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My Take on Technique
Most of you know that I work with the most opinionated man on earth when it comes to technique in the lift, Coach Don McCauley. When it comes to coaching weightlifting, he’s definitely my mentor. I agree with almost everything that he says when it comes to the sport of Olympic weightlifting. Most of you already know that he is known for coining the phrase “Catapult”, which is his description of the pull in the snatch and clean.
From the moment that he announced that phrase to the world, debates have raged all over the Internet. Most of the time it’s from people that don’t really understand what he’s saying, or from people that refuse to listen. In reality I am not sure what “catapult” really means. I think that he is just referring to what the action looks like. However I do know how we teach the movement day in and day out, so I can definitely shed some light on that.
The main reason that I am writing this article is to point out that there are very few absolutes in the sport. Using absolute statements about technique is the easiest way that I can think of to guarantee that your athletes don’t succeed. Here are the thing guys, I don’t care if you’re saying: “shrug up” or “shrug down”, “straight up” or “up and back”, or “finish your pull” or “fast under”. I don’t care at all. All that matters is the progress of your athletes.
Here are a few keys that we ‘normally teach’ when it comes to the pull:
• Knees if front of knuckles
• Lower butt with chest up
• Eyes straight ahead and slightly up
• Feet hip width (this varies quite a bit depending on the athlete’s structure)
• Knuckles down
• Shoulder down
• Arms long and elbows out
Pull to Knee-
• Arms stay long and shoulders stay down and relaxed
• Back angle can and normally does change
• Weight on the middle of foot
• Bar normally starts to sweep back
• Knees move out of the way
• Definitely keep the shoulders above the hips with the chest showing to the crowd
Knee to Hip-
• Continue to accelerate
• Lats will apply pressure to the bar causing it to sweep back
• Stay over the bar as long as possible
• Now the back angle won’t change until the transition phase
• Drive with the legs while maintaining back angle and staying over to create the most force.
• Arms stay long with elbows out
• Push through the middle of the foot. You want to think about keeping the weight distributed as far back as possible, so you don’t end up on the toes.
Transition to Power Position-
• Hips come forwards
• Bar is still being swept back with the lats
• Bar and hips meet in the middle right over the base of the feet
• Shoulders will now transition slightly behind the bar
• Keep the entire foot on the ground as long as possible
• Shoulders stay down
Power Position to Third Pull-
• Stand all the way up continuing the acceleration
• Finish up and slightly back
• Traps are used to initiate the shrug down and under the bar
• Arms stay long until they are initiated to violently pull under
• Third pull is where the magic happens
We focus more on the timing of the top of the pull to the pull underneath versus “finishing the pull”. We want our athletes to finish the pull for sure, but in reality not many athletes forget to stand all the way up. The biggest key is knowing exactly when to rip underneath. This ability is what separates the champions from all the rest.
I could go on and on about technique, but that’s not the true meaning behind this article. The main point is that I am not dogmatic about any of these ideas. For example, we don’t usually like to use the word ‘jump’ in reference to the finish because it will cause some athletes to stay too long at the top of the pull before beginning the pull under. However, I have used the term ‘jump’ if I couldn’t get my athlete to open their hips up at the top. We know that wasting time at the top will cause athletes to miss the peak of the bar, but if they don’t follow through with the hips, there simply won’t be enough height on the bar.
Another debate that is as old as time is the angle of the back. The truth is that most of the time the angle most definitely changes. The key is not getting pulled to the toes with the hips flying up, so I understand that trying to lock in the back is very important. Sometimes coaches are using cues that don’t actually happen, but they help cause the desired action like the back angle. We only have a couple of athletes that maintain an approximate back angle like Nathan Damron. However there are plenty of athletes that have angles that change quite a bit like our own December Garcia, Jon North, or Dmitry Klokov (his back angle in the snatch changes dramatically). The research on this statement is a Hookgrip Youtube Video away.
Another big one is the ‘low hips’ or ‘high hips’ starting position. We teach a lower hip position, but that doesn’t mean that we are “low hip or bust” kind of coaches. We have some athletes that start a little higher. It all depends on the structure of the athlete. We like the lower hip position to keep the weight off the lower back for as long as possible, and ‘lower hip’ appears to create a more powerful finish. We have a couple of theories on that, but there haven’t been any studies to confirm.
The bottom line is that there are very few absolutes. It all boils down to success. Are your athletes getting better or not? If they are not getting better, maybe you will consider making some of your absolutes no so absolute. Personally I will use whatever works. I will not be enslaved to any one technique or set of cues. My athletes deserve for me to keep an open mind. Your athletes deserve the same.
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