A Change of Direction

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Weightlifting is a complex sport.  So much so that there are a lot of things about it which I’ve simply stopped trying to figure out.  Why did I PR my snatch after 3 days of lifting like complete shit?  Muscle confusion or something?  I don’t know.

It’s even more complex when you are trying to figure it out alone.  And the unfortunate truth is that without some kind of regular coaching, it’s going to be very hard to nail down the details.  No amount of video analysis, reading Soviet training manuals, or listening to gurus on interweb forums is going to replace real time feedback from an experienced coach (for example, I often give my weightlifters useful cues such as “what was that bullshit?”  “I hated that lift” and “please make it less awful.”)

However, while the details are very hard to figure out, I think there are some large scale changes the lone wolf weightlifter (it makes you feel cool when I put it that way, doesn’t it?) can make, which will lead to a very big improvement in mechanics, consistency, and eventually kilos on the bar.

Today I want to talk about a change in direction, both metaphorically and literally.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about weightlifting is that the primary directive is to get the bar up.  At first glance, of course, this makes sense.  Until I was learned to watch the lifts properly, that’s what I saw too  Of course it’s about going up – after all, that’s where the bar is supposed to go.  Up, over the lifter’s head.  Well my friends, I have bad news: up is the easy part.

(DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING IS AN OVERSIMPLIFICATION FOR THE PURPOSES OF VISUALIZATION) When was the last time you had trouble just deadlifting your max snatch?  Your max clean?  Though there are undoubtedly some super efficient weightlifters out there who clean & jerk nearly what they can deadlift, you are probably not one of them.

Does Oleg Perpetchenov look overly concerned with the height of the bar?

And now we come to our change in direction.  Weightlifting isn’t about getting the bar up.  It’s about getting the bar back.

This realization came to me slowly.  I was lucky to have some great coaching, and if I’d been smarter than I am, I probably would have quickly grasped the concept.  Instead, I picked it up as my technique slowly improved.  Sweep the bar BACK.  Get the knees BACK.  Stay BACK on the heels.  Put the bar BACK behind your head.  At some point it occured to me that the reason I kept having to work hard to stay back is that the bar wanted to pull me forward, and that focusing on pulling the bar up was helping it do so.

Once you look for it, it’s very easy to see.  Watch here.

Marcin Dolega of Poland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AluxHZGgh38

Lu Xiaojun of China: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqQ0cionyNc

Ilya Ilin of Kazakhstan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAhulfFggFw

Jon North of the United States: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdehUqGfZ24

With the exception of Ilin’s slight forward kick off the ground, it is easy to see that all of these lifters pull back, far behind the so called “vertical line of pull” (the direct line up from the end of the bar at the instant of separation from the floor.)

So what good is this to you?

Well, in your next training session, maybe not much.  But if you can learn to change your thinking so that your focus is on bringing the bar back and in towards your hips, it might just make you a much, much better weightlifter.

There are, of course, drills which can help you learn this.  My favorite is the snatch or clean paused just below the knees.  Make sure you’re hitting this position correctly – weight in the heels, shins vertical, shoulders well in front of the bar.  Focus on pushing the knees and bar BACK as you ascend to this position, and as you ascend past it.  If you’re unsure of what this should look like, you probably need to step back and learn the positions – I recommend Glenn Pendlay’s “How To Snatch” and “How To Clean” videos.  Part 1 of “How To Snatch” is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6SjuAOjMEk.

Over time, as you learn to feel the backwards movement of the load as you ascend through the pull, you will likely find yourself more powerful and snappy through the finish, more stable in the receiving position, and with more kilos on the bar.

Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, and the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA.
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