Teaching the Olympic Lifts

This will be the first post in a series aimed at showing examples of exercises targeted to improve technique and efficiency when teaching and performing the Olympic lifts (clean & jerk and snatch). There are many ways to teach the lifts, but most coaches adopt one of two methods: top down or ground up, with the use of partial movements (using boxes, power racks). Personally, I prefer to coach from the top down, as in the early stages of development I like to emphasise movements performed from the mid-thigh position, as it’s a more natural position for someone to feel accustomed to (same position as when jumping), but I’m just as happy stating from the ground as well, just my preference.

Start PositionClean Start

  • Bar over metatarsals with the feet hip – shoulder width apart
  • Pronated claw or hook grip slightly < than shoulder width
  • Hips higher than the knees
  • Shoulders in front of the bar
  • Braced thoracic area with normal lumbar curve
  • Shoulder blades retracted, chest elevated
  • Head neutral, eyes looking forward

Common mistakes:

  • Bar doesn’t start close to the body, therefore when start to pull the spine will lose it’s neutral position
  • Hips start too high, or too low, affecting the trunk angle and will affect the position going into the first pull

First Pull to Hang PositionHang

  • Shoulders remain in front of the bar
  • Bar path is upwards and backwards in a controlled manner
  • Arms remain straight
  • Weight towards the heel
  • Back to floor angle remains the same as start position

Common mistakes:

  • Speed is too fast – must be controlled
  • Bar doesn’t remain close to the body – these two points are important as poor trajectory and control in the first pull can affect force production during the second pull (where most force can be produced)
  • Back angle becomes more upright too early or rounded = poor transfer of forces
  • The lifter wants to be balanced with a strong relationship between the lifter and the bar & the base of support at the feet by keeping the knees back, weight on the heels, and shoulders over the bar
  • Support muscles such as spinal erectors, abdominals, and hamstrings play a big part in maintaining balance

Transition Phase
Start Mid-thigh

  • Knees flex and move under the bar
  • Bar continues to move upwards
  • Weight moves towards the mid foot
  • Shoulders move directly above the bar

Common mistakes:

  • Lack of knee flexion (affects the SSC aspect of the transition)
  • Weight still on the heels, so don’t achieve full triple extension
  • Lack of transition/double knee bend and therefore start the second pull too early (causing a reduction of force produced during the second pull) – this will cause less transfer over to dynamic activities

Mid-Thigh Position and Second Pull
End Mid-thigh

  • Bar has to be at mid-thigh
  • Knees and hips flexed
  • Shoulders directly above the bar
  • Hip, knees and ankles extend vigorously, with a powerful shoulder shrug
  • Weight acts through the centre of the foot
  • Bar remains close to the body and continues in an upward direction
  • Arms remain straight

Common mistakes:

  • Bar starts below mid-thigh (more of a hang position) – will probably start the second pull too early
  • Shoulders are behind the bar meaning the weight is towards the heel, this will affect the range of hip extension the body can go through
  • Don’t achieve full triple extension and fail to shrug – the bar won’t displace vertically as much and will affect the chance of performing the catch
  • Bar bounces off the thigh forcing the bar path in front of the body, this will affect the ability to catch the bar on the front shoulders and get the elbows up high
  • Arm bend and row the bar upwards rather than using the legs to generate speed – poor transfer of forces usually caused by not achieving the correct mid-thigh position

Catch Position
Catch Clean

  • At the end of the second pull, the elbows bend and rotate rapidly under the bar
  • Simultaneous triple flexion at the hip, knee and ankle
  • Feet usually jump out > than shoulder width
  • Bar caught across the front shoulders in front squat position with elbows high in an upright posture

Common mistakes:

  • Not dropping quick enough to catch in a full front squat – could be due to a poor second pull, not enough speed on the pull
  • Catching in a power clean position will produce reduced triple flexion, decreasing eccentric loading
  • Feet externally rotating too much, putting stress on the knee joint, but may allow people who have restricted hip and ankle mobility to actually get into the squat position to catch the bar.
  • Elbows not high – very common in males who have to use the wrists rather than the front shoulders.


  • As in the ascent of a squat
  • Continue to drive the elbows high
  • Maintenance of neutral spine

Just some thoughts on coaching points, and some common errors I see, hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll get to video different variations and go through some ways to correct errors identified above.

Here’s the finished product, Niall is a second year Undergraduate student at the University of Salford and performed an 80kg clean on Friday after only just over two months of learning the variations. You can find out more on his Twitter Athletic Fitness.

And in slow motion


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