Olympic Lifting Technique | The 5 Essential Rules
Weightlifting is a technically complex sport. As a beginner, learning the weightlifting movements can seem incredibly daunting. And even as an intermediate and advanced lifter you'll constantly be working to refine your olympic lifting technique. To further complicate things, a major problem (at least in the UK and USA) is that there's no single standardised model used across the country. It's very common to encounter very different technical models, different cues and different coaching styles depending on which gym you attend. What we need is a set of essential rules or principles, that are easy to understand for both coaches and lifters. For that, I turn to the most successful weightlifting country in the world, China, and their 5 words, which in my mind are an incredibly simple and effective way to think about weightlifting technique.
Everyone's lifts will look slightly different based on their anatomy and body proportions, but an essential rule that applies to everyone is that the bar has to remain close to the body throughout the lift. Put simply, if you perform a clean or snatch and the barbell is too far away, you're very likely to miss the lift. The best thing about this rule is that it's really easy to check, all you need to do is set up your phone and record your lifts from the side. You'll be able to see straight away how close the bar is to your body.
Looking at this rule in a bit more detail, what we're really talking about is the 'body-barbell complex' (the combined centre of mass of you plus the barbell) needing to remain over your centre of balance throughout the lift. If your balance is too far backwards you'll fall or jump backwards. If your balance is too far forwards you'll fall or jump forwards.
This essential rule of olympic lifting technique means that the BAR has to move fast. Since force = mass x acceleration and the mass of the barbell is fixed, the only way to produce more force is to accelerate the bar more. In other words, you can't successfully snatch, clean or jerk slowly. Note also how I've emphasised the word BAR. That's because I mean the bar has to move fast, and not just your body. We want every bit of movement your body makes to translate into bar speed.
This refers to the appropriate and effective timing of muscle actions so that the movement looks and feels correct. It can also be described as the correct rhythm and coordination of the lift. Examples include knowing and feeling when to initiate the second pull or 'extension,' or knowing and feeling the appropriate speed under the bar.
In order to maximise the weight you can lift, you should aim to catch the barbell as low as possible. By doing this, you will be able to successfully make heavy lifts in which you just barely elevate the barbell enough to get under it.
When the barbell is received, either overhead in the snatch or jerk, or in the rack position in the clean, it must be stable. That means it shouldn't be rocking side to side or forwards and back. You want as little movement as possible.
Olympic Lifting Exercises to Develop These Essential Rules
Now that you've got 5 essential rules to assess your technique, you might also want some specific weightlifting exercises to address and develop each of these areas. This list isn't exhaustive, but it's a good start...
Muscle snatches and cleans, no hook no foot snatches and cleans, pull + snatch, pull + clean
Power Snatches and Cleans, Speed Pulls (Panda Pulls), power jerks
Full lifts done at lighter weights, 50-70%
High hang and high block snatches and cleans.
Stable Overhead Squats, Snatch grip push press, snatch balance, jerk dips, push press . If your lifts follow these 5 essential rules, your weightlifting technique will be top-tier. Aim to strive towards this. And as always, for weightlifting coaching and programming, you can book a quick chat with me here. 'Til Next Time Alex
MSc Strength & Conditioning British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator