By Jim Schmitz
U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team Coach 1980, 1988 & 1992
Author of Olympic-style Weightlifting for Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD
My Take on Technique
“Teach according to the textbook technique, but take what you can get.”
When I teach someone how to snatch and clean and jerk, I try to have the lifter do exactly as diagramed in all books on Olympic-style weightlifting. I call perfect technique “textbook.” Also, if I’m working with an experienced lifter, I see if they can do the lifts with textbook technique. However, you can never achieve perfection, so as the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Pursue perfection and you might achieve excellence.”
I coach lifters to have the best technique they can have according to their mental and physical capabilities. I tell them we will try to achieve the best technique possible for them. Good technique takes a while to acquire and you can lose it very fast. Once you develop your technique to a fairly good level, the next thing you have to develop is consistency. You need to do each lift exactly the same way, from warm-up weights to maximum weights.
Don’t get hung up on small technical aspects of the lifts—even though you have to correct your technical flaws, you have watch out for “paralysis due to analysis.” This problem comes from thinking so much about lifting perfectly, you stop or move too slowly to complete the lift at all. It’s a very common thing with beginners. That’s why when I’m coaching someone and see this happening, I tell them: “Just pull as hard as you can and move as fast as you can.” I also say if you pull hard and move fast, you have a chance; but if you pull slow because you are trying to have perfect technique, you have virtually no chance.
There are many World and Olympic champion lifters who have near perfect technique, but two I would like to mention here are Anatoli Khrapaty (90 kg, URS & KAZ) and Alexander Kurlovich (110+ kg, URS & BLR). Khrapaty made all of his snatches in the 1985–1987 and 1989–1990 Worlds, and also in the 1988 and 1996 Olympics. Each of his lifts was as close to perfect technique as you can get. At the 1993 and 1995 Worlds, he missed his second attempt, then made it on his third. Usually he would win his class with his first clean and jerk and then would go for the world record, so he wasn’t as consistent but still averaged making two clean and jerks.
When looking up Khrapaty’s competition records, I realized there was another lifter who didn’t miss very many, and that was Kurlovich. He made all of his snatches in the 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1994 World Championships, as well as in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. He won all those events except the 1983 Worlds, where he lost to Anatoli Pisarenko on bodyweight, 124.1 kg to 123.7 kg! I heard that they both took saunas before the weigh-in, fighting for the bodyweight advantage. Kurlovich also usually made two clean and jerks, missing the world record attempt. These are two great lifters who had superb technique and were extremely consistent, and that’s why they made so many lifts and won so many championships.
When I talk technique I also have to mention that there are some great World and Olympic champions who have less than desirable technique. Two who come to mind are Naim Suleymanoglu (60 kg, BUL & TUR) and Pyrros Dimas (85 kg, GRE). Both of these men won numerous World Championships, and each has won three Olympic gold medals, which is just phenomenal. Even though Suleymanoglu made all of his attempts in 1988, and Dimas made all of his in 1996, their success rate over their careers wasn’t as high as Khrapaty’s or Kurlovich’s. Suleymanoglu and Dimas had some technical movements you wouldn’t teach. Suleymanoglu did a little hitch with the bar as he lifted it off the platform and lunged forward on his jerk. Dimas threw his head back too far at the top of his pull. These were just things they did naturally, not coached to do, idiosyncrasies that they did every single lift, not once in awhile, so they didn’t detract from their lifting.
Therefore, a coach has to study a lifter’s body movements to see what can be corrected and what needs to be left alone. There are many little variations people perform, so you have to determine what can be changed. Two things lifters must do to be successful are:
1) The back must always be straight or flat throughout the lift.
2) If they have a little idiosyncrasy that works for them, they must do it on every single lift.
Don’t throw technique out the window—the lift must be as good as you can do it, and it must be consistent, done the same way every time.
But don’t get hung up on technique: “Teach according to the textbook, but take what you can get!”
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Jim Schmitz’s gold-medal articles on weightlifting and weight training are regularly featured in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.
Take advantage of what Jim Schmitz, absolutely one of the best American coaches in the sport, can teach you in his Olympic-style Weightlifting for the Beginner & Intermediate Weightlifters Manual and DVD