Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Olympic Lifting: The Lifts

Sa Jae-Hyouk: 2008 77kg gold medalist.
He beat Li Hongli.

The last three weeks I've given a lot of information. Realistically to prepare for every step it would take around two weeks, maybe three, of daily practice. The exercises are to drill in new motor skills.

But, to move on to the actual lifts is important. After all, everything's been leading up to this post. I'll cover the snatch, clean, jerk, key points, and provide further resources.

Manuel Buitrago's video is good so I'll be using the following for visual reference,

Fast forward to the 1:14 mark.
He'll do two snatches, then the clean & jerk.

To keep the post concise, I'll omit details previously discussed - such as the start position, deadlifting, triple extension, and keeping the bar close. Also, the start of the snatch and clean are very similar in execution. I'll describe a general beginning then split off to describe each where they differ.

First and Second Pulls
  • In the snatch grab the bar with a wide hook grip. It doesn't have to be end-to-end, but wide enough. In the clean the bar can be grabbed wider than a deadlift grip, but narrower than the snatch grip.
  • Get comfortable, look at the floor a few feet in front then take a big breath into your belly and begin to rise. Straighten the legs while maintaining the torso's posture over the bar.
  • After the bar passes the knees [end of the first pull], start to speed up, straighten out and to prepare for triple extension.
  • As the bar approaches the hips, triple extend fast. The bar will continue going up. [end of the second pull]
Receiving in the Snatch
  • When the bar is at around lower pec level (think lower part of the arm pit), that's your cue to drop straight down as quick as possible. The bar will be caught overhead as you go under it.
  • When you're confident the bar is settled above, squat it up.
Receiving in the Clean
  • Around lower pec level again, perform the descent of a front squat allowing your elbows to break away to the sides. If you've been keeping the bar close it will come to rest in the racked position. Done correctly, it will look like you front squatted down into the bottom position.
  • Front squat the weight up to prepare for the jerk.
- The arms hold the weight and nothing more. Don't use them to force/muscle the bar into the receiving position. Tight grip, loose arms.

- Triple extend straight up. Some lifters have the tendency to pull backwards and rely more on back than legs consequently losing out on power.

- In the snatch, the bar isn't swung up in an arc fashion. The bar travels vertically with the elbows bending as you drop under it.

- In the clean, keep the torso upright! It's easy to cave forward and lose the bar.

- Rearranging the feet after triple extension is normal. They narrow up after standing and tend to take on a wider stance in the catch. A common mistake is going extremely wide for the lack of descent speed and/or flexibility. For example, see here.

- The difference between a good or bad rep is obvious in snatches and cleans. If you're not satisfied with it, dump the bar or don't count it.
  • Stand tall with hands open and as wide as you grabbed the bar during the clean's first pull.
  • Squat a quarter of the way down maintaining a straight posture. Squat back up as hard as you can to give momentum to the bar.
  • Right before you finish the squat upwards, quickly shoot one leg forward and the other back to allow your elbows to lock out as you descend under the bar.
  • Bring the front foot a half step back then the back foot forward to stand finished.
- Use the leg you find comfortable to put forward. I'm right-side dominant, but my left leg leads.

- "Slide" the leg shooting forth as opposed to jumping or hopping it out.

- You're not pressing the bar up. The squat gives the bar speed to momentarily go up as you settle under it in the lock out position.

- In this post I've described the popular split jerk. A small portion of lifters use the push jerk or squat jerk. Shi Zhiyong push jerks his first two attempts then a squat jerk on the last in this video. Cara heads does a squat jerk here. Some lifters prefer it and become more proficient at it compared to the split jerk.
My Advice

Grab a broomstick handle and get to it. You get better by practice. Progress to an empty barbell after you understand the movements.

Not only that, but watch videos of elite level lifters perform. It happens quickly, but replay it pausing at various points. Take note of how they move - triple extension, set-up, etc. A few examples,

In general, this is just an awesome video.

Alternatives & Further Resources

Personally I don't think there's a replacement for the lifts or environment. An Olympic coach and gym does wonders to improve your performance. Not only is it helpful to receive feedback from everyone, but the people are very friendly.

