Blog

You May Be (Emotionally) Unstable, But Your Lifts Don’t Have to Be

The title of this blog post has VERY little to do with the actual content, but it’s catchy and I like it.

Because there is so much to focus on in the actual lifts, we rarely think about our feet and how they feel against the ground. And when we disconnect from our feet, it’s easy to disconnect from our legs. And if we disconnect from our legs, we’ve lost our main source of power and might as well just quit weightlifting all together (may be a bit dramatic).

I touched on this concept a bit in one of my earlier blog posts, “How Well Do You Know Your Feet”, but maybe “feeling your feet or feeling your legs” are cues that don’t seem to work for you.

If that’s the case, I challenge you to think about this: “the floor is your source of power and source of stability”.

How can we use the floor for STABILITY?

In the beginning of the lift, when we’re pulling from the ground, we spread our feet and use every inch of our shoe to push the floor away from us. Use the ground as a reference for how balanced you are on that initial lift off. The initial lift off will set you up for success or failure in the rest of the lift depending on how balanced you are.

But even more important, in terms of stability, is the end of the lift. When you pull yourself down and around that bar, whether it be on a snatch or a clean, how your feet land against the ground is a HUGE indicator for how tight you are going to receive that bar. If you land with soft feet, or if you aren’t paying attention to how the floor feels under your feet, you’re probably going to be wobbling around under that weight. Being shaky and loose under heavy loads is not an ideal situation for anyone.

On the other hand, if you think about the ground staying strong and steady under you, you can jump your feet out FAST and imagine your feet STICKING to the floor like glue. Really really strong glue.

How can we use the floor for POWER?

One cue that I love that my dad uses all the time: “stay flat footed as long as possible”. What he means by this is… until you have fully extended your body as much as it’s capable of extending (aka jumping ALL the way through legs), you CANNOT stop pushing through the floor. Until you are up on your very very tip toes, milliseconds away from jumping your feet out into your landing position, you need to be pushing through the floor. This push through the floor is what is generating power into the bar.

To summarize,

1. Off the ground, use the floor to stay balanced on your lift off.

2. When you’re jumping and pulling, feel your feet pushing through the ground AS LONG AS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE.

3. When you’re pulling under the bar and you’re about to land, connect with the floor and land firm in your feet. Use the ground to help you stabilize under that heavy weight! In other words, STICK IT!

Breathe, Settle (Not In Life), Jerk

In my opinion, the jerk is the most under appreciated lift in the sport of olympic weightlifting. Let it be known that this is entirely because I’ve always been great at them.

As much as I love jerks, I can understand why people may not agree. We spend a lot of time in our squat stance… whether we jump into that squat stance or not, it’s a very comfortable, strong position for most people. Where as the split stance position is often foreign and uncomfortable… especially when we have to JUMP into it!

We have covered the footwork on the split and we know that it is critical to master the footwork in order to feel comfortable and confident in the movement.

Today, I want to touch on the importance of the dip and drive.

The dip of the jerk is all about body position and timing. If we can gain a greater understanding of what the proper body position is and what our tempo should be on the dip and drive, the jerk becomes (almost) effortless.

POSITION:

The beautiful thing about the jerk is that when we dip, drive, and then receive the bar overhead, our shoulders and hips stay in a straight line the whole entire time (hopefully).

When I look at an athlete performing the jerk from the side, I want to see their shoulders stacked directly above their hips. This tells me that their weight is centered on their hips and they can support significantly more weight overhead.

The minute I see their shoulders lean forward in front of their hips, they are then fighting to keep that bar from pulling them forward on the dip, drive, and receive.

TIMING:

While positioning is SO important, so is the tempo in which we dip and drive. Because people have a tendency to not love the jerk, when they stand up from a clean, their automatic goal is to get that bar off their shoulders and up over their head as quick as possible. This generally results in a rushed, choppy, jerky (pun intended!) movement.

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” is a great cue for the dip and drive. If we want to be aggressive and fierce and explosive on our drive, we have to trust that a slightly slower, controlled dip is going to set us up to be able to do so…mainly because we can then use the energy of the bar (that slight bar bend), to whip the bar up over our head!

