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Rest Day

Coach Nick or "Quadzilla"

Strategies for Movement Development:
The Olympic Lifts, Part 1

The quick lifts are notorious for their perceived complexity and many athletes struggle developing capacity in the lifts. To the undeveloped lifter, the Olympic lifts look like a blur of movement and often feel even worse. Putting it all together seems overwhelming and often frustration and dismay ensue.  The good news however is that with the right approach steady progress can be made.  Below are three things to consider that I gurantee will make your training more productive.

The Olympic Lifts (Snatch & Clean and Jerk) are different than the Power Lifts (Deadlift, Back Squat, Bench Press). While both are barbell exercises, the Olympic lifts are demonstrations of power expressed through a technically sensitive sequence movements and positions. Their inherent speed decreases your margin for error unlike the power lifts (misnomer anyone?) which are performed at slower tempos and are easier for your nervous system to process.  We often harp on gradually increasing the loads on your power lifts to develop strength and many in our gym have been quite successful getting strong through gradual progressive increases of weight on the bar.  We cannot however expect the same linear development of the olympic lifts. Your emphasis when approaching these lifts should be "as heavy as technically proficient today" instead of "a little heavier than last time".  If you're feeling good and the positions are clicking, then by all means push a little that day, but if you're missing positions and starting to deviate from good form, you need to pull back and work on the skill component of the lifts.  This mindset helps produce productive training sessions where you can focus on getting better, not necessarily moving more weight. Instead, each time you train, focus on one to two aspects of the lift you want to develop that day. Even if you moved 10lbs less then the previous week but your rack delivery became a little smoother and quicker, you've moved in the right direction.

The biggest mistake I see athletes make is not taking the time to develop PERFECT starting and rack positions. The beauty of these is that they're static positions you can take the time to work on and get right every time. There are a lot of things happening quickly in the Olympic lifts, but if you focus on achieving mature start and end positions a lot of the blurry stuff in the middle will naturally begin to work itself out. 

Start position basics
Whether you're starting from below the knee, the floor or anywhere else take the time to make sure your back is arched, your weight is balanced and the bar is touching your body with your arms hanging straight. On top of that, remember that you're about to rapidly accelerate a barbell and you need to get TIGHT. This means taking the slack out of the barbell/you system by taking a big breath in and bracing your muscles.  You upper back should feel engaged and your hamstrings should be on tension (like our "gillie" stretch). A simple way to think about this would be to imagine you're about to jump as high as you possibly can from your start position. Another way to think about it is to imagine you're going to throw the barbell as high as you can towards the ceiling. These mental cues often help people achieve the positions and tension they need to initiate an efficient pull (does this guy look soft?). Never, ever (ever) rush through your start position. If you're soft or out of balance, the barbell's trajectory will deviate from where it needs to be and the lift will be missed or botched.  You simply cannot lift well from a bad start position, so take the time to learn exactly where you need to and get there every-single-time.

Rack Position
I don't think there's anything that makes me want to pull my hair out more than people who try and stand up a lift they haven't properly racked on their shoulders or overhead. It's understandable that this portion of the lift can be difficult for folks because of mobility restrictions or general apprehension about the movement but once you've got that barbell in the rack position, take the time to make it perfect before standing it up. If it's so heavy that you can't troubleshoot your position here you've jumped the gun and gone too heavy too fast. Developed lifters will need to troubleshoot minor errors and occasionally chase a lift but it's never because they don't know how to properly rack the barbell. Think of if this way, every time you do an Olympic lift there are three positions you need to get through.

A. Your Start Position: On tension, in balance and ready to explode
B. Your Rack Position: In the clean, this means the barbell is on your shoulders with your hands open and elbows as high as you can get them. In the Snatch, the barbell is locked out overhead above the middle of your foot. These can be received anywhere from a 1/4 to full squat.
C. Your Finish Position: Fully stood up with the barbell and you in balance and under control.

Often I see people want to go straight from A to C in an effort to simply complete the lift. If there is no distinct rack delivery position in the early stages of your learning progression you will NEVER (ever) move heavier weights well and you'll never lift anywhere near as much as you're truly capable of. The "B" should be a quick, distinct and crisp moment where the lift is won or lost.
Have you ever really pressed out a snatch overhead? YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Have you ever stood up a clean with your hands still clenched to the barbell and your elbows low? YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Stop doing it wrong, it's really not that hard. Just fucking take the extra time to fix the position every time you get there before standing up.  If you practice this consistently it eventually won't be a problem because a smooth and complete rack delivery will be so intuitive to you you'll get as mad as I am right now when you see people rushing through this portion. These concepts also hold true for Olympic lifts in conditioning workouts. Every rep should be executed with intention of hitting A-B-C-A-B-C-A-B-C... as consistently and correctly and quickly as possible. The newer you are, the longer you're going to need to take at each position before moving to the next. If your WODs look like A-C-A-C-A-B²-C-a-q-C-A-W?-C you need to chill out out and slow down.

In conclusion, don't stress about your numbers every time you train the O-Lifts, learn what a good start position feels like and never stand up a lift you haven't finished racking. Easy peasy.

Okay, movie time

Califorina Strength on Cleaning and the Rack Position

Watch Cal Strength at Catalyst Athletics. Get used to seeing the A-B-C for each lift.

Reader Comments (13)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year my CFSBK friends!

Nick and I have just returned from our Midwest quest to eat anything and everything made with Crisco and are leaving today to go to Richmond VA for the NYE. In between carbo loading, we did however make it over to Crossfit Power Performance in Loveland, OH (my home box away from from home box) for FRAN - and having just done this at cfsbk a couple of weeks ago, let me tell you how happy i was to see her on the board (sarcasm).

