Snatch Technique – The Key Concepts Fully Explained

In the early stages of learning, it is exceptionally important for the coach to provide a conceptual picture of the snatch. The task for the coach is to help the beginner unravel the complexities of snatch technique, to simplify and make more understandable what the snatch is, and what it isn’t. If insufficient attention is paid to explaining the fundamental concepts of snatch technique, it is highly likely that the beginner will suffer considerable learning difficulties and may accumulate errors of technique that may be intractable. It is, of course, a truth that coaches will differ very considerably in their own understanding of the snatch. These differences among coaches emerge as a result of the passing on of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes from one generation of coaches to the next. Inevitably, the most powerful influence is when an athlete learns from their own coach, and largely adopts the same view of snatch technique. Some differences between coaches will be merely superficial and the end result of coaching will be athletes with broadly similar styles and consistent performance ability. On the other hand, some coaching beliefs result in athletes developing a style of snatch that has has a pronounced eccentricities and a great deal of performance unpredictability.

Kiana Elliott - Excellence in Snatch Technique - displaying a great Receiving Position
Kiana Elliott – Snatch Receiving Position

Therefore it is greatly important for athletes and coaches alike to investigate the key biomechanical concepts upon which snatch technique is built and avoid the trap of passed on beliefs systems.

Key concepts of snatch technique

CONCEPT 1: TWO BASIC SKILLS

Excellence in snatch technique depends broadly on two entirely different skills. Firstly, the skill to lift the bar and secondly the skill to move rapidly under the bar and stabilize the weight overhead. No matter how good the athlete’s capability is in the first skill, their performance will be limited by the second skill. In other words, no matter how strong an athlete is in the pull, if they cannot stabilise the weight overhead, their pull strength comes to no avail. It is critically important therefore to set about developing these two skills in tandem from the very first lesson. It is often the case, that far more attention is paid to the first skill (the pull) in the early stages of learning and not enough on the second skill (excellence in achieving a low, stable receiving position), and as a result athletes develop a lack of confidence with the bar overhead.

CONCEPT 2: CRITICAL HEIGHT

Good snatch technique is NOT a throwing action i.e. the bar is not catapulted or thrown overhead. Instead, the athlete’s task is to extend the body powerfully upwards to complete the pull as shown in Figure 2 below, and then to complete a fast drop into the receiving position and stabilise the bar overhead. The term “critical height” denotes the need for the bar to reach sufficient height so that the athlete has time and space to drop under it, and lockout.

Critical height to which the bar must be raised in order to be successful with the snatch
Figure 2: The simplicity of the snatch is that it is a pull to full extension followed by a fast drop.

The critical height to which the bar must be elevated depends on two factors:

  1. The depth of the athlete’s receiving position. The ability of the athlete to sit very low in the receiving position is an obvious advantage. The critical height that the athlete must achieve in the pull will be lower if they can sit deeper.
  2. The quickness of the athlete to move under the bar into the receiving position. This factor is often not worked on sufficiently. If an athlete is slow in their movement under the bar, the bar must be pulled higher to compensate. The longer the athlete takes to move under the bar, the more the bar falls in height.

Therefore, athletes who develop a low receiving position and are fast under the bar will tend to excel at the Snatch.

Concept 3: Final velocity

It is common for beginning athletes to think that it is necessary to pull the bar as fast as possible immediately at the start of the lift. However, the important concept that the coach must enable the athlete to grasp is that the velocity at the end of the pull is much more important. The velocity of the bar achieved at the end of the pull is termed the ‘final velocity’ and it is final velocity that determines the upward momentum of the bar. The larger the final velocity, the larger the momentum. This is illustrated in Figure 3 below, which depicts that the faster the car goes the greater the stopping distance.

The faster the car the greater the momentum
Figure 3: Momentum is a product of mass and velocity

Athletes should therefore focus on obtaining a strong pull finish rather than trying to gain as much velocity at the start of the lift.

Concept 4: Direction of Force

In Weightlifting, the task is to maximise the force applied in vertical direction and to minimise force applied in a horizontal direction. Movement of the bar horizontally is a major problem for the athlete for two reasons:

  • The athlete must keep the barbell over the base of support to remain in balance. If the bar moves too far horizontally,  it will move outside of the base of support.
  • Horizontal movement results in horizontal momentum, that is the bar has a tendency to keep moving in the same direction (horizontally). In the receiving position for the snatch, for example, if the bar is moving horizontally forwards or backwards the athlete will have extreme difficulty, or it becomes impossible to arrest the movement of the bar.

The problem is that the human body is not a machine built to lift weights in straight lines but is comprised of many parts that move in circular fashion. For this reason, it is very hard for the beginner to learn to minimise horizontal movement, nevertheless that is what good snatch technique demands.

Concept 5: Time

In general, when coaches and athletes think about the snatch technique, they think about good body positions at various stages of the lift, and about the trajectory or path of the bar. This is normal and useful. However, there is often little consideration of the time component of the lift and this is largely because coaches and athletes do not have easy access to tools that accurately measure the time dimension.

For athletes and coaches alike, the brevity of the snatch makes it very hard to appreciate the exquisite timing involved. It its is necessary to observe and compare a great many lifts of excellent and average performers alike, before it becomes possible to distinguish the small fragments of time that are critical to the success of the lift.

Table 1 below provides data obtained by video recording of a snatch by Kiana Elliott (Aus) at 25 frames per second (at 0.04 second intervals). The data illustrates two critical phases of the lift where excellence of performance is demonstrated. Firstly, Elliott is able to continue the pull for 0.16 seconds after the bar has reached the top of the thigh. This time component takes place between position A and position C in Figure 4 below:

Snatch Technique: Finish of the pull in the snatch
Figure 4: Kiana Elliott (Aus) demonstrating the finish of the pull in the snatch. From position A to position B takes just 0.16 seconds.

The time duration of the whole of the pull is 0.88 seconds (see Table 1 below) and therefore the phase of the pull from the top of the thigh to full extension is 18% of the total duration of the pull. If for example this phase where just 1/20th of a second (0.05 sec) less in duration, the athlete would lose nearly 6% of the time duration of the pull. This amount of time is virtually imperceptible to the human eye, yet the consequences of losing 6% of the pull is dramatic, sufficient to cause the difference between success and failure at the elite level.

Table 1: Time components of the Snatch Technique of Kiana Elliott (Aus)

Time ElapsedEvent
0:00:00:00Start of Pull
0:00:00:40Knee Height
0:00:00:56Mid-Thigh
0:00:00:68Top-Thigh (see position A in Figure 4 below)
0:00:00:84Full-Extension (see position C in Figure 4 below)
0:00:00:88Toes still touching floor but body beginning to descend – end of pull
0:00:00:92Feet airborne
0:00:01:00Feet landing
0:00:01:16Elbows locked
0:00:01:36Attaining receiving position
0:00:01:44Full compression in receiving position

The temporal data in Table 1 also indicates a second aspect of performance in which Elliott displays excellence. The quickness of movement under the bar into a full receiving position is an obvious attribute of success in Weightlifting. The faster the movement, the lower the critical height of the bar needed to achieve success and this means that effectively an athlete can succeed with a heavier weight. The data in Table 1 illustrates that the lifter’s feet are airborne after 0.92 seconds duration of the lift, and that the full receiving position is attained at 1.36 seconds, that is 0.44 seconds later. The height and mass of the athlete will be factors that influence this time component but in general a duration of 0.4 seconds for this phase of the lift might be considered fast, whereas 0.5 sec is average and 0.6 seconds slow. There needs to be much more investigation of this with much higher video frame rate before such a statement should be adopted as a truth.

