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Jump up, Punch Down

When watching advanced level athletes, it’s easy to see the speed of their hips. Their change of direction is a thing of beauty!! Their hips are up and then they’re down in a split second!

However, just because the hips play an extremely critical role in accelerating the barbell, sometimes JUST thinking about the hips creates this involuntary horiztonal hip drive INTO that barbell.. forcing the bar to drift away from our body. The farther that barbell gets from our body, the less control we have over it.

Taking the focus from the hips and transferring it onto the legs can help us to still get the necessary hip speed, but will also get our hips moving in the proper direction: straight up and down. 

In other words.. let the legs do the work and allow the hips to follow along for the ride. 

When we jump, and use our strong legs the way they’re meant to be used (while simultaneously thinking of driving our feet STRAIGHT into the ground), the energy we put into the floor transfers back into our legs and then up through our hips. This forces them to move in a vertical fashion. 

Our hips moving vertically allows the bar to move vertically…creating a much more efficient bar path. 

After this vertical elevation of the bar, we shrug our shoulders to INITIATE the hips moving DOWN. But we can’t stop there, we must continue that speed under and solidify our strong overhead position by PUNCHING our body down into the overhead squat (aka the bottom of the snatch)!

In simple terms: you must jump the bar up, then shrug and punch the body down. 

-Sage Burgener

Benefits of the Tall Snatch and Tall Clean

Whether it be a snatch or clean, confidence moving under a barbell seems to, universally, be one of the biggest challenges for people learning the Olympic lifts. 

There is something about jumping FAST, down into a squat that brings peoples’ deep seeded commitment issues to the surface…whether they’re ready to face them or not!

Tall snatches and tall cleans (and a few sessions with a therapist) are a GREAT prescription for this.

A tall snatch/clean is when an athlete holds a barbell at the high hang position. The athlete then raises up onto their toes, recreating the position that their body is in at the very end of their jump (triple extension). 

From there, the athlete simply (not simple at all) shrugs and pulls their body down and around the bar.

The purpose of this movement is to take away any and all leg drive so that the athlete REALLY has to feel just how much tension and aggression goes into pulling down and around the bar. It is not a passive move… it’s an all or nothing move.

These don’t have to be performed with heavy weight! A little resistance is great so that one can really USE the bar to move around, but too much weight will create a slow movement.

-Sage Burgener

Proper Overhead Position

When it comes to overhead stability in the snatch, people struggle immensely… mainly because there are a lot of debates on whether internal or external rotation is best! And people aren’t sure which way to go!

While we have OUR opinion, we know that there are many ways to skin a cat! Try our way for a few weeks (and probably PR your snatch), and if you don’t like it, move on! If you DO like it.. we get dibs on naming your first born child. 

We believe in external rotation PAIRED with internal torque. 

How to accomplish this:

  1. Barbell overhead in snatch grip. 
  2. Crease of elbow facing the ceiling. Armpits straight ahead. 
  3. Reach the hands up.. noting the lats and shoulders raise up AS A RESULT.. the emphasis is not just on raising the shoulders alone.

Break the bar in half, or think of bending the bar into a rainbow shape (this is internal torque!)

 

 

Positions Off The Floor

When performing the lifts, it’s easy to get caught up on everything that happens after the first pull.

It’s way more fun thinking about a vicious extension or keeping the bar close, or having a strong turnover!

While those things are INSANELY important, it is nearly impossible to successfully execute them if any one of the positions off the floor is missed.

So, drill your positions off the ground!

Spend a lot of time pausing at each position and tune into how your body feels at each spot.

How do your feet feel against the ground? What is your back angle supposed to look like? Are you bracing your midline? Are you balanced with the bar?

Don’t know where you’re supposed to be or how you’re supposed to feel? Don’t fret!!

Here’s a break down of all the positions we want you to drill:

  • 1” off the floor: Weight on ball of foot. Hips slightly above the knees. Shoulders over the toes. Lats engaged. 
  • Below the knee: Weight on mid foot. Full foot gripping the floor. Shins straight. Weight balanced directly above the bar. Lats engaged. 
  • Above the knee: Weight on full foot. Toes and heels gripping the floor equally. Sitting back EXACTLY the same amount that the bar is pulling you forward. No more, no less. Shins straight. Legs loaded. Lats engaged. Mid line braced HARD. 
  • Mid Thigh: Weight on full foot. Thought process: “WAIT!! Be patient (without slowing down) stay over the bar for one more second before jumping!”
  • Hips/ Power Position: Weight on the full foot. Shoulders directly ABOVE the bar.. not in front, not behind. Legs and glutes loaded and ready to fire. 

