The Most Common Technique Mistakes for the Main Lifts

Whether you are a strength and conditioning coach, CrossFit coach, Olympic weightlifting coach, or powerlifting coach, you must possess two crucial abilities – visually recognizing dysfunctional movement patterns and correcting those dysfunctional movement patterns.

A lot of coaches are good at recognizing dysfunctions. Simply pointing out a movement flaw is the easy part. The difficulty lies in properly fixing an athlete’s dysfunctions – and that’s what separates a good coach from a great one.

I hear way too many coaches say things like:

  • The bar drifted in front.
  • Your arms bent on the catch.
  • You pushed the bar out on the dip and drive.
  • Your butt came up too high in your squat.

Believe it or not, most athletes already know these issues. They need to know how to fix the issues – not simply to be reminded of them. That’s what this article is about.

CORRECTING COMMON ISSUES – THE BIG SIX

Of course I can’t give you the fix to every mistake an athlete can make – it would take a series of books. However, I can give a few for each lift, and over time – in a series of these articles – I can help you start to understand dysfunctions and corrections.

This year, I am determined to make a change in the coaching world. I ended 2018 recognizing the need for change. All at once it was clear to me what I needed to do. I was tired of talking and complaining about the issues in coaching. I am now determined to make a difference – which will be the moral of the story for 2019 and the foreseeable future. It’s time to make a difference. If you’re a coach or an athlete, I want to provide you with tools to reach your goals.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

I’m going to start with the big six lifts I have so often written about:

  • Snatch
  • Clean
  • Jerk
  • Back squat
  • Bench press
  • Deadlift

I will write about other movements during this series – such as front squat, trap bar deadlifts, and push press – but the focus will be the big six for now.

SNATCH AND CLEAN

MISTAKE: Hips push the bar out during bar-to-body contact

CAUSE: Pushing the bar out in front happens when the hips are pushed past vertical. This can be for two main reasons.

REASON #1 The bar drifts forward off the floor, leaving it in front of the body, and forcing the hips to reach for it to make contact.

VERBAL FIXES FOR #1: If the issue is the bar drifting away from the body off of the floor, here are some of the cues we use:

  • Chest up or to the crowd
  • Drive the feet through the floor
  • Sweep the bar in with the lats during the entire pull

The goal is to focus on using external cues versus internal cues. Internal cues are specific instructions which direct an athlete’s attention to a certain region of the body or a muscle group. External cues direct the athlete to an intended movement outcome or a direct shift in performance of a movement (example: push with legs versus thinking about pulling). External cues have been found to work quite a bit better than internal cues. I don’t think any weightlifter on earth is really thinking about internal or external rotation during the catch of a snatch.

DRILLS FOR #1: if the bar is drifting forward off of the floor:

  • Snatch or clean lift off from the floor just to the knees and pause at knees. Breaking the movement into sections makes it easier to focus on those specific sections. Isometrics are great for teaching the body proper movement patterns and strengthening the body in a particular position.
  • Use the Mac Board. We use the Mac Board (invented my Coach Don McCauley), which is a piece of plywood, designed to hang the athlete’s toes off the end – which teaches them to push through the middle of their foot. You can’t let the bar drift forward without getting pulled forward onto the toes. This will give the athlete visceral feedback or instinctual feedback much more effectively than any other kind of feedback.

Here’s a video:

REASON #2 Another reason the hips are pushed past vertical is there can be a misconception of what is really happening. To the blind eye, it looks like the top weightlifters are throwing their hips into the bar when in reality they are just standing up, sweeping the bar in, and upper-cutting the bar, causing a vertical lift.

VERBAL FIXES FOR #2: If the issue is pushing the hips past vertical during bar-to-body contact:

  • Stand up tall
  • Long legs
  • Keep the bar right up the shirt

DRILLS FOR #2: if the hips are pushing past vertical:

  • Power Position Cleans or Snatches teaching the athlete where the hips should be during contact.
  • Snatch or Clean from the floor pausing in the power position once again teaching the body where it should be during this phase of the movement.