The above data is presented to demonstrate the importance of time values as a key concept in understanding Weightlifting performance. There is a reason why coaches cue athletes to “finish the pull”. It may help the athlete to think in terms of the “finish of the pull’ being not only a body position imperative but also a time imperative. To “finish the pull” means to hang on to pull just 1/20th second longer, and while the human brain will not likely be able to interpret such a small time interval, the concept of time does help the build understanding of key differences between average and excellent performance.

Talent Identification In Weightlifting

Nature versus Nurture in Weightlifting

It is accepted theory in Weightlifting that genetics plays a substantial role in the ultimate performance of the individual (12, 33).  A typical belief is that Weightlifters of the highest performance levels have a greater ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fibres (29). Similarly, a common opinion in the Weightlifting community is that certain anthropometric characteristics strongly influence success such as shoulder circumference (38) and shorter height and limb lengths (34). Furthermore, many researchers have found that Weightlifters as a group are amongst the most mesomorphic of all athletes (25).

How does Weightlifting sit in the nature v nurture paradigm

Figure 1: Relative contribution of nature (natural ability) and nurture (influence of environment) on success in Weightlifting

However, environmental factors also play a highly significant role in success in Weightlifting. These factors include the coach’s leadership skills (8), the coach’s knowledge and effectiveness (7), the culture within the training environment (22) and the degree to which the athlete develops a sense of belonging or relatedness to their sport and their training colleagues (30). These factors will affect the motivation of the athlete to pursue training over the many years of deliberate practise (10) at increasingly higher levels of commitment needed to attain high performance. Furthermore, environmental factors will impact on the athlete’s ability to cope with the psychological pressures of extreme heaviness in critical moments in competition and training.

For these reasons, success in Weightlifting should not be considered as predominantly dependent on genetics as is a popular view, but instead on a relatively equal contribution of genetics and environment as portrayed in Figure 1 above.

Critical Performance Factors

Figure 2: Factors that influence success in Weightlifting

The sport Olympic Weightlifting demands not only training for muscular strength and technique (37) but also the attainment of several other factors critical for success. Weightlifters must move with speed (Sokolov, 32) and the goal is the attainment of speed-strength (9), the ability of muscle tissue to contract forcibly at a high rate of speed. Flexibility in the major joint complexes is an essential quality for the Weightlifer (21) and training must continually work on this quality for performance improvement and injury avoidance (20). Olympic Weightlifters have been found second only to gymnasts on a battery of flexibility tests at one Olympics (3).

Table 1: Anthropometric,  flexibility and somatotype
Elbow extensionAbility to extend elbows to at least 181˚ (21)
Elbow flexionAbility to flex elbow sufficiently to comfortably sit bar on shoulders
Ankle dorsiflexionAbility to squat low, feet flat, with upper 2/3 of trunk in upright position (21)
Hip internal rotationInternal rotation of the femur assists achieving a low/upright squat position
Arm lengthShorter arms reduces necessary vertical displacement of the bar
Hand sizeLength of fingers and thumb, ability to hook grip the bar (21)
SomatotypeAll bodyweights high in mesomorphia, lighter bodyweights with elevated ectomorphia, higher bodyweights with elevated endomorphia

Psychological skills and attributes including motivation, coping with emotion, confidence and ability to focus are exceptionally important. Irrespective of the natural physical gifts that a person possesses, ultimately an individual’s ability to master a lengthy training process will determine their level of success. To endure increasingly higher levels of stress, individuals must be intrinsically motivated and find the training process rewarding, enhancing of self-perception, building competence, and satisfying the need for self-determination (36). However, even highly motivated individuals need to acquire mentals skills for coping with anxiety and fear brought about by the very nature of the sport. It is necessary for athletes to develop a special focus that reduces distracting thoughts (26) and enables a state of flow (19).

Current AWF Talent Identification System

A nationwide program in which youth are screened or pre-selected for entry into Weightlifting does not exist at present. Queensland has an “Introduction to Weightlifting” program conducted by qualified coaches in physical education classes. Although the program does assess student competencies, it is considered a promotional/awareness campaign (I.Moir, personal communication, 5 March, 2015). Western Australia has implemented an innovative competition program for children under 13 which focuses on technique by limiting weights lifted to 50% of bodyweight (J.Saxton, personal communication, 31 March, 2015). Victoria conducts a Schools League Program comprising schools visits by state association staff, coaching at schools, and 6 league competitions rounds (S. Francazio, personal communication, 01 April, 2015). These diverse programs exemplify the fragmented manner in which Australian Weightlifting works, and the tendency for state associations to develop their own initiatives to suit local conditions.

In the past, however, the AWF has successfully implemented a nationwide promotional/screening program within schools. The program, known as the Schools Clean and Jerk Competition began in Victoria in 1979 with 504 participants and by 1987 had grown to over 47,000 participants nationally. This program was responsible for the recruitment of many national champions, and six (6) medallists at Commonwealth Games, two of whom were gold medallists (P. Coffa, personal communication, 18 March, 2015; Commonwealth Weightlifting Federation, 2015).

Talent Identification – an Introduction

It is important to state at the outset, that the meaning attributed to the term ‘talent’ determines how a talent identification process is developed. In some sporting contexts, perhaps in Weightlifting, the term ‘talented’ might be used to describe a person with certain natural or genetic attributes. Possession of these attributes is considered to elevate the performance expectations of the individual. In other sporting contexts, such as team sports, the term ‘talented’ might be used to describe a person who has developed key skills and competencies to a significant level through the training process.

Thus in developing a talent identification system for Weightlifting it is necessary to consider whether the primary object is pre-selection, that is quantitative assessment of natural abilities for high sporting performance (14) or individuals already engaged and demonstrating the development of key competencies.

In either case there are contentious issues. A talent identification system that aims to test for natural abilities among youth with no previous experience of Weightlifting must deal with the confounding problem of unpredictable growth and maturation (27, 35) and that a delay in a single major component that leads to success significantly affects the validity and legitimacy of a TID selection process (4). Equally, a talent identification system that aims to identify youth and junior athletes already within the ranks of Weightlifting must take into account that present performances may not be indicative of future potential. In particular, the number of years of training that an athlete has undergone training will have a large effect. In essence, therefore, a talent identification system must have a predictive value of future performance (27).

Future performance is not determined solely by physiology and anthropometry, but also psychological factors. These factors include psychological health (23), psychological maturity (15), trainability (27, 4), accelerated expertise acquisition (31), perceptual function and ability to learn motor skills (17). Many of these factors cannot be gauged adequately by ‘snapshot testing’ (4) and the predictive value of a talent identification system is strengthened if it also takes into account the development, progress and behaviour of the athlete (1).

The primary aim of talent identification is therefore to recognise participants with the greatest potential to excel in a particular sport (35) and to maximise the number of gifted athletes participating (17).

