Look at the pictures you see to the right (click to enlarge). Go ahead, look at them for a minute.
Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, they’re awesome. You know what’s even more awesome? We’re going to learn a very, very important lesson about weightlifting from them. First, let’s lay down a few facts about what we’re looking at.
#1- The pictures were taken at the 2013 European Weightlifting Championships. They were provided courtesy of hookgrip, which is a website organization that currently takes some of the best weightlifting pictures in the world.
#2- The dudes in these shots are some of the best lifters in the sport. One of them is Oleg Chen (RUS, top middle). Apti Aukhadov is there too (RUS, bottom middle), along with Martin Razvan (ROU, top right). You can probably tell just from looking at the weights on the bar…these are some of the finest athletes in Olympic weightlifting.
#3- These particular shots were obviously taken during clean and jerk attempts, right in the middle of the turnover phase where the lifters have completed their pull extension and are “jumping down” into the bottom position. Many coaches refer to this as “pulling yourself under the bar.”
#4- If you’ve learned anything at all about weighlifting, you should know that the top athletes in the world use the exact same movements and technique on all of their lifts. Their light warm-up sets basically look identical to their world record attempts. A great coach once told me, “The best guys in the world make 50 kilos look the same as 150 kilos.” Their consistency and motor patterns are developed to a razor’s edge. Because this is true, we need to understand that these guys aren’t hitting some kind of weird positions in these photos that they only hit with maximum weights. This is what their technique looks like all the time.
So those are just a few important points to know. Now, let’s start getting to the lesson.
There are a lot of ways we could analyze these, but we’re going to specifically focus on what you see with their feet. Obviously, these guys are picking them pretty high up in the air as they descend into the bottom position. Aukhadov, who is probably the best lifter in this particular group, looks like his feet might be 5-6 inches off the platform.
One of the first points I want to make is this…there are some coaches out there (particularly in the US) who would tell you this type of foot lift is wrong. “You shouldn’t lift your feet that high up in the air.” “You don’t want any hang time.” “You need to keep your feet closer to the platform to avoid floating in space during the lift.” These are the comments you would probably hear from these coaches if they were teaching the lifts to beginners and they saw the type of movement you see in the photos above.
In fact, we could do a fun little experiment with these. Let’s say we photo shopped these pics. Instead of the faces of the best lifters in the world, we change them to the faces of some average Joes nobody has ever heard of. And instead of 200 kilos on the bar, we change the weights to 70 kilos, or 90 or whatever. But aside from the faces and the weights, we leave everything exactly the same. Same body positions, feet up in the air. Now, if we took those photo shopped pics and showed them to these coaches I’m talking about, I’ll bet Greg Everett’s bank account that most of them would say, “God, that looks terrible. Somebody needs to teach that guy how to clean. You can’t lift your feet up in the air like that. That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it. You’ll never lift big weights that way.” They would probably follow these statements up with a bunch of technical-sounding babble about physics, quadrangles, tension properties, etc.
Wanna know why I’m so confident that’s what you would hear? Because I’ve heard it, a million times.
People, these pictures are basically indisputable proof that forcefully lifting your feet off the platform as you’re jumping down into the bottom position ISN’T A BAD THING. You’re seeing it from the best lifters on the planet, so it’s obviously not inefficient technique. When you’re lifting weights that are right around the world record, your technique is efficient… regardless of what it looks like. Hopefully that makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, I can’t do nuttin’ for ya.
Now, it’s important to know that you could also find pictures of some other top lifters who are in the exact same phase of the clean as the guys you see above… with their feet much closer to the platform. And you know what? Keeping your feet close to the platform during the turnover ISN’T A BAD THING EITHER. That’s the whole damn point I’m trying to make. There’s more than one way to lift world record weights.
Different athletes use different movements, for different reasons. The guys you see above aren’t doing it wrong. You know how we know that? Because they’re the best in the world. If you’re the best in the world at something, you’re not doing it wrong. You’re doing it YOUR WAY. And if some newbie does it the exact same way, the newbie isn’t doing it wrong either. The newbie is moving his/her body in a way that makes the most physical sense to him/her, just like the world champion.
WARNING: It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean every type of lifting movement is acceptable. I’m not saying, “Everything is okay, nothing is incorrect.” There are definitely some movements that are universally inefficient (rounded backs, looping pulls, jerking in front of your face, etc.) But the issue of whether it’s okay to jump your feet off the platform is an old one that gets disputed by some people who don’t understand the simple facts that are proven in the pictures you see above.
