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Tuesday
Jun112013

The Position Statement: The Power Position

Read time: 25-30 min

A lot of people approach the Olympic lifts with the wrong mindset. They either rush into them, thinking they can perfect them in just a few days, or they are completely intimidated by them and avoid them altogether. If you embrace that perfecting anything takes time and practice, then the learning process becomes smoother.

It’s true that technique is a foundational component to the snatch, the clean, and the jerk. One approach to teaching these movements is to break them down into smaller, constituent parts. These smaller movements are more manageable and easier for athletes to learn. Coaches can use these variations with beginners to simplify the learning process while still developing power, strength, and coordination.

For already-proficient athletes, different starting positions can provide needed variation in a well-organized training plan. Using different starting positions can also help individuals accommodate mobility or strength limitations, while still stimulating the positive adaptations that the Olympic lifts can provide.

In "The Position Statement," I will provide a comprehensive review of critical positions to the snatch, the clean, and the jerk, including set-up and performance, specific benefits, and programming considerations.

Definition of Terms

In competition, and by convention, the snatch and the clean are begun from the floor. Also by default, the barbell is received in a full squat position (snatch = bottom of an overhead squat, clean = bottom of a front squat).

In training, individuals may want to start the lift from a position other than the floor—typically at some point between the floor and a designated point along the lifter's legs. These variations are preceded with the term "hang" (e.g. hang snatch, hang clean). The term "hang" only refers to the starting position of the barbell (i.e. it is not starting from the floor).

We can further delineate the starting position by including a specific anatomical reference point we want to begin the lift from. For example, a "hang snatch from above the knees" would be a snatch performed with the starting position of the barbell at a level just above the lifter's knees.

Remember that the default receiving position for the snatch or the clean is in a full squat position. So in the above example, the lifter would begin the lift from the designated position and receive the barbell in the squat position.

If we want to designate a different receiving position for the barbell (i.e. above a parallel squat), then we designate the lift with the term "power" (e.g. power snatch, power clean). Keep in mind that the default start position for the snatch and the clean is from the floor. If we are executing a "power snatch," the lift will begin from the floor, but the receiving position will be anywhere above a parallel squat. In other words, any variation of a power snatch or power clean will be received above a parallel squat position.

Of course, we can perform a variation in which we alter both the starting position and the receiving position. Adding to our example above, a "hang power snatch from above the knees" will be initiated with the barbell at a level just above the knees and received with the barbell above a parallel squat position.

Key Points:

  • By default, the snatch and the clean begin from the floor and are received in a full squat position.
  • The designation "hang" refers only to the starting position of the barbell.
  • The designation "power" only refers to the receiving position of the barbell.
  • Variations can utilize either, or both, a "hang" or a "power" designation, meaning that these variations have different starting and/or receiving positions than the default.
  •  

    Lots of names exist for different variations of the weightlifting movements. Regardless of what they are called, each variation can be appropriate for working on different technical and/or strength-related issues. A common method is to use a corresponding anatomical reference from which the lift is initiated (from the hips, from mid-thigh, from above the knees, etc.). Such designations are practical and easy to visually identify.

    These anatomical references typically correspond to the start/end points of particular phases of the snatch or the clean. In the research world, the weightlifting movements are divided into phases based on changes in the magnitude and direction of knee angle (i.e. alternating phases of flexion and extension). These phases correspond to different muscular actions, changes in magnitude and direction of force, and movement/position of the barbell.

    Coaches should have at least a general understanding of these phases (Figure 1), and what is occurring during them, in order to program the appropriate variation to target specific physical or technical qualities.

    Figure 1. The phases of the pull. The pull of the snatch or the clean can be divided into six phases: A) Lift-off, the moment the barbell leaves the lifting surface; B) First Pull, from lift-off until first maximum knee extension; D) Transition Phase, from first maximum knee extension until first maximum knee flexion; E) Second Pull, from first maximum knee flexion until second maximum knee extension; E) Turnover Phase, from second maximum knee extension until barbell reaches maximum height; F) Catch Phase, position in which the lifter receives the barbell before standing with the weight (Akkuş, 2011; Baumann et al., 1988; Gourgoulis et al., 2000).

