On the basis of the preceding discussion, we can identify several key concepts regarding weightlifting technique. First, in order to reach his or her potential in the sport of weightlifting, an athlete must master technique, but technique alone is not sufficient to become a high level performer. Second, there are definite principles of good lifting technique, but there is also more than one narrow way to perform the two Olympic lifts effectively. Third, weightlifting is a learned activity performed by athletes who have individual differences, and no amount of pure introspection or a prior reasoning will lead to the best technique for all athletes in all respects. Proper principles must be applied within the context of the characteristics of a given athlete in order to optimize technique. Fourth, weightlifting technique is neither absurdly simple nor so complex as to defy the understanding of those who do not have a graduate degree in bio-mechanics. Finally, perfecting technique is an absolute necessity. It makes weightlifting safer, more pleasurable to participate in and more aesthetically pleasing to behold. The purpose of the balance of this chapter is to provide you with an understanding of proper technique, a crucial first step on the road to becoming a weightlifter’s weightlifter.
The Basics of the Technique of the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk
We will begin our analysis of weightlifting technique with an explanation of what the athlete is doing when he or she performs two Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk (C&J). These are the lifts performed in weightlifting competitions (the winner being the athlete who lifts the most weight in both lifts combined). The snatch is a one stage lift and the C&J a two stage lift in which greater amounts can be added.
This overview will be more easily understood if you examine the sequence photographs that appear in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 before reading further and the refer to them freely as you read descriptions of the lifts. (Fig. 4 omits the starting position from the floor and the “recovery” from the split position in which the athlete takes one step back with the front foot and then a step forward with the rear foot to bring the feet in line with one another and complete the lift).
As can be seen in the first photo of the snatch sequence, the lifter begins by gripping the bar with the hands significantly wider than the shoulders From this position the lifter uses the muscles of the legs to lift the bar from the floor and then uses the muscles of the legs, hips and back in an extremely powerful (i.e., explosive) fashion to accelerate the upward motion of the bar. When the bar has been lifted to a level approximately at the height of the lifter’s hips (at which point the lifter has generally extended his or her legs and risen somewhat on the balls of his or her feet.) the lifter begins to descend under the bar while the bar continues to rise, primarily as a result of the explosive force that the lifter has applied to the bar before the descent commenced. The lifter then “catches” the bar at arm’s length and allows the legs to continue to bend after the catch to absorb the downward force exerted by the bar in much the same way a fielder in baseball “gives“ with his or her glove as a ball is received. Finally the lifter stands up from the low squat position that was assumed in order to catch the bar. (Catching the bar in a low position means that it does not have to be lifted as high and that more weight can therefore be lifted.)
Methods similar to those used in the snatch are used to lift the bar in the clean and jerk. The lifter initially raises the bar through the use of the leg muscles; then, as the bar rises to the level of the knees, the lifters uses the muscles of the legs, hips and back to straighten the body in an explosive fashion, accelerating the upward motion of the bar.
Once the bar is approximately at hip level, the lifter begins to descend under the bar in order to catch it when it reaches its highest point. (The bar continues to rise because of the explosive effort the lifter made with the legs, hips and back.) The lifter permits the legs to bend further after catching the bar in order to absorb the force of the downward descent of the bar. The lifter then stands up and prepares for the jerk.
In order to propel the bar overhead during the jerk portion of the lift, the athlete bends his or her legs into a position similar to one that would be used to jump vertically. The legs are then very forcefully extended in order to thrust the bar upward.
Just after the bar leaves the lifter’s shoulders as a result of the leg drive the lifter has generated, the lifter typically moves one foot forward and the other foot backward in order to lower the body as the bar is rising and to prepare to catch the bar at arm’s length. The front foot is placed flat on the floor and the back foot is balanced on the ball of the foot and the toes. This “split” position gives the lifter both stability and the ability to move forward or backward slightly to maintain balance. After the bar has been brought to a stop, the lifter returns to a standing position, first bringing the front foot back a step and then bringing the back foot forward until the feet are in line with one another.
Two important principles can be learned from the preceding discussion together with careful study of the photos. First, contrary to what most people think when they see Olympic-style lifting for the first time, the process is not merely one of lifting the bar. It involves a combination of raising the bar and lowering the body quickly enough to catch the bar at nearly the maximum height to which the lifter has been able to raise it. In order for the lifter to catch the bar successfully, the bar must have acquired enough upward speed to continue to travel upward for that very brief period while the lifter is moving under the bar (otherwise, as soon as the lifter tried to descend under the bar, the bar would fall and the lifter could never catch up to it). It is important to understand that the lifter does not lift the bar to its maximum height and then, when the bar stops, jump under it. Rather, the movements of raising the bar and lowering the body are taking place simultaneously. Consequently, the lifter must possess sufficient power to throw the bar, not just lift it. In addition, the lifter must possess considerable finesse in order to catch a heavy moving object at its maximum vertical height.
Second, the role of the arms in lifting is much smaller than you might initially assume. The arms do not lift the bar to its maximum height. Instead, the muscles of the legs, hips and back are primarily responsible for this action, generating an explosive force that creates upward velocity of the bar sufficient to cause it to continue to rise for at least a portion of the time the lifter is descending under the bar, permitting the lifter to catch the bar successfully. This is not to minimize the role of the muscles of the arms and shoulders. These muscles do interact with the bar, applying force to it as the lifter descends under and catches the bar. Moreover, strong arms and shoulders are needed to support the bar overhead. However, the role of the arms is not primary. The strength and explosive power of the lifter’s leg, hip and back muscles, the strongest muscles in the body, form the foundation for championship lifting.