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Nick Horton, USAW 7 Deadly Sins The 7 Deadly Sins Of Olympic Weightlifting … and How to Avoid Them written by: Nick Horton, USAW copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Nick Horton, USAW 7 Deadly Sins

The7 Deadly Sins

Of Olympic Weightlifting… and How to Avoid Them

written by:

Nick Horton, USAW

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Nick Horton, USAW 7 Deadly Sins

Rights Stuff Copyright © Nick Horton 2010

All rights reserved. No portion of this manual may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including fax, photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system by anyone but for their own personal use. This manual may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Nick Horton.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Nick Horton, USAW 7 Deadly Sins


The Olympic weightlifting movements – the snatch, the clean, and the jerk – are the closest things that we have in the strength training community to a panacea.

They cure almost everything.

If you have mobility and flexibility problems, learning how to overhead squat (the bottom of a snatch) will fix most of them. If you are weak (most athletes are weak), then doing heavy clean and jerks will make you strong. If you need explosive power and to increase your vertical jump, both the lifts will dramatically improve that. Want to be more agile? Reactive? Do the lifts.

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The list just keeps going on and on.

And yet, it is extremely rare that strength and conditioning programs incorporate these lifts into their routines. Why? Because they are hard.

Even among the few programs that do have people doing some Olympic lifting, it's usually just a simplified version of a power snatch or power clean – and usually from the hang.

While I would agree that doing something is better than doing nothing, it is sadly rare to see the full Olympic weightlifting movements done in a sports-related context – and done properly.

This report is designed to help you to correct a few of what I see are the major issues stopping you from getting the most out of using these lifts in your own training. There's more to it, of course, but these key things should get you going in the right direction.

After you read this, make sure to check out my blog www.TheIronSamurai.com

I keep it updated with lots of information that will aid you in your quest to be a stronger and faster athlete – with a clear emphasis on the Olympic weightlifting movements and their assistance work.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Sin #1 Believing The Olympic Lifts

Are Too Hard to Learn

No Athlete has ever gotten anywhere in life with a “can't do” attitude.

Sadly, many in the weightlifting community have cultivated that exact response in athletes by way of perpetrating a series of myths about the Olympic weightlifting movements (the Snatch, the Clean, and the Jerk). The most important of which is the idea that these lifts are just too hard to learn, at least for most athletes.

And the other is that even for those athletes that could learn how to do them correctly, it isn't worth the time and effort because it will just take far too long.

This is just flat-out BS. Period.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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It is a crock of sh$t that it takes 10,000 reps to learn how to properly do a snatch.

It is false that the snatch is the hardest thing to do in all of sports.

It is not at all true that most athletes can't afford the time to learn to do these things.

Now … it IS true that to get to the level of Elite-level competitive Olympic weightlifters that it will take on the order of 10,000 reps (or more! And with heavy weights, all done correctly).

It is also true, that the way that Elite lifters perform the snatch makes it one of the most technically difficult movements in all of sports.

But, it is also true that most athletes don't need to learn them to THAT level.

And … Let's be honest. Everything is like that.

The way Usain Bolt runs is more technically perfect than the way that most of us do. Does that mean we should stop sprinting?

Of course not. Sprinting is an amazing form of exercise, even if you are not a sprinter.

Should we stop doing chin ups because we'll never be great gymnasts? Come on ...

Your goal is to do the Olympic lifting movements in a safe, and performance-enhancing way; to do them in a way that is as close to perfect as you can, so that you can reap the most benefit from them.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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This is a reasonable goal. And I'm here to tell you that ANY athlete can do it in a relatively short period of time.

Sure, you will need to work hard, be patient, and not wimp out.

But, that's true of most things that are worth it – like marriage or beating your favorite video game (I'm a Mario Kart guy, myself).

So, why has this myth of the Olympic-lifts-as-impossible gotten around and become so persistent?

The first reason is that most strength coaches have never figured out how to do these lifts themselves. If they don't even know how to do them correctly how can they teach them correctly?

The other reason is that Olympic lifters as a group tend to be a rather elitist group, by nature. It helps ensure their status if they can perpetuate the myth that the snatch and clean and jerk are just sooooo hard to do that you shouldn't even bother trying.

