WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS
PART II: Technique
Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5
In “Work Your Weak Areas”, Part I, we discussed how important it is to focus on ALL aspects of training but, in particular, to be disciplined enough in your training to work on the parts that are holding you back. Identify your “weak areas”, hone in on them and make them a strength. At the bare minimum, make them so they are not a detriment or something holding you back.
The first item of business is to talk about Technique if it is the weak link in your chain of progress. Let’s review Technique that was mentioned in Part I and break it down into parts:
Technique – Is the bar path or bar trajectory the most efficient? Is your start position or setup as it should be? Do you have the issue of early arm bend? Does your technique break down only in certain positions during the lift?
Bar path (bar trajectory): What we are looking for is to produce as much vertical force production as possible and to limit the amount of horizontal movement. Force into the platform creates force vertically from that movement. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is not rocket science, it is simple biomechanics. Why do you think Olympic lifters have such good vertical jumps? Basically, they are doing a vertical jump “motion” with resistance every time they pull. (Vertical jump motion, not necessarily leaving the feet to jump).
In order to make this happen, the bar path (or trajectory), needs to be as much in a straight line as possible with very little “looping” motion. I know, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so you might think that the bar path should be absolutely straight. Not so, because the body gets in the way and the pull is greatly affected by that. Right off the floor, the hips and shoulders rise together and the shins will move back as does the bar. Then, as the bar continues up and gets into the “power position”, the knees have gotten back into position for that powerful “jumping” motion and the bar is received either in the clean or snatch proper position. The bar has to stay as close to the body as possible throughout (without dragging) and when it is “turned over”, the loop at the top should be minimal. Bottom line is that the center of gravity of the bar and the body need to stay as much in line as possible and pretty much over the middle of the foot as possible. Overall, the bar path is an “S” curve, but as flat an “S” as possible.
**This pulling concept applies whether you are a competitive Olympic lifter or an athlete in another sport using cleans and snatches as part of their power training. I have seen some really ugly “reverse curls” that they call power cleans, but although the weight might be impressive, it really has no relevance to performance on the field. Technique for athletes other than weightlifters doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be perfect enough to get the benefit from the exercise and to be as safe as possible.**
I like to watch my lifters directly from the side so I can keep a close eye on the bar path. When we do video analysis, it is obvious to the lifter when they see how far the bar comes away from the body and whether they are kicking it out horizontally or not.
Start position, setup and pull from the floor: When pulling off the floor, we recommend that the shoulders be above the hips and the hips above the knees. How much the shoulders are “in front of the bar” off the floor has to do with limb lengths, but the principle holds true for everyone. The back needs to be locked in tight and flat, arms straight and eyes focused either forward or slightly down in front of the lifter. This setup is crucial to getting the bar into the correct power position where the lift should really accelerate. Back in my day (OK, pretty much in the dark ages), if I missed a clean or a snatch, it was something I did wrong right off the floor. Either in the setup or the initial bar path.
Speaking of the initial bar path or pull off the floor. If the hips and shoulders rise at the same rate, keeping the back at the same angle, the shins should automatically get back as the bar comes back toward the middle of the foot. Right off the floor, it is a leg lift, not a back lift. Many lifters pull with the back first, leading with the shoulders and this causes a forward pull path and the bar has to be physically pulled around the shins and knees.
Did you ever see lifters with bloody shins?? Guess what, they are lifting the with the shoulders first and that actually pushes the shins into the bar. The fix is to focus on the first pull where the bar path comes back as the shins and knees get out of the way. Pulls to the knees, pause at the knees and then finish the pull are two of my favorite exercises to remedy this weak area.
Early arm bend: Simple motto – “arms bend, power ends”! Watch your athletes from the front for this one. The arms need to stay straight as long as possible. Let the large muscles of the hips and legs finish the explosive movement at the top of the pull and only bend them after that complete extension. Once the legs have fully extended, then the arms bend to finish the pull and the very important job of pulling the body under the bar. We don’t want to rely on gravity to get the body in position to catch the clean or the snatch, but, instead, a fast turnover of the bar to be able to receive it when it is “weightless”. By bending the arms too early, the speed at the top of the pull decreases as does the descend going under the bar. “Meeting the bar” is much more difficult with early arm bend. One of my favorite warmup drills that helps fix this issue is what I call “shrug snatches” or “shrug cleans”. Using the snatch as an example, simply take a very light bar and stand up with it. Do two slow shrugs, then on the third rep, fast shrug and squat under. Focus on the shrug with straight arms and speed going under the bar. Makes for a great warmup as well as a remedy for the early arm bend.
Technique breakdown during certain positions of the lift: This is an issue that almost always has to do with lack of Strength in various position. You may know where your athlete is supposed to be in each of the positions, but usually they are not strong enough to actually hold the positions. Basically, what they tend to do is regress into positions they are more comfortable in or stronger in, but that is not necessarily where the body needs to be for optimal pulling positions.
More on Strength issues in a future article!!