Historical factors

In the 1970’s and 80’s, the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between performances of athletes in Weightlifting on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’ developed a fascination among coaches of the West in the methodologies adopted by nations such as Bulgaria, the Soviet Union and East Germany. Among these methodologies was a systematic identification and development of children considered to have high potential for sport.

During the years in which Bulgaria was a phenomenon in Weightlifting, all pupils of 8 or 9 years of age were subjected to fitness tests with a view to determining ‘children capable of athletic development’ (24). At 10-11 years, children in these groups were then tested for sports specialisation purposes, and such testing included specialised tests for Weightlifting. Children who showed good results were then admitted to children’s boarding schools where preliminary training began (24).

In the former Soviet Union during 1970s, the first stage of selection into sport involved organisation into groups which took all comers having a medical examination and desire (11). Thereafter the talent identification system involved three more stages in which the youth sports player was assessed by coaches for prospects of higher performance. A key aspect of this system was the existence of 4000 children’s sports schools which, at the higher level, provided the sports player with a combination of high school classes and everything needed for intensive training (28).

In East Germany, primary school children were observed by experts during compulsory sport classes and measured for height, weight, sprinting speed, endurance running, coordination, and performance in broad categories of sporting activity (17).

The history of East European nations in talent identification and development, and the phenomenal results achieved has left an indelible mark in the belief systems of HP coaches in Weightlifting worldwide. Despite the suspicion of rampant doping in this era, there exists a belief that success in Weightlifting requires the discovery of people with a genetic predisposition and a commencement of training in early teens.

The Issues in Talent Identification

Undoubtedly, there are many senior coaches and administrators in Australian Weightlifting who would advocate that some form of talent identification system is necessary. A reliance on athletes walking through the door is not realistic and proactive initiatives that identify and recruit athletes with capacity for higher performance are required. However, in developing and implementing any talent identification system, it is necessary to address a range of issues of feasibility (Table 1) and impact on infrastructure (Table 2) below.

Table 1: Issues of Feasibility
AccessGaining access to schools to conduct screening and/or awareness programs
ScopeTarget schools within reach of established Weightlifting clubs or extend nationally?
FundingFinancing promotion, cost of school visits, rewards, and follow up of TID programs
Safety/ethicsRisk management practises to ensure testing is conducted safely and ethically
StaffingSchool staff and/or visitation by representatives from Weightlifting

In regard to funding, it should be noted that Australian governments tend to target funding towards sports with greater potential for medals in Olympic and Commonwealth Games e.g. rowing, cycling and diving. As a result there is less funding for Weightlifting talent identification and development of athletes, and no Australian Institute of Sport program.

Table 2: Impact on infrastructure
ClubsAdditional space and equipment in existing clubs. New clubs hard to create
CoachingNeed for accelerated development of coaches to match the needs of athletes emerging from TID programs and advancing towards high performance
CompetitionsA successful TID program may create a need to alter the existing competition structure to cope with increasingly longer duration competitions i.e. over 2 days.

Whereas in Weightlifting there tends to be a want to discover athletes with superior genetics, there is a plausible counter-argument that our collective efforts would be better spent on improving the development process for existing athletes so that they may attain higher levels of performance. In his Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent, Gagné (13) proposed that a development process that transforms natural abilities into ‘talent’ requires the interaction of ‘catalysts’, which he collected into three groups – Environmental, Intrapersonal and Chance. Table 3 examines developmental catalysts in the context of Weightlifting.

Table 3: Developmental process catalysts
EnvironmentalAthletes are helped or hindered by local standards of performance, expectations, support, culture and practises of their existing training environment.
IntrapersonalKey intrapersonal factors that shape prospects for attainment of high performance in Weightlifting include motivation, resilience, mindset, tendency toward perfectionism, temperament, self-management and mental skills.
ChanceSocio-economic status, quality of parenting, encounters with Weightlifting, access to experienced Weightlifting coaches. Sports must be proactive in matching up quality talent with quality coaches and not relying on chance meetings (16)

The need for proactive programs that attract and engage youth in Weightlifting has been long discussed by the national and state bodies. However, at present, there is not any systematic and holistic approach to the issue of attracting, identifying and nurturing talented youth. The AWF strategic plan 2015-2018 does contain strategy to ‘develop relationships and potentially co-invest with key Olympic sport talent identification programs’ but as yet there are no concrete plans for the inclusion of Weightlifting into the AIS Sports Draft (2) or other similar national programs. The AWF strategic plan also includes strategy to assist state bodies to develop a targeted schools program but as yet there are no guidelines available or allocation of funding. The development of talent requires a strategic approach, which entails systematic and deliberate programming that allows access to best possible coaching, facilities, sports science support and competition experiences (5).

Recommendations

  1. Developing a systematic and holistic process

Developing talented Weightlifters who can compete more favourably at international level requires a systematic and holistic process. There is a need to determine the constituent components of such a process and to realise that if any one component is missing, the system will not deliver.

  1. Collaboration

The development and implementation of a systematic and holistic process for the identification and development of athletes requires the collaboration of all major stakeholders, namely the state and national bodies.

  1. Consultation

The development and implementation of a systematic and holistic process requires a thorough process of consultation particularly with involving persons who coach or have the potential to coach HP athletes. The consultation process needs to identify the practicalities of implementing a systematic approach to talent identification and development.

  1. Coaching development

A key element of such a system is that coaches are continually progressing in their knowledge and skill, and imbued with positive beliefs and attitudes towards the future of high performance Weightlifting in Australia. Education plays a vital role not only in helping coaches to learn training methodology but also to develop a deeper understanding of factors that lead to success in athlete development.

  1. Long-term athlete development

In creating and improving a systematic development process, the organisation of training should be different at various stages of athlete development. It is important for coaches to emphasize learning rather than immediate performance otherwise early achievers may end up ill-prepared to transfer from youth to senior level (35).

  1. Knowledge management

The acquisition, dissemination and management of knowledge is a key aspect that facilitates the long-term approach needed to achieve success. The acquisition of knowledge should not be a matter of chance nor solely the responsibility of individual coaches. A systemic approach should be taken involving researchers, writers, reviewers and knowledge managers.

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Writing Weightlifting Programs – 5 Principles to Improve Results

Experienced Weightlifting coaches know the value of writing training programs for athletes. Yes, there are many limitations with a written program but if you want success as a coach, it is inevitable that you will spend many hours writing weightlifting programs. The task becomes particularly important when you have multiple athletes to look after, otherwise you will be faced with a constant stream of questions and you will find yourself making decisions on the spot that sometimes may be unwise. Therefore coaches need to demonstrate to their athletes that they have capability in the task of writing weightlifting programs.

Here are 5 principles to bear in mind when writing weightlifting programs:

Principle 1: Programs need to be athlete-centered

For best effect training programs need to be athlete-centered, that is focused on the actual needs of the individual athlete. While it is possible to develop and obtain some advantage from generic programs, in reality every athlete will present a unique situation for the coach. It is likely that, in any group of athletes, there will be a great many differences between individuals in terms of:

  • Strengths and weaknesses in physique
  • Technical development
  • Time available for training
  • Flexibility (range of movement)
  • Training and competition experience
  • Level of fitness / adaptation to training
  • In jury status
  • Goals and motivation

For these reasons the use of generic programs can lead to unsatisfying and possibly damaging results. Nevertheless, coaches will frequently make use of generic programs that are either developed by themselves, downloaded from the internet or borrowed from other coaches. This is because it is far less time expensive to develop one generic program for use by several individuals than it is to develop a program specially tailored for each individual. Athletes tend not to understand or appreciate the amount of time involved in writing programs which, for some coaches, may amount to many hours per week.