THE JERK

MISTAKE: Hips landing behind bar during the catch phase

We are working on this one with a few of our athletes right now, so it’s fresh on my mind. If the hips are behind the bar, there is nothing to support the weight overhead. It would be like building a slanted wall to hold up a roof. That would be a bad idea, and so is this.

CAUSE: It’s just bad footwork really. For whatever reason, the athlete has established the wrong motor pattern for the split jerk. You can see it a lot of times during the warm-ups with long and slow splits, or extra-wide splits. The split is a very fast thing, with the back foot being driven down as the anchor. If the back foot goes out the back, you can guarantee the hips will follow.

VERBAL FIXES:

  • Fast feet
  • Back foot down
  • Drive the bar vertical

If you don’t drive the bar vertical, it’s really hard to get into the correct position. This seems obvious, but too many athletes are solely focusing on the split – forgetting to drive the bar up.

DRILLS:

  • Split cleans from blocks – I got this one from the man himself, Coach Sean Waxman. We set the athlete up toward the back of the platform, so they have visceral feedback regarding the back foot. They can’t throw the back foot out the back without going off of the platform. The drill teaches them proper footwork and needs to be performed frequently to ingrain the movement pattern into the athlete’s brain.
  • Press from split – Once again we are using isometrics to teach the body where it should be during the split and to strengthen that position. The key is keeping the hips under the bar, equal distribution of weight with the back and front foot, and back knee slightly bent but firm.
  • Here’s the press from the split position:

(If you want to see a case study on how Nathan Damron made some improvements to his jerk, read it here.)

BACK SQUAT

Arguably, the back squat is the most functional movement on earth. Today I want to talk about a mistake I believe is easily preventable.

MISTAKE: The hips coming up and the chest dropping forward out of the bottom during the ascent

CAUSE: Once your hips fly up and the chest drops, it’s almost impossible to recover. It could be a strength issue, but it’s probably a movement pattern dysfunction.

VERBAL FIXES:

  • Drive your chest or back into the bar – I use “or” because some people respond better to chest and some to back. Either way the key is to drive into the bar, activating the spinal extensor muscles, which are responsible for keeping your spine neutral and in position. This cue will also keep the hips closer to the shoulders, keeping a smaller spinal flexor moment, giving the spinal extensors less to overcome.
  • Feet through the floor – This cue works well only in conjunction with the previous cue. This cue gets the legs driving, while “drive your chest into the bar” keeps you in the right position.

DRILLS:

  • Bottoms – This is where you descend to the bottom of the squat and then only rise four to six inches before returning to the bottom. Repeat for four to eight repetitions. This is a great way to practice the start while strengthening that position.
  • Pauses – Pause six inches out of the hole and hold it for three to five seconds. You can do this along with full squat repetitions or in conjunction with bottom squats.

Exercises to strengthen the ascent:

  • Goodmornings – These are great for strengthening spinal extensors and hips. The movement strengthens the hips in the proper movement patterns as well with the hips moving forward as the torso drives into the bar. We normally use three to five sets of five to ten repetitions. Make sure to start light and build the capacity of the back. We normally start around 25-28% of an athlete’s back squat. The back is a delicate spot in the beginning, but it has the ability to get incredibly strong over time.
  • Hyperextensions with a barbell – These work great (just like the goodmornings), but they are easier to recover from – making them perfect to use late in a training cycle. In hyperextensions the load increases as the muscle shortens. In goodmornings the load increases as the muscle lengthens, creating a greater degree of muscle damage. Goodmornings are great for hypertrophy and strength, but they are harder to recover from – leaving very little for the priority lifts.

BENCH PRESS

Everyone wants to know what someone benches. My weightlifters get asked all the time, “What do ya bench?” That’s simply the way it is, so let’s get it stronger.

MISTAKE: Pushing the bar straight up or forward versus straight back.

CAUSE: Shoulder flexion demands are a big part of why you make or miss a bench press. Those demands increase the farther the barbell is away from the shoulder joint. Due to a shorter range of motion, an athlete will touch the bar lower on the chest because it’s the highest point. If you drive the bar correctly off the chest, you can decrease the shoulder flexion demands right away if you drive the barbell back toward the shoulder joint.

VERBAL FIXES:

  • Drive back – This cue goes for the legs and arms. The legs drive back at the same time as the arms drive back.
  • Flare the elbows on the way up – The elbows have to flare to catch the barbell as it travels toward the shoulders.

DRILL:
Presses four to six inches off the chest – This is the best way to make sure you are driving the bar properly, practicing the rhythm between the arms and legs, and strengthening the position and movement.

Additional bench press notes:
Important aspects of the descent – The descent really sets up the ascent in the bench press. This isn’t a bench press article, but I will go over a few important points pertaining to the bench press.

  • First tuck the shoulders together and down, raising the chest to its highest point.
  • Either tuck the legs back behind the body or put them wide and in front of the body, so you can drive the bar back off the chest. Don’t put the feet directly under the knees, or you will probably drive the bar straight up.
  • Don’t tuck the elbows. Instead slide the elbows toward the hips – keeping the wrists, forearms, and elbows directly under the bar for a better launch off the chest.

Practice the pause – I don’t know why powerlifters touch-and-go on their repetitions when they have to pause in their competition. The timing in the pause is the magic of the bench press. The key is learning to explode back with the arms and legs at the same time, launching the bar back toward the shoulders.

DEADLIFT

Personally this is my favorite movement, and the one I think is the most functional. I believe we bend over to pick things up more often than we squat below parallel, but they’re both awesome movements for getting jacked.

MISTAKE: Hips flying up and bar drifting forward

A deadlift is heavy – so if it drifts forward, you will quickly find yourself in no-man’s land. Here are the most important cues for avoiding this mistake.

VERBAL FIXES:

  • Drive your feet through the floor – versus thinking about pulling. For whatever reason, pulling causes one to pull with their arms. This movement dysfunction will cause the hips to rise and chest to drop. Just like in the clean, the athlete will maintain a better position by driving with the legs and sweeping the bar close to the body.
  • Lift the chest – This will keep the chest from tilting forward. A big challenge with a conventional deadlift is overcoming the spinal flexor moment. When the hips drift back and the chest drops forward, the spinal flexor moment is increased and demands rise for the spinal extensors. Getting off to a solid start can be the difference in a made lift or a miss.

DRILLS:

  • Deadlift lift offs with a pause at the knee – This is a great way to practice being in a good position when the bar reaches the knee. If an athlete is in a good position at this point of the lift, the odds of completing the lift increase. Obviously the pause is great for strengthening that position with an isometric contraction.
  • Deadlift lift off into deadlift – I like this one because you perform a lift off focusing on the perfect start, return the bar to the floor, and then complete a full lift. Your body will remember the first movement, giving you greater odds of completing the full movement correctly.

Exercises to strengthen the body to make the functional movement pattern more likely:

  • Goodmornings
  • Hyperextensions
  • RDLs

CONTINUING EDUCATION

I hope this first article in a series of articles I am working on will be helpful for all of you. Maybe in a year or two we will have an article for every possible mistake all of you might make – who knows? This entire year is devoted to articles, videos, and posts to educate the world of strength coaches. This new goal is just as much for the athletes as it is the coaches. I want the athletes to know what to do if they don’t have a coach. These articles should also inform athletes as to what to look for in a coach.

Nothing is more comprehensive than the new video curriculum we are working on. If you’re a coach or an athlete, if you’re a beginner or advanced, if you’re into CrossFit or powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting or athletic performance, I want to teach you everything I know in this online video curriculum resource.

We want to partner with you to create this so we will know it’s something that benefits you. So we’re opening up this resource for pre-order.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

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