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By Caitlin Friedhoff
CPT – NSCA, Certified P360 Coach

The Snatch, Clean and Jerk are three Olympic weightlifting movements, along with all of their variations and progressions.  All three lifts employ the generation of force against the ground to accomplish the following:

  1. Accelerate the barbell upward
  2. Use that force created against the inertia of the barbell, to accelerate the athlete downward and into the…
  3. Receiving position


All three lifts require simultaneous upward force of the barbell and downward force of the lifter in order to accomplish a successful rep.  It’s the ultimate yin and yang working together.

The Clean and Snatch are their own unique lifts; however they both are executed under the same fundamental movements, mechanics and angles on the human body. These fundamental movements are known in the weightlifting world as the 3 Pulls.

1st Pull
The phase in which the barbell is lifted from the floor to the point at which maximum upward explosion is reached without pulling with the arms. Typically this is reached around the mid to upper thigh level.

2nd Pull
Is the seemingly fluid transition, where the arms are engaged into the movement as the body reaches full extension at the ankles, knees and hips. The arms continue to draw from that upwards force created through the 1st pull.

3rd Pull
This is the catch of the barbell or the receiving position. This is the transition from the extended position into the receiving position. Try to think of this final pull as a drop. As that barbell continues on it’s upwards path created by momentum and power, the body itself is dropping down in the opposite direction and force is no longer being applied through the ground and up into the body. Rather the barbell, with its inertia, acts as an anchor in space against which the lifter pulls to bring them underneath it.

The Jerk is executed under slightly different fundamentals which consist of quickly and forcefully pushing the bar from the front rack position to over the head. The barbell is essentially “thrown” overhead through a forceful thrust of the hips and knees and caught with arms locked out and hips and knees slightly flexed or in a split stance.

At some point along your path of learning these movements, you have probably come to the realization that your body does not always listen to what your brain is telling it to do. With practice of using good form at moderate enough load to allow us to learn speed,  we can eventually train the musculoskeletal system into executing these movements flawlessly, reducing the risk for injury and increasing maximum output of strength and power.

Below are some common mistakes that beginning Olympic lifters encounter and experienced lifters often struggle with, along with tips on how to correct them.

The Jerk

Mistake: Thinking your arms do the lifting. 

Sometimes we over think the Jerk and change it into a push press or press from the shoulders relying solely on strength rather than force and momentum (speed). If the bar is held forward of the body, or off the shoulders and gripped deep into the palm the jerk will most likely always resemble a press, or will slip out of the grip to the floor. If the barbell is not securely in the front rack position during the initial dip of the jerk, the inertia of the weighted barbell will still be traveling downwards as the arms are trying to muscle it upwards.

How to Fix it: Let your torso and speed do the lifting.

Your arms are just levers; pawns being told what to do by your lower body and torso. This separation of the barbell mistake is the result of an incorrect front rack position. The barbell should start in the front rack position, resting on the shoulders to keep it in contact with the body as it generates force to be “thrown” overhead. The body and the upward force of the torso does the throwing, not the arms.  If you make the mistake of believing your arms are generating force, the lift will be slow.  It’s all about the explosive upward speed generated with an explosive drive after the dip.

Tip: Hands should be slightly opened in the starting front rack position to prevent tightening of the grip, which will help prevent that separation.

Once the barbell is exploded upward, it then becomes critical to reverse that speed and drive yourself underneath the barbell to receive it.

Also, keep those elbows from dipping down, this will help reinforce the need to push up through the body and drop under the bar, rather than the athlete thinking too early of pushing the barbell overhead by sheer strength.

Often times, beginners do not possess adequate mobility in their triceps, shoulders, back and/or wrists. Extreme tightness in any of these areas (often caused by desk sitting) will not allow you to get that free and easy front rack.

Without a good front rack, a good jerk is simply not possible.

Here is our article on Front Rack Therapy.

