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Grow some balls and get under the bar already


In light of this cycle's clean focus:

One of the most frustrating things to watch as a coach, and to experience as an athlete, is not being able to get under the bar on a clean, a jerk or a snatch.

If I had a penny for how many times I have found myself thinking or saying: “Be aggressive. Get under it,” or “Grow some balls and drop your hips.”

Most of the time my incessant “Get under its” fall on deaf ears, although one cue that does tend to work for women is: “Sit on his face!” 

Long-time lifting coach Greg Everett says not being able to drop during a clean or a snatch could mean one of three things: A strength issue, a technical issue, or simply a lack of aggressiveness. In other words: A lack of balls!

If that sounds like you, instead of continuing to attempt ugly-ass clean after ugly-ass clean, making all those around you cringe, take a step back and practice some drills that will help you improve your lifts. These include:

5. Light reps, reps, reps

You probably notice you have a threshold. For example, you can get under the bar quickly and land in a legitimate squat with an empty bar. Maybe you can even continue to drop quickly up to a certain weight. But then you eventually hit a threshold weight, where your mind starts messing with you, and you’re suddenly no longer able to drop and you end up high-pulling the weight in frustration.

If you watch a weightlifter practice you would be amazed how many lightweight reps they log. One of the biggest mistakes I see is people throwing too much weight on the bar too soon before they have ingrained the movement pattern solidly into their brain and body. I hit a PR split jerk at the end of the Catalyst Athletics certification a couple years ago. Why? Because I had probably done 400-plus light weight reps that day with a PVC pipe and empty bar, so my movement pattern was sharp.

Start practicing tons of empty bar and lightweight reps in your warm up before you start loading up.

4. Positional prep

Again, part of the reason I hit a PR at the end of a long day of being on my feet for 6 hours was because I was truly warmed up and mobile. My joints were moving better, and my overhead positioning was sharp—way more than it is after my usual 10 minute warm-up.

So take the time to really warm up your squat if you’re cleaning and your overhead position if you’re snatching or jerking. Talk to your coach about the best ways to prep these positions before you start lifting.

3. Tall Cleans/Snatch Balances

I often see people doing “pretend” snatch balances, where they land in a power position and then sink into the full squat. Same goes for tall cleans. Strip the bar right down and don’t add weight until you can actually land in the hole with your hip crease below your knee. Master step one—empty bar—before you move to step 2!

2. From the blocks

Using blocks—especially going from the high hang position—is a great way to get you moving under the bar faster, because if you don’t drop fast enough, chances are you’ll fail the lift.

It’s also a great way to improve your overall positioning and technique, as starting from the hang means you are more likely to eliminate any mistakes you might ordinarily make from the ground.

Talk to you coach about giving you some additional homework if this is something you want to prioritize.

1. Grow some balls already!

Mental prep and visualizing sometimes helps with the ball-growing thing. If you can feel yourself doing it in your mind, sometimes that’s enough to get you to execute.