Thursday, October 9, 2014

Troubleshooting the Jerk - Early Pressing during the Dip-Drive Phase

Many beginner weightlifters have the issue of dropping their elbows during the 'dip-drive' phase of the jerk. Today, I will address one common cause of this issue and discuss some cues to help correct it.

Technical Fault

During the drive phase, some athletes will begin pressing up on the bar before finishing the drive. This often leads to a dropping of the elbows into a more military-press-like position. 

Bottom of dip - elbows up
Halfway through Drive phase - elbows dropped

As a result of this elbow drop, the bar rolls down the chest, or is suspended above the chest in the weightlifter's hands, leading to a significant loss of power due to a separation of the bar and torso and a forward trajectory on the finish of the drive.

 [Athlete letting elbows drop during drive phase of Jerk]

Notice above how far the bar travels in front of the lifter. With heavier weights, this effect becomes more and more pronounced. At maximal weights, this is likely to cause a missed lift.

Optimal Technique

During the jerk, the lifter should maintain their rack position up until the point the bar begins to leave their torso, after the drive from the legs is complete.

[Ilya Ilyin performing drive phase of Jerk]
Notice above how the elbows stay in their position until the bar has left his torso, only then do they begin pushing up on the bar to drive the athlete underneath.


Sometimes this issue can be addressed simply by bringing it to the athlete's attention and asking them to finish the leg drive before pushing up with the arms. 

Cuing the athlete to keep their grip loose on the bar until after they've 'jumped' through the bar can help fix the problem without causing the athlete to over-think the lift and hesitate.

Having an athlete do an exaggerated pause between the leg drive and the press-under with light weight can also be a way to help the athlete understand what you're looking for. After a few reps, the pause can be lessened and lessened until the press-under occurs immediately after the bar leaves the torso.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Word on Addressing Overhead Squat Mobility Work

Here is a video going over some errors I see both coaches and athletes commonly make in addressing which areas they need to focus mobility work on. A few simple tests will show you where to focus your efforts and put your time to better use.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weightlifting 101: The Setup

Setup Position for a Snatch
In weightlifting, the setup an athlete adopts before the initiation of the lift will drastically affect how the rest of the lift goes. Each individual will have a slightly different setup based on their body structure and technique, but here I will lay out some general principles to adhere to while setting up to lift.


Most athletes will benefit from taking a stance somewhere between a hip width to shoulder width stance. Taking a wider(shoulder width) stance, may help taller athletes, or those with relatively long femurs, adopt a more comfortable position with a more vertical torso, and help keep their shins more vertical in the setup (keeping the knees back makes it easier to keep from looping the bar out around the knees during the first pull). 

The feet may be straight, or slightly turned out, but not more than about 30⁰degrees from straight forward as this can lead to less stability and power. Athletes will less flexibility may find a turned out position to be more comfortable as it allows the knees to move out, creating space for the hips to drop into, helping to maintain a more ‘chest-up’ torso position , and bringing the lifter's hips closer to the bar.

Feet Parallel

Feet - Turned out slightly

Feet - turned out significantly

Athletes and coaches may need to experiment with foot positions to find the one that allows the athlete to assume a good setup position and maximal strength in the 1st and 2nd pulls.


In general, the hips should be placed somewhere above the knees, and below the shoulders. There are athletes that vary from this range, but for most this will be where they will perform the best.

A good way to establish proper hip position is to have an athlete assume a top-of-knee position with PVC pipe with a snatch grip. At this position the shins should be approximately vertical, with the weight balanced in the feet. Maintaining this back angle, have the athlete squat down until the PVC is approximately mid-shin. This should be a decent starting position, though the hips may be adjusted up or down to find each athlete’s optimal position. (Caveat: some high level olympic lifters will start with their hips relatively low and seemingly drop their chest as they pull. If you pay attention to the moment the bar actually leaves the floor however, their hips are usually between shoulders and knees)

Hips too high; chest low

Hips too low; knees forward
Hips about midway between shoulder and hip height


The bar must be kept close to an athlete throughout the lift, and thus the bar should start close to (no further than the front of the foot) or touching the athlete’s shins. 

Some athletes may find it useful to start with the bar an inch or two away from the shins, then sweep the bar back as the bar leaves the ground. This can also aid athletes who drag the bar against their shins, which can lead to bleeding and a tendency to keep the bar too far forward.


The knee should track out over the toes, similar to a squat, though some athletes may find it useful to drive them out even further. Pushing the knees apart activates many muscles of the hip, aiding in stabilization. Driving the knees out can also help an athlete to achieve a more vertical torso, especially helpful for athletes with long femurs/torso.
Knees driving out

Knees directly forward - note the slightly higher hip position, more forward inclination of the chest, and slightly less tight back arch.