Although you can't force anyone to perform the lifts. If you don't want to do them, the assistance exercises can be used as a substitute. Chad Wesley Smith also lists alternative methods he employs in this article. For more information, check out these places:
1) Michael Hartman's blog

2) Tracy Fober's blog

3) Manuel Buitrago's Youtube channel (previously had instructional videos for the snatch)

4) Sweat Pit forum
This wraps up the performance part of the series, but I'll have a formal conclusion here Friday.

Stay tuned.

Other posts in this series,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Olympic Lifting: A Transition Program

Li Hongli: 2008 77kg silver medalist & epic beast.
Seriously, look at him.

Last week I laid out the groundwork to familiarize beginners to today's assistance exercises. These exercises serve to transition into the competition lifts - the snatch, clean, and jerk.

The important part is maintaining and applying everything learned to these exercises. I think watching then doing is a great start point to acquire a new skill. Therefore after the program, I'll list the individual exercises linked to videos and provide minimal descriptions where necessary - enough to give an idea of what to do or cues that are helpful.

Before the program, let me describe triple extension. It occurs at three points: the ankles, knees, and hips. Performed powerfully, it accelerates the bar upwards before dropping under it and occurs as the bar clears the knees. The lifter gets on their toes and simultaneously contracts their quadriceps and glutes quickly (locking out the knees & hips) and shrugs their shoulders to their ears.

The Program
Day 1
1) Snatch shrug, 8 x 1-3
2) Overhead squat, 3 x 3
3) Snatch balance, 5 x 1
4) Snatch deadlift, 5 x 2

Day 2
1) Quarter front squat, 3 x 3
2) Overhead static lunge, 1 x 5 per leg
3) Push press, 5 x 2
4) Front squat hold, 3 x 15s

Day 3
1) Clean shrug, 8 x 1-3
2) Front squat, 3 x 3
3) Clean deadlift, 5 x 2
4) Loosening deadlift, 1 x 8

- Excluding the loosening deadlift and front squat hold, all exercises are done with an empty barbell.

- Use a broom handle or stick for the loosening deadlift.

- Some weight can be added to the front squat hold.

- The bar needs to be elevated for floor exercises such as snatch and clean deadlifts. Use the squat rack, 45lb. plates, or aerobic platforms.

- "8 x 1-3" is done with 10-20 seconds of rest between sets and 1, 2, or 3 reps per set. Gauge your own performance within each set.

- Keep one day of rest between workouts.
The purpose is to become proficient at the movements. It is not to move heavy weights, get a pump, or impress the ladies. Quality reps are the goal.

The Exercises
*Note: Catalyst Athletics provides descriptions above the videos,
however some aren't great

Snatch Shrugs/Clean Shrugs
  • This exercise is to understand triple extension. For now, ignore the bar lowering and perform from a stand still position.
  • After practice progress to the video's version, then to snatch pulls/clean pulls, and finally the snatch high pulls and clean high pulls.
  • All versions maintain full triple extension.
Overhead Squat
  • One of the more difficult exercises to learn. Boris gives thorough instruction here and here.
  • Tips from me: Shove the bar towards the ceiling the entire time to keep your elbows locked out and your hands pressing the bar up for the duration of the set.
  • Shrug/pull your shoulders up to your ears.
  • Keep the bar balanced over your scapulae.
  • Your stance will most likely be a bit wider than your typical squat stance. Focus driving through you feet as shown in blue here.
Snatch Balance
  • Drop straight down fast; there's little pressing - if any - of the bar.
Front Squat
  • More instruction from Boris here.
Quarter Front Squat
  • Focus on moving your torso straight up and down.
Snatch Deadlifts/Clean Deadlifts
  • Keep your shoulders over the bar and straighten your legs before preceding to lock out and stand tall. If you need to understand the set-up again, refer to last week's post.
Push Press
  • Use momentum from the legs to press the bar upwards.
Overhead Static Lunge
  • Choose a grip closer to your push press.
  • No need to lunge back and forth or alternate legs every rep; put one leg out, hold it there, then go up and down.
  • Emphasis going low to become comfortable in this position.
Front Squat Holds

Loosening Deadlift
  • If you've been arching your back like you're suppose to, this is a recovery exercise for it.
These exercises are very similar to the main lifts. If you find this too much to learn at once, stick with the following:
Day 1
1) Snatch shrug, 8 x 1-3
2) Overhead squat, 3 x 3
3) Snatch deadlift, 5 x 2

Day 2
1) Clean shrug, 8 x 1-3
2) Front squat, 3 x 3
3) Clean deadlift, 5 x 2
4) Loosening deadlift, 1 x 8*

*Optional: Add if back is tired/taxed.
While the original program is preferred, suffering from too many exercises isn't productive as well. The objective is to become skilled enough. If you're not prepared, you might as well not bother.

