Quick tips for better Olympic Lifts

Posted by Wil Fleming

The Olympic lifts are the most complex moves to do in the weightroom. Great lifters spend years and years on technique and train exclusively  in this sport. For most of the athletes that I work with, this is not the case, they Olympic lift (Clean, Snatch, Jerk) with me 2-3 times a week and if they are in a high school program they may do the clean 1-2 times a week as well. With a basic program they are getting possibly 15 sets of Olympic lifts per week. While this is a decent amount of volume, it is not quality volume.  Time spent with me then is aimed at working on developing proper technique to apply either at their high school or down the road in their training with me.

I use a lot of coaching points to have my athletes get better at the lifts but I wanted to make a list, so here are my top 5:

1. Turn your elbows out.

When holding the bar at the start position, in the hang or on the floor have the athlete turn their elbow straight to the outside.  The natural way to hold your elbows will be facing backwards, this becomes a problem during the fast pull above your knees, as this natural position will keep the bar away from their body. Elbows behind the bar will make the bar get away from your body. By turning your elbows out you will be able to keep the bar close to your body during the pull.  The goal of the pull portion of the clean is to be efficient and powerful, elbows out handles the efficient part.


olympic lifts2. Go Slow off the floor.

To get the most out of your cleans athletes have to go slow off the ground.  The temptation when pulling from the ground (in a clean or snatch) is to pull the bar quickly and be aggressive from the start, instead of helping you lift more weight this actually makes it more difficult to pull the bar fast when above the knees.  When an object is moving at a fast rate it is harder to put more force into it, so if the bar is travelling quickly from the start it will be difficult to make it go faster above the knees. Basic physics type stuff, but so often this is not applied.  So be patient and go slow from the ground, when the bar gets above your knees then try to move it quickly.

3. Draw it out.

A big problem for most athletes is the position that they catch the bar.  When weight gets on the bar athletes have a tendency to revert to the first form they ever thought of, in a lot of cases this means feet wide and hips forward of the bar.  To combat a bad catch position I like to draw the proper foot positions on the floor. Basically, it is 2 intersecting rectangles that mark the foot position at the start and the foot position at the finish.  Olympic lifts where the feet finish in the wrong position mean that the athlete has to go down in weight  This visual cue is perfect at giving the athlete almost immediate feedback about the quality of the lift.

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4. Practice parts of the movement.

A lot of coaches program pulls of some sort or another usually ending in an explosive shrug at the top (these are great) or (gasp) a high pull, but I like to program specific portions of the movement that give athletes trouble.  Specifically Clean pulls to the knee.

5.  Catching snatches

It typically takes a leap of faith on the part of the athlete to “catch” the snatch overhead.  We are asking them to connect the dots in a way that they have never before. A great drill to improve your athletes snatch is the “Snatch Balance”. The snatch balance is great at getting athletes accustomed to the timing of an aggressive punch overhead while simultaneously re-setting their feet to an appropriate width.

The snatch is all about timing and…Practice. Snatch balance is a great tool to practice one of the most difficult aspects of the snatch.

Adding each of these pieces will help to get your athletes better at the Olympic lifts.  Be careful not to overwhelm your athletes with new parts and technique points, 1 thing until perfected is much better than a lot of things done just okay.

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