An athlete's setup position is a very individual thing, and coaches and athletes need to work together to figure out what works best for each athlete. Using these guidelines will help you dial in your optimal position. Consistency is key, once an athlete has found a comfortable and technically sound setup position, they should use that same exact position every time they lift.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weightlifting 101: The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Pull

In the analysis of weightlifting technique, the snatch and clean are separated into 3 distinct phases, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pull. These phases are not actually segregated in the performance of the lift, one phase flowing seamlessly into the other when performed correctly. However, each phase contains its own movement pattern and so it is useful to differentiate between these when analyzing and correcting technique. 

The first pull begins when the bar leaves the ground and transitions into the 2nd pull somewhere above the knee, when the athlete begins their explosive leg drive(aka jump) against the ground. 
Ilya Ilin - The 1st Pull
The 1st Pull is often called the deadlift portion of the lift because it closely resembles a deadlift, however the positioning in a snatch/clean is different because the objective is not simply to lift the bar to the hips, but to overhead or to the shoulders. In order to do so, during the 1st pull, the lifter maintains a chest-over-the-bar position as they use their legs to squat the bar to an optimal jumping position. 

During the 1st Pull, because the lifter is ‘leaning’ over the bar, there is a tendency for the bar to swing forward away from the body. The lifter must control this by pushing the bar back into the body to keep the bar brushing the legs.

Control is critical during the 1st pull, as it sets up the trajectory for the rest of the lift. The lifter must maintain a relatively consistent back angle, keep the bar close, and maintain a balanced foot position. If a lifter lifts the bar too quickly through this phase of the lift, the result is often a missed lift forward because the lifter/barbell center of mass shifted forward. 

Exceptions: very high level lifters are often able to move quickly through this portion of the lift and maintain a good position/balance due to years of practice and training.


The 2nd pull comprises the most explosive part of the lift. It occurs when the athlete transitions from the 1st pull into an aggressive jump, through violent leg and hip extension. This usually occurs when the bar is about mid-thigh and finishes with the athlete in full hip and knee extension with the bar at the hip crease in the snatch, and at the hip crease or high thigh in the clean.

Ilya Ilin - The 2nd Pull
The 2nd pull is an action of the hips and legs, and the upper body does not contribute significantly to the lifting of the bar, other than transferring the power generated by the hips/legs to the bar. Tightness in the arms often results in bending of the elbows, which can cause a loss of power in the snatch, although this is less dramatic in the clean.

Ilya Ilin - The 3rd Pull
The 3rd Pull occurs after the athlete has fully finished their jump/2nd Pull, and aggressively pulls under the bar. This part of the lift is where the upper body becomes very active and must be performed very quickly so as to receive the bar in a strong receiving position, either a squat, split, or power position. In the 3rd pull of the snatch, the lifter will pull the body under the bar and ‘whip’ the arms to extension, receiving the bar with locked out elbows in an overhead squat, split or power position. In a clean, the lifter will pull themselves under the bar, flipping the elbows up to receive the bar in a front squat. During the ‘catch’, when the weight of the bar lands on the athlete, the athlete must maintain extremely tight and active to stabilize the weight and avoid losing position.


Ilya Ilin - The Recovery
In the snatch, an athlete’s leg strength is usually more than enough to stand up out of the squat and finish the lift. Stabilizing the weight is a far greater concern since the weight is being held overhead by the arms. Thus, it is very common for lifters to pause in the receiving position and stabilize the weight before standing fully to complete the lift.

Ilya Ilin - Snatch
In the clean, because athletes are able to use greater weights, leg strength becomes more of a factor than in the snatch, often limiting how much one can clean and jerk. Thus, lifters utilize the stretch reflex of the muscles, the oscillation of the bar, and the collision of the thighs with the calves at the bottom of the squat, in order to stand from the receiving position of the clean. 

Ilya Ilin - Clean
These three forces are collectively referred to often as the ‘bounce’. In order to utilize the bounce, timing is critical, an athlete must receive the bar at the right position and then descend slightly until the bounce occurs, then stand aggressively out of the bottom position. The bounce will only occur if there is significant muscle tension, thus the lifter must maintain tightness throughout the recovery of the lift. A similar bounce is often used in the dip-drive portion of the jerk.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Iron and Soul by Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.


When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me “garbage can” and telling me I’d be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn’t run home crying, wondering why. I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time. As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say shit to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr. Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.
Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

- Henry Rollins