The next time you prepare to jerk, take a deep breath in and notice how the rise in your chest causes the bar to move and bounce a little. We want that bar to STOP moving and SETTLE before we go into our dip. Failing to do so will cause the bar to move out of sync with your dip and drive… and that just gets awkward.

So, BREATHE IN, SETTLE (should take about 2 seconds), JERK.

Tempo Off The Floor

The cool thing about olympic lifting, aside from everything, is the ability to be creative as an athlete with technique. We all have different body types, which means that there are certain technical tweaks that can help us be as efficient as possible on an individual basis.

There are a lot of points that we can touch on with this idea, but today our focus is on tempo off the floor. 

Throughout the years, I’ve seen lots of different speeds and styles on the first pull from athletes all around the world. I’ve seen the “grip and rip”, the “oh my gah he/she is going so slow there is no way they’re going to get that overhead”, and the standard medium, smooth, fluid tempo.

There have been many athletes that have performed any one of these pulls and have proven to be extremely successful! So, who am I to say what is right or wrong?

For the sake of this blog post, let’s just assume that I know everything and we’ll focus on beginners and what I feel to be most successful for 90% of that population.

My rule of thumb is: however fast you go off the floor, you need to go even faster through the middle. 

So, if you go really fast off the floor, you need to be prepared to jump with everything you have…creating more momentum past the hips. Ironically, when an athlete hears that rule, they seem to naturally slow down their initial pull.

The great thing about moving a little slower off the floor is that it tends to be easier to make sure that proper positions are hit and it seems to be easier to stay tight! A “grip and rip” style can pull our midline or lats out of position and causes our butt to shoot up, and/or we rush through the below the knee, launch, mid thigh positions.. creating a less controlled,chaotic movement.

Give yourself the opportunity to really feel where the bar is in relation to your body by slowing down your initial pull and your basic understanding of the movement as a whole will increase.

With that being said, you don’t have to go deathly slow to the point where you’re feeling that you’re trying to go from 0-60 once you go to jump. Choose your initial speed off the floor with the intent of steadily increasing in tempo the higher the bar gets. Not too fast. Not too slow.

Figure out what fluidity off the floor feels like for you as an individual athlete! You get to be creative!

Do You Even Know What You’re Doing? 

When performing a specific olympic lifting exercise, it’s natural to want to zone out and just go through the motions. We’re human! Life gets exhausting and we have days where our focus is on just surviving, rather than focusing in on EVERY single lift of EVERY single set. To be THAT focused in for 2-3 hours is hard work!

However, if you want to be a champion, those days should be few and far between. The majority of the time, we should not only be focused in on our movements and how they feel during a set, but we should also be able to understand WHY these specific movements are programmed for the day.

Every movement in olympic lifting has a purpose. Your job as an athlete is to tune in and figure out what that purpose is and how to apply it to your lift.

Let’s use 3 position snatches as an example. A 3 position snatch can contain all different positions, but for this example, we will use a very common 3 position complex: high hang snatch, snatch from above the knee, snatch from the floor.

High hang snatches are used to reinforce strong leg drive, or a strong jump. We don’t have momentum built up from our pull off the floor. All we have is a dip and drive to generate all the power we need on that bar. So, understanding that, our dip and drive has to be the most tight, most fierce dip and drive of our whole entire life.

The launch (above the knee) position helps to remind us of the MOST important position that we need to hit when pulling from the floor. In this position, we need to feel balanced on our feet, our shoulders need to be over the bar and our lats and midline need to be extremely engaged… almost to the point where you feel like you’re going to shart or pop one of your 8 abs. If we can get to this position confidently and consistently, we will have a much better chance of being successful with our lift.

And, last, as we finish the complex with a lift from the floor, we’re focusing on bringing all those positions together.

We have felt how balanced and tight we’re supposed to feel in our launch. We know how hard we have to drive with our legs from our repetition with the high hang snatch. Now, we need to piece it all together with our lift off the floor (all while we’re slightly fatigued mentally and physically)!

This is not as easy task! BUT it’s a great way of increasing our technical accuracy and mental focus.

So, the next time you’re training, test your ability to understand the movements and their purpose, rather than just going through the motions. More than likely, you’ll begin to notice positive changes in your progress because the more we understand about the lifts, the more we can CONFIDENTLY execute them.