For a visual representation, head over to our CrossFit Weightlifting Instagram page!!

 

The Bend And Snap

On the jerk, the tempo of the dip and drive can be hard to find. But in order to feel as if things are moving fluidly and efficiently, we need to understand that timing is everything! 

To find the correct tempo and timing on the dip and drive, I like to think about USING the movement of the barbell to help me!. 

For instance, when squatting heavy weight, if timed correctly, we can use the bend of the barbell at the bottom of the squat to help us out of the hole. 

We can use that SAME bend of the bar to help us on the jerk! 

Here’s how:

Stand up from your clean and adjust your hands and elbows into the proper rack position as you prepare for the jerk (elbows down and out, bar in as much of the hands as your mobility allows) . 

Relax your hands, take a deep breath in, pause (as you allow the bar to settle), and then dip at an average speed… not so fast that you disconnect from the bar and not so slow where you start to lose power and momentum. 

And AS you’re dipping and driving, SEE the ends of the barbell BEND right as you hit the bottom of the dip. After it bends, it’s going to WHIP back up! And you’re going to USE that bend and whip (bend and snap, if you will) to propel that bar off your shoulders and up over your head!

Get the timing down and USE the movement of the barbell to help get that bar elevating as much as possible. 

Cycling Barbells And Why We Love It

CrossFit gets a lot of flack for encouraging olympic lifting movements within a CrossFit style workout. “Doing a snatch or clean and jerk for multiple reps, when fatigued, is going to create bad habits for an athlete”.

What if I told you that cycling barbells, or moving barbells fast, for a lot of reps can actually HELP your olympic weightlifting technique if done properly! 

When an athlete is able to cycle barbells efficiently, or perform a clean and jerk the EXACT same way, multiple times, fast..it tells me that they actually understand the snatch and clean and jerk. 

For example:

Athletes who cycle barbells well understand the importance of balance on their feet. They know that they can not let the bar pull them forward on their toes and they can not sit too far back on the heels. Allowing either of those things to happen results in the inability to string more than one or two reps together. Balance through the WHOLE movement is KEY. 

Second, athletes who cycle barbells efficiently understand that with fatigue comes a decrease in leg drive… so the shrug under and depth in which the athlete receives the bar needs to change often and on the fly. Throwing the feet out wide to get depth or trying to receive the bar at the same heigh regardless of how fatigued the athlete is, results in, again, the inability to string more than one or two reps together. 

Last, athletes who cycle barbells well understand that if they want to be able to move as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible, exerting the least amount of energy as possible, they MUST stay fluid with their movement. Their focus needs to be on moving their body around the bar, rather than trying to manipulate the barbell around their body…like pulling the bar up with their arms, for example. Muscling the bar up for 10+ reps exerts the body to the point where trying to do any sort of movement (gymnastic movements especially!) afterwards is much harder than it needs to be. 

Instead of blaming CrossFit for “encouraging improper technique”, lets take responsibility for our movement by learning the proper technique when cycling barbells. Let’s educate ourselves so that we can understand the lifts in their entirety. This will make it so we can perform the olympic lifts for multiple reps, fast… looking EXACTLY like Mat Fraser when doing so. 

When The Pan Is Hot…

While there is definitely a time and a place for percentages, it’s important to understand that percentages, much like stop signs, are merely suggestions. 

My dad always says, “when the pan is hot, do the cooking”. And while this also applies to the culinary arts, he’s moreso referring to an athlete’s job of being in tune with their body. 

In our sport, there are days when we should be feeling great, but we feel like death. And then there are days when we should be feeling like death, but we feel like we just finished a cycle of Anavar.

*Let it be noted that we do not condone usage of steroids, but believe in talking about them to help provide some comic relief for longer than necessary blog posts *  

Because of this, following percentages to a T can be frustrating and/ or detrimental to progress. 

The frustration comes in when life throws unexpected stressors into our life and keeps our body from being able to perform at 100%. When we’re fixated on hitting certain percentages, it’s easy to get frustrated if we’re unable to hit specific numbers. Negativity or distrust in a program creeps in and this will cause unproductive training sessions. 