    The progression of this series will start with the highest position to be discussed and move toward the floor with each installment. This top-down approach is nothing new, and it's nothing that can be claimed by any one individual. 

    The Power Position

    In this first installment, we will discuss the "power position." In reference to the pulling phases, it is the position of the lifter-barbell system at the end of the transition phase, immediately prior to the second pull (Figure 1C).

    If you remember from earlier, I said that using the term "power" refers to the receiving position of the barbell. Well, every rule has an exception, and the "power position" is one of those exceptions.

    When analyzing a snatch or a clean alongside the force-time and velocity-time curves, the "power position" is the position of the lifter-barbell system immediately preceding the sharp inflection that occurs in both curves. It is during the second pull that we see the tremendous power outputs that characterize the Olympic lifts as the most powerful movements in sport—hence the name "power position."

    The power position is arguably the most critical position of the entire performance of a snatch or a clean. It might be more accurate to say that achieving a proper power position is the most critical component of the snatch or the clean.

    Performance


    Video 1. Power snatch from the power position.

    Set-up

    A good rule of thumb is to start pulling or jumping movements with the feet about hip-width apart. A quick and easy way to determine an athlete’s starting foot position for the snatch or the clean is to have the athlete perform three consecutive hops and hold the landing position of the last jump. This landing position can be used as the starting foot position for any pulling movements.

    The power position is characterized by a slight hip and knee bend. The head is in a neutral position with the eyes fixed straight ahead. The torso should be upright with the shoulders directly above or just behind the bar, and the center of pressure through the feet should be directly behind the balls of the feet. Another important note is that the hips should be slightly behind the lifter, not directly beneath.

    Figure 2. Demonstration of the power position.

    The lifter should actively pull the bar into the body with the lats, as if he or she is trying to bend the bar around his or her body. The wrists should be rolled forward (wrist flexion) and the elbows should be turned out (humeral medial rotation). These actions will help maintain a tight bar path during the second pull and turnover phase.

    Barbell height in relation to the lifter’s body will differ slightly when performing a snatch versus a clean. At the power position during a snatch, the barbell will be in/near the hip crease in the set position. Due to the narrower grip of the clean, the barbell will be slightly lower at the power position for this lift, typically less than half way down the thigh. For both lifts, the position of the barbell along the hips/thighs will remain constant from an upright, standing position to the power position. Exact barbell position will depend primarily on limb lengths, grip width, and degree of knee flexion.

    Figure 3. Proper barbell position in the power position. Note the same relationship of the barbell to the hips and thighs during the start and power positions.

    Position Fundamentals:

  • Slight knee and hip bend
  • Vertical torso; shoulders directly above or slightly behind barbell
  • Active lats, wrists rolled forward, and elbows turned out
  • Hips behind, versus underneath, the lifter
  • Weight just behind the balls of the feet
  •  

    The Second Pull

    Remember from earlier that the power position precedes the second pull. Once set up in the power position, the next step is to perform the second pull and subsequently receive the barbell overhead for the snatch or on the shoulders for the clean.

    The second pull is a rapid, forceful extension of the hips and legs. The goal is to generate a massive impulse of energy in a vertical plane. This impulse gives the barbell its momentum and direction. Focus the athlete’s efforts on driving the feet into the ground as quickly and powerfully as possible.

    A snapshot of the end of the second pull shows that the hips and knees are fully extended. Degree of ankle plantarflexion varies with each athlete and is a function of the impulse generated during the second pull. However, more plantarflexion does not necessarily mean a greater impulse is generated and vice versa.

    Some people like to perform snatches or cleans from the power position with a countermovement (analogous to a countermovement jump). When lifting from a hang position, I prefer to have lifters perform them from a static start. I feel a static start allows the coach to be strict about ensuring the athlete is properly set. Reinforcing proper set-up and execution will drive consistency of movement performance and enhance motor skill learning.

    Additionally, if the athlete can develop the explosive power to move a loaded barbell from this static position, he or she will be even more capable of producing power in a dynamic situation.

    Barbell Trajectory

    An illustration of barbell trajectory is provided in Figure 4. From the power position (end of Transition Phase), the barbell will begin its upward trajectory while moving slightly away from the lifter (beginning of Second Pull). As the barbell approaches its maximum height (Turnover Phase), it will begin to loop back toward the lifter. After reaching its maximum height, it will descend toward the lifter until the point of the catch.

    Figure 4. Illustration of barbell trajectory during the snatch lift.

    The barbell is inert. It only moves as a result of the action of the lifter. To maximize vertical displacement of the barbell the athlete must focus his or her energy up—not back. Some horizontal displacement of the barbell will occur during the second pull, but it should be minimized.

    Actively leaning back at the top of the second pull creates distance between the lifter and the barbell. It can also increase the horizontal displacement of the barbell, decreasing efficiency. This additional looping of the bar can also create problems with receiving the barbell. Athletes should focus on staying connected to the barbell—minimizing separation between the body and the barbell.

    If the second pull is performed correctly, the lifter should be able to stop at and maintain the position of final extension without losing balance forward or backward. Doing so can only be achieved by fully extending vertically and maintaining the proximity of the barbell to the body.

    Cuing to "keep the bar close" or to "let the bar slide up the body" reduces the lifter's tendency to pull early with the arms. Focusing on what the barbell should do (movement effect) versus what the body should do during the second pull leads to a more fluid, natural movement. 

    The Turnover Phase

    The action of the arms in the snatch and the clean include two components: 1) transferring force generated by the legs and hips to the barbell; 2) moving the lifter underneath the barbell.

    The legs and hips are responsible for generating the force necessary to move the barbell up in relation to the ground and lifter's body. Upward momentum on the barbell is generated only during the phases of lift-off through completion of the second pull.

    Immediately after the impulse of the second pull, the lifter should actively pull himself or herself under the barbell to the receiving position. This action is necessary regardless of whether performing a snatch or a clean. It also holds true whether performing the power or full versions of those lifts.

    The Catch

    The principles for receiving the bar are the same for the power or full versions of the lifts. The only difference is the fixation height, or how high the barbell is received. The foot position for the catch will be the same stance the athlete uses when squatting.

    After completing the second pull, the athlete should immediately shuffle his or her feet to the landing position (i.e. squat stance). If executed properly, the position of the hips and feet during the catch should match the positions of those body parts during a properly executed squat.

    In the catch position, the athlete’s body must have complete tension against the barbell and must arrive at the same point as the barbell, along its descent, at the same point in time.

    To illustrate these points, consider the clean. Say a lifter is able to lift the barbell to a maximum height of 1.00 m. Let's also assume the height of the lifter’s shoulders in the bottom of a front squat measures .90 m above the platform. If the lifter finishes the second pull and drops into the full front squat position before the barbell also descends to that height, then the barbell will inevitably crash onto the lifter.

    The jarring effect of the barbell crashing onto the lifter can cause the lifter to collapse his or her position, resulting in a missed lift, or extra effort to regain position and complete the lift. The lifter must meet the barbell along its descent in order to maintain a solid receiving position and maximize efficiency in standing up with the lift.

    Common Faults Affecting the Catch

    Two major faults that affect the catch are tied to the athlete’s ability to properly perform a squat. The first fault is when the athlete receives the barbell with his or her weight shifted too far forward. This fault may cause the athlete to come onto the toes when catching the barbell or the hips to be too far forward. Another tendency is for athletes to receive the barbell with their feet too wide.

    These faults can occur when performing either full or power variations of the lifts. If these faults occur, first try to cue the athlete out of them. If they can perform a majority of the repetitions in a set correctly, make them re-position to the proper catch position on their incorrect repetitions and hold for a three-count before recovering. Only increase the load if all repetitions are performed correctly.

    If a majority of the repetitions are performed incorrectly, then reduce the weight and try the steps above again. If cuing, repositioning, or reducing the weight don’t work, then the athlete’s squat pattern should be addressed in training. The squat is a requisite movement to the snatch and the clean.