Principle 2: Programs never convey sufficient information

Even well-documented training program will have gaps in the information it presents. For this reason, athletes need to be educated in how to interpret and use a program that has been developed for them.

For example, this athlete education might include:

  • Using the program as a rough guide rather than a rigid set of rules
  • How to make changes to the program if there are injury concerns
  • What to do if you miss a session
  • What happens when you suffer fatigue or soreness
  • What the athlete should be thinking about as they undertake a particular exercise
  • How the athlete should utilise lighter sets to work on technique, speed and flexibility
  • What course of action to take if technical errors creep into training

This athlete education makes all the difference. It is quite possible to give exactly the same program to two individuals who have very similar attributes and see complete different results. One athlete may thrive on a particular program while another will think it highly ineffective.  Therefore an important skill for coaches to acquire is to be able to constantly adapt training programs to the ever-changing situation of the athlete.

Principle 3: Programs need to maximise the value of time expended

When developing programs, the first factor to be considered is time. It is important to know how much training time, in terms of frequency and duration of sessions, is appropriate for the athlete. Training needs to fit in with the athlete’s study or work commitments, family and social life, and their training goals. While coaches might naturally want the athlete to commit significant hours per week to training, it is not always in the athlete’s best interests to do so. Training for sport needs to have a beneficial effect on the athlete’s life experience or else the athlete will soon disengage in training. Each athlete (or in the case of children, their parents) will determine how much time they can afford for training so as to not cause a deleterious effect on other aspects of life. If the athlete becomes keenly interested in developing a high level of performance, this will become evident to the coach. The athlete may enquire about additional training sessions, expanding training time or requesting ideas for additional work they can do at home.

What is important for the coach to consider is that whatever time is available for training results in the best possible value for the athlete. This should not be interpreted as meaning that the athlete must be caused to work as hard as possible during the time available. Value is created when the athlete is:

  • Learning about training
  • Enjoying their training and is motivated by their training experience
  • Making progress with the technical development
  • Improving in levels of fitness
  • Developing confidence in their abilities
  • Strengthening friendships with others in the training environment

Principle 4: Programs should provide continual variations of training stimuli

Training is a systematic and controlled process that causes physical and mental changes in the athlete as a result of the application of various training stimuli. Table 1 below provides some examples of what is meant by training stimuli in the sport of Weightlifting.

Examples of training stimuli in Weightlifting:

  • The selection of exercises performed by the athlete
  • The weight on the bar
  • The number of times (repetitions) the bar is lifted in a session
  • The range of movement e.g. full squat, partial squat
  • The number of repetitions per set
  • The proportion of training focusing on skill development
  • The proportion of training focusing on strength development
  • The amount of work done on improving or maintaining flexibility
  • The focus on speed development
  • The amount of work done on cardiovascular fitness
  • The active recovery training e.g. other forms of sport and exercise

By controlling the above stimuli, the training process can be adjusted so that it is appropriate for the athlete and produces the desired adaptation. Novice athletes will tend to respond to low levels of training stimuli and therefore training programs need only be simple at first to cause a general improvement in fitness and skill. As an athlete adapts to their training, however, further progress becomes increasingly limited until one or more of the above training stimuli is changed in type and/or increased in severity and frequency. Ultimately, a position is reached after many years whereby training stimuli cannot be increased or advanced to a higher level because the athlete either physically or psychologically cannot adapt further. It is always difficult to judge the level to which an athlete can reach given the best possible coaching and support. However, the limit of the athlete’s capacity may become apparent when chronic injuries appear and further changes to the program appear to have no beneficial effect in performance or injury reduction.

From an athlete’s first session until their last, therefore, there is a need for constant variation of training stimuli to promote further adaptation. Whereas everyone understands the need for the athlete to pursue improvement in the weight lifted, there is less understanding about how to vary other stimuli. There is always a tendency on the part of athletes and coaches to think in terms of training stimuli as a formula. Traditionally, great attention is usually paid to the intensity of work done, and the number of sets and repetitions. But there is no formula for success, only principles of training, and this is one of the main reasons for writing this paper. Developing training programs therefore needs to be athlete-centered rather than using a formula approach (the use of generic training programs).

It is the skill and knowledge of the coach that is of paramount importance in making the changes to the athlete’s training program. There will always be some aspect of technique to work on and therefore a myriad of possible changes to make to the exercise schedule. If an athlete needs to work on the finish of the pull, there is a large number of exercise variations available involve lifting from different positions above the knee, performing full lifts or “power” lifts, and including a range of pull-only exercises. Further variations can be also achieved by halting at different positions and by altering the speed of the pull and the duration the athlete remains in any position (e.g. the receiving position).

It would be an error to think that progress can only be made by increasing the overall severity of training stimuli i.e. more weight, more sets, more reps. It is often the case that athletes figure that attempting to lift heavier weights as often as possible is the road to success. However constant variation of training stimuli can be achieved by trying new exercises, or trying old exercises in new ways, or changing the volume of lifts, or by changing the proportion of time spent on particular exercises. It is even worth considering that training in different locations with different coaches can promote further learning and increased motivation, and this has a beneficial effect on adaptation.

Principle 5: Programs need to avoid injury

A chronic injury is an injury that happens over a period of time, and is sometimes referred to as an “overuse injury”. Chronic injuries can significantly hinder the rate of progress of an athlete over their entire career and in some cases can be the final factor that ends the career of the athlete and imposes a ceiling on the performance that they can achieve.

Chronic sport injuries often begin as a minor irritation that the athlete ignores. A good example is a small amount of soreness in the patella tendon just above or below the knee. This type of injury, if treated early, can be resolved within weeks. If ignored, and the athlete continues to train, this injury can become increasingly debilitating and can take months to resolve. Another common chronic injury is soreness in the wrist joint, particularly around the Scaphoid bone (on the thumb side of the wrist). Early intervention by ceasing snatches and reducing loading in other overhead work for 1-2 weeks will often resolve the injury. However, if the athlete continues to train with Scaphoid soreness, the injury may result in a stress fracture and need immobilizing for many weeks.

In dealing with injuries therefore, it is important to take action early, obtain appropriate medical advice and think about the long-term consequences of pushing on with training when an injury becomes apparent.

The Jerk Balance

Purpose of the Jerk Balance

The Jerk Balance is a useful exercise that assists the athlete to master the receiving position for the Jerk. However, it is recommended that the Jerk Balance exercise is included in the beginner training program only after a measure of proficiency has been achieved in the Split Squat exercise.

Figure 1: The Jerk Balance
Figure 1: The Jerk Balance

 Benefit for Beginners/Novices

A good reason to include the Jerk Balance in the beginner program is that it simplifies the problem of learning the difficult receiving position for the Jerk. This simplification is necessary because it is hard for the beginner to learn the precise movement of the feet to achieve the Split Jerk position, while at the same time trying to concentrate on keeping the torso straight, keeping the rear knee bent and moving the bar overhead.

Benefit for Intermediate and Advanced Athletes

The Jerk Balance is predominantly an exercise for teaching beginners the correct receiving position for the Jerk. However, for intermediate and advanced athletes, this exercise can be used to create some variety in the training program. It is a relatively difficult exercise to perform with weights above 70% of best Clean & Jerk and will give the experienced athlete who is unused to the exercise quite a test. A key value of performing the Jerk Balance is to focus on keeping the back leg bent in the receiving position, which is an aspect of technique that many Weightlifters find hard to master. The reason for focusing on keeping the back leg bent, is the effect this has on avoiding anterior pelvic rotation, a significant problem is the Jerk.

How to Perform

The start position for the movement is as in position A above. The position is almost the Jerk receiving position except that the bar is still on the shoulders.

Key coaching points are:

  1. Keep torso upright
  2. Start with knee well bent (as shown)
  3. Ensure the front foot is far enough forward so that the shin is vertical
  4. Back foot is straight

The movement begins with a short thrust upwards as shown in position B. This is to elevate the barbell and gain some upward momentum. As the bar is lifted upwards from the shoulder, some small forward movement of the front foot is allowed but the back foot does not move. Any forward movement of the front foot must be fast and low to the ground.

The finishing position is shown at C, with the bar locked out overhead. It is desirable if the front foot has moved forward a distance 10-20cms. The key coaching points are much the same as the starting position:

  1. The front shin is vertical.
  2. The back knee is bent
  3. The body is upright (vertical)
  4. The front foot slides a short distance forward low to the ground
  5. Back foot remains straight, and on the ball of the foot (as shown in position C)

The athlete should be strongly discouraged from pushing their head forwards under the bar as this will cause a forward lean of the trunk and a loss of balance, with a likelihood of the weight being lost forwards. The athlete should also be encouraged to think of the front foot as sliding forwards, rather than looping upwards in the action of moving forwards. This low trajectory of the front foot assists in moving the foot faster and is another valuable reason to utilise this exercise in training programs for all levels of experience.

Gestalt and Temporal Spatial Approaches to Movement Analysis

It is extraordinary that experienced coaches can often identify, with only the naked eye, faults and inefficiencies in the movement of their athletes that occur in the briefest of moments. At the core of theories of how such movement analysis is possible, is the concept of the schema (8). The term schema is used to describe an abstract representation of rules governing movement (Schmidt cited in Magill & Anderson, 2013) and the accumulation of such schema enable the coach to develop a mental picture of what movement is correct and should be expected (1, 6).

The Gestalt Model of Movement Analysis

The Gestalt approach to qualitative movement analysis relies on the triggering of schema held in the long-term memory of the coach (8). The coach looks at the whole of the movement to gain an impression (Gestalt) of whether the quality of what is viewed is in accordance with internalised schema and can be declared as broadly acceptable (6). The Gestalt approach can be enhanced by the coach clarifying the correctness of their memorised schema and, in a written form, crystallising the essence of an acceptable performance in terms of movement preparation and execution (2). An example of such an approach is presented in Table 2.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Gestalt approach is appropriate and sufficient for coaching at the High Performance level. In my view, as a coach and coach educator in Olympic Weightlifting, there is value in the Gestalt model for use in real-time coaching yet neither coach education curricula nor general literature on Weightlifting contain any reference to this approach. In my own coaching practise, I am accustomed to obtaining an overall impression of an athlete’s movement based upon a very small number of significant criteria that enable inferences to be made about the biomechanical efficiencies of the movement. Table 1 below provides an abbreviated Gestalt Model for analysis of the Snatch. The key inference made is that if an athlete can arrest a bar motionless in the receiving position for the snatch, then to some extent there must have been some biomechanical efficiency achieved in the performance.

Table 1: Gestalt Model (abbreviated) – Gaining an Impression of the Snatch
AcceptableNot Acceptable
Athlete appears to move under the bar fluently into the receiving position and attains a situation where the bar is momentarily motionless overhead.Athlete movement under the bar appears awkward or constrained and a motionless position under the bar is usually not attained.

Table 2 below provides a more extended Gestalt model for the analysis of the Snatch. The criteria provided improve on the first example given in Table 1, but still only amount to a crude evaluation of performance. However, the provision of further and more comprehensive criteria would undermine the purpose of the Gestalt model which is to assist the observer to obtain an quick impression of efficacy of the movement execution, usually in real time.

It is extraordinary that experienced coaches can often identify, with only the naked eye, faults and inefficiencies in the movement of their athletes that occur in the briefest of moments. At the core of theories of how such movement analysis is possible, is the concept of the schema (8). The term schema is used to describe an abstract representation of rules governing movement (Schmidt cited in Magill & Anderson, 2013) and the accumulation of such schema enable the coach to develop a mental picture of what movement is correct and should be expected (1, 6).

The Gestalt Model of Movement Analysis

The Gestalt approach to qualitative movement analysis relies on the triggering of schema held in the long-term memory of the coach (8). The coach looks at the whole of the movement to gain an impression (Gestalt) of whether the quality of what is viewed is in accordance with internalised schema and can be declared as broadly acceptable (6). The Gestalt approach can be enhanced by the coach clarifying the correctness of their memorised schema and, in a written form, crystallising the essence of an acceptable performance in terms of movement preparation and execution (2). An example of such an approach is presented in Table 2.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Gestalt approach is appropriate and sufficient for coaching at the High Performance level. In my view, as a coach and coach educator in Olympic Weightlifting, there is value in the Gestalt model for use in real-time coaching yet neither coach education curricula nor general literature on Weightlifting contain any reference to this approach. In my own coaching practise, I am accustomed to obtaining an overall impression of an athlete’s movement based upon a very small number of significant criteria that enable inferences to be made about the biomechanical efficiencies of the movement. Table 1 below provides an abbreviated Gestalt Model for analysis of the Snatch. The key inference made is that if an athlete can arrest a bar motionless in the receiving position for the snatch, then to some extent there must have been some biomechanical efficiency achieved in the performance.

Table 1: Gestalt Model (abbreviated) – Gaining an Impression of the Snatch
AcceptableNot Acceptable
Athlete appears to move under the bar fluently into the receiving position and attains a situation where the bar is momentarily motionless overhead.Athlete movement under the bar appears awkward or constrained and a motionless position under the bar is usually not attained.

Table 2 below provides a more extended Gestalt model for the analysis of the Snatch. The criteria provided improve on the first example given in Table 1, but still only amount to a crude evaluation of performance. However, the provision of further and more comprehensive criteria would undermine the purpose of the Gestalt model which is to assist the observer to obtain an quick impression of efficacy of the movement execution, usually in real time.

