Olympic Lifting Problems & Fixes: Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast!

apti-175_lg“Hurry up and wait!”
“Speed up!”
“Slow down!”
“Pull faster, finish!”
“Smooth pull, be patient!”
“Say what coach? You ok? Exclaims the confused lifter. As if learning the Olympic lifts were not already complicated enough, now you have to go and throw these confusing cues at me. “Let me start another great quote or parable rather to confuse you even more from Coach Burgener, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
“So I need to pull slow or fast?”
“Yes. Kind of.”
Let me say it this way: you need to earn your speed. When you are a new lifter trying to master the sequences of the pull you don’t “grip it and  rip it.” That is why all your connective tissues and joints are hurting and you’re beyond frustrated.  When  you add speed and weight to bad positions, the more delicate tissues on the body (connective tissues, knees, back, shoulder wrists, etc) will receive more wear and tear and banging than they should vs. proper receiving of the bar and decelerating it correctly with the proper muscle groups.  Speed literally can kill here. You can’t live with it and you can’t live without it…
The average length time to complete the pull portions of the snatch and clean are just around a second and the full snatch or clean just under 2 seconds (The Snatch has been long touted as the fastest movement in Olympic sports).  With power wattages of over 5000 watts when looking at the second pull or jerk phase of the lift. That is a lot of power in your hands to be handled in very little time and you must use your power wisely.  Remember, power is a function of speed and strength (force x distance/time).  This is why you can’t just be strong to be good and why if you don’t learn to use your speed you will never be good.  In order to make this an art form and not kill yourself we need to have a little talk.
But what happens inside that window of time (miracle?) can be a disastrous mess (most common, and you probably already know that by now) or technically proficient work of art with hundreds of pounds (less common, what everyone is talking about).
As you may have heard, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something.  This is true for the Olympic lifts (you may want to triple that number as there are 3 different lifts;).  But, if you are walking into the gym 1x per week to perform the lift this will NEVER happen (so you need to increase your frequency of practice).  Likewise, even the most dedicated lifter several months into training must be patient.  A great quote on the back of John Thrush’s Team Calpian’s t-shirts is, “beware the fury of a patient man.”  Took me a long time to understand that one.  But, it was just the combination I needed to add to my see bar and kill it mentality.
Point being, if you think you can just keep ripping away at that bar as hard as you can and it will all just come together like you see the pros online do it, you have another thing coming (if you can survive the injuries).  These lifts are so fast, and so technically demanding, that a ‘miracle’ literally will not occur on your next rep (but, you should keep praying). Why on earth would that complex sequence just suddenly occur?  Dumb luck, chance, headwinds?  Keep dreaming.  Put in the time to master that pull. Later you can look back and enjoy the fact that you put your dues in and can now finally, “grip it and rip it”.
The lifts need to become a reaction in order to execute them at top speeds and top loads.  This doesn’t happen by chance, and you will need to master positions, leverage, center of  gravity, etc., so  that when it is “go time” you can anticipate your positions and trust that they will be there when you need them. You can go into your positions with zero hesitation, because when you step up to the bigger weights you will not have the luxury of doing anything slow, hesitant, or thinking about x,y, or z.  You won’t have time to think beyond the 1-2 cues you use to keep everything together. From there, you have to step up to the bar with 100% confidence, 99% will not be enough to make the lift.  I like to think of practicing the snatch like putting in golf and the clean and jerk like shooting hoops.  This is my philosophy in learning the lifts as well as programming them.
A very important point to consider is the only part where we need speed at first is the finish of the pull. Think of the first pull or everything you do until you get to the power position/hips/thighs is to set you up for the correct position for takeoff.  Or the point at which you apply vertical force to the bar but propel yourself under the bar quickly to receive the bar. This is a small gap to find with a narrow margin of error. Think of that point as Bruce Lee’s  2 inch punch.  Maximum force delivered in a short explosive blow. But, getting there is the trick.

“Power Positions”: Hip for snatch and thigh for  clean.

So, setting yourself up for that point is crucial.  In reality, you can make some mistakes on the way up until you get there and finish so well at the top of the pull that all mistakes are forgiven, but DON’T bet on it! That is fool’s gold.
The job of the first pull is to get set for the finish, if you destroy this on the way there, you screwed the pooch. So, rushing this point and trying to explode  off the floor is not wise.  At this point you would do better pulling SLOOOOOOOW and SMOOOOOOTH. At least to get your rhythm and pull down.  Once this is MASTERED, NOT BARELY ACHIEVEABLE 3 out of 10 times, but MASTERED, then you can EARN more speed.
Think of the correct tempo or rhythm of the pull as a space shuttle taking off into orbit. At the takeoff point it throws out tons of flames with a huge slow push off of the ground and builds speed as it takes off  into outer space, hitting a peak velocity as it nears outer space (and yes, sometimes pulling from the proper position off the floor will feel less strong/fast than the way you want to rip it off with a soft back/arms/hips too high, etc.  But, it doesn’t matter how you start but how you FINISH!  And, as you now see how important it is to be in the right place to start, so that you can be in the right place to FINISH, then it is worth it).
It should NOT be: Rip off the floor with maximum pull/speed/power. This burns out your energy too soon off of the floor and gives way to faulty patterns like hips shooting, center of gravity going too far forward into the forefoot, and ultimately very little left to give once you get to the power position /hips/thighs to finish your pull.  BUILD SPEED.  And now you understand, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”-Coach Burgener

It is a rookie mistake to come in and start dropping snatch bombs like the ultimate warrior if you have no consistent bar path or rhythm. Then, you are merely a hack taking pot shots with the barbell (Prepare for the bad pains and injuries). When you are finesse-full, technically sound, and consistent, drop those snatch bombs and bring the speed! And then you will understand the saying, “nothing feels better than a good snatch.” Dork.

In part 2 of this article series next week, we will provide some great fixes for your pulling mechanics and tempo…

This entry posted in Articles & Newsletters, STL Personal Training