It’s okay to use the type of technique you see here. It’s also okay to use a different type of technique where your feet stay in closer contact with the platform as you’re jumping down to the bottom position. It just depends on the individual. Athletes develop their own styles over time, and the most talented ones (who train in the best systems) become world champions.
These are truths of weightlifting. If anybody disagrees, scroll back up to the top of this and look at the evidence again. Maybe it’ll make sense to you someday. Maybe not…
See also Ask Greg: Jumping in the Snatch
You're right that some athletes don't get into a super high elbow position before turning them over, but that doesn't mean the intent isn't there. I exaggerate this motion when teaching and doing tech drills so it happens to a lesser (but proper) degree when actually cleaning. A lifter like Kolecki did actually get the elbows very high before the turnover. This does keep the bar close if done properly (i.e. not beginning prematurely and with the athlete too far forward like a row). But you do have to actively bring the bar back toward the body during this motion, before it, and after it.
My thoughts are that a lifter initially has a whole bunch of variation on each rep in each set as they learn to lift and feel out what works for them. As they progress the errors become less varied and there is consistency in technique which includes a few consistent 'errors'. At this point the habit is formed and the technique is grooved so that its a skill and they are practising the same thing each time they lift. This is when real progress starts. Depending on the 'error' the ceiling of their potential is set high or low. Training enviroment, work ethic and genetics also come in to play at this point as well as comp exposure.
A whole bunch of stuff needs to go right to help a successful lifter realise their potential.
It's unfortunately true that arguing about minutiae on the Internet takes up a strangely huge amount of people's time and energy...
Somewhere along the line I realized I was doing MYSELF a disservice by constantly engaging in piddly discussions online about stuff noone outside of the insiders of Olympic lifting have any interest in.
Not only are we often mired in semantics... But it misrepresents to beginners what the priority order should be in their learning curve.
If you are focused on a topic like this, and you can't even lock out or hit your hip... that's a problem. And yet that's 80%+ of the people who read about this online and are looking for our help.
You described it as “constantly engaging in piddly discussions online about stuff noone outside of the insiders of Olympic lifting have any interest in.” That’s a great way to say it. I would add the idea that most of the legitimate experts in the sport aren’t even having these piddly discussions. All of these stupid little how-many-angels-fit-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates are coming from a small group of individuals who are trying to posture themselves as experts by dazzling the internet masses with new terminology and dissenting ideas. But if you spend a lot of time around the real masters of the sport, you don’t hear any of this crap. It’s unfortunate that people who are new to weightlifting have to go online and get confused about technique, thinking the “piddly discussions” represent what’s really happening at the top of the sport. It isn’t like that.
Weightlifting technique is like politics, you’re never going to have complete agreement from everybody. But it’s ridiculous to get into raging debates about whether a snatch pull should be best described as a jump, shrug, jump up, jump over, jump down turn around pick a bale of cotton, etc. That’s not what weightlifting really is.
While we're at it, we may as well add in a Bruce Lee quote:
"Above all else, don't start from a conclusion."
OR, we can go with En Vogue: "Free your mind, and the rest will follow." :-)
Seeing some of the world's best weightlifters lift their feet significantly while pulling under snatches and cleans isn't adequate evidence to you that such a practice can be part of effective lift technique? You're going to be waiting a long time for "proof" of anything in this sport or any other.
When your feet is not neutral from the base of the lift with improper bracing of the spine, you are already subject to power leaks as the torsion (twist) created from your base is lower. Problem is, many coaches are unaware or don't have the greatest understanding when it comes to the most efficient position. You will often here do what works for you but what exactly is proper mechanics and what constitutes to efficiency?
You see the Olympic lifts start with a strong torque environment but as soon as the feet is no longer subject to the ground, all torque is practically non-existent and the athlete must have the proper motor controls to reposition themselves to adjust to the load ( catch phase).
Yes, the athletes shown in the article are great at what they do, but to say its scalable is questionable. Modern research shows few adjustments and proper torque creation should be ideal for all dynamic movements but should be taught from the ground up. This creates safe and effective lifting which is quite often ignored by coaches.
I highly recommend reading Dr. Kelly Starret's "Becoming a supple Leopard" to truly grasp the concepts of movement. It is a must to all athletes who participate in movements similar to Olympic lifting.