    The coach must determine if the underlying issue is one of the following, or a combination thereof: motor control (inability to control/coordinate the body); strength (typically weakness of the posterior chain); mobility (restrictions to joint ROM, particularly at the hips, ankles, and/or thoracic spine/shoulders); or positional (suboptimal joint orientation affecting movement expression).

    Rationale

    As I mentioned earlier, achieving a proper power position may be one of the most important components to the snatch or the clean.

    By using the power position as the first teaching progression, and emphasizing its proper execution, coaches help athletes establish a preset position to achieve once the athlete progresses to starting from a lower position. In other words, the body knows where it needs to go next.

    Employing a static start helps drive consistent performance, enhancing motor skill learning. It also removes the advantage of a stretch-shortening cycle or momentum to be gained by starting from a lower position. It's all about how much force the athlete can immediately generate. If an athlete can become explosive from a static position, they will more easily express their explosiveness in more dynamic movements/scenarios.

    Programming Considerations

    Because of their reduced movement complexity, snatches or cleans from the power position should be emphasized during preparatory phases of the training plans for intermediate/advanced athletes, or during the preparatory stages of a long-term athlete development model. These periods of training are characterized as general (low specificity) with lower relative intensity and higher relative training volume.

    Due to the limited range of motion used to generate movement, the weight used when lifting from the power position will necessarily be lighter than what can be used if lifting from a lower position. Lifting from a static position versus using a countermovement will further reduce the potential load.

    While these variations reduce relative intensity, snatches or cleans from the power position are still appropriate to use to improve power and performance. Because of the lighter training loads used when lifting from the power position, lifters can handle a higher volume of these variations of lifts (multiple sets of ≤ 5 reps).

    Proper inclusion of these lifts in a training plan will depend on targeted qualities, as well as overall training intensity and volume. For example, power snatches or power cleans from the power position might be a good variation to use if the lifter is concurrently performing a high volume of squats.

    A rough estimate of what weight to use for 5 reps for power snatch from the power position is ~55-70% of an athlete’s best snatch from the floor. An estimate of weight to use for 5 reps for power cleans from the power position is ~65-80% of an athlete’s 1-RM clean.

    The ability to program a higher volume of snatches or cleans from the power position inherently provides more repetitions to establish and reinforce a proper power position. By being strict about the positions your athletes work from, the more robust and salient those positions become. This last point becomes especially important once isolated positions are subsumed into larger movement patterns (e.g. progressing from snatch/clean from the power position→snatch/clean from above the knees→snatch/clean from the floor).

    Conclusion

    The power position is a fundamental position that must be established in order to derive maximum benefit from the weightlifting movements in training. Snatches or cleans from the power position are the first progression for newcomers to the weightlifting movements.

    The power position offers a great variation of the weightlifting movements to use with beginners, as it is the simplest position to lift from, teaches them where they should end up when starting from lower positions, and forces them to focus on the impulse.

    These lifts also offer a great opportunity for already-proficient and advanced athletes to reinforce proper positions, reduce intensity, and focus on power production.

    Use the tips in this article to improve your athletes’ weightlifting technique and stay tuned for the next installment of "The Position Statement" where I will cover snatches and cleans “from above the knee.”

    References

    Akkuş, H. (2011). Kinematic analysis of the snatch lift with elite female weightlifters during the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 0(0), 1-9.

    Baumann, W., Gross, V., Quade, K., Balbierz, P., & Schwirtz, A. (1988). The snatch technique of world class weightlifters at the 1985 World Championships. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics, 4, 68-89.

    Gourgoulis, V., Aggelousis, N., Mavromatis, G., & Garas, A. (2000). Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of the snatch of elite Greek weightlifters. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18, 643-652.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    Very thorough discussion of the power position. I agree that it is imperative for a coach to get this position right with their athlete.

    I also appreciate the use of diagrams and bar path. Sometimes it is difficult to get my athletes to understand that they need to push the ground away in the second pull and move the bar vertically instead of backwards. I will use this post as a "MUST READ" for my athletes that qualified for Olympic lifting.

    January 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJared

    Jared,

    I'm glad you found the article informative. I hope your athletes do as well. Part two of this series is coming soon, so make sure to check back for it.

    January 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterAaron

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