With this post done, that leaves one left and will cover learning the snatch, clean, and jerk. Not only that, but also alternative methods to them and a conclusion on the topic.

Other posts in this series,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quitting Fast Food


Everyone has certain habits. Some are good, some are bad, and some are neither of the two. I'm sure most of us would like to eliminate the bad habits.

And it's possible to get rid of them. As far as I've experienced, there are two ways to quit a bad habit.

#1: The Bad Experience

An aversive experience will leave an impression on you. My high school motorcycle & auto shop teacher told us after he had a throat surgery years ago the doctor told him he had to quit cigarettes or he would die. From that day forth he didn't touch a cigarette.

My personal story is getting a harsh case of food poisoning in elementary school. I was addicted to McDonald's but I think god believed I had my fill of it and decided to set me straight. The only details I can recall are feeling horribly ill and the doctor telling my mom and I that another kid came in with McDonald's food poisoning. It was enough for me to never eat it again.

These stories are a bit extreme. No one wants to go through a terrible situation to quit a habit.
#2: Time Off
Going cold turkey works if you can shake the initial withdrawal jitters. I've done it twice and only once it was a conscious effort.

One summer I decided to not eat fast food for a year. I can't remember what compelled me, but I did it. It went fine; I just didn't eat fast food for a year.

When the year was up we got Pizza Hut for dinner and man it tasted disgusting. I feel I was conditioned to fast food and breaking away from it returned my palate to its own sense of normalcy.
Time away from a habit works wonders. The initial period can be difficult, but if you can do it for a year then you have a significant amount of control over the habit rather than it controlling you.

It becomes easier as time goes on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Olympic Lifting: Getting Comfortable

As Lu Yong shows, the mobility from
part one is important for a reason.

Mobility in weightlifting gets your foot in the door. However, that doesn't count for much. Your foot's got a long ways to go in the sport.

It isn't enough to have mobility. During various points along the movement, there are specific postures. Today's goal is to get familiar with them.

Low Back Arch

I posted this article Monday. If you've never arched your low back in deadlifts or squats you might be able to get away with it, but not in Olympic lifts.

Rippetoe states in the article women know what to do when asked to arch their back as opposed to men. Check out these three positions:

(A) Lying motionless on the floor
(B) Flattening your low back against the floor
(C) Arching your low back
Figure B displays the core exercise the dead bug where you rotate your pelvis up and towards your self. Figure C is the opposite. You rotate it backwards and down into the floor. Think of your tailbone as the thing you're trying to rotate into the floor. This will widen the space between your low back and the floor creating the arch. To understand how each feels practice a few reps of both positions.

After that, try it standing:

The flat back on the left is how most deadlift and squat. To the right is what we're aiming to achieve: rotating the tailbone back and up [clockwise rotation in this image]. If you haven't done this before, it will feel uncomfortable and exhaust your low. With time your low back will build strength in the arch.

Hook Grip

The snatch and clean are done for low reps. Between each rep the lifter resets themselves to pull. To handle heavy weights and get a tight grip on the bar they utilize a hook grip. Unlike the common overhand or mixed grip in deadlifts where the thumb is over the other digits, the hook grip has the thumb under the index and middle finger.

Understanding this initially confused me since I was use to gripping the bar as I've described here. Elite lifters on Youtube show them putting their thumb on the bar and then the other four fingers over it, but for myself this felt weak and loose.

However, I noticed Lu Yong does it differently. He grabs the bar regularly, lifts his index and middle fingers then places his thumb underneath. I've found this far more effective. Try the following:
1) Grip the bar as you would as any other pull - again see here.