I'm not saying that Olympic lifters are mean or rude. In fact, it's quite the opposite. As a community, they are some of the nicest people around. The sport is so darned small that they are super excited every time a new person enters it.

That said, they ARE elitist.

They think of what they do as the most important of strength sports. For instance, they call Powerlifters dump trucks, and themselves sports cars – it has a ring of truth, but it's condescending.

They nitpick on form and technique as a way of reminding people

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just how hard it is to get it “just right”.

They pat themselves on the back for having the patience and the wherewithal to stick with these lifts long enough to get good at them.

And they are right.

They are elitists for a reason. This stuff is hard, it takes a while to get even decent at them, and when you do start to “get it” then amazing things start to happen to you.

But, they aren't THAT hard to learn.

For most people, getting to an “intermediate” level of proficiency is plenty and will do wonders for your body. It'll take some time, it'll take hard work, but it's more than doable.

Don't ever let yourself get psyched out by this posturing. They don't mean it to be mean, but it ends up being exactly that because it causes so many to give up before they even begin.

You CAN and you WILL learn to do the Olympic lifts correctly if you put in the time and the effort and have a positive attitude about the process.

And once you get good, make sure you don't discourage others from getting good at them too!

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Sin #2Not Jumping Straight UP – Or, Getting

A Bad Start on the 2nd Pull

Sin number two is the first of the technical sins. And, along with sin number three, deals specifically with maximizing your vertical jump.

The primary reason most athletes bother to do the Olympic lifts at all is because they want to increase their explosive power, as demonstrated by a vertical jump test.

They believe that if they have a higher vertical jump, that means that they have become more powerful. And they are dead right.

It's been said that the two indicators a coach can rely on the most for evaluating a potential athletes success on the field, is the ability of the athlete to learn the power clean fast, and their ability to jump high.

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Thankfully, while learning how to do a power clean, you will be increasing your vertical jump so that you can impress your sport coach!

But only if you do it correctly!

The most common problem when athletes are learning the Olympic lifts is that they start the 2nd pull all wrong.

What is the 2nd pull you ask. It's the part of the lift (both clean and snatch) that begins at just above the knees, and ends when you are fully extended back (see Sin # 7 to understand what I mean by extend correctly), but before you actually try to get under the bar.

In the “hang” snatch or “hang” clean, you are starting the lift with the 2nd pull, and not even bothering with the 1st pull (the pull off of the floor to just above the knees).

Here's some photos:

The first is the beginning of the 2nd pull.

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Note that her shoulders are right on top of the bar.

The second thing to notice is that her knees are just a bit UNDER the bar. This is so that she can jump straight up, rather than thrust her hips forward. (See the next sin for my take on that one!)

Now, this picture is the end of the 2nd pull – called the extension.

Here he is fully extended up (and slightly back) and the bar is rubbing up against himself.

The point is to mimic as closely as possible a vertical jump. You start in what is known as the athletic position (as in the first pic) and you end with your entire body rigidly and violently exploding straight up – legs long and straight, leaning back a bit just like a bow and arrow, and the bar going straight up.

Most athletes will literally jump in the air.

If at any time during this 2nd pull you are unable to jump the way

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nature intended – like you would if you were trying to touch the rim of a basketball hoop – you're probably doing something wrong!

Your legs should be doing the EXACT same thing as a serious vertical jump. Never get that out of your mind.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Sin #3 “Humping” the Bar!

This sin builds upon the last one, and is the one that is the most likely thing to go wrong in a 2nd pull.

It completely destroys your ability to get a solid vertical jump, and thereby get the correct momentum onto the bar.

And, Nothing gets my goat more ...

Unless you plan on buying your weightlifting bar a nice dinner and taking it out to a movie, it might be a bit premature to start hip-humping it every chance you get!

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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I don't know where this myth came from, but somehow it became an urban legend that the way to perform an Olympic lift is to forcibly drive your hips straight toward the bar and violently slap them into it to get the bar over your head.

Bad! This is so wrong it's scary, and yet it is the primary method of instruction for most people who learn the lifts.