Table 2: Gestalt Model (extended) – Evaluating the Snatch
Evaluation Criteria
  1. Athlete relies on leg action to create upward movement of the athlete/barbell system
  2. Athlete achieves full extension of the body
  3. Athlete moves rapidly under the bar
  4. Athlete adopts low squat position to receive bar overhead
  5. Athlete maintains balance throughout the movement including when receiving the bar overhead
  6. Athlete appears confident and safe in performing the lift

The concern of the High Performance Coach is to identify and improve any aspect of movement that is the weakest link. The Gestalt Model, with an emphasis on forming an overall impression, does not provide a sufficient framework for identifying opportunities for performance improvement. Irrespective of the overall acceptability of performance, coaches must probe movement patterns for areas of weakness on a scale that is small and hard to detect. In Olympic Weightlifting, experienced coaches tend to take an approach that scholars of Human Movement Analysis would likely describe as following the Temporal and Spatial Model. The approach is spatial because the athlete’s body shape at any stage of the movement execution is scrutinised and compared to an ideal model. The approach is temporal because the whole movement is a temporal sequence of planned events that must transpire within a narrow corridor of time intervals. The Temporal and Spatial Model affords the opportunity to dissect movement and investigate in great detail every aspect of performance from start to finish. Whereas the Gestalt Model has great value for on-field coaching, the Temporal and Spatial Model has greatest value in off-field coaching as it is time and resource intensive.

The Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis

Table 3 and 4 provide two alternative Temporal and Spatial Models for the Snatch but with temporal phasing that is contrary to the expected three phases of preparation, execution and follow-through found in movement analysis literature (3, 8, 6, 4). The term ‘follow-through’ is unknown in Olympic Weightlifting vernacular or literature and use of this term would likely confuse persons with an interest in Weightlifting. Similarly, the model presented lacks use of the term ‘preparation’ which in Weightlifting is replaced by ‘start position’.  Instead, the temporal phasing consists of movement segments (Table 3) or, as preferred, positions of the body at key stages of the movement (Table 4). According to Arend & Higgins (1976), phases can be arbitrarily defined depending on the complexity of the movement and the observer’s purpose in doing the analysis.

Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis woth Body Segment Action
Table 4: Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis - Describing positions of the body

 Outlining the movement analysis process

In order to perform a meaningful qualitative analysis of any skill, the observer must develop in advance a framework that provides for clarity in making judgments about the skill being observed (1). Scholars of qualitative movement analysis advocate that such a framework is a process that follows a number of logical steps (1, 8, 5, 6). The framework offered by Knudson (2013), referred to as the comprehensive model, is a four-step process of preparation, observation, evaluation and diagnosis, and intervention.

Preparation Phase

The ability of a coach to make valid judgments about the effectiveness of any movement they observe is highly dependent upon gaining a deep understanding of the movement through thorough investigation. Arend & Higgins (1976) referred to such investigation as ‘decomposition’ and in the case of the Snatch this would entail a determination of aspects of performance as detailed in Table 5. Sources of knowledge would include personal observations, video of expert performers, discussions with recognised coaches, and literature on the Snatch that sheds light on techniques and mechanical properties of performance. The object of the preparation phase is for the coach to develop a clear model of what constitutes an ideal performance in the Snatch (6).

Table 5: Knowledge required by the analyst
Goal of the movement
Skill classification (e.g. Gentile’s Taxonomy)
Recognised techniques
Regulatory conditions
Temporal phases of the action
Actions of body segments
Critical features of the movement

Observation

Observation is the second step in the Knudson comprehensive model. In coaching situations, a number of factors conspire to make observation difficult and these factors include the quickness of the movement, closeness to the action, environmental distractions, and the coach’s perceptual ability. Overcoming these difficulties requires a readiness on the part of the observer and Knudson (2013) termed this readiness as having a systematic observational strategy (SOS). For example, in the Snatch the coach will need to know what critical aspects of technique they must observe/video, the best possible vantage point from which to observe, the conditions that will assist the athlete to perform (e.g. warm-up), the number of trials needed and information additional to video that the observer needs to take away. The SOS would best be formalised in writing before observation takes place. It is also necessary for the observer to militate against their own bias (6) and therefore the SOS may include other observers with suitable credentials.

Evaluation and Diagnosis

Evaluation is made all the easier by affordable technology. Video recordings can be worked on by examining movement in slow motion and comparing in more detail, using the Temporal and Spatial Model, the observed body and limb positions with ideal models as determined in the preparation phase of the investigation. The comparison would be expected to yield desirable and undesirable features of the observed action and this information should be preserved in a formal manner for future reference and the preparation of intervention strategies if required (6).  The observer’s understanding of critical features of performance is exceptionally important and forms the basis for developing a prioritised intervention plan for dealing with any undesirable features of movement found.

Intervention

For the Weightlifter, intervention strategies may include specific work to improve flexibility, speed of movement, body positions at critical moments of the lift, and timing of movement under the bar. Furthermore, interventions may include training for strength in various part of the lift (overhead strength, or power in the finish of the pull), and the development of mental skills including altering the athlete’s conceptual understanding of what the Snatch actually is. It is of critical importance that such intervention strategies are prioritised and applied in a manner that does not lead to breakdown in the performer’s confidence and enjoyment.

References

  1. Arend & Higgins (1976). A strategy for the classification, subjective analysis, and observation of human movement. Journal of Human Movement Studies, 2, 36-52
  2. Dunham, P., (1994). Evaluation for physical education. Englewood, Co: Morton
  3. Gangstead, S.K., & Beveridge, S.K., (1984). The implementation and evaluation of a methodological approach to qualitative sport skill analysis instruction. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 3, 2, 60-70
  4. Hughes, M., & Franks, I., (2007). The essentials of performance analysis: An introduction, New York, NY: Routledge
  5. James, R., & Dufek, J.S., (1993). Movement observation: What to watch . . . and why. Strategies, 6, 2, 17-19
  6. Knudson, D., (2013). Qualitative diagnosis of human movement: Improving performance in sport and exercise. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics
  7. Magill, R. A., & Anderson, D.I. (2013). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (10th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  8. Pinheiro, V.E.D., & Simon, H.A., (1992). An operational model of motor skill diagnosis. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11, 288-302
  9. Pinheiro 2000). Qualitative analysis: Putting it all together: Qualitative analysis for the elementary grades, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, Dance, 71, 1, 18-25

Learning the Technique of the Jerk – Key Objectives

Take a long term approach

It is important to take a long-term approach, from the very first moment that training begins, toward achieving positional correctness, speed of movement and total confidence in the Jerk. Coaches and athletes should understand that learning the technique of the Jerk is a process that should not be rushed. If technical errors accumulate early in the learning process, they are hard to correct later. For example, a beginner athlete may miss crucial steps that teach pelvic alignment in the Jerk. As a result the athlete acquires a receiving position with a straight back leg and significant hyper-extension in the lumbar spine. Any such deficiencies in the technique of the Jerk will significantly diminish the athlete’s long-term performance potential.

It is therefore recommended that coaches and athletes pursue the following teaching/learning objectives:

Step #1: Teach/learn the Split Squat

Split Squats (see Figure 1 below) are a crucial exercise that should be implemented at the first instance that there is any intention to learn the technique of the Jerk.

Illustration of the Split Squats exercise
Figure 1: Split Squats

There are three key learning objectives in performing the Split Squat:

Objective 1:The athlete develops strength and confidence to take weight on their ‘back leg’ while the knee is bent. In the initial stages of learning, it is often easier for the beginner to jerk with a straight back leg but if this is not corrected, it usually leads to significant issues in performing the good technique of the Jerk with limit weights.

Objective 2: The athlete learns to maintain pelvis in normal alignment (without forward tilt of the pelvis). This is greatly important in avoiding an awkward hyper-extension in the lumbar spine. Not only is the hyper-extension an injury risk but also it usually results in the hips being behind the bar, rather than directly beneath the bar. This make it hard to stabilise limit weight overhead.