Nick did 6:30 at #75 (he could've gone heavier) banded pull ups
I did 7:45 with #55 banded pull ups (2# more and :30 seconds faster than the time 2 weeks ago). I have no idea what it was, I think I was so miserable doing it again, that I was flying through it just to say done.

Hope everyone has a good New Year! Can't wait to get back to cfsbk and start off the New Year with my first Titsday meet and the paleo challenge, I seriously need it. And I miss you guys :(


December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShaye


I've been asked this a handful of times in the last few days and the most common reason is nerve compression in your neck and shoulders. This is commonly referred to as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). This often occurs in people who do not have full shoulder range of motion, which can compromise the nerves that run from your neck and through your shoulder to innervate your hands.

That's the short answer.

Most of the time this will only last for a few minutes after the workout. If, however, it lasts longer in the day following the workout, you may want to have it looked at to prevent any permanent damage to those nerves.

I'll be available tonight and tomorrow at CFSBK if anyone has questions.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterj. Fid


Thanks coaches for a much-needed laugh this morning.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStella

@Stella: Believe it or not his quads are much diminished from his O-days. Love the name.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Also, that is a great article about O-lifting. Thanks. Really like the image of preparing to jump at the start position.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

I'm sorry I cursed, guys. Also- when I say "it's really not that hard" what I mean is it's not hard to take that extra :02 to correct your position before you stand up. The rack mechanics done quickly take time, but the only way to get better at them is to correct them every single time they go wrong and then try to make it a little better the next time

Thanks for the info Dr. Fid. This usually comes up for someone with high rep overhead squats at a medium/heavy weight. Any advice for how to treat it afterwards? I usually go for upper thoracic and 1st rib lacross ball work and basic shoulder DROMs to loosen the area up. Then correct posture as best I can and add a little compression like holding a heavy kettlebell on that side. Thoughts??

December 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

One of the things one learns at a Starting Strength Seminar is how to correctly apply adult language in a cue. Well done. DO. I didn't even take note of it on my first read. Great article, IMO.


Speed Deads
245+orange bands in the R3
2 reps e:30 for 5min (22 reps)

Bench Press
10 minutes to find a 1RM
45x5, 95x5, 135x5, 185x3
225-245-265 (PR)

15 Thrusters @155
25 Pull Ups
10 Thrusters
20 Pull Ups
5 Thrusters
15 Pull Ups


Fun WOD for any open gymers who are not sure what to do. Was Rx'd as C2B but I didn't want to tear (mucho callous ahora mismo) so I went with a garden variety pull up. Pleased with myself for doing the thrusters Rx'd, though.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFox

thanks fox! have the strength part of my day set but was just poking around the internet to see what i should do after... i'll give it a go.

NOT rx'ed.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterariel

Article was great David. I took it to heart snatching with Noah today. Worked up to 60 kgs on the snatch. Felt much better than last week in part bc of my focus on setting the lift up.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoel w.

Squat: 45x5, 135x5, 225x3, 275x1, 315x3, 275x5, 275x5
Split Jerk: 45x5, 95x5, 135x3, 155x3, 165x3, 175x3
Clean & Jerk: 135x5
Row: 1x10' @ 19SPM @ 2:14.4 @ 2245m @ 180 HR

Apparently taking a bunch of time off to do nothing but eat holiday food doesn't result in better workouts. Who knew. Worked up to 315 on the squats which felt like a ton of bricks, decided to be smart and drop down since I had a bunch of things on the menu. Split jerk is something I'm gonna finally start addressing, I suck at anything overhead and my foot position is all over the place. Did a bunch of reps with pvc to get my foot position then went weighted, fine until 175, couldn't really control the weight. Did one set of C&J to get some reps in. I was supposed to do 3 ten minute intervals but after the first one my body did a Roberto Duran "No Mas" Need to continue to leave these as solo sessions. Still had fun though.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCloyde

back from holiday time at my parents' house. recovering from a massive amount of sugar and flour mixed into various forms of delicious.

foam rolled for a full 30 minutes. so creaky everywhere!! then lifted with KMo...

45x5, 85x5, 105x3, 125x1
140x3, 140x3, 110x10 (rep out at 80%)

45x5, 65x3, 85x1
95x3 (made it but WHOA heavy), 90x3 (heavy and doable), 72x10 (rep out at 80%)

3 sets of 5 chins with thing lil red band

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWhit H

Yeeeeahhhh TTD prep with Ms. Whitney.

Squat - worked up to 140x3x2 with rep out at 110x10
Bench - worked up to 75x3x2 with rep out at 60x10
Chin-ups with blue band - 10, 5, 6 (clearly need to work on consistency*)

*I did learn that once I come off tension (i.e., am no longer in the hollow position) it's really hard, if not impossible, to get back into it for another rep. I always think that I can come of tension, get a little rest, and then get back into it, but it never works. Better to just push through the pain of one more rep then come off tension and fail that next rep.

Anyway, I don't know why, but I was crazy happy at and after OG tonight. I followed up some awesome lifting with some Bierkraft with JB, Migdail, and JMD. Such a good night :)

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKMo

I did thursday's Rowing interval Nancy at OG.
65# on the OHS - squats went very smoothly/quickly - could have gone heavier. 1:40-1:45 per 400m on the erg. 2' rest in between rounds. Thanks to Josh for a snatch review before I started the workout.

December 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin M.

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