Earlier this week I wrote an article about my love affair with the Olympic lifts. What I left out was any tips on how to perform the actual lifts. There are a few reasons for my omission. First, I didn’t want the scope of the article to get too big. Second, there is no singular consensus way to teach the lifts.
What I want to do this week is give you some coaching cues that you can use to refine your lifts or just get more comfortable with them. If you are looking for complete instruction I would suggest finding a real live coach or scouring the Internet for the teaching style which works best for you.
Beginner Coaching Cues: Jump with the bar – Get your elbows high – Punch your elbows
(For these cues I suggest starting with a clean grip (slightly wider than shoulder width) and unloaded barbell.)
Jump with the bar
I hate to reduce the Olympic lifts at all, but in the most basic sense, they are jumps with a bar. I know what you are thinking though, “Olympic lifters don’t look like they are jumping when they lift!” That is a function of the absurd amount of weight on the bar during their lift.
With this particular cue what you are trying to do is train yourself to be explosive with a bar in your hands. This is not a movement most people are used to, but it is absolutely paramount for becoming successful with the Olympic lifts.
Once you become comfortable with the feeling of getting some air with a bar in your hands, move onto the next cue.
Get your elbows high
This is where you get to take the explosive movement you learned while jumping and start using it to move the barbell. With each step you are getting closer to a full lift.
After getting comfortable with jumping, combine a jump with a high row of the barbell. Make sure you do not lose any explosiveness from the jump and that you keep the bar close to the body.
Ideally the jump should produce enough force to get the bar moving vertically, which means you only have to “get your arms out of the way” of the bar by bending the elbows. If the bar feels like it is floating upwards, you are on the right track.
Mastering the first two cues will get you into a “high pull” position. The next cue will get you from that high pull position to the end of the lift.
Punch your elbows
At this point you should be comfortable with being explosive and getting the bar moving quickly. The end of your lift should be finishing with the bar around chest level. Now it’s time to finish the lift.
As the bar is reaching the end of its path upward it is now your responsibility to punch your elbows under and around the bar, catching it with the front of your shoulders.
Where most people go wrong with this cue is trying to reverse curl to bar to the finish position. This will actually slow down the lift and prevent you from getting to the proper finish position.
The faster your elbows get around the bar, the better off you will be.
If you can put those three cues together in one seamless effort you have the rudimentary foundation of the power clean. Technical foundation is key if you have the desire to move onto bigger and better Olympic lifts, and these three cues should get you well on your way.
Experienced Cue: Break the wall behind you
The most pivotal point of any Olympic lift is the finishing of the last pull. This is where the entire lift comes together with an explosive extension of the hips and a rapid shrug, all with the intent to move the bar as fast as possible.
When attempting full lifts or heavier lifts, if you cannot get to the proper finish position on the pull there is no way you will be able to develop enough power to complete the rest of the lift. Below is what you should look like when you are completing your last pull.
As you can see there is a clear backwards orientation of the last pull. Why this should or should not happen is another debate, but I believe it is a useful position to reach when looking to get seriously explosive and move some load. This is where the cue comes in.
The only way you are going to smash “the wall behind you” during an Olympic lift is if you not only get full extension, but also direct your extension backwards.
What I love about this cue is that it forces you to pull with serious INTENT. Trying to half ass an Olympic lift, especially when the load on the bar increases, is a recipe for a missed lift or worse.
If you are comfortable with the feel of the Olympic lifts try this cue pre-lift to take your game to a new level.
Lesson Learned: Coaching is vital to success. Simple as that.