Learning to perform an Olympic lift can be a lengthy process, but the benefits are well worth the time.
Even after a few months of proper coaching, physical weaknesses and problems with technique can hurt your lifts. Addressing these issues as they come up will improve your outcomes and help prevent injury.
Here are four of the most common issues with the Olympic lifts, along with tips on how to fix them. Keep in mind they are intended for athletes who already have a decent understanding of Olympic lifts.
Issue 1: Looping the Snatch
Looping refers to the circular path of the barbell after the lifter pulls the bar into the hips and transitions to the catch position. Instead of keeping the bar close to the abdomen, chest and face during that part of the lift, a lifter who is "looping the snatch" brings the bar in a circular arc that takes it away from the body.
Below are photos of what a snatch should look like. Notice how the bar is kept close to the body in all three photos.
(Photo credit: Rob Macklem)
A great way to fix the looping bar path is to perform Snatch High Pulls.
Snatch High Pulls are the first two pulls of the Snatch, done without dropping down to catch the bar. They're great for helping to fix the loop, because they allow the lifter to focus on keeping the bar close and hitting the correct positions without having to catch the bar overhead.
Start by doing 3-5 sets of 3 reps with a weight that allows you to maintain correct technique.
Issue 2: Banging the Pubic Bone During the Snatch
Another common problem with the Snatch is banging the bar off the pubic bone before dropping down for the catch. Any lifter who's had this happen knows how excruciating it can be. You do want the bar to make contact with your hips, but it should be a brushing motion instead of a painful bang.
The cause of this problem is simply not keeping the bar close to the body. Banging occurs when you bring the bar into your hips with more of a horizontal than a vertical motion. Two exercises that can help you learn to keep the bar close are Snatch Pulls (shown above) and Snatch Deadlifts.
With both of these exercises, focus on keeping the bar close to you and pushing your knees back as the bar comes off the floor. This helps ensure that the bar sweeps into the hips vertically instead of horizontally. Use a weight that allows you to perform 3-5 sets of 3 reps with correct technique.
Issue 3: Upper-Body Collapses During the Clean
Some lifters experience their upper torso falling forward as they catch a Clean. Although missing a Clean in this manner can happen simply from catching the bar out of position, it can also be due to a weak and/or tight upper back.
Weakness in the upper back can be addressed through a number of classic pulling exercises, such as Weighted Pull-Ups, Dumbbell/Barbell Rows and Dumbbell/Barbell Pullovers. A good starting point would be to throw in 4 sets of 5-6 reps of any upper-body pulling exercise in addition to the ones you are already doing.
You can work on tightness with various upper-back stretches. Two of my favorites are the Lat Lean Stretch and Thoracic Extensions on a foam roller.
To execute the Lat Lean Stretch, grab a thick resistance band, straps or a sturdy structure. Sit your weight back onto your heels and twist to the side you're holding on with. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides.
For Thoracic Extensions, place a foam roller a few inches below the base of your neck. Extend your upper back behind the roller, then return to the starting position. Move the foam roller lower down on your upper back and repeat. Continue moving the roller lower until you get to the bottom of your shoulder blades. Complete at least 10 total reps.
Issue 4: Missing Jerks Forward
Completing a Jerk requires a rigid, vertical torso and a quick, violent dip and drive of the barbell. Where most Jerks go wrong is the dip and drive. During the dip, you should have your weight back on your heels. If you shift your weight onto the balls of your feet, you can lose leg drive and your torso might start to lean forward. Both of these factors can cause Jerks to move out away from the body instead of vertically overhead. Below is an example of a good dip position:
Poor dip position is shown here:
In the second photo, notice the lifter's forward torso lean and how his weight is distributed on the front of his feet. The differences may seem subtle, but they definitely matter when you have a heavy barbell on your shoulders.
My favorite exercise for learning how to stay on your heels (and for strengthening the Jerk) is the Jerk Drive.
Jerk Drives allow you to focus on dipping and driving the proper way without trying to put the weight overhead. You can perform these without jerk blocks; however, the weight used without blocks will probably need to be much lighter, since you have to catch the bar after you drive it up.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock