Ask Greg: Issue 141
Greg Everett

Nic Asks: My question is how the hell do I stop being afraid of the bar? I'm a solid year into Olympic/CrossFit style training, and still find myself absolutely hesitant around higher percentages of my C&J & Snatch, both of which I'm infinitely better with from the Hang position. I need to wrangle this fear, and am in need some ideas.
Greg Says: First, and I don’t mean to insult you with this, but a year is not much time at all, especially for weightlifting. You are unequivocally a beginner. Accordingly, you shouldn’t be terribly surprised that a) you have some fear of getting under the bar and b) you’re better from the hang than from the floor. Again, not to be insulting, but there’s nothing unique about that—it’s very common at this stage (One of the reasons most weightlifting coaches teach the lifts from the hang first is that it’s easier technically than from the floor).
I also have to assume based on the fact you’re also doing CrossFit that your training time is skewed at least to some degree toward lower intensities and higher reps when it comes to the lifts. Snatching and clean & jerking at submaximal and maximal intensities is itself a specific skill, not just physically, but mentally. Like any other skill, it requires practice to improve. Your training may be making you strong enough, fast enough, mobile enough, etc. to snatch and clean & jerk more than you currently do, but if the mental side of it is underdeveloped, you won’t be able to fully exploit that physical capacity.
The physical element of heavy single competition lifts is fairly specific too. Heavy singles need to be trained at least periodically to develop the ability to maintain speed, rhythm and positions with increasing intensities.
To work on correcting this, I would do a few things. First, shore up any deficiencies related to the lifts that may be contributing to your hesitancy. For example, if you feel unstable overhead in the snatch, invest more time and work into strengthening and stabilizing your receiving position with overhead squats, snatch balances, snatch push presses, presses in snatch, and 3-5 second holds in the bottom of your snatches and other overhead lifts.
Next, find a way to become more comfortable lifting from the floor than from the hang. The most important way is to do more lifts from the floor than from the hang in your training. You might even eliminate hang work completely for a period of time. You can try exercises like 3-position snatches and cleans in which you work from the top down, doing the first rep from your most comfortable hang position, the next from a little below that, and the last from the floor. Complexes like hang snatch/clean + snatch/clean would do the same thing.
Also, try to determine where things go wrong when lifting from the floor. For example, do you not remain balanced in the pull? Do you explode too early? Do you contact the bar differently when you finish? If you can nail that down, you can better determine a corrective approach.
Finally, remember that ultimately what’s required to improve anything in this sport is time and experience, as long as that time is filled with focused training intended to correct what needs to be corrected. Don’t give up if you don’t see dramatic improvement right away.
Candy Asks: I had a question for you regarding a program for myself. It gets a bit overwhelming so I thought I could ask you and you can see where I can start. I want to improve my overhead performance. I am strong on my lower body but not so with on my overhead. Like for example my PR on back squats is 195 but my overhead is 95 pounds. That's just an example I wanted to throw at you. Can you give me any tips?
Greg Says: Where you need to start is diagnosing the source of the problem, because that will determine what’s required to correct it. For example, if the problem is that your mobility is poor in the bottom position, this will require a completely different solution than if you have great mobility but inadequate strength and/or stability in the overhead position itself. It could even be attributable in large part to simply not knowing how to properly create and secure an overhead position, i.e. shoulder blade position, humeral rotation, hand/wrist position, trunk inclination, barbell placement relative to the body, etc. Having said that, I’ll try to give you some general advice on how to improve your overhead strength and stability.
You can think of the overhead issue in three basic parts: static support strength, pressing strength, and position/stability. The very first and overwhelming priority is establishing a solid overhead position with snatch and jerk grips. This means shoulder blades retracted and upwardly rotated (squeeze the upper inside edges together forcefully) to create a strong base. This ties your arms into your trunk—if this foundation isn’t stable, nothing else can be. Next is the rotation of the humerus—the bony point of the elbow should point about halfway between straight down and straight back in the snatch (about neutral in terms of internal/external rotation), and slightly more out to the sides in the jerk. The bar should be in the palm slightly behind the center of the forearm with the heel of the palm facing up and the hand gripping the bar only tightly enough to maintain control and position. Finally, the trunk should be inclined forward very slightly to place the bar over the back of the neck while maintaining balance of the system.
The next priority is overhead support strength—the ability to support weight in this locked out overhead position, whether for the snatch or the jerk. Remember that this is very different from the ability to get the weight there (e.g. by pressing). Exercises like jerk supports and jerk recoveries are ideal for focusing on this ability, as well as reinforcing the proper overhead position.
Finally is actual pressing strength. For weightlifting, we’re generally more concerned with hybrid pressing exercises like the push press and snatch push press than strict pressing, although the latter certainly has value. Generally I think in preparation phases, weightlifters should have two days of significant overhead strength work each week, such as push presses and/or other pressing and support lifts. Just like with everything else, regular exposure is key for improvement. Train these lifts regularly and work on improving your strength in them gradually over time along with everything else like you squats.
In addition to this, start holding all overhead lifts longer. For example, hold all of your snatches, overhead squats, jerks, push presses, etc. in the bottom and/or overhead position for 3-5 seconds. This accumulation of static holds will do a lot for both strength and stability without even requiring additional training time or significant programming changes.

Be the first to comment!
Log in or Subscribe to post a comment
Search Articles

Article Categories

Sort by Author

Sort by Issue & Date