I was shown a couple of videos today from a local gym, which made me cringe. They showed clients performing what looked like maximal Olympic lifts with poor technique, which yes I know is affected by load. However, regardless of load, the technique used appeared to be lacking anyway. These lifts are highly technical and need to be taught correctly. I might step on a few toes with this next statement, but I feel the recent trend of Crossfit and it’s use of Olympic lifts for all has had some of an effect. I’m not saying that everyone who does Crossfit has poor technique, but I do feel it is a contributor. I saw a post recently that went further in to detail as to why these lifts are not suitable for all and how they are being used incorrectly in Crossfit so I wont go in to much detail, but it boils down to the high number of reps used for an exercise that is typically used for powerful explosive actions. If you want to read the post you can find it here.
So with that in mind I am going to write a few posts on Olympic lifts. Break them down part by part and then put them all together to hopefully explain how to perform the clean and jerk safely and properly. I’ll start with the deadlift, followed by the clean and jerk movement in it’s entirety. If you have any questions regarding the points I make, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.
So the first important part of the clean and jerk is being able to deadlift properly, with safe technique. With any lift from the floor it is important that your back is not used like a “crane” to move the load. The following picture depicts a good technique.
All too often you will see the guy at the gym with poor technique, with a rounded lower back and no use of the legs.
Now the issue with that is that a rounded back adds extra pressure on the anterior portion, the left hand side of the picture, of your lumbar spine which can cause all kinds of issues with your lower back. Disc bulges and herniations are probably the most
common kinds. This disc is made up of two compounds, the annulus fibrosis is the outer part of the disc, while the nucleus pulposis is the gel type substance within. The added pressure on the anterior disc, pushes the nucleus pulposis towards the rear of the disc. With increased loads and volume, this can cause the disc to bulge and push on the spinal chord. Therefore, it is incredibly important to perform these lifts with the proper technique to minimise injury risks.
How to Deadlift
Stance: Your feet should be just wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointing forward.
Grip: Your grip should be slightly wider than your knees with two options when only deadlifting. One is the double overhand grip with both palms facing you. The other is the alternate grip with one palm facing away.
Back: Your back should stay in a neutral position. This means if you were to look at it side on, it would appear flat, especially in the lower back. To assist with this, watch the following video clip featuring Dr Stuart McGill, a world renowned back expert.
Furthermore, hip position should be parallel or slightly above your knees. Too low or too high adjusts your shoulder position.
Barbell Position: The barbell should be positioned above the middle of your foot but not too far away from your shins.
Arms: Throughout the movement, avoid bending your arms at any stage.
Performing The Deadlift
When you are lifting, you should be pushing through the floor with your heels, extending through your knees and hips without placing tension on your lower back. Your hamstrings and butt should feel the majority of the tension.
Shoulders over the bar: Your shoulders should be directly over the bar from the beginning. Too far forward or backward can add to the stress on the lower back.
Pull the bar in a straight line: When lifting the bar up it should come up 100% perpendicular to the floor in a straight line. If it scrapes up your body along the way you know it is moving in a straight line.
Push through your heels: Pushing through your heels helps to develop the tension in your hamstrings and glutes while minimising unwanted muscle action.
Squeeze your glutes: This helps to dramatically decrease the tension on the lower back which helps to prevent disc and other injuries to the area.
Lockout: Lockout occurs when you are standing tall and straight. No need to extend too far as this can cause more problems than it is good.
This picture depicts excellent form for a deadlift. The back is neutral, the shoulders are in line with the bar and the the hips aren’t too high. If you have perfect deadlift form, you are part way through being able to safely perform Olympic lifts. If you don’t have perfect form, lower the weight and perfect it before hurting yourself. Remember you are challenging yourself, not trying to beat everyone else in the gym.
I’ll leave it there for now, in a week or so I will come back and go through the clean and jerk movements, which incorporate the deadlift. Remember, if you have any questions or comments leave them below.