Struggling With the Snatch and Clean and Jerk?
IN PART 1 OF THIS SERIES, we talked about some key steps to becoming a successful weightlifter.
The most important thing you can do is focus on the snatch, clean and jerk. You should be following a weightlifting-specific program that is designed to develop technique, as well as build strength in all the key body positions for Weightlifting.
That’s your starting point, but the next step is to create great habits that will help you overcome the daily challenges and grind that all new weightlifters face. You have to find opportunities to improve some aspect of your strength, technique, or mobility every single training session, even when you don’t feel like it.
You don’t have to crush PR’s every day. Like we said in Part 1, that’s not always sustainable. But as long as you take small steps to address your issues every day, you will make steady improvements over time, and it will start showing on the platform before you know it.
Here are some tips that will help you overcome some of the most common challenges that new weightlifters face. This will save you some struggle, allowing you to make much faster progress.
Focus on building weightlifting-specific strength.
A key component of great weightlifting technique is the ability to control both your body and the barbell, especially during heavy lifts. If you lack that, you’ll never be able to reach your potential in this sport.
To have great technique you must be mobile enough to reach each key position, but you must also be strong in each of those positions. In the end, mobility plus strength gives you that essential control and allows you to produce force efficiently.
Instead of jumping straight into full snatches and cleans from the floor, take some time to practice exerting force and building strength in the key weightlifting positions. Try instead to perform snatches, cleans, and deadlift variations with 1-3 second pauses just below the knees, at the knees, and even mid-thigh. This will help strengthen all the muscles necessary exert control of the weight while reinforcing and ingraining the proper position and movement patterns required for good technique.
You should also work on developing positional strength in the receiving positions for the snatch and clean. You can have the best pull in the world, but if you lack the stability to control the bar in the receiving position and stand up with it, then your pull won’t count for much.
Try adding tempo work with a slow eccentric (lowering) phase or pauses for 2-5 seconds at the very bottom and very top of your front and overhead squats. This will strengthen those positions, increase stability, and help build confidence with heavy loads overhead and in the front rack. For the jerk, my favorite lifts are presses or jerks from the split position, with a pause in the overhead position to work on stability and reinforce foot placement.
The more time you spend getting strong in each of these positions, the more progress you will make. Give it a try.
Attack deficiencies and strength imbalances with assistance exercises.
You’re only as strong as the weakest part of your body, and as a weightlifter, you have to be strong everywhere if you want to lift really heavy weights.
Specific weaknesses or imbalances in strength between muscle groups will degrade performance and increase your risk of injury. If your quads are really strong but you have weak glutes and hamstrings, pulling off the floor will be a lot more difficult and open doors for potential injury to your lower back. That could potentially put you out of commission for weeks or months. Likewise, if one of your legs or arms is stronger than the other, you could eventually experience a breakdown in technique and a performance plateau.
It can be very difficult to identify areas of weakness, especially if you don’t have a coach. But with a good weightlifting program you should regularly be performing a variety of assistance exercises to work on areas often neglected by only doing full snatches, cleans, jerks and heavy barbell squats.
Adding Variety to your Training Plan
You need a variety of exercises that will help to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, chest, upper back, arms, shoulder, and core muscles to balance out opposing muscle groups. You should also do some plyometric work such as box jumps, squat jumps and bounding, to develop explosiveness.
And of course, you can also practice variations of the core lifts, such as pulls from blocks, power snatches or cleans, snatch balances, muscle/tall snatches and cleans. They are each beneficial for addressing a specific limitation.
These assistance exercises will prove even more valuable if you can’t get into proper positions due to a lack of mobility, strength or even injury. This supplemental work is therefore essential if you want to build your foundation and progress to the full snatch, clean and jerk.
The more you can practice high-quality movements with lighter loads, the better.
Many new lifters struggle with overthinking, which leads to missed lifts and a lack of confidence under the bar. There’s just so much to learn, and so much going on – That noise can make performing very difficult.
Your goal with weightlifting technique is to perform the movements so many times that you don’t even have to think about it anymore. The lifts must become automatic. To be able to let your mind go and just lift, you must first accumulate thousands of high-quality, successful repetitions. This accumulated work can only come with time and experience, of course, but this is the rationale behind working with an empty or lighter barbell – You can practice more often.
While it’s true that really light loads won’t help get you stronger, they will help you ingrain good movements patterns…when done correctly. In fact, for that reason many coaches won’t let their new lifters touch a barbell until they can perform consistent looking snatches with just a broomstick.
For example, in Justin Thacker’s ABC method most reps are performed with a very light or even empty barbell so that you can focus on quality, consistent movement. Now, I’m not saying never go heavy on your lifts – there’s a time for for that. But the more great reps you get under your belt, the more automatic your technique will become and the more confidence you will have.
What about speed?
One of the biggest things I hear people ask is, “How do I get faster during the lifts?”
Speed is probably the last and most difficult area to develop because it requires high degrees strength, coordination and confidence to move fast with a heavy weight. But I guarantee you will get much faster if you take the advice in this article.
Work hard on getting comfortable in all positions. Get stronger and address your weaknesses. Perform assistance movements every training session to help you build the snatch, clean and jerk faster. And of course, get in as many quality reps as possible, even if it means practicing with an empty barbell. With that kind of effort, success is only a matter of time.
If you have any questions or want to discuss specific exercises or methods you can implement in your weightlifting training, just leave them in the comments below. We’d love to help you out. And stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where I’ll tell you exactly what you should look for in a great weightlifting-specific training program.
See you then!
Mike, Doug and Anders