If your hips slam into the bar, this is a disaster!

I know what you're thinking, “But, Nick, I've heard Olympic lifting coaches say all the time that you need to get the bar into your hips! What is going on?”

Let's be VERY clear. When an Oly coach tells you to get the bar INTO your hips, they don't mean smack your hips. What they mean (or at least they'd better mean!) is that you need to slide the bar all the way up the thighs, and slide it up the hips, and keep it going over the tummy.

“Into the hips” means slide across (or brush) the hips, NOT slam into the hips!

If you smack the bar into your hips, it reacts by going in the other direction – quickly. And for this reason, the practice stays around.

People notice how easy it is to get more weight up (in the beginning) when they do this, and so it reinforces one of the worst habits you can get into in weightlifting.

But, that speed is misleading. When you slam the bar into the hip, your shoulder becomes the center of a circle, your arms become the radius, and the bar starts traveling the circumference of that circle.

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Now imagine what happens when it comes time to catch that bar in a full overhead squat position? It keeps going … backwards!

The problem is that you've created a bunch of force on a bar that is now traveling – at velocity – behind you! You essentially swung the bar around from the hip to overhead, and now it's still got all this force and it's not going to stop. In the beginning, that's not as big a deal because the weights you are using are not very heavy.

But, once you increase the amount of weight you're lifting, you won't be able to stop it from going back, and you'll miss all your heavy lifts.

The overhead squat position is VERY hard to keep stable. You can't go making it harder on yourself.

Now, there is a second reason you don't want to do this – it defeats the purpose of doing the exercise as a sports performance tool!

My colleague, Bret Contreras, mentions in his book on Glute Training that it is a myth that the vertical jump is primarily a glute movement. In fact, EKG studies have shown that the vertical jump is primarily a quad dominant activity.

The violent hip thrust into the bar – even if we assumed for a moment that it was done with good intentions – is a butt-dominant exercise and takes the quadriceps out.

The only way to activate the quads as prime movers in the snatch and clean is to get your knees UNDER the bar BEFORE you drive. You must be in a vertical jump position before you explode so that when you do, the bar path is straight UP – not back toward

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your hips.

Yes, the bar will BRUSH your hips, it will scrape them, and then scrape your stomach. (In fact, if you are wearing a belt, it should hit it!) But, it should NEVER slam into the hips.

That's just rude.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Sin #4Going in the Wrong Direction

The way most people are taught how to do the Olympic lifts is sometimes referred to as the “Jump and Catch” method.

This is exactly how I used to teach the lifts … I was wrong.

The idea is to start people in the second pull position like this (well, this photo starts with the end of the 1st pull, but you get the idea):

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And then to have them jump straight up (like doing a vertical jump) and then “simply” catch the bar in a power snatch or power clean position. And then from there, we would tweak the technique as needed, slowly getting it more and more refined.

This is a horrible method of instruction. And I'm embarrassed that I used it for so long.

The problem with this method is that it sets people up for a myriad of disgusting bad habits that are then extremely difficult to break them of.

I myself suffered in the same way when I was learning the lifts, and I'm still trying to live down some of these problems.

I don't have time to get into my new method for teaching beginners the lifts in its entirety in this manual. But, I do want to give you the basics, in case you don't live anywhere near me and can't just come in and learn from me in person.

One day, I was listening to a Pimlseur “How to Speak Spanish” CD and I noticed something that struck me.

Every time they introduced a new sentence, they started with the END of the sentence FIRST. Then they'd add a bit more, and a bit more, and then finally the entire sentence.

This way, when you began the sentence, you started with the least familiar parts and ended with the most familiar parts.

For instance, if the sentence was (in English), “Pablo took his lady to the hotel last night.”

We'd first hear, “to the hotel last night”, we'd repeat, then they'd

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say it again, we'd repeat it again.

Then they'd add the first part, “Pablo took his lady”, to the rest, and we'd try and say the sentence in its entirety.

This was a Eureka moment for me.

Learning the snatch, clean, and jerk are like learning a new language as far as your body is concerned. It's hard work, and you get confused VERY easily.

