As in every other area of life, unless you’re an expert, you’re probably doing it wrong. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, obeying traffic rules, securing your computer network, raising your kid, whatever, it’s guaranteed that you’re doing several things incorrectly every single day. Some of these technical errors are conscious, slowly rolling through a deserted four-way stop, for instance. Some are almost unknowable; how does one individually optimize their diet for health and longevity? But many, like so many aspects of life, are somewhere in between. While I can’t be sure where you fall along this spectrum, if you are doing this during your lifts, then it really doesn’t matter. You’re doing it wrong.
Stop jumping forward!
The often unpredictable and seemingly unstoppable forward jump can be one of the most frustrating and daunting technical problems in the entire sport of Olympic weightlifting. Like everything in this sport, diligence, persistence, and a little bit of neuroticism are required to fix deficiencies and get you to the next level. This means, unfortunately, that the longer you’ve been doing it wrong, the longer it will take to start doing it right. If you’ve been self-taught for most of your career, this news will come as no surprise. If you haven’t or aren’t, we’ll cover many corrective actions you and your coach can take to remedy this. Either way, there’s still hope. First though, let’s address what many of you might be thinking at this point. Again, the rough reality is, you’re doing it wrong.
Watch enough YouTube highlights and Instagram miracles, and you’ll notice some common lifting habits among all lifters. Dedication, strength, mobility, pig-headedness. We all share these traits. What we don’t share, however, is ability. Ability magnified by thousands upon thousands of hours spent training. The elite few that have invested their lives in this develop sometimes strange and idiosyncratic movements that seem to defy what we’re discussing here (and the basics of lifting advice writ large). But you are not elite. You didn’t discover after eight years of competitive lifting that your femur length and left hip joint mean you need to turn your left foot out and stagger your stance a couple inches while keeping your right foot straight. You didn’t cultivate record-breaking, obscene back strength that allows for your starting position to be nearly parallel with the floor. You’re 25 years old. And you just started last year. So, let’s stick to the basics.
How do I fix it?
For better or worse, weightlifting is one of those sports with many life lessons. In our case, the lesson is simple. Treating the symptom is no way to treat the disorder. Before we get ahead of ourselves with quick fixes and corrective exercises, let’s step back and identify what’s causing our technique to break down in the first place. Working back through the assembly line of positions and movements, we likely notice there are multiple mistakes earlier on, our “disorder”, that culminate in jumping forward, our “symptom”. For example, your hips rising off the floor too quickly is probably causing your shoulders and chest to fall too far forward in front of the bar, resulting in a loopy bar path and, thus, forward jump.
Step 1. Identifying the “disorder”
Incorrect Set Up
Sometime during the last few years a zeitgeist has developed around keeping one’s shoulders a greater distance in front of the bar. While the idea in general is valid, it’s not something that needs to be so heavily emphasized for beginner and intermediate weightlifters. It will happen organically if you start with and maintain proper angles in the set up and throughout the first pull. Over-emphasizing this can be very confusing and even detrimental to the initial set up and subsequent parts of the lift. It should be no surprise that setting up in a bad position will set you up in bad positions throughout the entire lift. If this sounds familiar, it should. Even though pulling forward during the lift might appear to be the cause and the forward jump the effect, a more basic cause is an incorrect starting position.
Quick Fix: If you set up in a position that easily allows yourself to be pulled forward by the
barbell, then you are probably going to be pulled forward. Simple as that. Try to prevent this by setting up with your chest high, hips “low”, and maintain the angles throughout the lift.
Shoulder, Hips and Bar
When performing a lift from the floor your shoulders and hips should move at the same speed
as the barbell, and these angles must remain consistent through the first pull. If this sounds complicated, you’re trying too hard. All you need to know is if your hips rise before the bar then you are wasting energy, time and the very important leverages that these lifts depend on. Start doing yourself a favor and stop allowing this to happen. This is especially difficult with heavy weights. It doesn’t matter. Try harder. Still not enough? Max loads expose
positional and technical weaknesses.
Quick Fix: Work in the use of lighter loads to work on building correct movement and
consistent technique. Back off sets at 70-85% of max effort are the typical “sweet spot”. Light enough to allow for corrections, but heavy enough to provide sufficient stimulus and resistance.