By,

Sage Burgener

Life As a C- Pull-er

Many moons ago, when I was still a moderately average lifter, I was a chronic “C-pull-er”.

Webster dictionary defines a “C-pull-er” as: “someone who spends hours a day working on getting their legs stronger only to discover that he/she does not know how to actually use said legs as his/her source of power…thus relying on hip drive more than leg drive”.

…. or something like that.

Hip drive in olympic weightlifting is extremely important. BUT the hips can only come into play AFTER the legs have completely exerted their efforts.

What does that mean exactly?

Let’s say you’re testing your one rep max vertical jump. You push your full foot STRAIGHT through the ground and exert ALL of your energy into trying to get your body UP as high as possible.

Without even thinking about them, your hips naturally travel up as well!

That’s the drive we’re looking for in the snatch, clean and jerk (without leaving the ground that much, obviously)

The problem is, when we put a barbell in our hands, we forget what it means to jump and we start doing weird things with our legs and hips.

I see a TON of athletes jump with about 50% effort through their legs…and then, they try to compensate for the 50% that was lost by driving their hips THROUGH the bar. When this happens, the bar doesn’t travel UP to it’s maximum height (and it it’s probably traveling OUT too because it’s really hard to keep it close when your hips are pushing it forward). Not allowing the bar to reach it’s maximum height makes our pull under significantly harder! You’ll feel like you’re sneaking under the weight.

One thing that helps me is to think about my actions creating an equal to or opposite reaction (I’m basically a physicist). If I push STRAIGHT through the ground with my whole entire leg.. from my foot all the way up to the top of my quad… AND THEN allow all of that energy to transfer and flow into lifting my hips up, that’s going to create a lot of height on the bar! AND the bar will be moving straight up with great speed and velocity…which is always a beautiful feeling!

That is A LOT of writing (and reading on your part) just to say: if my leg drive is weak and my hips go OUT, the bar goes OUT. If my leg drive is strong and my hips go UP, the bar goes UP.

My coach, Aimee Anaya Everett likes to give me a warm up drill where I do jumping snatch pulls with the barbell and/or light weight. It’s exactly like a snatch pull, but I actually jump high so that I can feel the sensation of using my legs. I focus in and hold onto that sensation and try to recreate it on my actual lifts. Try it out and let me know if it works!

-Sage Burgener

How Well Do You Know Your Feet?

The olympic lifts are not only physically challenging, they often leave us feeling mentally inept. The struggle is REAL when we’re required to think about the 456 things that need to happen (all within a 2 second time span) in order to have a successful lift.

If I find my athletes starting to over think things, I like to take it back to the basics. The basic fundamentals of this sport are STANCE, GRIP, and POSITION… the MOST important being the stance.

Our stance is not only about our foot placement in the jump and the land; it’s also about how our feet FEEL against the ground when we pull, when we jump, and when we land. If we can connect with our feet, we can connect with the ground and use it as our SOURCE OF ENERGY AND POWER! Isn’t that cool?!

Here are some questions you can ask yourself about your feet:

#1. When was the last time you clipped your toenails? 1 week ago (RIGHT)? 4 weeks ago (WRONG)?

#2. When you’re pulling off the floor, are you gripping the floor with your big toe, pinky toe and heel equally (RIGHT)? OR is the majority of your weight on the outside of your foot because you are EXCESSIVELY driving your knees out (WRONG)?

#3. When the bar starts to pass your knees and gets higher on your leg and you’re getting ready to jump, is your weight centered and balanced on your mid foot (RIGHT)? Or do you have your weight too far back on your heels in an attempt to keep that weight from pulling you forward (which then causes you to rock too far forward on your toes when you go to actually drive against the ground) (WRONG)?

#4. When you pull and punch your body under the bar, do you land with a solid base.. feeling balanced and strong through your feet (RIGHT)? Or do you land with your ankles caved in, and/or weight on the toes (WRONG)?

If the questions you asked yourself all resulted in the wrong answer, don’t worry.. you’re still a good person and there is still hope for you in this sport. But take the time now to fix your STANCE!

