Olympic lifting 101

Olympic lifting is one of the most complicated and difficult sports to master. It would seem simple to grab some weight and hoist it to your chest and then lift it over head. The Chinese have a skill level that far exceeds the world for overall success in this sport.

Olympic lifting consist of two lifts the “clean and jerk” and the “snatch.” The clean and jerk is defined by the lift to the chest before a lifter quickly drops below the bar and lunges and presses the weight upward.

The snatch is performed by starting the weight from a floor position, and then a lifter accelerates the bar to an overhead position. This lift is so much technique that many Chinese lifters are given a bamboo stick and made to lift that object for several years before they actually grab a real weight bar.

The clean and jerk has significant merit in sports training. The first part of this movement has been broken off and is commonly called the “power clean.” When used appropriately, the clean and jerk has specific elements that transfer to the athlete’s performance in football, wrestling, basketball, volleyball, etc. The power clean, squat and bench press are likely the most common exercises used in sports training.

No lift has opted more opinions and controversy than these Olympic lifts. It is the technique that drives the debate with the power clean. Issues stem from a lack of coaches actually performing this “newer” idea of weight training. The complexity of the actual lift with so many things that are going on simultaneously is another complicating factor.

We are going to look at some of the scientifically based issues with the power clean and apply them to our instructions. A million factors can change a lift, but the scientific facts will not change and thus the Chinese stress these points specifically.

To begin the lift, the athlete is facing the bar with both feet under the bar. The actual bar should be pressing against the lower shins of the legs. This starts the bar in the body’s “center of gravity-line.” Keeping centered prevents the bar from being lifted off-center, thus not requiring more energy and strength to perform the lift.

During the power clean the body is morphed around the bar in an attempt at keeping the bar in a straight line of travel. Any zig-zag or arch of the bar means it has to travel farther than expected. The Chinese will actually have a bamboo bar resting between four perpendicular rods that extend from the floor to the ceiling. An athlete is required to lift the bar quickly and not touch the rods located on either side of the bar. I have practiced this technique by standing in a power rack with the bar against my shins and the steel of the cage acting to prevent forward travel of the bar while lifting.

The power clean is best taught in parts or sections. Hence we will teach a format that is practiced from Asia to the Big Ten football conference.

Before any athlete even lifts the bar, they to start in the correct position. The hands are placed just outside of the shoulder. The hand placement is critical for the rest of the body to obtain proper positioning.

The legs are bent and the chest is parallel to the wall and head is straight forward. The abs are tightened and the back is arched with the arms straight. The shoulders are down (non-shrug) position with the elbows relaxed and straight.

The first part of the lift is to raise the bar to a position that is just below the knee caps. Body position doesn’t change much from the point where the bar is lifted from the floor to just below the knees.

From the point below the knees, three specific movements are explosive. The driving forward of the hips and the simultaneous shrugging of the shoulders and driving of the legs to full extension. The driving of the hips is obviously key to the acceleration of the bar upwards, but the legs and shoulders are also key to obtaining the proper body position.

Full extension of the legs and torso are necessary to allow for maximum acceleration of the bar. The bar is accelerated and the arms are kept straight until the bar clears the mid-pelvic region. This is the key bar position to begin the pulling with the arms by bending the elbows.

The arms are typically engaged too quickly during this particular lift, which causes a slowing of the bar and eventually lowers the success of the lift.

As the arms are pulled upwards and bent, the knees are quickly bent, to lower the athlete under the bar quickly. The bar is then stabilized on the upper chest. Once the bar is placed on the top of the chest, the legs are extended and the lift is complete.

This final lifting process is the hardest part of the power clean to learn. This difficulty stems from attempting too many things at once. The contracting of the legs while relaxing the arms, and then relaxing the legs as the arms are contracted is very confusing to most lifters.

The bar is typically dropped if properly equipped with rubber bumper plates.

The power clean is offered in a boot camp format of teaching in most colleges and is the premiere lift to improve the average athlete’s performance.

Yours in Health!

Dr. David Ryan

Columbus Chiropractic Center Director