Olympic lifting tips for beginners

Five Olympic Lifting Tips for Beginners

The two essential Olympic lifting tips for beginners are:

  1. The bar needs to be kept close to the body.
  2. The athlete-barbell system needs to remain in balance throughout the lift.

Conceptually simple but not always so easy in practice. There are a number of ways to help solidify these two fundamental concepts…

Tip 1: Warm up the basic movements, every session

Use your warm up to run through the basic movements and positions of the lifts. Simply doing this will go a long way to reinforcing and improving your technique as well as getting your mind and body in tune.

With an unloaded barbell go through the following movements:

Tip 2: Use Slow Pulls and Pauses

Slow pulls with pauses are particularly good at helping with two things in the first pull:

  • Keeping the bar close to the body
  • Keeping the athlete-barbell system in balance

…Recognise these from earlier?

Why are slow pulls and pauses useful?

Speed covers for instability. If you are unstable during a movement, a good way to hide this is by getting through the movement as quickly as possible, almost not allowing time for instability to reveal itself.

With slow pulls and pauses there is no hiding place. If the athlete-barbell system is out of balance, your weight will shift forward towards your toes and you may even begin to fall forward.

Perform snatch/clean slow pulls, pausing for a second when the bar is:

  • An inch off the floor
  • Just above the knees

Use a heavyish weight with slow pulls and pauses to maximise the effectiveness. Not only does this exercise help with technique, but it also:

  • Gets the athlete used to the feeling of heavy weights in Olympic lifting movement patterns, and
  • Isometrically strengthens the muscles involved in the positions of the first pull.

… so, pretty useful.

Tip 3: First Pull: Push through the heels and don’t stop pushing

Sometimes a successful lift is is doomed right from the start because too much weight is at the front of the foot, causing an immediate forward shift (not good).

‘Drive through your heels’ is an often used coaching cue that is often thought of as a cure-all remedy.  ‘Drive through the heels’ often helps:

  • Cause a natural tendency to distribute the weight appropriately across the feet in the first pull (whole foot contact with an inclination towards the front edge of the heels)
  • Get the knees out the way.
  • Pull the bar slightly in towards the lifter (which is necessary to re-balance the athlete-barbell system)
  • Correct shooting of the hips, allowing the hips and shoulders to rise together (the lifter-barbell system should rise as one piece, not as individual segments, and cueing ‘pushing through the heels’ seems to help this occur)

All of these combine to help the athlete:

  • Keep the bar close to the body
  • Balance the athlete-barbell system

‘Don’t stop pushing’ is another common cue and is simply used to trying to help encourage the lifter to generate as much upward force with their legs as possible. When a lifter stops pushing in to the floor it reduces the upward force being generated by the legs, which is a problem because we want as much upward force as possible… which leads us to the next tip…

Tip 4: Think Vertical: Power Up, Not Forward

The aim of the first and second pull is to accelerate the barbell upwards, not forwards. All the momentum you are generating is geared towards getting the barbell up as high as possible, so that it’s easier to pull yourself under the bar in the third pull.

To achieve this, every motion in the first and second pull needs to be contributing to upward acceleration of the bar. The second pull involves hip extension and bar-body contact; this often causes either excessive or unwanted horizontal (forward) movement of the barbell and/or the hips. The aim is to minimise horizontal (forward) movement of the bar and maximise the vertical (upward) movement.

Bar-Body Contact

Contact between the bar and body should be a natural coming together of the bar and body, as opposed to a deliberate thump, and should be made with the lifter as upright as possible. This will ensure the upward momentum is continued.

‘Finish Straight’

Beginners often struggle with getting the balance between being explosive and aggressive in the second pull without losing control and moving their hips too far forward. Overextension (where the hips go beyond the point they made contact with the barbell) is not desirable. Focus on finishing the second pull ‘straight’ i.e. not hyperextending your hips.

Tip 5: Be Active in the Third Pull

The third pull is as active as the first and second. The relocation of your feet from your starting stance to the receiving position needs to be fast, precise and aggressive. Useful exercises for practicing speed, timing and aggression in the third pull are:

  • Tall snatches/cleans
  • Dip snatches/cleans
  • Hang snatches/cleans

Summary

When learning Olympic lifting technique, focus on keeping the bar close to your body and keeping the athlete-barbell system in balance. To help with this:

  1. Take time to warm up properly
  2. Use slow pulls and pauses to solidify both the feeling of, and strength, in the key positions
  3. Drive through the heels
  4. Think upwards not forwards
  5. Be active in your relocation under the bar

To learn the Olympic lifts get in touch for a technique session at jon.reid@panthera-performance.co.uk