4 Common Mistakes When Teaching the Weightlifting Movements, A Guest Post from Chase Campbell


The sport of Weightlifting, often referred to as Olympic Weightlifting, is comprised of two exercises; the snatch (SN) and the clean & jerk (CJ). These exercises, along with their many derivatives, are often used in strength and conditioning programs all over the world and at all levels of sport to help aid in the improvement of general physical qualities, specifically in the development of power. While they can be a great tool to do just that, these exercises can be tough to teach if a coach is not properly educated and experienced. The purpose of this article is to point out a few mistakes commonly seen when teaching and implementing the SN and CJ, and solutions to hopefully mitigate those mistakes.

Mistake 1: Loopy Bar Paths

The SN and CJ are great tools for helping an athlete improve vertical force development when performed correctly, however there are two common mistakes that can lead to the barbell traveling too far away from the athlete. The first mistake happens when athletes get a little too over zealous when violently extending the hips at the point of “explosion” during the pulling phase of the lifts. This often causes the barbell to be pushed out away from the body due to excessive horizontal displacement applied from the hips. If performing a full lift and not just a pull, this can result in a swinging or loopy bar path that leads to a less than ideal receiving position, potentially putting the athlete at risk. There are a few ways fix this, some of which require additional time and equipment set up, but I’ve had the most success with proper demonstrations for the athlete to watch and cueing the athlete to “get tall” or “head to the ceiling”. Both of these cues can help athletes understand the vertical nature the lifts without having to get too technical, possibly causing an over-cueing situation. The second mistake can occur when an athlete struggles with the action of the arms, or lack thereof, after the barbell brushes the top of the quads. Some athletes will keep their arms straight and elbows locked out, instead of letting the arms bend like they should. I’ve heard some coaches tell athletes to look like a scarecrow at the top of extension, but I’ve encountered many young athletes who don’t know what a scarecrow is, so “elbows up and back” is another go-to cue for helping fix a loopy bar path.

Mistake 2: Weight Shifting

In the weightlifting world, you’ll hear many coaches talk about shifting weight distribution across the foot during different phases of the pull. This usually comes in the form of percentages, such as “70% of the weight should be on your heels during the pull to the knee, then it shifts to 50/50 as you pass this knee, then move to 70% on the balls of your feet as you get to the power position and start your second pull” so on and so forth. If you ask me, that’s a lot of information to process and execute in a very short amount of time, especially for an athlete who’s main focus isn’t to make the World Team in weightlifting. When asking an athlete to do all of that shifting, it usually doesn’t happen in such small changes. Often times you’ll see an athlete rock very far back onto their heels and then all the way back to their toes far too early, creating all kinds of problems during the pull, one of which was mentioned in the paragraph above. Large shifts of weight from back to front can cause an athlete to lose balance and produce a big horizontal push on the bar, causing that loopy bar path we talked about. Loopy bar paths force athletes to chase after the barbell in order to catch it, increasing the likelihood of something bad happening. To help fix this issue, I keep the cueing nice and simple… Stay balanced! I ask athletes to keep their foot flat throughout the entire pull, and that usually helps take care of barbells being thrown across the room.

Mistake 3: Lacking Prerequisite Patterns & Mobility

The hip hinge, front squat, and overhead squat are movement patterns that need to be mastered before attempting to put them together in a dynamic movement like the clean or snatch. While taking the time to first master these basic patterns, mobility restrictions should be addressed concurrently. Restrictions in ankle dorsiflexion, wrist extension, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension are commonly seen in athletic populations and need to be addressed and improved prior to attempting the clean or snatch. Performing a clean or snatch without adequate mobility in those areas is a recipe for disaster. Having said that, in the mean time it is perfectly acceptable to program variations of the lifts that an athlete is prepared for, like catching in the power position (1/4 squat) or even just performing the pull by itself. These two issues should be common knowledge, but unfortunately we still see awful and dangerous technique being allowed throughout our profession on a daily basis. Understandably, these lifts can be quite technical and take time to master, so not every rep is going to look perfect. However, allowing an athlete to load these lifts with more weight than their current capacity and movement proficiency can handle is borderline malpractice.

Mistake 4: Marrying These Exercises

Personally, I love the weightlifting movements and I use them quite frequently with my athletes. In fact, many coaches have used the clean and the snatch for a very long time and have had great success with their athletes. On the other hand, there are also many coaches who don’t use these exercises and have found great success as well! This helps point out a very important concept for all of us to keep in mind when programing and coaching: Don’t be married to an exercise.If it doesn’t make sense to use these exercises in your program, whether it be facility or equipment restrictions, lack of experience, or a sport coach who doesn’t want their athletes performing them, don’t freak out! There are a lot of different ways to develop power with athletes, and there is bound to be one that fits your situation. The clean and the snatch are just tools in the toolbox, not the be-all-end-all. If you decide to use them, do it appropriately. If you choose not to use them, that’s okay too!

Who’s is Chase Campbell?

Chase Campbell is the newly appointed Director of Basketball Performance for the Men’s Basketball team at the University of Rhode Island. Chase is a graduate of Ball State University where he served as the Olympic Sports Strength & Conditioning Graduate Assistant while earning his master’s degree in Sport Performance.
Prior to joining the University of Rhode Island, Chase has served as a strength & conditioning coach for multiple professional and collegiate organizations, including the Indiana Fever (WNBA), Butler University, and Miami University (OH). Early in his career, Chase also completed professional internships with Vanderbilt University and the Indiana Pacers.
Chase is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach through the NSCA, a contributor for CVASPS and SimpliFaster, and enjoys playing golf, spending time with family, and competing in the sport of weightlifting.

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