As I’ve probably stated too many times already, I am a USA Weightlifting coach and have taught a number of people how to snatch and clean and jerk. The point of this article is to point out an often overlooked technical aspect of the snatch and the clean.
There are a lot of people out there teaching the Olympic lifts in a number of venues. CrossFit, college weight rooms, powerlifting gyms, and personal training studios are all utilizing these fun and powerful lifts for strength and power development and competition. However, I do see a lot of glaring form faults from time to time in the execution of these lifts that are easily fixed and make a huge difference in how much weight the lifter can move.
The most important aspect of the Olympic lifts is the powerful extension of the posterior chain. This mainly originates from the hips and is often mistaken for a jump. However, we don’t want to move ourselves AND the bar, just the bar. Driving through the heels as long as possible will ensure that more power is transferred to the bar alone. Driving through the heels also ensures that our center of gravity stays over our heels and not our toes. You can see that although all of these lifters are on their toes, their center of gravity is still over their heels. This is because they aren’t jumping. Their heels leaving the floor is the result of violent hip extension. Driving through the heels also keeps the bar close to the midline and allows us to exert maximal force on the bar with powerful hip extension. Most people get this right.
However, in the teaching of the Olympic lifts, power cleans, and all other versions, something got garbled. The idea that there is a powerful shrug at the top of the pull, in my opinion, needs to be put to bed. Pulling your traps to your ears in a vertical position doesn’t really do much at all for getting yourself under the bar. It also tends to keep the bar path in front of you rather than straight up from the hips. In addition, shrugging is not a motion connected to your hips. Go ahead and shrug, did you feel it in your waist and low back? Most likely not. We don’t pull the bar up to our shoulders (and beyond) so much as we pull our shoulders back rotating the chest up, and get the heck out the way. Extending the hips AND pulling the shoulders back are the two parts of one powerful and complete posterior chain contraction.
And so, when coaching new lifters, or lifters going for heavier weights, I regularly give a version of the following cue: Chest UP!!! Sometimes its “throw your chest at the ceiling”, sometimes its “pull your shoulders back”, but I mean the same thing, get that chest up and out of the way. This does two things: 1. It adds more force to the bar simply through the magic of momentum and bodyweight. 2. It allows the bar to travel straight up such that you simply get underneath of it instead of having to pull it into place at the top of the lift.
Next time you’re cleaning or snatching and it doesn’t feel quite right, have someone watch you and/or take a video. If it doesn’t look like the guys and gals in these pictures, try it, you might find you have a lot more power in the tank when you extend your entire posterior chain instead of just the hips.