Objective 3: The athlete learns to keep front shin completely vertical at all times in the split position. It is often necessary for a coach to use hands on coaching to physically prevent the knee going forward during the split squat movement. The athlete must be able to sense their shin being vertical and that is why the coach must assist.

The actual amount of downward movement of the body while performing the split squat need only be 10-15cm. There is no need to touch the back knee on the ground. However, as can be seen in Figure 1 above, the back knee should move vertical downwards. Importantly, the athlete should practise holding the low position for 2 seconds before rising. This is an important strategy for preparing athletes for limit weights in the years to come.

Step 2: Teach/learn the Jerk Balance

After the Split Squat has been practised for around 3 sessions and the learner is achieving the above objectives, the next step is to incorporate the Jerk Balance. This exercise is a progression of the Split Squat.

The Jerk Balance Exercise illustrated
Figure 2: Jerk Balance

The main difference is that instead of practising the split position with the bar on the shoulders, the learner raises the bar overhead with arms fully locked out. The starting position in the Jerk Balance is the same as the starting position for the Split Squat. To facilitate the movement of the bar from the shoulders to above the head, the athlete uses an upward push from the legs while the feet are in the split position. During the action of raising the bar from the shoulders to overhead, the athlete purposefully drives their front foot forwards 10-15 cm. After a 2 second pause in the receiving position, the bar is lowered again tom the shoulders and the front foot is retracted back to it starting point.

This exercise has the same learning objectives as the Split Squat but also two more:

Objective 4: The athlete demonstrates the ability to hold the bar directly above the head, and furthermore the bar, head, shoulders and hips should be in vertical alignment.

Objective 5: The athlete demonstrates the ability to rapidly move their front forwards, keeping the foot very close to the ground. A common error is that in moving their foot forwards, the athlete substantially raises the foot  (see Figure 3 below) and it travels in an arc instead of a straight line. This is detrimental to fast foot speed. In the example below (Figure 3), the athlete’s heel raises 17 cm which is is nearly as much as the foot moves forwards (18.5 cm).

High foot lift in moving the foot forward in the Jerk, is not good technique.
Figure 3: High foot lift in moving the foot forward in the Jerk, is not good technique.

Step #3: Teach/learn a smooth and vertical ‘dip and drive’

This step is about teaching the following two objectives:

Objective 6: The athlete learns to “dip” with a vertical torso. This can only be achieved if the knees travel forwards during the dip. It is unfortunately very common for athletes to demonstrate a forward ‘lean’ of the trunk during the dip and this results in forward movement of the bar which is very hard, if not impossible to deal with when the bar is a near limit weight.

Objective 7: The athlete learns to control the speed of the dip, keeping the chest up and spine braced. If the athlete dips too fast it is likely that at the instant there is a change of direction of the bar (from downward movement to upward movement), the athlete will lose postural control, the chest and elbows drop and the athlete ‘buckles”. If this happens, it would be usual for the Jerk to be unsuccessful. It is often the case that perceptions of barbell heaviness tend to cause athletes to lose composure in the dip, drop too fast and buckle.

The Dip and Drive phase of the Jerk
Figure 6: The upper body must stay perfectly upright (vertical) in the dip.

Step #4: Teach/learn rapid movement under the bar

This step is about ensuring that the athlete learns to rapidly move into the ‘split’ receiving position in a fast and efficient manner. This is a significant aspect of acquiring good technique of the Jerk. There should be a focus on moving feet very fast into the split position and it is necessary for the trajectory of the foot movement to be as close to the floor as possible. To achieve the learning of fast foot movement, it is necessary for the beginner athlete to practise with light weights.

Objective 8: The athlete understands the need to practise speed of movement, particularly foot movement, into the receiving position for the Jerk. The athlete should also be guided to appreciate that this speed of movement under the bar is a key factor for success in the jerk.

Step #5: Teach control and balance in the receiving position

Many, many Clean and Jerks are lost at the very last moment. The athlete appears to have succeeded only to rush the recovery and lose control of the weight. It should be appreciated that a maximally heavy weight overhead is a very difficult balance issue and athletes must practise control and balance in the receiving position at all training intensities.

Objective 9: The athlete practises a slow and controlled recovery from the receiving position to the finish position, moving their front foot first. This is a very important, often overlooked aspect of the technique of the jerk.

The Dip Phase of the Jerk

Not all aspects of the Dip and Drive are well understood. Easy to understand, but not easily achieved, is the need to elevate the bar in one direction only – vertically upwards. This directional control requires an absolute avoidance of any rotation of the upper body during the dip, in other words the body must stay totally vertical as displayed in Figure 5. It is critical for the athlete to ‘bear down’ through the heels in the Dip to prevent forward movement of weight distribution to the front of the foot.

The Dip and Drive phase of the Jerk
Figure 6: The upper body must stay perfectly upright (vertical) in the dip.

A common fault in the dip is an inability to “dip straight” (keep the torso vertical). This incorrect action, displayed in Figure 6,  will send the barbell forwards. Even a slight rotation of the body will have an undesirable effect. Once the barbell is moving forwards it gains momentum and becomes very hard, and often impossible, to stop. In Figure 6 it can also be seen that the forward movement of barbell is so dramatic that even at the bottom of the dip the barbell is no longer over the base of support.

Forward rotation of the upper body in the dip
Figure 6: A common error in the Jerk Dip – forward rotation of the torso with centre of pressure moving forwards to the toes.

Another common fault in the jerk is forward movement of the ‘centre of pressure’ during the dip. The ‘centre of pressure’ is the effective point of application of force through the foot into the floor. Figure 7 portrays the common fault where the athlete starts the dip with the centre of pressure toward the heel but as the bottom of the dip is reached, the centre of pressure has moved forwards to the ball of the foot. The probable effect of this is forward movement of the body during the dip and as a consequence the bar gains forward momentum. This issue is also the root cause of the problem depicted in Figure 6 above.

Centre of Pressure moving forwards
Figure 7: The athlete must minimise any forward movement of the centre of pressure during the dip phase.

Other aspects of the Dip and Drive for the Jerk are not well understood. In particular, the velocity of the dip is critical to success. The higher the downward velocity of the bar, the greater ‘impact’ of the bar at the bottom of the dip. The impact, that is the abrupt stopping of the bar and changing its direction to upwards, must be absorbed by the body. The effect of this impact can be seen in slow-motion video and is typically manifest in the ‘buckling’ (loss of rigidity) of the torso, that is bending of the spine, dropping of elbows and partial collapse of chest. On the other hand, there are also beneficial effects of absorbing the kinetic energy of the barbell in the dip. To some extent, the body acts like a spring and the ‘recoil’ is the upward movement of the bar (The Drive). Therefore, if the velocity of the dip is too slow, the athlete looses some of the beneficial spring effect. Furthermore, there is also the complicated issue of the spring in the bar, which increases in magnitude the greater the weight. It is important to control the dip velocity. If it is too rapid or too slow, there can negative consequences.

In Figure 8 below, X is the start of the Dip and Z is the bottom of the Dip. Y is an arbitrary point at which barbell downward velocity begins to slow. The distance between X and Y (marked in Figure 8 as the distance d1) is the “fall” distance. This is not a free fall as the athlete is resisting the downward movement of the bar. However during the “fall”, the bar will be accelerating. The distance between Y and Z (marked in Figure 8 as d2) is the “impact” distance and is characterised by deceleration of the bar until it comes to a stop at Z. During the “impact” distance, the athlete is exerting great force to decelerate the barbell to zero and change its direction to upward.

