Learning to Dance


The barbell can be an unforgiving dance partner. One misstep, and she crashes to the ground. The choreography has come to an abrupt and clumsy end, leaving you standing there, abashed. Maybe you apologize, maybe you get pissed at yourself for messing up, or maybe you direct your frustration at her…but in the end, it comes down to the fact that you did not hit the right move at the right time.

Olympic lifts are complex. They demand strict adherence to a sequence of physical positions and impeccable timing. When done with finesse, they become a thing of beauty, and are capable of moving jaw-dropping weights from the ground to overhead. However, it is this very complexity that makes the Olympic lifts so incredibly frustrating for most athletes. We want to be able to do it, and we want to be able to do it NOW! The lifts cannot be conquered…but they can teach us patience, respect, and grace. Just as you cannot learn a language, or master ballroom dancing in a day, the Olympic lifts take time to master. Start with the basics. Learn the steps, and PRACTICE them.

Rob Silver, a friend of mine, and all-around great coach and programmer, recently posted a photo discussing this very thing:


His accompanying description,

“This pic captures the 4 major positions of the snatch working from upper left. When learning to lift, the most important thing is to make sure you are hitting these 4 positions. Position 1 is floor with shoulders over bar, back engaged both at spine and lats and and knees/hips externally rotated. Position 2 is bar at (bottom of) knee height with shoulders in front of bar and hammies engaged and back still tight. Position 3 is the launch/power/high hang position with bar pulled back into our hips, knees are (re)bent and torso is upright. Position 4 is the catch. Isometrics: using isometric holds on these positions is a great addition to a training program as it allows you to make sure you “remember” these positions and will strengthen your body’s ability to execute the lift correctly without pause. Hitting these positions lift after lift must come before lifting at speedier adding heavy weights. Therefor, while still perfecting technique, pausing isometricly at each position while moving slowly between 1-3 will improve lifting technique and pr’s will then follow. For experienced lifters, the addition of isometric holds will challenge their lifting ability under new stress, help solidify these positions as weight continually gets heavier by strengthening the supporting muscles, and is a way to add variety to lifting along the lines of the conjugate method. The downside is that isometrics only strengthen the muscles within 10 degrees of the joint angle being held. Therefore, isometrics are not as beneficial for sports like football but do have a place in crossfit and weightlifting where the sport is moving the barbell and exact positions the body will/should be in are known”

It brought a tear to my eye, let me tell you. Perfect advice!

My all time favorite resource, Catalyst Athletics, also recently posted an article about the importance of holding position and exercising control on the Olympic lifts.

“So many lifters get in the habit of dropping lifts as they stand, and this masks imbalance or instability that then becomes extremely obvious when they’re forced to actually hold onto the bar.”

The advice?

“From now on, until you never drop a snatch or jerk from overhead unintentionally, hold every snatch, power snatch, jerk, power jerk, overhead squat or snatch balance in the receiving position for 2-3 seconds before recovering. And when you do recover, hold onto the bar for a second before you drop it.”

“Get Cozy Down There”