The sport of Olympic Weightlifting begins and ends with two complicated, compound lifts: the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. The Snatch and Clean and Jerk are complex exercises that use large and small muscle groups. Athletes and amateurs have found that practicing these lifts with correct form is an effective way to develop both speed and power.
In this article we will be focusing primarily on the Clean and Jerk. To perform the clean and jerk correctly, it's important to have developed a sufficient amount of mobility in your wrist, shoulders, thoracic spine, hips, and ankles. A wise man once told me it takes 5 years to perfect the technique and another 5 years to reach your lifting potential. In other words, you're not going to perfect these lifts overnight and they require a lot of time, practice and repetitions. I recommend getting a qualified Olympic Lifting coach to help learn these lifts properly and safely. The right coach can not only provide proper cues but can also offer support and additional programming as needed.
First and foremost, before we get into each phase of the lift, let's spend a second on mobility. If you do not possess a sufficient amount of mobility, the clean and jerk will be very difficult to perform correctly. Begin with these smaller movements that will help you assess whether or not you have the requisite mobility.
The front squat is a pivotal segment of the clean and jerk. To assess your front squat, first grab an empty barbell or PVC pipe. Place the barbell or PVC pipe across your shoulders and clavicle, with your palms and fingers facing upward encircling the bar, and your elbows pointing forward. Be sure the barbell is resting on your shoulders and not your palms and wrist. If you are unable to stay in this position comfortably throughout the movement, you will need to develop some additional mobility in your shoulders and wrists. Stand tall with your feet about shoulders width apart and toes slightly turned out. Descend into a deep squat position, while maintaining a vertical torso and knees tracking over the toes.
If you find yourself unable to achieve a deep squat position because of a forward leaning torso or rounded back, additional mobility in the hips and ankles is probably needed. Please note this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to proper mobility needed to perform a proper clean and jerk, and again I recommend using a qualified coach to instruct you properly. Next we will be diving into the 5 phases of the clean and jerk.
The 5 phases of the clean are as follows: Starting Position, First Pull, Transition (scoop) phase, Second Pull, Catch.
During the starting position, stand with your feet about hip width apart and your toes slightly pointed outward. Squat down with hips lower than shoulders and above the knees. Place your hands on the bar, about shoulder width apart with pronated grip (hook grip preferred). Keep your head up, eyes pointed straight ahead, back tight and arms straight. Keep the barbell close to your shins and knees, with your shoulders remaining over the barbell or slightly forward.
The first pull begins as you lift the weight with your legs, hips and back in tandem. Make sure you the hips rise before the shoulders. Keep the barbell close to your body while you maintain a straight back and your elbows fully extended.
As the bar rises just above the knees, the transition (scoop) begins. The barbell will travel slightly backwards as your torso moves upwards, arms remain straight and triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips occurs generating power upwards.
Once full extension of the knees, hips and ankles is completed, the start of the second pull phase begins. As the barbell is moving upward forcefully jump quickly extending your hips, making contact with the bar and rapidly shrugging your shoulders upward. While the bar's momentum carries it upwards, rapidly drop underneath the barbell preparing for the catch phase.
Flex your hips and knees dropping into a full front squat position while simultaneously rotating your arms around and under the barbell receiving the barbell across your shoulders with your palms and fingers encircling the barbell and elbows pointing forward. Once in the full front squat position with the barbell resting on the shoulders, the lifter should stand up tall using your legs and hips and preparing for the jerk.
At the start of the jerk, the barbell will rest primarily on the shoulders and the palms of your hands. While keeping your trunk tight, begin bending your knees forward and outward descending at a moderate pace. Once appropriate depth is reached, rapidly drive the bar upward by pushing against the floor extending the knees and hips once again. As soon as full extension is reached again, rapidly drop and push yourself underneath the barbell. As the barbell is traveling upward, your feet should land in a split stance with your dominant foot forward.
When the barbell is over head, elbows should be locked and downward movement should be stopped. Bring the front leg back a step, and the back leg forward a step so your feet are side by side. Stand motionless for a moment. In a controlled manor, drop the barbell in front of you and the lift is complete.
The video below was put together by USA Weightlifting Coach Jim Schmitz and is a great visual representation of the 5 phases of the clean and jerk as well as some additional programming ideas to break down the lift.
Olympic Weightlifting takes a combination of speed, power, and technique and cannot be expected to learn overnight. Each phase of the clean and jerk are typically broken down even further into different segments and variations when being taught to beginners. If you want to learn more about Olympic Weightlifting properly, realize that it will take time and patience to learn each lift correctly in order to minimize the risk of injury. Now let's go clang and bang!!!!
Paul Dixon is a proud father, certified NCSA and CSCS Weight-Lifting coach and tier 3 plus trainer at Equinox who recently competed in the Connecticut open USA Weightlifting meet. You can follow Paul on Instagram @DixonFitness_ or train with him at Equnox in Darien, Connecticut.