End ranges are being used. This is a statement that I do not want going in one ear and out the other. Olympic weightlifting athletes, especially the elite, are supporting loads within the snatch, the clean, and the jerk with their end ranges of motion – specifically within the reception portions of each lift. Their body has figured it out organically (sometimes without them even realizing it), or they were taught and are implementing those end ranges with a purpose.
So what do I mean by end ranges?
At the lowest point of the receiving position with their lower body:
- ankles flexing as much as possible (yes, this means the knees are traveling beyond the toes)
- knees are flexing/bending as much as possible (with good mobility which means well below “parallel” or “hip crease below knee”)
Barbell support overhead (within the bottom of the squat and standing position):
- wrists back (extended, not neutral)
- elbows locked (extended)
- shoulders down (as opposed to shrugged up; yes, some of them do literally shrug up but they are the minority; others might try to shrug up as a cue to help them lockout or be more aggressive, though usually the weight bearing down will limit or diminish any literal shrug)
Barbell support in front rack (within the bottom of the squat and standing position):
- all fingers under the bar comfortably (not necessarily with a full grip though this is a good ability to have, and to hookgrip here and overhead is undesirable so this specific topic will be covered more later), with hands 2-3 inches outside of the shoulders (sometimes more)
- elbows are slightly inside of that hand placement and parallel to shoulders (within a range of the point of the elbow in line with bottom to top of shoulder)
- bar is crowding the neck while sinking into and resting across the clavicles and top of the deltoids with shoulders down (as opposed to shrugged up) and chest neutral (not poking out with an arch in the back)
You see, anything less than end range at these joints and in these areas is the body (or that body part) “muscling” the load. Instead, the goal should be to support the load with more skeletal structure and a better combination of, or distribution through, the whole body; think about that!
These specifics are not being made up in hopes of being different or to bring something controversial to the table – you can observe this pretty clearly in pictures and videos of the elite. Let me confirm though, it is not only the elites that are doing this, they’re just the prime and easiest example because they are the most visible athletes and have the highest percentage of this execution. If you watch 100 of the best lifters in the world, you’ll likely see 100 of them receiving the load in this way…but we’ll say 99% as there are 1 or 2 out there strong enough to “muscle” through the lift now and then. Consider that these 99% are using those end ranges because if their body hadn’t figured it out by being forced into these end ranges, or if they hadn’t been taught this, they would very likely not be lifting elite level loads.
It’s really just simple math (don’t worry, I don’t think you need to be great at math for this to make sense; at least I hope). With the ultimate goal of getting to a standing position with weight locked out overhead in the snatch and also the clean and jerk, if one can first get physically lower, they have a chance to get under more weight to stand up with. I like to think of this as the body compressing as much as possible under the load. To add to this, for the greatest support possible within that low position, the torso needs to be as upright as possible. For the snatch, the further one is leaned forward, the further back the arms and shoulders will need to be to compensate and keep the bar over the top, which is an increasingly weaker, more vulnerable position. For the clean with more forward lean (I love when things rhyme), you’ll have a smaller, weaker base to support the load and be required to overcome the increased forward tug. Don’t get me wrong, a little forward of literally and completely upright is ok, but getting to your true end ranges with the ankles and the knees – sinking into the lowest AND furthest forward hip position possible – will put you in as upright of a position as you can be in. Now, let’s confirm this from the perspective of the shin specifically (a little more geometry if you will): the straighter your shin within the squat/reception, the greater the angle in your torso will have to be. On the other hand, the more angle you have the ability to create with your shin, the greater potential you have for your torso to be more upright.
Furthermore, understand that the reception portion of the snatch and clean (the jerk too), leading into this end range support position, is ideally a reaction. I say ideally because many athletes will try to force something specific here with a great amount of focus and effort (i.e., “get under the bar fast” or “don’t let your feet jump out wide”). This can take away from the best execution of the pull (from the floor through extension) by diverting awareness and detail from that portion of the lift. With the pull being hindered or different than it would be or could be if there were more thought and effort within, the athlete actually limits their ability to perform that which they are giving energy toward on the reception. For reference and clarification, the definition of the word “reaction” is: “an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.” So, essentially in this situation, one is trying to control what is the least controllable segment of the lift! Instead of a controlled action, we want a natural, or conditioned response at reception. This will need to be conditioned for many athletes whose reaction may not yet be ideal: within their ultimate receiving position, many athletes hop forward with the feet, jump back excessively (I’d say any more than an inch is not ideal but this is debatable), land with feet excessively wide and turned out lending to knees caving in, or back rounded inside of a low squat position…This all leads to greater and greater subconscious hesitation to drop and get under the bar to receive in the lowest, most upright position possible.
