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Olympic Lifts: Complex but Not Complicated?

The idea that the Olympic lifts are “complex but not complicated” is making its rounds through the internet, and I want to make a couple points about it.
First, this isn’t a new idea. Many weightlifting coaches have been trying to make the case that the lifts aren’t as complicated as they appear for many years for various reasons, maybe the most common being to help persuade non-weightlifting strength coaches that they can in fact teach their athletes the lifts for use in strength and conditioning.
Second, I take issue with the wording itself:
Complex, meaning consisting of many different and connected parts. Synonym: complicated.
Complicated, meaning consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate. Synonym: complex.
Having said that, I do understand the point the phrase is intended to make—I just don’t know if that particular attempt to be clever is the best approach to communicating it since it requires extensive explanation, which is stunningly ironic considering the concept...
So what’s my point?
The snatch and clean & jerk are technical, high-skill movements. They’re complex AND complicated. But that doesn’t mean they’re not accessible to anyone who wants to learn them—the movements can be distilled to their essences in order to allow that.
Consider an analogy: pitching in baseball. Anyone can learn to pitch a baseball in three seconds flat. Watch someone do it, mimic the motion.
But does that mean that pitching is not complicated? Not at all. Think of the skill required to consistently put that ball at high speed in a very small area of space that changes with every batter. Then think of the variations: curve, back or front door slider, sinker, knuckle, etc. Becoming truly proficient as a pitcher requires a tremendous volume of practice and an increasingly deep understanding of the principles governing how the body works, how hand positions, body motions and release timing influence the ball’s speed and trajectory, how different pitches interact with different swings, etc. Professional pitchers never stop practicing and learning and improving. But you can go out and learn to throw a ball over home plate in three seconds.
The point is this: All complex, complicated skills can be simplified. In fact, they must be simplified in the early stages of development or no one would ever be able to learn them.
If you took an eight-year-old who’d never played baseball and sat him down in a classroom and taught him everything there is to know about pitching, then dropped him into a little league game for the first time, you’d get pretty poor results. If instead you reduced pitching to its fundamentals to teach him initially, then over time as he gains more practical experience and the attendant understanding, continued to teach him progressively more complicated principles, you’ll get an increasingly better pitcher over time.
This is exactly how weightlifting works.

I can teach someone how to snatch in three seconds. You can too. Hold onto this bar with a wide grip and jump it up overhead. There you go—that’s a snatch. Is it a good snatch? No, just like that first throw isn’t a good pitch. There are about a million details that need to be refined, but that’s the part that takes progressively complicated instruction and practice over time. And I’d suggest teaching elements and segments of the lifts rather than the whole thing initially, but you get the idea.
You can reduce the lifts to their essence: Apply force against the ground to lift the bar up, then apply force against the bar to move down under it. Or even simpler: Jump the bar up and pull yourself under it. That’s about as simple as it gets, but if you want to be truly proficient, you’re eventually going to need to understand a lot more than that.
So if I don’t like the phrase complex but not complicated, what’s my better suggestion? Easy: The Olympic lifts are complex skills that can and should be simplified for learning. I guess that doesn’t sound as cool, but at least it communicates the idea accurately.
Ultimately my point is this: Simplify the lifts to learn or teach them, and progressively increase the complexity of the skills and concepts as tolerated over time to achieve proficiency. Don’t overwhelm an athlete or yourself with unnecessary detail, but don’t pretend that detail doesn’t exist or isn’t critical for achieving advanced results.

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