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,

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