But, like learning a new language, it is more than doable. Anyone with half a brain can learn a new language if they are patient and put in the effort. It won't always be easy, maybe their pronunciation will not be all that great (especially if they learn it later in life), and it may take a long time. However, they CAN do it.

Similarly, I am a firm believer that EVERY athlete can learn to do the Olympic lifts properly and with decent, safe, and performance-enhancing technique.

One of the ways I've found that aids beginners is to do with them exactly what the Spanish CD did with me – backwards engineer the lifts.

I now start people with what I consider the hardest part of the snatch – the 3rd pull. The 3rd pull is when the athlete pulls themselves under the bar, landing in the full overhead squat position.

Eventually, this is done VERY FAST. But, to start, we do it VERY SLOW. I teach their subconscious how to get the bar to go in the right direction first. (No Hip Humping!) We then slowly add in the second pull, then the first.

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And finally, we start to add in some speed.

Each one of the 3 pulls in the Olympic lifts is unique (and at times contradictory to the other pulls). But, if they can master the last (and hardest) one first, then learn the second, and finally learn how to start from the floor, then it breaks it all down into reasonable chunks that ANY athlete can master.

Sure, there are times when I alter things to suit an individual athletes needs. But, the system has proven itself to work remarkably well. And it works far faster than the “traditional”, and haphazard, method of Jump and Catch without all the baggage of bad-habits.

As Dan John says, Coaching is Teaching. Athletes are students that need to learn in the same way a math student needs to learn – methodically. The principles are very similar.

Do yourself a favor and start at the end. Master the pull under the bar, get the bar to go STRAIGHT up, and pull yourself into an overhead squat position with the bar solidly locked over the back of your head - and do it all slowly until it looks beautiful.

You'll thank me later.

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com

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Sin #6Not Keeping the Bar CLOSE

Far too often, when the weights get heavy, athletes get nervous. When the athlete gets nervous, they pull hard on the bar too soon, and the bar flies out away from them.

But, even at light weights most athletes don't understand how important it is to keep the bar rubbing up against your body.

When I say keep the bar close, I mean it! By close I mean that I want you to scrape the bar up your body the whole way. It should literally rub across your shins, over your knees, scrape up your thighs, slide into the hips, and then continue scraping up your belly.

At every point until the last possible second, you need to FEEL the bar touching you. If you, at ANY point, stop feeling the bar against your body – you messed up!

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One of my colleagues, Tom Hirtz (coach of the World Olympic Team member, Sarah Bertram), likes to tell people that the bar should destroy your shorts.

By the way, one of the reasons good Olympic lifting bars don't have a lot of heavy knurling is because it would not just tear up your shorts, but your legs as well. It's a good idea to use a bar that doesn't have the equivalent of 2 inch spikes in place of knurling! Ouch!

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Sin #6Infrequent Practice

Unlike so many of my colleagues in the Strength Coaching community, I don't have it out for CrossFit.

In fact, I actively try and cultivate a relationship with people who do CrossFit because these folks have a healthy respect and love of Olympic weightlifting. And because these are some HARD working people. I've never had a CrossFit athlete come in and whine and cry about the workouts being too hard … ever. They hit the gym and they work their tails off. I respect that.

However, with that said, CrossFit's style of training is a classic

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example of the type of training that is designed to cause people to not get very good at the Olympic lifts.

The problem? They don't do the lifts enough. CrossFit is very random, it's that way by design, and that's totally cool. It's a great conditioning system if you're into that kind of thing.

But, that randomness makes learning hard. No system of learning can thrive on randomness. Instead, learning thrives on consistency and repetitiveness.

Practice, practice, practice …

You're goal is to LEARN something new, not just to workout.

Now, I don't want to pick on CrossFit. The fact is, most strength and conditioning programs don't attack the Olympic lifts nearly enough. (If at all!!)

When you are learning the snatch and the clean, you need to do them at the beginning of EVERY workout. And you need to do these workouts a good 3 to 5 days a week. (I've gotten results with people doing as little as 2 days a week, but it's rare, and the progress is slower.)

Again, learning the Olympic lifts is like learning a language. If you don't practice Spanish but 1 or 2 days a week (if that) then you will never learn how to speak Spanish. You might learn how to ask where the bathroom is, and how to order some extra hot sauce, but that's about it.

