25 Common Mistakes in the Olympic Lifts

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I use the weight room extensively with my track and field athletes as well as athletes from other sports. I find it to be a controlled environment where you can build strength, power, fitness and resistance to injury in a very time efficient manner. Because of the clear cut loading it’s also easy to account for the most important training variables: volume, intensity, density, frequency, etc.

One of my most commonly used exercise types are the Olympic lifts. I’m a huge advocate and have found them to be a great training stimulus for speed-power athletes. I am both a certified coach and regularly instruct for USA Weightlifting’s coaches education program as well as co-coaching a competitive team out of my training center- Athletic Lab. I primarily use the power clean with athletes not competing in the sport of weightlifting but I also frequently incorporate snatches, jerks, push presses, and variants of the above (from boxes, from hang, with pauses,  varying grips, etc) depending on the athlete and goals of the training cycle. While many athletes incorporate weightlifting movements in to their training many aren’t performing them properly and as a result they increase the likelihood of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercises. Weightlifting movements are by far the most complex movements in the weight room and to maximize their use, an “I’ll just try harder” approach will limit effectiveness. Here are some of the more common weightlifting errors I see in working with athletes.

  1. Poor set up position. If you don’t get things right here everything goes downhill quickly. Appropriate weight distribution, hip height, bar position with respect to the body, etc are all critical.
  2. Setting up with a foot position that is too wide. Your initial pulling position should be more similar to a jump stance than a squat stance. Plus a narrower stance will increase the height of the pull, which, when coupled with a receiving position where the feet are moved slightly laterally, you’ll set up a beneficial position to make heavier loads since the top of your pull will be higher and the receiving position can be lower.
  3. Yanking the bar off the ground. The initial pull should be relatively controlled so the athlete can be in appropriate position for the second pull.
  4. Letting the hips rise more than the shoulders on the initial pull. From the ground, the hips should rise at the same rate as the bar and shoulders and the back angle with respect to the ground should remain constant until the bar is past the knees.
    If the hips rise excessively on the initial pull in weightlifting it makes you look like a stripper. Don’t be a stripper.
     More importantly, it forces the athlete in to a disadvantageous position to start the second explosive pull.
  5. Failing to move the knees out of the way on the initial pull from the ground. This forces athletes to have to keep the bar far away from the body or make the bar go around the knees.
  6. Failing to keep the shoulders over the bar during the early moments of the pull.
  7. Coming to the toes too early. The athlete should remain flat footed until the end of the second pull. Some elite weightlifters drop so quickly in to the receiving position that they never come to the toes.
  8. Exploding too early, especially on the snatch. For the clean, the athlete shouldn’t begin the explosive second pull until the bar is above mid-thigh. For the snatch, this is much higher…right around the belt line.
  9. Letting the bar drift away from the body. This is true at any point in the lift for all variants. The body bar-system should be as unified as possible. This comes in varying forms…the ‘reverse curl’ clean, the snatch that looks like a kettlebell swing, but also in more subtle forms like the initial pull.
  10. Banging the bar off the legs. This happens when the previous point is coupled with excessive hip extension and insufficient knee extension.
  11. Pausing between the initial pull from the ground and the explosive second pull. Watch for a change in tempo of the bar that is noticeable but not jerky. This error is inevitably coupled with bending the elbows as the athlete ‘gathers’ to start the explosive second pull.
  12. Hyperextending the hips at the top of the pull. If the shoulders are significantly behind the heels at the top of the pull you’re doing it wrong. Go vertical not backward / horizontal.
  13. Pulling with the arms prematurely. This is a beginner mistake but you’ll still see it often in intermediate athletes. Advanced athletes can and should pull themselves under the bar but this is only after the explosive second pull is well under way.
  14. Overemphasizing the shrug or plantar-flexion at the top of the pull.
  15. Throwing the head back excessively at the top of the pull. Where the head goes the body follows.
  16. Stomping the feet when landing and receiving the bar following the pull. That’s just stupid and uncalled for. Stop it.
  17. Rotating the bar around the elbows instead of the elbows around the bar on the clean. This creates a longer bar path, longer time to rack and almost always sets up a poor position. Most of the time you can fix this by proper positioning of the elbows at the start and teaching the elbows to come vertical when the arms bend.
  18. Racking the bar in the clean with the elbows pointing down and the arms bearing all of the load. An appropriate rack position is characterized with the elbows pointing out in front of the athlete and the weight on the shoulders and chest.
  19. Racking the bar in the clean with the trunk leaning backwards and the hips in front of the shoulders. Ouch call a back surgeon.
  20. Racking the bar with the legs split super wide. I call this the football clean. It seems to show up when effort and load on the bar is emphasized at all costs. One of the benefits of the weightlifting movements for athletes is the switching from explosive extension to flexion. By spreading the legs to the side to lower instead of just flexing at the knees and hips more you eliminate this benefit and make the exercise much more dangerous.
  21. Making too deep of a dip when setting up for the jerk / push press / push jerk drive. There are plenty of times to squat deep. This isn’t one of them.
  22. Not splitting the feet sufficiently when doing a split jerk / split clean / split snatch. The front foot should move forward and the rear foot should move backward. Some just move one foot and end up with poor weight distribution and an inefficiently high position when they receive the bar.
  23. Soft receiving positions with the arms for the jerk / snatch. Athletes should be encouraged to press the arms out as they are racking.
  24. Not resetting the feet between reps or lifts. It’s perfectly fine to move the feet slightly laterally when racking the bar but if you’re going do another rep, reset the feet back to the appropriate starting position.
  25. Touch and go repetitions when the athlete is doing multiple rep sets. Ideally, every rep should ‘start fresh’ so the athlete can set their back, reset their feet, and move the bar in to appropriate position.

If you have any questions or errors you think should be added to this list post to the forum. And as usual, if you liked the blog post please share on social media.

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