The Clean

Mistake: Not enough speed in your”elbow turnover” on the catch.

You have probably heard every single coach at one point tell you too drive those elbows up, or quicker elbows…elbows, elbows, ELBOWWWWWS!!


Caitlin with elbows parallel to the ground. As a result, it is easy for her to stand up this lift and complete the rep.

Speed under the bar is equal in importance to securing the barbell in a proper rack position. This is extremely important and becomes most apparent at the bottom of the clean. This is the point in the clean that the barbell will have the greatest amount of momentum directed downwards, when you are dropping under and catching. This is also the position in which the torso will be slightly inclined forwards, in order to front squat under the bar. If the elbows fail to turn over fast enough the athlete will have difficulties recovering out of that deep front squat position. If the elbows are suboptimal in a front rack position (pointed down, rather than creating a secure shelf for the bar) the barbell will pull the athlete down and forward resulting in a missed lift.

Think of your elbows as the steering wheels and must steer you upward, not forward!

How to Fix it: Try not to keep a death grip on the barbell for too long.

Make no mistake, grip strength is hugely important in the clean, especially hang cleans.  However, there comes a point where you must release and let the barbell do it’s thing so that your elbows can come forward. The grip should be maintained until the forearms are about vertical, at this point the barbell should be at the upper chest level and optimally in contact with the body and the grip can be loosened to allow the elbows to continue to spin around the bar rapidly. A continuous tight grip will limit the elbows mobility to pivot around the barbell even with excellent flexibility.

Tip: We must take into consideration the earlier phase of the lift as well, if the barbell is not accelerating adequately during the 2nd pull, no amount of speed in the 3rd pull will matter.

The common theme on all Olympic lifts once again resurfaces.  You must generate a ton of speed to get the barbell moving, and then a huge amount of speed in getting underneath it.  On the clean, the elbows drive that speed.

The Snatch

Mistake: Allowing the barbell to swing forward in an arching pattern at 2nd pull.

This has many reasons, however one of the most common that we can work on is: making sure the arms are internally rotated on the set up (elbows turned out to the sides). This is an ideal set up because it will force the barbell to stay close into the body as it comes up from the 2nd pull and into the 3rd. Having the barbell swing out and around the body is an inefficient use of energy and typically results in a very unstable overhead position. The barbell will most likely continue its arching path of momentum and come crashing down behind the athlete. The goal in any Olympic lifting movement is to keep the barbell on a vertical path from the ground to the receiving position.


In this position, the last must have tension in order to keep the barbell into the body. As soon as the lats “turn off”, the barbell will drift.


How to Fix it: Tighten the lats and internally rotate the elbows.

The barbell should be so close to you that you can smell it.  Without tightening the lats, the barbell will drift away and you must think about the snatch as simply a pull of the barbell up the body, not outward swing away from it.  Stay tight and tense at all phases of your descent on the hang snatch, or upward movement on a power snatch and always keep tension in the lats.

Tip:  Wait to pull until the barbell reaches the hips, and keep the barbell in close throughout the entire lift by also engaging the lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together and holding it.

At the end of the day, the snatch is not a complicated movement.  Once it clicks that barbell moves upward, not outward, the lift becomes much easier to complete.

In Conlusion

Olympic lifting has so many benefits on strength, performance and even fat loss.  They use the complete body, teach athleticism and improve strength and power as well anything one can do.  They are also among the most difficult to excel, which is why they are so fun and rewarding.  Learn proper front rack.  Learn to apply speed.  Keep the barbell in close. Use these basic tips and don’t be afraid to approach me during class and ask for help!

Caitlin Friedhoff is a former Division-I athlete, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Coach at Performance360.

If you like or read this article, please head back over to the official P360 Facebook page and click like on the post.  Facebook has changed it’s targeting rules making it harder for our helpful articles to make it to our members.  The more interaction we get on the articles, the greater chance you have of seeing the next article we post.