If you want to be better than mediocre at this stuff, then for a while, be serious about practice.

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I tell people the Olympic lifts are more like Tai Chi or Kung Fu than they are like Weightlifting proper. When people think about weightlifting they think about getting stronger (or maybe about losing fat). These things are true, of course, but the Olympic lifts are more than that.

They are NOT like riding a bike. You can't just get into it for a week and learn how to do it, and then remember how to do it for the rest of your life.

It's going to take a lot of time and effort and persistence on your part to get this stuff down.

Now, like I said before, they aren't the hardest things in the world to learn. You can and will learn how to do these lifts if you put your mind to it.

But, it won't happen by magic. You have to put the work in. And you have to put that work in OFTEN.

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Sin #7Not Extending FULLY and CORRECTLY

The last sin is another technique issue.

There are a few schools of thought on how much a lifter needs to be extending backwards (like in the photo above) in order to get the bar into the right position for the catch.

Some coaches think you should be either standing straight up, or just slightly back. Others (like the Bulgarians) don't believe that you can extend too much. These folks want you to extend as far back as you can, fully in the shape of a bow and arrow.

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I tend to be sympathetic to the bow and arrow crowd, but everyone agrees that you must extend as far back as you have to to make the BAR go straight up – or slightly back.

The primary reason we worry about extending so much is that your chest is in the way! This is a serious issue for ladies and men with overdeveloped pectorals – like me. If the bar is going to go straight up, you can't be in its way!

You can look at Olympic lifting as the art of getting out of the way of the bar, so that it can go up, unobstructed by you.

In the first pull, you get your knees back out of its way, then shift your knees back underneath. On the second pull, you extend back to get your chest out of the bars way.

That's all well and good, but there is another reason to extend fully.

You have weight and the bar has weight. When you are standing up all alone – not holding a bar – then it is rather easy to keep your center of mass on top of your heels.

But, as soon as you put a bar in your hand, you've changed your center of mass. You and the bar are now are like Voltron – and with your powers combined … you get the idea.

You and the bar have combined into a hybrid being that is very front-heavy. The more weight you add to the bar, the more front heavy you become.

The center of balance must remain on your heels as long as humanly possible. But, this can only happen if (with heavy

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weights) you lean back so that you compensate for the increased weight on the bar. The heavier the bar, the farther you have to lean back at the top.

Extending back is even more important in the snatch than it is in the clean. Getting the bar back behind your head is imperative if you want to actually catch the snatch in the full overhead squat position.

Adding in a full – and powerful – extension at the top of the second pull gets the bar moving not just up, but slightly back at about a 100 degree angle from the ground. This is good.

OK, now you know that you need to extend backwards at the top of the second pull, but how do actually get that to happen?

One of the best tricks I ever learned to aid athletes in getting a full (bow and arrow like) extension at the top was to tell them to look UP and BEHIND themselves at the very top – snap your head back!

At the very top of the snatch, you violently extend back, whipping your head backwards, and looking behind yourself.

(Of course, you'll then immediately start pulling yourself down and your head will go back to normal. But, that's another issue.)

While this trick doesn't work for everyone, it does work for a remarkable number of athletes, and gets them pulling up on the bar correctly.

Combining that powerful vertical jump upwards, with a violent

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backwards extension is how Olympic lifters are able to get so much weight off the ground and over head.

With that …

If you can remember these five things, you'll do just fine:

1 - Start the 2nd pull with knees under the bar, and shoulders right on top of the bar, arms long and loose, flat back.

2 - Do a perfect vertical jump with your legs.

3 - Keep the bar CRAZY CLOSE to your body the entire time.

4 – Brush the hips, don't slam the hips! No Bar Humping!

5 - Extend back like a bow and arrow at the very top of the pull.

You now have a lot of tools at your disposal. Be patient, be positive, and have fun. That's what it's all about.

Now go lift something heavy,Nick Horton, USAW

Nick HortonBlog: www.TheIronSamurai.comWebsite: www.PDXWeightlifting.com

copyright©2010 Nick Horton www.PDXWeightlifting.com