Full disclosure: I’m not a very good weightlifter. But it’s not for lack of trying. I train weightlifting nearly every day. I’ve worked with some great coaches. I’ve gone to dozens of seminars. I’ve even had the opportunity to compete at high level international meets. I’m quite strong. I’m certainly stubborn. But I’m not particularly good. But I do love weightlifting. I love it more than they love French Montana’s “Pop That” at California Strength (seriously, has that song made every one of their playlists the past 5 years or what?). Which is why I’ve endlessly analyzed, obsessed over and studied weightlifters and weightlifting technique for years – both in person and on video.
If I’d been born great, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I would have just chalked it up to being easy or simply dependent on general athleticism. But that isn’t the way it has gone.
Lucky for you, my terribleness has also led to my obsession. And when you study something as much as I have, you learn some things. Things I am going to share with you right now. If you are struggling with your own weightlifting, if you are ‘not very good” as I confess to being, here are 7 reasons you might be terrible at Olympic Weightlifting.
Reason 1: You Don’t Keep The Bar Close
Weightlifting is a sport of both strength and speed. But even if you are as strong as Mart Seim (seriously, check out this guy squatting on YouTube – insane) if the bar doesn’t stay close to your body, you won’t be able to move under it with any kind of speed. You’ll also be more likely to jump forward (ie. chase the bar) or, if you are particularly strong, throw the bar behind you like it’s a jumprope. The bar should stay relatively close to your legs during the pull and very close to your torso after you extend. It’s critical. Remember: it’s a snatch or a clean; not a kettlebell swing.
Reason 2: You Don’t Move Fast
This piggy-backs off of reason one. But even if you do keep the bar close,you still have to move with speed and intent. Lazily dropping under the bar at 40% of your max might work, but if you want to start lifting heavier and heavier weights, you are going to have to move fast. This is where the bar is your best friend.
Whoever said you don’t use your arms in weightlifting is a straight up liar. Once that bar comes off your hips, use your arms to pull on that bar and pull yourself under with speed. It’s a gain changer (see what I did there?).
Reason 3: You Are Thinking “Deadlift”
To the casual observer, the first and second pull of the lifts look a lot like a deadlift. However, if you use a more critical eye you will notice that the body position at the start looks a lot more like a squat (chest tall, hips low) than a deadlift. And, unlike a deadlift, the pull should be initiated by driving with the legs, not by hinging at the hips. So think about your pulls as if you were standing up from a squat not as if you were using your back and hips to lift the bar.
Reason 4: You’re Moving Fast At The Wrong Time
You’re probably saying “wait a gosh darn second,” (weightlifters never swear) “you just said I have to move fast!”. That’s true but you have to move fast at the right times. And that time is not when you are first pulling off the floor. In weightlifting, positions are king. Positions are landmark points of where the bar should be in relationship to the body. And if you are pulling fast off the floor you are more likely to miss these positions. And if you miss the positions you are going to miss the lift. So unless you are an experienced weightlifter trying to move maximal weight, you’re probably much better off with a slow, controlled pull off the floor.
Reason 5: You Aren’t Using Your Hips
This is where the haters come out. There is so much controversy about hip drive in the extension of the second pull that many arm-chair quarterbacks are claiming that there should be no use of the hips to increase the velocity and height of the bar. This is crazy. Do you want to bang the bar away from your body? Of course not (see Reason 1). But extension of the hips will greatly increase speed (which is important, see Reason 2) and avoid the dreaded “pull and pray” in which you avoid a second pull altogether, bring the bar up to your hips, don’t extend and just try to drop under. You see this in CrossFit classes quite a bit. But you’re a weightlifter now. Not a CrossFitter. So use your hips. And put your shirt back on.
Reason 6: You Are Over-Pulling The Bar
Maybe the best problem to have because this will translate into bigger lifts later. But for now you have to start thinking about moving your body around the bar rather than trying to muscle the bar around your body. If you over pull the bar in either the snatch or the clean, it’s going to crash on you. And that translates into missed lifts. And it doesn’t feel very good. So if your strength levels are much greater than your technical abilities start thinking about pulling the bar only as high as you have to in order to catch it where you want it. This will, once again, require that you move fast (darn you, “Reason 2”!). And, while you are at it, keep the bar close.
Reason 7: You Aren’t Having Fun
Weightlifting is a fun sport. And when you get it right, it almost seems like a magic trick. You are whipping around a heavy bar as it floats through the air. Pretty cool stuff. But after you start getting confident with your technique and the gains come much slower, weightlifting can also be a brutal sport filled with frustration, lots of heavy squats and pain in your joints. But even if you take your weightlifting very seriously, you should still be having fun. It’s essential to find a great training environment so you can be surrounded by like-minded people who understand the struggle, can eyeball your technique and will understand how exciting the latest Nike Romaleo color combinations are (seriously, why does my wife not get this? I mean, it’s about shoes for crying out loud. She loves shoes!).
Hope this helps. And if you are terrible at weightlifting, don’t try to tackle all of these things at once. Just get one or two of them solved before moving onto the next. Because trying to focus on 7 things while your trying to snatch is a sure fire way to make sure you remain terrible.