A Beginner's Guide to Coaching Olympic Lifts: Starting Strong

The best way to teach the Olympic lifts is through constant gradual exposure.

This article is Part 1 of a series on coaching the Olympic lifts

The Snatch and the Clean and Jerk are highly popular exercises in strength and conditioning programs around the country. Their ability to train power and deceleration (during the catch) are useful tools in improving athletic performance. While many of us realize the benefits of the Olympic lifts, some of us are unsure how to coach or implement them in a team setting. For simplicity, we will only discuss the Snatch and the Clean (we will save the Jerk for a different time).

First and foremost, the best way to teach the Olympic lifts is through constant gradual exposure. It is wishful thinking to believe competency in the lifts can be attained through one session. Ideally, the movements and positions would be sprinkled throughout an introductory phase. RDLs, Front Squats (with a clean grip), and Overhead Squats are vital exercises that can tell you a lot about an athlete's weaknesses and compensations.

If the plan is to teach the Snatch and the Clean, I would opt to teach the snatch first. One of the main reasons is because good positioning in the Snatch will often lead to good positioning in the Clean. With the Snatch the hips start at a lower position and the pull is much longer. This will make technical errors (such as hips rising too fast or bent arms) easier to spot. Mobility issues will also be much more pronounced. Another reason why you should teach the Snatch first is because it rids the athlete of fear. Catching the bar overhead is scarier than receiving it in the front rack. Once an athlete can dial down the Snatch, the Clean will come much easier.

For progressions, I am a fan of working from the hip down. Teach the athlete to find a proper snatch grip (a wide grip where the bar sits at the hip crease). I use a four step progression and utilize complexes to keep weights lighter and focus on technique. It looks something like this:

  • Step One: Snatch Pull from Hip + Snatch from Hip
  • Step Two: Snatch Pull from Hang (above knee) + Snatch from Hang (above knee)
  • Step Three: Snatch Pull from Hang (below knee) + Snatch from Hang (below knee)
  • Step Four: Snatch Pull from Floor + Snatch from Floor

I love utilizing pulls because they prime the bar path. When working from the hip, there are fewer things to focus on and less time for technique to go awry. Have your athletes become proficient at each step before moving them down to the floor. Repeat the same process with clean pull and cleans from the same positions.

To help ingrain technique, light snatch or clean complexes can be used at the beginning of training days.

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