Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So You Think You Can Olympic Lift

Are you guilty of any of the following Olympic lifting mistakes?

Setting up with the bar too far away from your shins
Pulling too early with your arms
Reversing curling the bar
Catching in the "spread eagle" postion
Taking sets beyond form failure

Olympic lifts are the ultimate expression of explosive strength and power. They are also the most technical exercises out there, requiring years of daily practice to master. At the typical meathead gym, most guys and gals steer clear of them. Of the select few individuals who do see their merits, most of them perform the lifts carelessly and sloppily. Here, I detail the five most common mistakes.

#1. Bar too far from body at setup

Set up with the bar directly over the shoe laces and your shins right up against the bar. Hip hinge down, engage the lats and triceps, and push your knees back as you slide the bar up your shins. If your shins aren't scraped after Olympic lifting, chances are you're either doing it wrong or you were smart enough to wear high socks.

#2. Incomplete hip extension (early pull with arms)

At complete hip extension, the bar should bounce off the upper thighs for cleans or the hip crease for snatches. A common mistake is to bend the elbows and start pulling with the arms before the bar reaches that explosion point. This breaks the kinetic chain, significantly decreasing the amount of weight you can lift.

A great way to tell if you're guilty of this mistake is to videotape yourself and play it back in slow motion. A simple fix is to perform a few reps of power shrugs before your full cleans or snatches. Also, think about keeping your weight back on your heels until the last possible second.

#3. Reverse curl arm position on catch of clean

At the catch of the clean, the elbows should whip around into the front rack position with the bar supported across the clavicles. If, instead, the finish position of your clean looks more like that of a reverse barbell curl, your bi's and tri's will be forced to contract to support the load, once again severely limiting the amount of weight you can clean successfully.

There are a few remedies for this one. Practicing front squats with the clean grip is the easiest way to improve wrist mobility and comfort in this position. Having someone yell "Elbows up!" at you as you clean is another good one. If tight triceps are the problem, self myofascial release -- or even a set of skull crushers -- between sets of cleans can help get them to loosen up.

#4. "Spread eagle" leg position on catch

It's okay to widen the stance ever so slightly to receive the bar in the front rack or overhead. It's not okay to jump the legs out as wide as you can and allow your knees to collapse inward. In fact, it's quite dangerous! To remedy this mistake, simply lighten the load to something you can manage with good form. Alternatively, learn to squat clean/snatch, which entails dropping down under the bar into a front squat or overhead squat at the catch and then standing up.

#5. Continuing past form failure

Cheating on curls to squeeze out the last few reps is one thing. Cheating on Olympic lifts with any of the above mistakes is quite another. Due to the tremendous forces inherent in the Olympic lifts, technique is more important than ever for avoiding injury. The set is over as soon as it doesn't feel right anymore, and stopping the rep before that is even better. Rest longer than you think you have to between sets.

Due to the steep learning curve, many trainers and trainees avoid Olympic lifts altogether. Exercises like kettlebell swings and speed deadlifts are fine substitutes, but if you wish to develop peak power, then Olympic lifts -- done properly -- are a must.

Photo courtesy: http://www.crossfitglenmore.com/crossfit_glenmore/page/2/

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