Biggest Mistake in Olympic Weightlifting

There are of course numerous mistakes that one can make in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. However there is one that stands out, and that is “beginning the second pull too soon”. Let me explain this a little more indepth.

“Beginning the second pull too soon”- this is where an athlete gets impatient during the initial pull, leaves the bar out in front, moves the shoulders behind the bar too soon, while reaching for the bar with the hips. This will normally pull the lifter onto their toes way too soon.

This is a costly mistake for several reasons. 1. You lose the leg drive from the initial pull. 2. This type of movement pushes the bar out in front. 3. This normally ends with the bar being missed way out in front or looping way behind.

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If you are one of those people that end up with one or two knees on the ground during the catch phase of the snatch or clean, you are 99% of the time doing what I am talking about. Now let’s talk about how to fix this mistake.

First, what should happen? The goal of the first pull is:

1. Shoulders and hips rise at the same time.
2. Shoulders stay over the bar for as long as possible. This will lengthen the hamstrings creating a stretch shortening cycle.
3. When the second pull begins the bar should have crossed the knees and hopefully reached mid-thigh or higher.
4. The goal is for the bar and hips to meet in the middle allowing the lifter to stay on the base of the foot for as long as possible.
5. When the bar and hips meet, the spine is vertical, knees are bent 6 inches, and the bar and hips are aligned with the mid-line of the foot. Now when the lifter extends, the bar will move up and not out.


Here are two videos that might explain this even better:

Now if you aren’t doing this, there are a couple of ways to fix it. You can get a coach to use verbal and visual cues, or you can use drills. I recommend trying both. Don McCauley is the master at fixing this. Well he’s pretty much the master at fixing everything, but he’s unbelievable at this.

Let’s start with some verbal cues:

1. Long legs: I’ll be honest and say that most of these cues are stolen from Don. By saying long legs, we are encouraging the athlete to stay with the leg drive throughout the first pull for as long as possible.

2. Pretend your legs are longer than they are- this is another way of saying long legs

3. Sweep the bar in- Wes Barnett taught me this one. However Don uses this one a lot too. This is performed with the lats. I recommend keeping the elbows turned out here to promote a better bar path.

4. Squeeze the bar in: this is another way of saying the above cue.

5. Stay over the bar- once again this is promoting a longer initial pull causing a more powerful second pull from the hamstrings being lengthened.

6. Get back during the pull- In the start position the lifter will have the majority of their weight distributed on the ball of their feet. During the pull, the goal is to shift that weight back towards the heels as much as possible. This will keep the lifter moving up and not out.

I like to use these verbal cues while demonstrating with a PVC Pipe. Verbal with visual cues work the best. You never know what type of student that you are dealing with. Some people learn better with visual tools, and some learn better with verbal.

There are a few drills that might help as well:

1. The best that I have seen is the “McCauley Platform”. We take a small sheet of plywood, and we have the lifter stand on the plywood with their toes hanging off. They will perform the snatch and clean while on the platform with their toes off. This forces a distribution of weight back onto the foot. Now the lifter has to drive up through the base of the foot. They can’t reach for the bar.

I saw Don apply this drill to Jess Kinzler. She went from 9th in the country to a Silver Medal missing the jerk to win. Her numbers climbed like I have never seen before. That made me a believer.

2. Exaggerated pulls- with this drill the lifter performs a snatch or clean pull with an exaggerated first pull. The lifter will stay over the bar until the bar reaches upper thigh level. The lifter is also squeezing the bar back at an exaggerated rate. The goal is to strengthen this position while perfecting the movement pattern in the brain.

3. Snatches or Cleans with a pause above the knee- The goal is to focus on staying over the bar, squeezing the bar in, and keeping the weight distributed back on the foot. Slowing things down a little with pauses can help the athlete understand the movement a little better.


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Remember be patient during the first pull, aggressive and violent with the second pull, and fast with the third pull. The first pull is designed to set the athlete up for a perfect second and third pull. You are better off to slow things down a bit with the first pull if you can’t keep position. I hope some of these cues and drills help you to perfect the first pull.

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