Jerk Dip Descent Speed
Figure 8: The speed of descent in the Jerk Dip has important implications for success.

The following spreadsheet illustrates that the consequence of a more rapid dip during the fall distance (in the Jerk) is that more force is required to decelerate and change the direction of the bar. The difference between Case 1 and Case 2, is that in Case 2 the fall time is 0.25 sec or 25% longer duration than Case 1 which is 0.20 sec. Therefore the downward velocity over the “fall distance” is faster in Case 1 (1.18 m/sec) than in Case 2 (0.944 m/sec). The result of the slow dip speed in Case 2, is that force required to turn the bar around is 717 Newtons, and this is significantly less than the force required in  Case 1 (897 Newtons).

Dip_Velocity_Calculations

There may be a limit to which each athlete can produce sufficient force at the bottom of the Dip without significant “buckling” of the body. The issue is that coaches and athletes are not aware that a fast Dip can be problematic. The incorrect assumption made is that a faster Dip stores more kinetic energy, and therefore a more ballistic Dip and Drive gives the athlete a better chance of elevating the bar to the height needed. However this assumption does not take account of the athlete’s limited ability to avoid “buckling” which causes the kinetic energy to be absorbed in body position changes rather than transmitted to the barbell.

Key Issues in the Jerk

anko Rusev (Bulgaria) performs the Clean & Jerk
Figure 1: The Jerk performed by Yanko Rusev (Bulgaria).

The Jerk is a highly complex movement that many athletes in Weightlifting find harder to master than the Snatch. In the Jerk, athletes must overcome several key issues if they are to become good exponents of the lift. These key issues are as follows:

Issue #1: The extreme heaviness of the barbell

Although Weightlifters are masters of ‘heaviness’, an exceptional performer in the Clean and Jerk will lift in excess of 80% of their best Back Squat. In addition to excellence of technique, the athlete will need great courage, will power and tenacity to complete a Clean and Jerk that is near to the limit of their strength capacity.

Issue #2: Achieving and maintaining a lockout of the elbows with the weight overhead

If an athlete, for anatomical reasons, has a difficulty in maintaining an elbow lockout, then the likelihood of reduced performance potential in the Jerk increases significantly.

Issue #3: Maintaining balance and control of the weight overhead

Even when both elbows are locked out, the athlete will experience significant difficulty in maintaining balance and control of the weight overhead. This is a matter of physics. In the situation where the athlete has a barbell of twice bodyweight overhead, the combined centre of mass (of the barbell and lifter) will be situated at approximately neck height or higher (see figure 2 below). The higher the combined centre of mass, the greater the balance problem.

Jerk Combined Centre of Mass
Figure 2: The heavier the barbell the higher the combined centre of mass rises

Issue #4: Structural integrity of body in receiving position

The Jerk is a movement that is unforgiving of any weakness in the position of the body in the receiving position. An athlete may elevate the bar high enough, and have sufficient lockout strength in the arms, but if the rest of the body is not positioned correctly to support the bar, then the lift is likely to be lost. A common receiving position error as depicted by Figure 3 below, shows the weight of the bar toward the front of the base with hips are behind the bar and a pronounced forward lean of the torso. These factors tend to cause the athlete to have significant difficulty in maintaining stability of the bar overhead.

Forward Jerk Receiving Position Error
Figure 3: A common issue is a receiving position where the weight of the bar is to the front of the base of support reducing the athlete’s ability to stabilise the weight overhead.

The receiving position as shown by Figure 3 above is very likely to result in forward movement of the bar as the athlete struggles with the receiving position. This occurs not only because the weight is distributed toward the front of the base of support, but also because there will be an uneven amount of force emanating from both legs. The ideal situation as depicted by Figure 4 below, is a weight distribution over the centre of the base, and equal amount of force derived from each leg, and an equal amount of pressure through each foot.

It is important to have an equal amount of weight distribution on both feet.
Figure 4: The ideal situation in the Jerk receiving position is that there is an equal amount of pressure on both feet. In other words, there is an equal amount of force from both legs to support the body and the bar.

Issue #5: Pelvic rotation

Another all too common issue in the Jerk is Pelvic Rotation as depicted in Figure 5 below. Rotation of the Pelvis in a forward direction results in a hyper-extension of the lumbar spine, or Lordosis. Under heavy load (with a barbell overhead), it is ideal for the spinal shape to remain normal. Any adverse or exaggerated curvature of the spine increases the risk of injury. The cause of such pelvic rotation in the Jerk can be: (1) As a result of errors in the learning process for the Jerk Receiving position and/or (2) Tightness in hip flexors.  These issues are described later in this article.

Pelvic Tilt in the Jerk
Figure 5: A straight back leg in the jerk is associated with pelvic rotation and increased lumbar curvature

Learning the Jerk

It is important to take a long-term approach, from the very first moment that training begins, toward achieving total confidence and positional correctness in Jerk technique. Coaches should understand that the skill learning process should not be rushed. Errors that accumulate early in the learning process are hard to correct later. It is unfortunate that beginning athletes can often succeed with Jerks despite poor technique but as the athlete progresses to higher levels of qualification, the special issues described above will undoubtedly diminish the athlete’s performance potential unless appropriate attention is given to the following key learning objectives:

  1. A smooth and purposeful ‘dip and drive’
  2. Rapid and efficient movement under the bar
  3. Positional correctness of the body in the receiving position
  4. Controlled recovery to the finish position

The Dip Phase of the Jerk

Not all aspects of the Dip and Drive are well understood. Easy to understand, but not easily achieved, is the need to elevate the bar in one direction only – vertically upwards. This directional control requires an absolute avoidance of any rotation of the upper body during the dip, in other words the body must stay totally vertical as displayed in Figure 5. It is critical for the athlete to ‘bear down’ through the heels in the Dip to prevent forward movement of weight distribution to the front of the foot.

The Dip and Drive phase of the Jerk
Figure 6: The upper body must stay perfectly upright (vertical) in the dip.

A common fault in the dip is an inability to “dip straight” (keep the torso vertical). This incorrect action, displayed in Figure 6,  will send the barbell forwards. Even a slight rotation of the body will have an undesirable effect. Once the barbell is moving forwards it gains momentum and becomes very hard, and often impossible, to stop. In Figure 6 it can also be seen that the forward movement of barbell is so dramatic that even at the bottom of the dip the barbell is no longer over the base of support.

Forward rotation of the upper body in the dip
Figure 6: A common error in the Jerk Dip – forward rotation of the torso with centre of pressure moving forwards to the toes.

Another common fault in the jerk is forward movement of the ‘centre of pressure’ during the dip. The ‘centre of pressure’ is the effective point of application of force through the foot into the floor. Figure 7 portrays the common fault where the athlete starts the dip with the centre of pressure toward the heel but as the bottom of the dip is reached, the centre of pressure has moved forwards to the ball of the foot. The probable effect of this is forward movement of the body during the dip and as a consequence the bar gains forward momentum. This issue is also the root cause of the problem depicted in Figure 6 above.