Teaching the Snatch and Clean & Jerk to a beginner can be a daunting task, even for those of us that have done it for years. Most of you are coaches, or at the least, enthusiasts, and will at some point find yourself in the position of trying to teach or help a beginner as they learn the lifts. Here are some tools, strategies, and ideas that will help you along the way.

What are we trying to accomplish when teaching the lifts?

While creating your own process, you have to answer a question, what are we trying to accomplish when teaching the lifts? We know through teaching the lifts to thousands of athletes what the common faults are and it doesn’t take an expert to see these faults. The expertise comes into play when making the decision of how to address those faults, which ones to address, and when. So again, what are we trying to accomplish when teaching the lifts? Quite simply, we are trying to put the athletes in a position to succeed without making common faults and letting those faults turn into habits. It is often more about avoiding bad movement as it is teaching good movement.

Does the Situation Dictate the Process?

How most coaches decide to introduce and teach the lifts will largely depend on the person they are instructing and the environment they are instructing in. It would seam that a former football player with experience doing power cleans may need a much different approach than a 17 year old former gymnast that has never touched a barbell. If you have one athlete to focus on for an hour, you may want to use a different strategy than if you have 15-20 minutes in a crowded CrossFit class. However, as different as these scenarios are, we follow the same basic process when teaching the lifts. The time it takes for a lifter to progress through the process will vary greatly depending on their ability and the scenario in which they are training, but the process itself remains virtually the same. The only variations come from their goals, not our training style.

Regardless of the situation, we are going to teach the lifts step by step, typically from end to beginning (or from top down). If we only have four hours in a one-day seminar, it may be condensed, but we will hit all of the basics and fundamentals. If we have a 12 session specialty course for members at our gym we will follow the same process, but the athletes will get more exposure at each step of the progression and we can provide more detail.

The most common way people are learning the lifts these days are in a CrossFit class or on-ramp course. The fact that so many athletes are being exposed tothe lifts is a great thing, but the quality of that first experience with the lifts is extremely important for the athletes. At the least, it may dictate how their technique will progress over time. At the most, they may hate the experience, and you’ve lost a member. We have seen it too many times; an athlete shows up for an intro class or even an on-ramp class and the workout involves a Snatch or Clean, the coach teaches them a basic setup on the floor (or doesn’t teach them at all) and now this beginner is doing a straight arm, no-hook, no-feet, muscle snatch, pressing a bunch of reps with no idea of right from wrong.


The First Lesson

First, go back to the last example I used. You have 5 minutes to teach someone the Snatch basics, impossible right? Not at all, and we do it all of the time.

– The first thing you must do is establish a stable overhead position. Using a PVC, simply teach the snatch grip by having them do a couple of pass throughs, or shoulder dislocates, with straight arms and firm grip on the bar. Once they have done a few, the grip should be wide enough for the bar to rest on the hip crease.

– Now, have them go overhead and test their range of motion in the overhead squat. One or two squats will do. Most adult beginners will have some obvious mobility issues. On the 3rd rep, find the deepest position they can get into with good mechanics (vertical torso, stable hip/knee/ankle/shoulder/etc). Now you simply tell them that this is their receiving position, and we want to stick that position each time.

– Next, have them return to the hip, standing tall. Make sure they have good posture (shoulders back, chest out). Then, help them find their power position. With beginners we use simple terminology and call this the jumping position. Key points for this position: bar in crease, shoulders directly over the bar, knees and hips flexed, back extended, arms straight, weight balanced in middle of foot.

– Then, you simply tell them jump and stick the receiving position previously found. They will typically use too much arm pull and you will need to instruct them to relax the arm and push with the legs first. They will also swing the bar out. Use a pipe in front and ask them to avoid it. After a few reps you should be looking at a pretty solid Power Snatch from Hip.

NOTE: this entire process can be done the same way for a clean, simply make the necessary changes.

IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE WORKOUT FOR THE DAY IS. If the class is doing Hang Snatches from the knee, your beginners still follow this progression. If the class is doing Power Snatches from the floor, your beginners still follow this progression. If the metcon is heavy full snatches, your beginners still follow this progression, then stick with what they learned during the metcon.

For our CrossFit members, we will have them stick with the Power Snatch from the Hip for as long as we think they need to in order to really learn how to accelerate the bar with leg and hip extension while timing the turn over into a solid receiving position. Most of them will get to where they can receive the bar in a squat before we will progress them to the next step, but others may never receive the bar in a squat, depending on their mobility, injury history, etc.

Regardless of the ability level or situation, we teach the snatch and clean using the basic steps I outlined above. I’ll take this one step further and urge you to go through this same process with experienced athletes new to your gym or even experienced athletes that you’ve trained for a long time that sign up for personal training or a specialty class. It’s amazing how much improvement can be made by simply going back through the fundamentals.

By: Chris

Next Week: Part II | The Middle and the Floor