Weightlifting (not Oly-Lifting, not O-lifting, definitely not weight lifting) is the general term for two classic lifts: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.
In the Snatch, the bar is lifted from the floor to overhead in one motion. In the Clean and Jerk, the bar is lifted from the ground to the front of the delts and then explosively launched overhead.
Because these lifts are quite technical, if you find yourself interested in learning the lifts and can find/afford a coach, it would be in your best interest to get one. Reading about them and trying them out in the gym are good ways to start but nothing compares to having a qualified coach who can evaluate your form and program for you. I’m going over the general lifts here but I’ll link California Strength’s videos on learning both of these lifts which I found to be very useful when I was learning them.
The Snatch is often described as ballet with the bar. Performed correctly, it will look like art: flowing and beautiful. It starts with a wide grip, hips low, back straight. The bar is pulled, primarily using the legs, to just below the knee. The speed for the first part of the movement is mostly inconsequential except that when you’re learning it, to make sure you’re in a good starting position for the second pull, it’s a good idea to go slowly. Once you get the form down, a dynamic start can be added but that’s really up to the individual lifter.
From just below the knees, the back should still be straight and should have approximately the same angle to the floor as from the start position. The knees will be slightly bent. Raise the bar explosively until your back is perpendicular to the floor, jump and shrug. A good cue to remember here, is to try to break the bar with your hips. Your goal is to move up but hitting the bar will reinforce the jump shrug.
While the bar accelerates overhead, drop into a squat position. The goal here is to try to catch the bar when you are deep in the squat, thereby reducing the distance the bar has to travel, from your hips, to the top of a squat allowing for the maximum amount of weight to be caught.
Stand up with the weight overhead.
The clean and jerk is, in some respects, easier but not nearly as pretty. As Jon North puts it: “50 things can go wrong with the clean and jerk and you can still get a good lift.”
It starts from the floor, with about a deadlift-width grip. The grip you use may vary and primarily depends on how flexible your shoulders are with respect to the “rack” position. Again the bar is lifted to just below the knees with the back staying at about the same angle to floor throughout the movement and and the legs doing most of the lifting in the first pull.
After reaching just below the knee, keeping the arms straight, explode upward with a jump and shrug. Only after the bar has made contact with the thigh should you allow your arms to bend. Taught arms will be very important for a beginners to keep in mind. Most people who are completely new to explosive pulls, will try to do an upright row with the bar. This will work until the weight becomes heavy and they will plateau. In addition, allowing an upright row to replace an explosive pull will lead to injury.
Try not to allow the bar to travel too far in front of you on either the Snatch or the Clean and Jerk. While the bar travels up, sit as far in the hole as possible. It is critical to receive the bar as low as possible. Every inch higher you catch the bar, is about another 10 kilos you leave off a PR. Keep the weight racked on your front delts and stand up. Wait. Don’t try the next part until you’ve mentally prepared yourself. The clean takes a serious toll on your ability to move swiftly. The jerk will seem impossible if you try to do it too quickly after standing up from the clean.
Adjust your grip to where you would hold the bar for an overhead press. Dip your knees, keeping your back straight. Explode UP. Allow the bar to travel straight up while splitting your legs, one forward, one back. The back knee should bend towards the ground, the closer it gets, the better. The front leg should jut out as far out as possible and be planted firmly. A good cue here is to pretend you’re stomping on a bug that’s three feet in front of you. Finish the lift by bringing your feet side by side with arms locked out.
Assuming you are using bumper plates, when finished with either lift, you may let go of the bar and allow it to drop, follow the bar down while lightly gripping it (preventing it from bouncing excessively) or, if you just broke a state or national record, slam the bar into the platform. Note, that when in competition, you may have to wait for a “Good Lift” command before dropping the bar. Not waiting for the command will disqualify the lift.
- When starting out, use a broomstick to learn the movements. Starting with bad technique initially, will cause you to fall back on bad technique when the weights get heavier.
- Film yourself routinely. You don’t have to post the videos or show them to anyone (although that may be helpful if shown to the right person/group of people).
- Compare your form, to the technique shown in the tutorials.
- Get some weightlifting shoes. They are critical to keeping good form on the lifts and will help with your stability and flexibility. Great options include the Adidas Adipowers and Nike Romaleos 2 (about $200 each). Good options are the Do-Wins or Pendlay Weightlifting Shoes (about $130 each). Bad options are Adidas Powerperfect or any other “Rubber-heel” shoe. The heel of the shoe should be stiff and firm not soft. Most “weightlifting” shoes under $90 are meant for CF athletes.
- People/teams you should follow include: John North, Glenn Pendlay and MDUA, Gregg Everett (who literally wrote the book on weightlifting) and California Strength.
- Squat some more.
High bar squats are the only squats you should be doing if you plan to get better at the classics. The bar sits on the traps. For all the following variations, the knees may travel past the toes. The idea is to get as far below parallel as possible without your back rounding and while maintaining an upright torso. Bounce out of the hole but don’t fall down. This will take some time to get used to if you’re used to squatting low bar. Lower yourself in a controlled manner and when you’ve reached a point where you can get no lower without your back rounding, release the tension and bounce out of the hole.
Front squats will help with the rack position on cleans and help teach you to keep your torso upright.
- Un-rack the bar on the front delts.
- Do not allow the weight to be supported with your wrists.
- If you don’t have the flexibility to hold the bar (without crossing your arms) and keep the bar on the front delts, work on that first.
- Allowing your wrists to support the weight will lead to injury.
- Lower yourself, keeping your torso upright.
- Stand back up without allowing yourself to fall forward (which is the tendency when learning this lift).
Overhead squats or Drop Snatches will help with shoulder stability which is critical when you have 2x your bw locked out overhead. Start with the barbell, keep adding weight, making sure you keep your back straight throughout the movement. Overhead squats are slow, controlled movements which should be performed initially to get you shoulders used to being in what should be an otherwise strange position for them.
- Start with the bar on the traps
- Push up on the bar using a snatch-grip width
- The bar should be back, behind the head. Essentially as far back as your shoulders can go before they dislocate. The videos will explain in better detail but a good que for the position: if someone is looking at you from the side angle, can they see your entire head when the weight is locked out?
- If not, move the bar back further.
- If yes, good job, your shoulders are in a good position.
- Lower yourself with the bar locked out until you get as far down as possible.
- Stand back up.
Drop snatches are an explosive movement primarily using super maximal snatch weights to build stability in the shoulder, enhance balance and create a greater stability and familiarity with the bottom position in the overhead squat.
- Start with the bar on the traps with a snatch-grip width.
- Dip your legs.
- Explode up with the bar.
- While the bar is still traveling upwards, drop down and into the bottom squat position.
- Keeping the bar locked out overhead, stand up with the weight.
You will find it helpful later on if you sit in the overhead squat position and get used to the weight being there. Move around a little while down there. Take a deep breath. Relax (read: don’t release tension but stay down there and feel it). Wobble a little. These movements, while not essential, will help teach you how to save a lift.