The Overhead Wrist Position
Despite feeling a bit like I’m walking in circles throwing gasoline on a fire beneath the dead horse I’m beating, I want to add to my original overhead wrist position video because there are a few more specific points, as well as a related principle for weightlifting generally, that I think are important to clarify and underscore.
I want to first emphasize that there is no One True Way to do anything in weightlifting, including holding a barbell overhead. This is true even within a single small demographic like elite Chinese weightlifters, who are increasingly used as the standard for weightlifting technique and bewilderingly purported to all lift identically.
We can dispel two notions underlying a lot of the confusion quickly. First, that it’s impossible to avoid an extremely hyperextended wrist with the barbell held significantly behind the forearm with heavy weights; and second, that all elite lifters hold a bar the same way overhead.
These are the overhead positions in snatches by two contemporary world-record breaking Chinese lifters. We can see clearly they’re not the same, and one equally clearly has kept the bar only slightly behind the middle of the forearm rather than behind the entire arm.
Here are a pair of jerks from the same lifters showing similarly divergent positions.
Interestingly enough, we can see Lu in his 176 world record snatch at 77kg initially receive the lift with the wrists extremely extended, but then immediately adjust into a much less extend position as he’s stabilizing the lift.
I teach the overhead position the way I do for an extremely simple reason: It most consistently creates the greatest stability and security with the least strain on the joints. This translates into lifting the most weight possible for the most people.
The wrist does need to be extended considerably—the issue is how much, and more importantly, where the bar is positioned in the hand. There is no reason to place the bar closer to the fingers except to compensate for a limitation requiring another way to position the weight far enough back to balance the system.
Heavier loads will increase the compression of the hand and wrist into an ultimate position, which is why we can’t perfectly replicate the position with an empty barbell.
However, this does not change the position in principle, and doesn’t change the placement of the bar in the hand unless it’s allowed to move through a lack of control or strength—that is, heavier weights don’t unavoidably force a lifter to position the barbell closer to the fingers, even if they create more wrist extension than an empty bar because of the greater compressive force.
There are a few simple reasons that some athletes of even the highest caliber will diverge from what I’m calling the optimal position:
An athlete may begin their career using a poor position because of improper or absent instruction, a natural weakness that was never adequately addressed, or limited overhead mobility forcing compensation through bar placement in the hands. This results in years of training that position, which accustoms the lifter to it while also preventing the progressive strengthening of a better position that would otherwise occur.
There is a practical point of no return, past which re-training the body to be able to support the weights that athlete is currently lifting with a better wrist position is impossible within any acceptable timeline—at that point, it makes more sense to get as strong as possible in the position they’re already using.
An athlete may also incur an injury or otherwise develop pain or joint restrictions that force them to modify the ideal position to work around the resulting limitations, or have unique relevant anatomy that forces unusual positioning of the arms and consequently the hands and wrists in compensation.
We can also find examples of overhead positions changing from lift to lift, or within a single lift, for a given athlete because even the best in the world aren’t perfect, and positions are altered in the moment to establish control over an imperfectly executed lift, especially in competition.
As we can clearly see with these recent world record snatches and jerks, these extremely heavy weights don’t inherently force the extreme extension position.
My simple suggestion is to experiment and find the position that works best for you. The position that consistently and reliably allows you to lift the most weight you’re physically capable of without pain or injury is the right way—it’s no more complicated than that.
You can find more videos about wrist strength, mobility and durability on catalystathletics.com.
Thanks to Hookgrip, AllThingsGym, Eurosport, and Squat Jerk Journalist for videos.