when it comes to strictly overhead positioning. This is a common cause for a low snatch to clean ratio—you can be strong enough to lift a house and put that to good use with a clean, but if you can’t get into a solid, stable overhead position, you can’t snatch. General mobility work should be coupled with specific work to address exactly what you need to work on most. Forget trying to figure out exactly what muscle is tight—focus on positions and motions. Here are mobility videos
and mobility articles
to get you started.
Next, we have strength—and I include in this postural and position-specific strength, since that’s exactly what strength is. You can be strong in a very general sense as measured by your ability to deadlift, for example, but that doesn’t necessarily translate well to the snatch and clean & jerk because those movements demand strength in very specific positions and motions that are rarely trained outside of the sport of weightlifting. You can know what you’re supposed to do technically, and you can even demonstrate excellent skill in executing that technique with light weights, but if you don’t have the specific strength to support those same movements with heavy weight, you can’t do those lifts with heavy weights. This again usually affects the snatch more than the clean & jerk because the snatch demands a bit more technical precision while the clean & jerk is more likely to be manageable with brute strength.
Finally, the one that depresses everyone: immutable physical qualities. These are traits determined completely or overwhelmingly by your genetics—anatomical structure, muscle fiber composition, proportions, etc. If your hip structure is such that a deep, upright squat is impossible no matter how flexible you’re able to get the individual muscles around the hip, you’re going to be limited in what you can do in certain lifts. If you’re strong, but slow, you’re going to be better at the clean & jerk than the snatch, and have a bigger gap between your Olympic lifts and your basic strength lifts. If you’re tall and lanky, you’re going to have a higher snatch to clean & jerk ratio. These are things you can do very little if anything about—you accept them, and you find strategies and techniques to mitigate the limitations.
In short, to answer your question—you’re going to have to do a bit of investigation and figure it out. In addition to the links I’ve included above, you can read this article about the relationship of snatch, clean & jerk and squat weights
; see this post showing some general ratios of various lifts to each other
; and check out this article and chart that lays out several skill levels in the Olympic lifts and relative squats