5 Olympic Lifting Tips for Beginners
The two essential Olympic lifting concepts to be grasped are
The bar needs to be kept close to the body.
The athlete-barbell system needs to remain in balance throughout the lift.
Although conceptually simple, these are not always so easy in practice. Here are five ways beginners can solidify the two fundamental concepts.
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 some or all of the following movements:
Snatch grip overhead presses
Pressing snatch balance
Hang power snatches
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 and a lack of control. 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 or two 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.
3. First Pull: Drive Through the Middle of the Foot/Front of the Heel (Whilst Maintaining Whole Foot Contact)
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 a coaching cue that can help to:
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 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 by enabling the hips and shoulders to rise together (the lifter-barbell system should rise as one piece, not as individual segments)
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 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. This is a problem because we want as much upward force as possible... which leads us to the next 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.
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.
5. Be Active in the Third Pull
The third pull is as active as the first and second. You’re now no longer pulling the bar upwards; you’re now needing to re-locate under the bar.
To do this you need to actively pull yourself under the bar and relocate your feet from the pulling stance to the receiving position. These are both fast, precise and aggressive actions which you need to actively go for, they won’t just happen.
Useful exercises for practicing speed, timing and aggression in the third pull are:
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:
Use the warm up to go through the movements and positions of the lifts.
Use slow pulls and pauses to solidify both the feeling of, and strength, in the key positions
Drive through middle of the foot and front of the heels during the first pull (whilst maintaining whole foot contact with the ground)
Think upwards not forwards
Be active in your relocation under the bar.
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