2) Next, lift the index and middle fingers extending them as high up as you can. Now wrap your thumb as far as you can around the bar.

3) When you're confident your thumb is as close as it can get to the bar and wrapped as far around as it can be, wrap the two fingers over it as far as possible.
You should feel your grip has tightened significantly. At first the hook grip is painful and awkward. Practice with the bar itself and perform single reps of light to medium weight deadlifts.

Spreading the Scapulae

Scapulae simply means the shoulder blades. Protracting them - spreading them apart as opposed to retracting where you pull them together - results in a lat spread.

Bruce Lee demonstrates the lat spread.

Get in front of a mirror, puff up your chest, and bring your lats out wide. Focus on the movement coming from the scapulae, not the arms or deltoids/shoulders themselves. Tommy Kono explains this allows the lifter to take advantage of the lat muscles' power for a better pull. The above image of Bruce Lee is more or less how the body is during triple extension (more on that next week).

Perform a few poses in front of a mirror and then a few facing away from it. (You won't be able to look at a mirror in the start position.)

Lastly to maximize efficiency during the pulls, as the bar travels upwards it should remain close to the body. For a great explanation I'm going to direct everyone to Mike Robertson's post here. [EDIT: Importance of this explained here.]

Start Positions

Courtesy of Catalyst Athletics

For now, don't worry about doing this exercise. Rather, observe the start position and get into it yourself. Here we put everything together discussed thus far. The arched low back, using a hook grip, and separated scapulae.

If you do your deadlifts in the high hips powerlifter-style, this will be a big change. The hips are much lower being right above the level of the knee.

Other cues to follow:
  • Shoulders over the bar
  • Knuckles pointing straight down
  • Looking ahead or angled at the floor in front of you
  • Elbows rotated out [see here]
I rarely discuss the clean's start. Aside from the grip width on the bar, it's very similar to the snatch start.

What I will discuss is the racked jerk position.

Stretch the wrist and fingers
to better rack the bar.

It's as easy it looks. With your hands cocked back and outside your shoulders, let the tips of your fingers face up and rest under the bar. Note that you're not using your hands or fingers to hold the bar up.

The bar rests on your front shoulders for support as your fingers provide balance. Stand tall and make a big chest to avoid hunching over - otherwise you'll lose your balance and drop the bar forward.

Much like the other new postures, this will feel relatively odd and become more natural with practice.

Wrapping Up

This post covers many things and can appear overwhelming. The thing is, Olympic weightlifting is very technical! Practice one detail at a time before trying to combine it all together. Becoming proficient in everything discussed will make it that much easier to learn the snatch and clean.

This post wasn't brief, but hopefully thorough for beginners. Next week we'll start with triple extension and assistance exercises.

Other posts in this series,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Cool Down

Not sure why he's doing yoga in
what appears to be cargo pants.

To say it's hot out is an understatement. The weather around here these past two days has been well over 90 degrees. It's so warm I imagine ice cream melts before it even hits your lips.

As a result, exercise becomes a bit more strenuous and taxing on the body. However, it's not impossible. Similarly to warming up in the winter, we can stay cool in the blazing sun. Of course, we just need to be smart about it.
1) Clothing
  • Keep it minimal and light. Guys can get away with a pair of shorts and going shirtless. Girls will need to sport a tank top. I somewhat advise against hats since it retains heat, but if the sun is burning your head it might be wise to protect it.
  • If you exercise barefoot outside remember hard surfaces become hot. You don't want to step out only to have your feet burned.
2) Combating Heat
  • Whatever you're doing, sip on cold fluids. I prefer water over sports drinks. Sports drinks don't quench my thirst as well as water. Water also allows you to periodically splash your face/head. Drink and splash frequently, but be careful not to use the entire container early in the workout. You don't want to feel bloated or be without anything to drink.
  • Take frequent breaks. Look for areas of shade to cool off.
3) Exercise Duration & Selection
  • Exercise can't be over-the-top-balls-to-the-wall intense. Keep the session moderate or light intensity around 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Don't do a handstand or anything where your head is upside-down. The blood rushing to your face is a terrible and nauseating feeling.
  • If you're lifting, stick to low volume. Sets of 4 reps and keeping it 10 total reps or below is a good idea. For example, 2x3, 4x2, or 5x1 all would be great parameters to work with. Static holds like planks shouldn't be held too long - 20 seconds max.
  • Take breaks of 2 minutes or more to get control of your breathing, find some shade, and allow your body to handle the heat.
4) Recovery
  • After your session, take 5-10 minutes to cool down. Perform a mix of light activity such as walking, going up & down stairs, jumping jacks, arm circles, planks, push-ups, stretching, or other bodyweight movements. Give your body a moment to readjust to resting mode.
  • Meditation is a useful tool. When you complete the cool down, find a quiet spot, close your eyes and take 10-15 minutes to focus on your breathing.
  • Take a shower to wash the sweat off and de-stress.
If you don't exercise regularly, I suggest skipping exercise altogether in hot weather. Some may say it's crazy to do anything in the heat. It's not crazy. Whether it's practice or a game, athletes play in this weather.

