Even though I’m highly competitive, I don’t enjoy all kinds of competition. I gravitate towards and tend to be better at the kind where I don’t have to work with a team and am only representing myself. After sprinting, strength sports have appealed to me the most in that regard, and the explosive, competitive nature of Olympic weightlifting in particular has fascinated me.
Weightlifting consists of two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the snatch, the lifter has to take the barbell from the floor to overhead in a single movement, and in the clean and jerk, from the floor to the shoulder and then overhead.
Since they’re highly technical, there is a lot that can go wrong from not doing the lifts right, and since I had no interest in spending a whole lot of time in undoing bad technique, I decided not to dabble in it until I had the chance to formally get coached in the lifts. I stuck to watching videos and studying about the lifts, apart from the occasional attempts at figuring them out.
This past weekend, Sandeep and I attended a two-day seminar coached by Kara Doherty and Blake Barnes, both of whom are part of the popular weightlifting gym Catalyst Athletics. A big fan of coach Greg Everett who runs Catalyst, I was really excited about finally getting the chance to properly learn the lifts from experienced coaches. What was perfect about the seminar was that not only did we learn how to do the lifts ourselves, but also how we could teach them to others.
Kara and Blake were awesome coaches
From being super scared of ever trying a snatch or clean from the floor (I always stuck to the hang version) and receiving it in a proper squat (I only did power cleans and snatches), I finished the weekend with a not-so-heavy-but-pretty-decent snatch and a bodyweight clean.
When I think about it, more than the fact that I had two awesome coaches working with me, it was due to the emphasis that they laid on progressions and regressions that really enabled me to get comfortable with and understand the lifts. They broke down each move into multiple steps and it always at least took us at least four levels of regressions before even actually attempting the main lift. I’m going to interpret and refer to these lifts as regressions and progressions, while folks from Catalyst prefer considering them as ‘variations’.
I’ve roughly summarised below the progressions that we worked with for the snatch, and why we did each exercise. A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches by Greg Everett is a great place to go to for further reference and regressions to the clean and jerk. An even better idea would be to find a coach who knows what he/she is talking about.
The Snatch Balance Series:
Overhead (OH) squat – A big lesson for me on the OH squat was maintaining a relaxed wrist position on the OH position. When I say relaxed, I don’t necessarily mean loose and dangly. By not keeping the wrists tight, you are able to maintain the bar in a much more stable position (just past the center of the forearm). I was also taught that one doesn’t generally maintain the hook grip in the OH position.
Pressing snatch balance – By keeping the bar on your shoulder like in a back squat, you get under the bar into a squat, while pressing the bar OH. This is a slower, more controlled regression where you gain confidence in getting under the bar.
Drop snatch – Add some speed and an aggressive elbow lockout to the snatch balance press for this move. This move teaches you to reinforce speed and maintain technique through transitioning to the bottom of the squat.
Heaving snatch balance – With just a dip, the lifter is forced to get under the bar without moving his/her feet. Their ability to maintain contact with the bar and generate force against it is tested and improved upon in this lift.
Snatch balance – Only after multiple goes at this move was I able to consistently hit the same receiving position at the bottom of the squat, without compromising on speed.
From here, we went on to do multiple progressions to do a snatch from the mid hang position (mid-thigh), progressions to the snatch from the floor and finally the snatch.
By the time we got to the heaving snatch balance, not only was I super comfortable with each of my positions, but I also knew exactly knew what my issues were. This meant that when I finally did the snatch, I mentally calm and focused, even though I had a mental check list of everything that I needed to focus on, I wasn’t freaking out.
In all, it took us about 12 steps, multiple callouses, torn shins and an entire day before we even attempted the snatch. And this was because it was a seminar, where the intention was for them to teach us as much as they could in a short amount of time. In a real life training situation, while some folks might skip some or all of these steps, some might spend weeks or even months on just working on these before getting to the main lift. Some others might use them in their warm up.
Lesson learnt – A good way to learn a lift is to do it correctly over and over again. A better way would be to understand its intricacies, break it down accordingly and progress your way up to the lift.
Dutch Lowy runs BlackBox, the gym that hosted the seminar. He was also in 2 CrossFit Games!