Tension Lost is Weakness Gained

When a barbell is light, life feels a little more manageable. We’re in control and we LOVE it. Our movement feels fluid and fast and efficient. 

Then, as my dad used to say, “you put a flipping (definitely did NOT say flipping) fly on the bar and your movement goes to crap (definitely did not say crap)!”. 

In other words, when we put more weight on the bar, we have a really hard time keeping our movement the same!

Heavier weight tends to freak us out and causes us to disconnect from all of our good positions.. from the start to the finish. It feels heavy off the ground, so we buckle and let it kick our butt and it slows down our entire movement! 

When we can’t maintain positioning, we can’t get an aggressive drive. And when we can’t get an aggressive drive, our movement is slow and ugly. 

Tension lost in the start is explosion lost in our jump. 

The more we allow our lats to disengage and our midline to loosen and our upper back to sag right when we pull off the floor, the more and more power we are stealing from our legs when we go to jump that bar overhead.

So, before your lift off, take a deep breath in, BRACE your midline, SQUEEZE your lats and upper back with everything you have, and MAINTAIN a rigid back angle ALL THE WAY through your lift off so that you can drive like a bat out of hell!! 

A Drill to Help Make Contact With The Bar

We have a lot of athletes that have issues making proper contact with the hips during a snatch. They either bang the bar off their hips, or there is no contact whatsoever. 

If you are an athlete that doesn’t make contact at all, we have JUST the drill for you! 

Approach the bar in your snatch start position and deadlift the bar up to the mid thigh position. While sitting in that position, make sure that your weight is distributed over your whole foot, (NOT just the heels!) your shoulders are over the bar and the barbell is hovering SLIGHTLY off of your legs (I’m talking a millimeter, people!). 

From there, move into your power position. The power position is with the legs slightly bent, the shoulders directly above the bar, and the barbell sitting into the hips. This is the position where you should feel MOST powerful, like your locked and loaded and ready to spring AGGRESSIVELY into your jump. 

Sit there for a second and the jump as hard and high as you can. You don’t have to worry about snatching, yet. Just jump. 

Immediately following this “drill” set, you’ll prepare to snatch. 

Focus in and visualize where your body position and balance were in the mid thigh position, and think about how strong your legs felt under you in the power position. 

Now that you know where your body is meant to be, it’s time to bring it all together and snatch! 

Cues and Drills to Fix Your Stripper Tendencies 

One of the most common mistakes we see in the Snatch and Clean is an athlete allowing their hips to raise too soon off the floor…aka “the stripper pull”. 

A stripper pull is usually a result of a weak legs and/or a  “grip and rip”  mentality on the first pull. 

Cues to fix this:

  1. “Keep your shoulders higher than your hips at all times”.
  2. “Squat up off the ground..feeling your feet press the floor away from you”.
  3. “Proud/high chest off the ground”.
  4. “The bar, shoulders and hips all rise simultaneously”.

Drills to fix this:

  1. Place a pic pipe on an athletes back so it is angled and touching their shoulders and hips. Apply equal pressure through your hands on their shoulders and hips as the athlete slowly lifts off the ground. If their butt starts to come up, press down firmly so they feel that tactile cue and make their correction. 
  2. Pause Tempo Pulls: Have an athlete squat the bar up to one inch off the floor, below the knee, above the knee, mid thigh and hips… pausing at each position for 2-3 seconds. This will allow for them to not only get stronger in those position, but it offers them the time to get familiar with how their body SHOULD feel in each position.
  3. Attach a resistance band to the middle of the barbell and stand in front of the athlete, a few feet away. Hold onto the band and offer LIGHT resistance as the athlete slowly deadlifts the bar off the ground. The sensation of being pulled forward will force the athlete to maintain balance through their feet and tension in their legs and midline as they squat up with the bar. 

If none of these cues or drills work with your athlete, get creative with your approach! There is no right or wrong way to cue an athlete… even if you have to go off book to get them to do what needs to be done! 

Fluidity Through Segmentation

Fluidity and speed are crucial for the olympic lifts! But sometimes, because there is so much to think about… our attempt at being extremely technical, turns into a lift that is very mechanical and SLOW. 

So, how can we have both? How can we ensure that we’re being technically proficient, while also being smooth and fast? 

I have found that breaking things into numbers or steps is a great way to simplify what you want people to do. It gives them just a few points to think about, but not so many that they experience “paralysis by analysis”.

Here are my three go to “steps” or “numbers” or “positions” that I encourage all of my athletes to think about during their snatch and/ or clean and jerk. 

Position #1: Triple Extension. Finish. Jump. Whatever you want to call it….This is the position that allows the barbell to elevate to it’s highest possible point. We want that barbell rising with speed and momentum…making it as weightless as possible. 

AS IT IS RISING, we must move to position #2. 

Position #2: It is at this very point that we either stay connected to barbell, or we disconnect from it. We either lose tension or create tension. When we lose tension, we end up diving to the bottom of our squat or dropping under the bar and praying it ends up over head. When we CREATE tension, by cranking our elbows up and back and keeping our knuckles down, we end up PULLING ourselves into the position we want to go! 

The position we want to go? Position #3@

Position #3: The barbell is stacked STRONG over our frontal plane. We are balanced and our hips are sitting in between in our heels with our lats and hands reaching up towards the ceiling. Thoughts of “breaking the bar” are running through our head so that we create internal torque. 

Master these positions and, through segmentation, your lifts will become so much more efficient as a whole. 

Complexes and Why We Love Them

When a coach has an athlete who is struggling to understand the small intricacies of a lift (which transfers into a lack of understanding of a lift as a whole), programming complexes into their training can be a great way to secretly (or not so secretly) break down the lifts into segments… with the hope that segmentation will then create fluidity.

When performing a complex, the key is to focus HARD on the purpose of each individual exercise. For example, a complex would be: 1 Clean Pull + 1 Panda Pull+ 1 Clean+ 1 Jerk.

Let’s break down each movement and understand why each specific movement was chosen.

  1. The clean pull is programmed to emphasize LEG DRIVE. We don’t have the added pressure of having to pull our selves under the bar, so we can feel the patience needed in allowing our body to fully extend.
  2. The panda pull helps us understand that tension must be kept on the barbell after we fully drive through our legs. It’s a big drive through the legs and then, WHILE KEEPING THE LATS ENGAGED, shrugging and pull the body into a half squat.
  3. The clean reinforces the first two movements: leg drive in the 2nd pull and keeping tension in the 3rd pull… all while feeling fatigued!
  4. Last, we end with an overhead movement to get good at jerking with tired legs!

Even though complexes can be long and emotionally and physically taxing, do your best not to move lazily or without focus while performing them!

And finally, have fun with them! They are a great way to break up the monotony of training and add spice into your olympic lifts.

Meet The Bar!

To be a moderately average olympic weightlifter, you must first establish how much awareness you have of your body and the barbell and where they are in space.

Moving weight efficiently all begins with understanding that when we jump that barbell through a range of motion and create momentum on it, the barbell will travel to different heights…depending on how much weight is on it.

Whatever height it travels to (light weight travels higher, heavier weight rises a lot less), we MUST MEET IT WHERE IT IS.

We cannot jump a light weight up and then dive to the bottom of our squat! If we do, the bar crashes on us. And we cannot jump a heavy weight up and expect to receive it high! It ain’t gonna happen!

We must jump the bar up, and then keep tension on it through pulling ourselves down and around. We then meet it where it is and ride it down in one fluid motion.

To practice this concept, we like to prescribe a the drill of snatching to a 2” position, 6” position and then into a full snatch. This will help you accomplish meeting the bar at different levels.

99% of Life’s Problems Can Be Solved By The Lats

Author’s Note: The title of this post may or may not be slightly misleading.

95% of the time, I know whether a lift is going to be successful or not simply by looking at the movement in the first inch off the ground.

Sometimes lifts go wrong because the back angle is compromised. Sometimes lifts go wrong because the weight shifts too far forward or too far back on the feet.

However, more often than not, a lift gets thrown off due to the lack of engagement of the lats.

Now, most of the time, people have great intentions with their lats and set them strong in their set up, but as soon as the barbell leaves the ground, they get lazy and the barbell feels heavy and they allow that weight to pull their lats out of position.

Other times, people don’t set the lats at all. If you look at their start position, you’ll see that their chest is sort of caved… shoulders rolled forward.. torso in a weak position.

To avoid these things, we need to set a ritual for our starting position, be SUPER extra with our intentions and stick with our game plan every single time we address the barbell.

Example: Breathe in, engage lats, hold, lift.

Be careful not to breathe in, engage and then lift. We need that “hold”.

That extra pause allows the lats to fully settle into place…making it harder for them to be pulled out of place once the movement begins.

Try it out and watch your lift sky rocket!

-Sage Burgener


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!)