Weightlifting

Coach’s Corner-Clean and Jerk


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Reid Worthington 340# Clean and Jerk complex

The Clean

As Reid breaks the bar from the floor, he is looking down. This gives him a couple of options. He can either adjust his gaze during the lift, which causes a problem because a fixed gaze is important for good balance, and moving it during the lift can throw the athlete off. The other option is to keep looking down, which may cause Reid to tilt forward in an effort to maintain his original focal point in his field of vision. The simplest way to fix this is to draw a mark on the wall (or just pick one that’s already there) and make sure to keep the eyes focused on that point throughout the whole lift. I recommend a mark on or just slightly above eye level when standing.

As the bar passes Reid’s knees, he starts pulling the chest up just a tad early. This can cause the weight to shift forward on the feet too soon, leading to a multitude of problems, not the least of which are losing power at the top and pushing the bar forward. My favorite drill to address this is the halting deadlift followed by a clean. In the halting deadlift, the lifter will perform a clean pull, but stop as the bar gets to the top of the thighs, before bringing his shoulders back into the power position. Pause and hold at this position for about two seconds – there should be tension on your glutes and hamstrings, the bar should feel “heavy” on your elbows (i.e. you shouldn’t be pulling on it with your arms,) and your whole foot should be flat on the ground, weight balanced just slightly to the rear. From there, lower the bar to the floor, and perform the clean.

The Jerk

Reid initiates the dip by driving the hips slightly back, and then bringing them forward under the shoulders before reversing direction into the drive. At 340#, or around 84% of Reid’s best jerk, he is able to make the lift without trouble. At true max weights, however, this back-then-forward motion is likely to force Reid onto his toes, causing him to drive the bar forward off the shoulders. To fix this, I’d recommend that Reid practice the jerk dip with light-to-moderate weights with an object just behind him, like a PVC pipe or dowel standing upright. If the object is placed in the right spot, it will serve as an indicator – if he touches it,  Reid will know he sent his hips back rather than moving straight down.

Reid’s speed and footwork is very good. The only recommendation I would make is to adjust the position of the rear leg, so that the knee is a little bit more bent and closer to being under the hip. This would allow Reid a greater degree of control over the weight. I would have Reid work on drop jerks with a pause at the receiving position. To perform this exercise, the lifter takes the bar on his back with knees relaxed, and jumps his feet out to the split position (the bar stays on his back, it does not go overhead.) This is an exercise the lifter can do for a lot of reps with light-to-moderate weights, without taxing the shoulders. Additionally, I would like to see Reid pause his jerks up to 70-75% (and occasionally heavier) for two seconds in the receiving position. This will demand that he receive the bar in a position in which he is stable and under control.

Adrian Vanvleck 225# Clean & Jerk

The Clean

Adrian’s set position is pretty good. I would like to see him keep his head up a little bit more as he breaks the bar from the floor. I might also like to see him set the hips slightly higher, as Adrian appears in this video to have quite long arms. A lifter with a long-limbed build will often find themselves more comfortable and in a position which better uses their levers with the hips slightly higher than lifters with longer torso/shorter limb anthropometry.

As the bar approaches and passes the knees, Adrian’s back looks a little bit soft. Being strong in this position is crucial, as any softening of the back will tend to pull the lifter out of position and reduce his ability to transmit force to the bar. There are often dual causes here: a lack of flexibility in the hamstrings (particularly up high near the glutes,) and a lack of strength in the spinal erectors. The Romanian Deadlift is a great exercise to address both of these issues. When performing the RDL, make sure the knees stay “soft” and relaxed. Go only as far as possible while keeping the knees from moving forward and the back from rounding. Over time, focus not only on increasing the weight, but on improving the range of motion in which you can correctly perform the exercise.

Adrian transitions into a good power position, but as he does so, he pushes the bar forward, away from his center of mass. This causes a host of issues, including the bar being forward as the lifter goes under it, and a loss of the vertical force which could be imparted to the bar. In Adrian’s case, the pushing forward of the bar appears to be happening in conjunction with (rather than after) the transition, so the most important thing to work on is the movement around the knee. I’d recommend cleans from blocks which place the bar just below the knees, so that Adrian can focus on the movement of the knees without relying on the momentum of the pull from the floor to carry him through.

The Jerk

Like Reid, Adrian initiates the dip by pushing the hips back, rather than by moving straight down by bending the knees. Unlike Reid, Adrian does not relocate the hips to stack beneath the torso, instead driving the bar up from a hips-behind-shoulders position. Since the bar is now moving forward, Adrian has to follow it to get his torso under, rather than moving straight down. To correct this issue, I would have Adrian practice jerks with a short pause in the dip position, using light-to-moderate weights. This will allow Adrian to focus on a straight dip and drive. This drill is best done with someone watching or a video camera so that the athlete can be corrected or self correct on every set.

The forward dip and drive is likely the cause of the issues with Adrian’s split. Upon receipt of the bar, Adrian’s front shin is angled forward (rather than vertical,) his ribcage is pushed out (rather than being stacked between hips and shoulders, keeping the spine neutral) and his back leg is nearly straight (rather than being bent.) Though this issue may originally stem from the dip and drive, it is likely habit now, and will need to be addressed on it’s own. I would recommend pressing from the split position with light-to-moderate weights. This exercise can help the lifter establish comfort in a correct split, but it is crucial that it be done with weights which allow the athlete to maintain perfect strictness. The legs and torso should not move at all.

Ariel Stephens, 101kg Clean & Jerk

The Clean

As the bar passes Ariel’s knees, her feet turn out to the sides. This can cause the lifter to be slow and out of position at the readjustment. This is not a common issue, nor one I’ve had to fix before. So far, we have primarily used cuing: focusing on pushing with the feet through the pull, to stay anchored. I am also considering just nailing Ariel’s shoes to the floor.

As the bar approaches her hips, it drifts slightly forward, causing Ariel to push her hips to follow the bar. This will often cause the lifter to be forward through the finish, driving the bar away from her center of mass and looping it through the turnover. To fix this, we are training cleans with a two second pause below the knees. This allows Ariel to stop and think about the next step, and concentrate on pushing the bar back towards her as it passes the knees and comes into the upper thigh/hips.

Ariel has a slight “float” at the top of the finish before initiating the pull under the bar. At Colin Burns’ suggestion, we have been working on tall cleans to improve Ariel’s speed and aggression through the turnover.

The Jerk

Ariel does an admirable job of getting under a heavy bar quickly. However, she struggles to recover from the receiving position. Her split is a little longer and deeper than is ideal, and as she fights the weight, her hips slip slightly behind her shoulders and make it difficult for her to stand. It is better to meet the bar as high as possible – unlike the clean, there is no rebound effect to be gained by going into a deeper receiving position, but the deeper split is significantly more precarious and harder to recover from. Ariel is training power jerks, to work on driving and stopping the bar high, as well as the aforementioned drop jerks and press from split, to help establish the correct receiving position.

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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