Stay connected with how your feet feel during every part of the lift, and you’ll have a way easier time of feeling connected to the barbell, and staying connected to your movement.

Bada- Bing, Bada- Boom.

Sassy Sage, Out!

Keep Your Friends Close and The Bar Closer

As a coach, I tend to be a chronic cue-er. Athletes either love it or they hate it…I don’t really care either way (kidding) (but seriously).

Finding cues that help my athletes have that “a-ha” moment is fun for me! There are so many different ways to explain each part of the lift, and it’s a coach’s job to figure out what cue is going to be understood and received by each individual athlete in each specific moment.

I recently received an email from a fellow CrossFit Weightlifting program follower, Lucilla (hi Lucilla!!) who asked what some of my cues were for keeping the bar close to her body in the snatch. I get this question a lot, so it inspired me to write this blog post in hopes that I’ll never have to explain this ever again (#sarcasm).

There are a FEW things I like to think about when trying to keep the bar close:

#1. Engaging the lats. Not just off the ground, but through the WHOLE entire lift (the lift off, the drive, the pull under, the receive). Engaging the lats helps to place all the tension and power in our body and our legs… which helps us keep the weight OFF our arms. Tension and weight in the arms results in an early arm bend (in an attempt to pull the bar back into our body), OR it causes us to be pulled forward by the barbell.. which is, ultimately, DEATH.

#2. Allow the hips to LIFT the bar up. The closer you can keep that bar to your belly button, the more control you will have over it. We NEVER want the hips to HIT the bar out. The hips should LIFT the bar up vertically in more of a BRUSHING motion, and less of a banging motion. If your hips move vertically, the bar moves vertically. And if the bar moves vertically, you’re basically ready for the olympics.

#3. Knuckles down as you’re pulling under. If our arms (more specifically lats) are too loose on the pull under, the bar tends to drift out in front of us. Don’t misinterpret this as me saying to keep your arms tight and pull up on the bar. Think about keeping your knuckles down as you’re pulling yourself DOWN and AROUND the bar. Knuckles down will flex your forearms a bit, and this will kind of trick your lats into staying engaged (see cue #1). This will help you keep the bar close to your body, which will help you keep control of the bar as you’re pulling yourself down.

There are roughly forty-seven more cues that can help us to keep the bar close, but we’ll save that for another blog post.

 

THE FIVE POINTS OF PERFORMANCE FOR THE JERK

When coaching the jerk, I find myself continuously saying, “the #1 MOST IMPORTANT thing on the jerk is…..”. I say it about the rack position. I say it about the dip. I say it about the drive!

By the end of the session, my athletes come to the conclusion that I’m a technique nazi and I basically want every single part of the jerk, from start to finish, to be perfect. Which is true, actually.

However, if on this day, October 14th, 2017, I HAD to pick what I believe to be the most important part of the jerk, I would have to say FOOTWORK.

Here are the 5 points of performance we look for when receiving that jerk in the split position:

#1. Weight on the heel of the front foot
#2. Front knee stacked directly over or even slightly behind the ankle.
#3. Torso straight up and down with the strongest midline you’ve ever had.
#4. Back knee SLIGHTLY bent
#5. Back heel off the ground with weight on the ball of foot and heel slightly turned out (to keep hips facing straight).

These points of performance allow for that barbell to be stacked directly over our hips, allowing us to stabilize heavy weight overhead.

What we TEND to see:

#1. Weight on the toe of the front foot
#2. Front knee in front of the ankle.
#3. Torso leaning forward
#4. Back leg straight..creating a pelvic tilt
#5. Back heel on the ground with the heel turned in (creating the hips to turn out)

These mistakes result in athletes chasing the bar forward because they are off balance with the weight sitting heavy on their front quad as opposed to sitting stacked over the hips.

In conclusion, the next time you practice jerks, write out these 5 points on a whiteboard and place it in front of you. Make sure to have a perfect rack position, a perfect dip and an even more perfect drive (because I may decide tomorrow that those are the most important part of the lift), and drive yourself down into your split position.

Take a look at your white board and mentally check off each of the 5 points of performance. Did you hit every single one of them? If not, you’re still a good person, but MAKE THE CORRECTIONS BEFORE YOU RECOVER. Sit in that adjusted position for a few seconds and check in with your body to make sure it REALLY feels where it’s SUPPOSED to be. Then you can recover (with your front foot stepping back first, of course!!!).