A delay in progress can occur when the weightlifting gods decide to bless us with ache-free joints and snappy movement, BUT the program only calls for 70% of our max for the day. It’s important to have the flexibility to take advantage of the days when we feel amazing and go for those bigger weights! Again… “when the pan is hot, do the cooking”.

Of course all of this is on a case by case basis and completely dependent on where you’re at in your cycle or what your goals are for each cycle. So, be honest with yourself as an athlete and have a trusting relationship with your coach… that way the two of you can work together to determine when to stick with percentages and when it’s safe to stray. 

The Starting Position: Points of Performance

There are a lot of different theories about the best, most efficient start position on the snatch and clean and jerk. 

We know that different body types will call for some individual tweaks here and there, but we have found that the following points of performance are best for THE MAJORITY of the weightlifting population…especially beginners:

#1. The whole foot should be gripping the floor with an emphasis on weight sitting on the ball of foot.

This will bring your shins slightly forward. If you’re sitting too far back on your heels, the shins will be straight. We do not want this!

#2. The bar placement is directly above the middle of the foot.

For people who are taller or have longer shins, it’s ok to move the bar A LITTLE BIT off the shins. This tends to make it easier for that bar to move SLIGHTLY back off the ground. 

#3. The hip crease is SIGHTLY above the knees.

You should feel tension equally in the quads, hamstrings and glutes… not one without the others. 

#4. Shoulders sit directly above the toes or bar. 

When looking at the position from the side, you should be able to draw a straight line from the end of the bar up into the shoulder).

#5. Lats engaged. Braced Midline. 

Breathe in and hold. Brace Midline. Engage Lats. Push the floor STRAIGHT DOWN away from you as you stand. 

When To Use A Belt

When first starting the olympic lifts, it’s hard to know when you should or should not use a weightlifting belt. 

All coaches have different opinions on the matter so we thought we’d share ours since it’s the only opinion that is actually fact (kidding) ( kind of). 

As a beginner, there needs to be a clear understanding that if one wants to become proficient in the olympc lifts, they MUST develop strength in their midline. This is a process that takes time and lots of accessory work, but keeping a belt out of the picture in the beginning stages of an athlete’s career is an easy, quick way to teach their midline how to fire on it’s own. It also allows the athlete to build confidence in their body, rather than feeling dependent on a piece of equipment. 

With that being said, we’re (fairly) reasonable people and we KNOW that there is a time and a place for the belt! The belt is a great tool and a great tactile reminder for athletes to brace HARD during a lift. The minute we go to tighten our belt, it’s as if it’s telling us “Hey! Feel this area I’m squeezing? Brace there!”.

So, our rule of thumb is: athletes are allowed to use their belt at 85% or above. 

The “85% rule” seems to offer enough volume at lighter weights to really make our midline work, but it also allows us to use the belt with the weights where we tend to need a little more support and confidence. 

In short, don’t feel dependent on your belt. You should know that you won’t actually die in a training session if you forget your belt at home. BUT, don’t feel guilty if the belt brings you a little comfort with heavier loads. 

Side note: When dealing with back injuries, belts can typically be used a little before 85% to protect the athlete from further irritating the area. 

Meet the Bar!

A common mistake in our sport is when an athlete allows the bar to CRASH on them. Whether it’s overhead when they receive the snatch, or in the front rack when they receive a clean, the bar comes down AFTER the athlete hits the bottom of the lift.

Solution? Power snatches and power cleans!

Coaches need to get their athletes used to receiving the bar at different heights (2″ squat, 4 ” squat, at parallel).

Depending on how light or how heavy a weight is, when an athlete goes to jump a barbell up, it is going to elevate to different levels and an athletes needs to learn to control the descent of their hips in order to receive it at each level.

For example, when the weight is light, an athlete will drive against the ground and because there is less resistance on the bar, the barbell will travel high. So, the athlete must meet it high (yes… even when performing a full snatch!).

When the barbell is loaded to a medium weight, the bar has a little more resistance now, so it will travel up a few inches less.. forcing the athlete to meet it a few inches deeper in their squat. 

Last, when a barbell is loaded with an athlete’s one rep max, the barbell has a ton of resistance on it! So, the weight will only travel up slightly before the athlete must pull his or herself down and around the weight HARD and FAST into their full squat.

You CANNOT take a light weight, jump as hard as you can, and then dive to the bottom of your squat. This is what causes that crash. That disconnect, or lack of tension kept on the barbell when pulling yourself down, inhibits you from learning that there must be CONSTANT awareness of where that barbell is in space.