So, if the reception is ideally a reaction, what is the ideal action of the reaction? (More rhyming, sorry, and here comes more math.) Let’s go back to the idea of the body compressing. The definition of “compress” is: “flatten by pressure; squeeze; press” or “be squeezed or pressed together or into a smaller space.” Isn’t something that is completely flattened (in that it is unable to compress further) very strong and stable, much stronger than anything less compressed? If one tried to stand on an empty can of soda, it would collapse, but if it were already crushed, it could support your entire weight! A body in the true bottom position (compressed) is much stronger than one higher in the squat (not compressed). Compression also makes something more solid to change direction against to help stand up with the load once it is time to do so (I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “catch the bounce”). In this aspect, changing direction from any height above completely compressed or “buried” would be like using your legs as “brakes.” This is extremely jarring – more sudden than slamming on the brakes in a car. Think about performing a max power clean and what that feels like: you are coming to a much more immediate stop and standing from an above parallel position. This is not what we want with your heaviest loads (whether that immediate stop is happening from above or below parallel) as it will not give you your smoothest, most efficient lift as a whole, or lead to the potential for the greatest amount of weight in the first place. (“Potential” meaning I realize that many athletes can in fact power clean more than they can squat clean, but that doesn’t mean it’s the movement of greatest potential.)
On the other hand, we don’t want to go straight to that “flattened” depth without first interacting with the load more as we go down. If you get to the bottom position and this is the first time you attempt to absorb the load at all, this will be very jarring as well (whether it lands on you right at the same time you get to your bottom position, or even more so if it “crashes” on you with your body beating the bar to that extreme depth). Though the position is strong in that the lower body is compressed, the upper body (the torso) is more likely to break or lose solidity, resulting in a compensated stand; this is also the biggest contributor to an outright miss. So, the phrases I’d like to use to describe the ideal are “absorb the load” or “cushion the blow,” and we do this by using our legs more as shocks; not brakes. This means we meet the bar with our body (a solid, engaged core/tight back) anywhere above that compressed position (usually as high as about “parallel” or as low as an inch or 2 above as low as one can go). The bar should be across the shoulders with elbows up in the front rack for the clean, and locked out elbows with bar overhead for the snatch. (I should note, the more skilled an individual becomes at the snatch and clean as a whole, and the more optimal their bottom position, the more likely they can – and do – get away with more of a dead-on meeting in the bottom.) From there, the weight is to be ridden down with leg engagement (resisting the load but not stopping) to the very bottom where the legs will then disengage briefly (though with the core maintaining tension) to completely compress, bounce, and then re-fire, to continue the ascent.
Check out the slow motion video below where you can observe this timing in action.
When there is movement through the reception portion of the lift outside of the ideal in any way, the “go-to” fix (beyond trying to force it with focus as in the examples mentioned earlier, “get under the bar quickly” or “don’t let your feet jump out wide”*), is usually some sort of pull under or get under drill such as the “snatch balance.” These are not entirely wrong or bad options. (*We haven’t even talked about how much the feet should or should not move within all of this, but oh don’t worry we will, and very likely excessively – for now just know the less shift of the feet the better as opposed to the feet jumping out very wide and turning out excessively). But let’s push these to the side for now and consider there might be some missing steps that, for more athletes than not, will make these cues and drills obsolete, and the ideal action of the reception automatic. Once these more appropriate steps are taken, we can then apply these cues and drills as needed, and can do so much more effectively.
So, let’s backtrack a little here and look at your movement/technique up to that point that might be leading you to any of these compensations (we’ll discuss these specific issues and this concept much more in later blog posts, including which parts of the lift I recommend for you to be very intentional with). Digging deeper, are you faulting in your pulling technique due to imbalances and/or mobility limitations? Are imbalances/mobility limitations causing further compensations, or even the complete reason(s) for your lacking reception? The immediate implementation of drills or cues on the receiving side of the lift without considering any of these more basic issues is very common, but is like “putting a band-aid on” the likely greater root of the problem(s). With this out of order method, you may be spinning your wheels, as those types of exercises/drills are not going to address the base deficiencies of mobility or imbalance most effectively. In fact, they’re more likely going to add to them, as those compensated positions and patterns get further ingrained into your muscle memory and your body molds and strengthens to those partial ranges of motion.
Balance and mobility are essential to increase your potential (ok, enough with the rhyming perhaps, but it was too good to pass up). These basic concepts are very commonly overlooked, dismissed, or ignored. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’d like your “step 1” and your most frequently used “go-to” fix for this portion of the lift to be looking at mobility! Let’s give you or your athlete a complete assessment so there is no question (see how to get this done in later blog posts), and get you headed toward receiving the bar like an Olympic lifter should be: as low and upright as possible, with a solid foot position, and immaculate overall quality! I understand it’s not near as “sexy” to implement consistent mobility and position work over a long period of time compared to a more actionable reception drill (or performing the full lifts in the same compensated fashion). But while these “band-aids” or that leniency can give you more immediate gratification, they are far more limiting in overall potential, health, and longevity.
Keep in mind as well that having sufficient mobility still isn’t enough – it is also about strengthening your end ranges to prepare for this extreme receiving position seen within heavy snatches and cleans from the elite. In doing so, the position becomes more solid and one gets stronger standing up out of that “buried” depth. Therefore, there is also greater potential to end up with more weight overhead in those completion positions (standing with bar overhead after a snatch, or a clean and jerk), which of course is the ultimate goal of each lift. This needed preparation for the snatch and clean reception must be done by learning, developing, and maintaining a true FULL RANGE OF MOTION standard with…come on, surely you know by now…THE SQUAT!
Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we’ll begin to make our way through the concept and actions of “Squatting Like An Olympic Lifter.”