By: Sage Burgener

JUMP HARD, NOT HIGH

I think if I were forced to name my single most favorite aspect of olympic weightlifting, it would be the element of speed that is required for obtaining a heavy snatch and clean and jerk.

Generally, when people think about lifting heavy weight, they think of squatting and deadlifting. Squatting and deadlifting are amazing!! I LOVE them! They’re two beautiful movements that require some technique and a ton of strength. However, they don’t require much speed.

Our sport is unique and special in that strength is amazing and useful and great to have, but can be overlooked and overshadowed by mindblowingly fast, explosive movement.

So, where does all that speed come from?!

It comes from our legs! It comes from JUMPING HARD against the ground…putting a ton of force straight down into the platform.

BUT, herein lies the issue: when people think about jumping, their body wants to jump HIGH off the ground. Jumping hard through the floor, but only allowing yourself to leave the ground JUST enough to move the feet out, is a REALLY hard theory to grasp and an even harder sensation to feel.

So, what we generally see is people jumping high and long resulting in a movement that is slow and loose and sloppy. OR we see people who TRY to jump hard and fast, but their heels end up lifting towards their butt (donkey kick). Expert coaching advice: don’t do that.

WHAT WE WANT is to have whatever force we put into the ground DIRECTLY transfer over into that barbell moving UP as much as possible. That way, we have LOADS of time (about .03 seconds) to pull ourselves down and around the bar.

Solutions:

Snatch Balance without a dip

Snatch Balance with a dip

Snatch Lands

All of these movements require quick feet in order to receive the bar in a tight position overhead. Ideally, you will drill these movements before you snatch. Use them as a warm up and focus on your legs driving hard against the ground and your feet getting back onto the ground as quick as possible!

JUMP HARD NOT HIGH! FAST FEET!

Sage Burgener

Do You Even Know What You’re Doing?

When performing a specific olympic lifting exercise, it’s natural to want to zone out and just go through the motions. We’re human! Life gets exhausting and we have days where our focus is on just surviving the 10 sets of 3 back squats Sage is obsessed with programming, and/or just getting the volume in…rather than focusing in on EVERY single lift of EVERY single set. To be THAT focused in for 2-3 hours is hard work!

However, if you want to be a champion, those days should be few and far between. The majority of the time, we should not only be focused in on our movements and how they feel during a set, but we should also be able to understand WHY these specific movements are programmed for the day.

Every movement in olympic lifting has a purpose. Your job as an athlete is to tune in and figure out what that purpose is and how to apply it to your lift.

Let’s use 3 position snatches as an example. A 3 position snatch can contain all different positions, but for this example, we will use a very common 3 position complex: high hang snatch, snatch from above the knee, snatch from the floor.

High hang snatches are used to reinforce strong leg drive, or a strong jump. We don’t have momentum built up from our pull off the floor. All we have is a dip and drive to generate all the power we need on that bar. So, understanding that, our dip and drive has to be the most tight, most fierce dip and drive of our whole entire life.

The above the knee position helps to remind us of the MOST important position that we need to hit when pulling from the floor. In this position, we need to feel balanced on our feet, our shoulders need to be over the bar and our lats and midline need to be extremely engaged… almost to the point where you feel like you’re going to shart or pop one of your 8 abs. If we can get to this position confidently and consistently, we will have a much better chance of being successful with our lift.

And, last, as we finish the complex with a lift from the floor, we’re focusing on bringing all those positions together.

We have felt how balanced and tight we’re supposed to feel in our above the knee position. We know how hard we have to drive with our legs from our repetition with the high hang snatch. Now, we need to piece it all together with our lift off the floor (all while we’re slightly fatigued mentally and physically)!

This is not as easy task! BUT it’s a great way of increasing our technical accuracy and mental focus.

So, the next time you’re training, test your ability to understand the movements and their purpose, rather than just going through the motions. More than likely, you’ll begin to notice positive changes in your progress because the more we understand about the lifts, the more we can CONFIDENTLY execute them.

-Sage Burgener