Swinging the Bar Forward
The shortest path between any two points is a direct line, wormholes notwithstanding. This applies to weightlifting too. (OK, maybe not part about wormholes!) When attempting to lift a weight from the ground to overhead or to shoulder height, the farther you deviate away from a straight path, the more difficult you are making the lift. While there is some subtlety here, for our purposes in addressing the forward jump, we want to prevent the bar moving away from the body after hip contact.
This is typically how it happens. After you break the floor plane, the bar drifts away from you until it reaches your hips. (Note that this drift is often the result of poor starting position, poor rising mechanics, insufficient strength, or a combination of the three. See above for more help.) Because you want to, need to, make hip contact, and because the bar has separated a significant distance from your body, you have to actively pull the bar back into your hips while simultaneously thrusting your hips into the bar. This results in excessive horizontal bar displacement.
With beginners this often happens unintentionally. Sometimes, the same problem occurs but with conscious effort behind it. Remember what we discussed earlier? There is no shortcut to lift mastery. You can’t copy-paste an Olympian’s technique. Work on the basics, learn it correctly, and tailor your lift to your own strengths and weaknesses as you grow in your experience. Slamming the bar into your hips, diving underneath, and praying that it lands in the right position is not a technique at all. If this is your game plan, it’s time to revisit more than your forward jump.
Regardless of cause or intent, bar drift and horizontal displacement can be avoided by
keeping your arms relaxed, legs driving, chest up, and by maintaining barbell proximity
throughout the entire lift.
Quick Fix: Focus on each lift segment individually. Start by working from floor to knee, then move on from floor to hip, and finally add in some high pulls to work on
staying connected through the finish.
The second most important take away to this article will be found in the following sentence.
Now that we’ve hopefully identified your problems, let’s look at some of the best ways to fix it.
Step 2. Finding the “cure”
Awareness can come from watching a video of yourself, a coach’s ear-piercing scream, or even proprioception alone. (If you don’t know what that means, it’s worth looking up.) No matter the method, after identifying the underlying “disorder”, this should be the first step in fixing it. Becoming aware of what you’re doing wrong and where that begins is often enough to start fixing it. Grab a coach, a friend, a cell phone camera, or even a mirror, and evaluate each position and movement as you go through the lift. Compare this to what you know you should be doing or an elite lifter with classic mechanics, and get to work resolving the discrepancies.
A more active method of intervention is the creation of a physical barrier. Place an object or draw a line in front of the lifter to discourage them from moving forward. Depending on the athlete, you can use anything from a PVC pipe, all the way to a human body, but keep in mind the larger the obstacle, the larger the possibility of a fatal miss. It’s best to start with a line of chalk and work up from there. Use this strategy in every session until the problem is solved.
No Foot Movements
The most radical technique, but one that is also guaranteed to prevent jumping forward, is to not move your feet at all. If you take away the lifters ability to move their feet, then you take away their ability to jump. You can do this by starting with your feet in your catch position and maintaining it throughout the duration of the lift. Otherwise, work through your movement as your normally would. This should normally be reserved only when the above options are exhausted, and even then, limited only to warm-up reps and technique-focused sessions.
[More advanced remedial methods certainly exist, but they are outside the scope of this article. Barbell complexes and pull variations can have tremendous value when working on specific technical corrections. These complexes can be fun and seem like they produce results, at least those measured in sweat. However, they are, by their very nature, complex, time-intensive, and incorporate many (potentially wrong) movements into one. When utilizing complexes make sure you are using them with purpose and intent, not just for the sake of making something difficult or more challenging.]
Step 3. Starting “treatment”
This one is all on you. You’re dedicated enough to pursue one of the most frustrating and demanding sports in the history of man. Are you dedicated enough to fix a six-inch jump?
In our next article, we’ll discuss the when, why, and how of integrating complexes and accessory work into our training regimens. For now, let’s stay focused on the basics, on identifying our “disorders”, our “symptoms”, our “cures”, and our “treatments”. That’s how you earn the privilege to break the rules of weightlifting. That’s how you become a master.