I did it twice the past two or three weeks - once yesterday and another time in late May. I noticed the weather was well over 90 degrees and thought it would be interesting to try. The worst thing about it? Having to hold a barbell while your feet are on fire.
Why would I do it? Well it's a nice test of mental toughness (albeit not a huge one) and I like a challenge as much as the next guy/gal.

Secondly, some of the most bad ass athletes did out-of-the-box stuff. Take for instance Vasily Alexeev. This guy would toss weights into the Volga river and lift. I don't have a river nearby - not that I'd go into any of these murky waters - but I'll gladly try something new.

But back to the main point. You can exercise in hot weather as long as you're smart about it. Take a barbell, dumbbells, kettebells outside or perform bodyweight exercise.

Just have fun with it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Olympic Lifting: Preparation

Pyrros Dimas looking
like a beast as usual.

I wasn't sure what to post today, but I knew I wanted to deliver more exercise content. I figured why not discuss Olympic weightlifting. I've noticed it becoming more popular, but the lack of a USAW coach's instruction acts as a limiting factor (another is finding an Olympic gym). I originally was going to write about strongman training, but thought more people will enjoy this.

I'll do one brief post on O-lifting each week for the next four or five weeks. However, I'm not a USAW Olympic coach, an elite weightlifter, or for that fact the most knowledgeable on the subject. I'm simply interested in sharing what I learned as I became more involved with it.

If you're not aware, Olympic weightlifting is the sport comprised of the snatch and the clean & jerk. The technical aspect of the lifts make the sport difficult. You have to be quick, strong, and have great technique to do well. I'll be oversimplifying things in these posts, but it will allow beginners to understand the movements easier.

If the movements are broken down, they can be recognized as a series of three or four separate lifts. They start out as a deadlift, become a shrug-jump movement, a squat, and then the addition of a press in the clean & jerk.


As great as it would be to just give it a go and have the bar smash you in the chin or on your head, the lifts demand a lot of mobility in the ankles, hips, upper back, and shoulders. Luckily for me, I can refer to the following resources:

If you don't focus in on these areas progressing along will be difficult. Pick exercises from each section and use them daily.

The last prerequisite I have to add is you have to know how back squat and deadlift. Both movements are integral in the primary lifts. If you can't do either, practice in the mean time along with the mobility drills.

And that's where I'll end it. A bit short, but I did say the posts will be brief. Next week I'll talk about triple extension, posture, hook grip, and more.

Other posts in this series,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Exercise Cues: Locking Out Overhead

Burly looking fellow. Must be a European lifter.

When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, most people talk about Glenn Pendlay or Greg Everett. I personally haven't read much from either coach. Instead I'm a big fan of Tommy Kono.

While watching one of his lectures* he briefly mentioned a tip on performing the jerk. He said to have your arms to cover your ears resulting in your elbows pointing away from them. This in turn will better help keep the weight overhead.

When using dumbbells I noticed a similar tip myself. I keep the weight racked close and in line with my ear. Otherwise if it's not close to you it becomes a struggle to hold the weight and press it up.

Next time you're doing any type of vertical press, try bringing your elbows to your ears as you press the weight overhead.

*See his lecture here.
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