Olympic lifting is filled with cues for even the most minute details of the lifts. These lifts have been studied by sports scientists for decades and there are no real secrets to them anymore, as such it is common to hear jargon that is filled with precise internal focused coaching points.
- Maintain a 30 degree torso angle.
- Push the knees back until the shins are at vertical.
- Externally rotate the shoulders overhead.
These are certainly valid points, but what athlete really has great command over the individual angles of their torso, hips and knees? Some athletes certainly do, but we have been working to diversify our coaching points to include more external focus cues.
What is an external focus cue?
An internal focus occurs when the athlete is thinking about one of their own body parts or one of their specific movements during execution of a movement task. An external focus of attention occurs when the athletes thinks about the effect of their movement while executing a performance. Simply, internal refers to the performer’s body part movements and external refers to the movement’s effect. Here are some examples followed by explanation (Wulf 2007).
External cues help to focus the athlete’s attention on the result of a movement, while internal cues focus the athlete’s attention on the movements of their own body.
External cues for Olympic lifting: Stand up
Use this cue in the first pull, instead of cues like “push the knees back.”
Most athletes know what it means to stand up. The knees will start to extend, their hips will rise, and ultimately their torso will come to a more vertical position. This is the first pull, in the most blunt way possible.
External cues for Olympic lifting: Jump down
Use this cue in the 3rd pull as athletes move under the bar instead of cues like “keep the elbows high and take advantage of the inertia of the barbell to get under”
I hope that no one uses that internal cue, but saying “jump down” is a good way to think about the 3rd pull. Jumping removes the athlete from the platform and will mean that any effort put into the bar will be used to move the athlete under the bar.
The clean from the hip is a perfect drill to get the athlete used to the feeling of jumping under.
External cues for Olympic lifting: Push the ground
Use this cue in the 1st pull and also to complete the 2nd pull instead of cues like drive the knees back, or keep your heels on the ground.
Push the ground is a clever way of saying “put some force into the ground.” When we think of the physics of Olympic lifting we have to realize that the ground is the only source of our power. Just as jumping under the bar removes us from the ground and allows the athlete to move under the bar, pushing the ground means that we will make the bar elevate through the 1st and 2nd pull.
In the video below, I explain the lift in my own simplest way possible “Push. Open. Push”
External cues for Olympic lifting: Squeeze the bar tight
Use this cue to keep the bar close to the body and maintain control over your lift, in place of things like “lock in the lats” or “retract the shoulder blades.”
Squeeze the bar is just the action of keeping the bar tight, and in so doing allows the athlete to maintain a strong back position by activating the upper and mid back.
In the video below you can see the bar hanging loose during the pull and then again after I lock it in place by “squeezing the bar.”
There is value in having a wide range of coaching cues both internal and external to optimize performance of skillful movements. I have found that external cues are perfect for use with beginners and as advancement occurs it becomes appropriate to use some internal cues to reinforce technique. Try the cues in this post out, and let me know how they work in the comments below.