Fixing your Olympic lifts can happen in one of two ways, typically. Fix your Olympic lifting technique (improving the way to do the movement), or Olympic lifting mobility, improving your ability to do the movement. There are also strength fixes, but they are longer term and we all know how to do those (squat if you can’t stand up with it, deadlift if you can’t pick it up).
There is a game that I play called underrated, overrated, or properly rated. I stole it from Bill Simmons, but I have adopted it as my own game. Having trouble picturing it?
Arnold Schwarzenegger movie: Terminator- Overrated
Arnold Schwarzenegger movie: Commando- Underrated
Arnold Schwarzenegger movie: Twins- Properly rated
When it comes to Olympic lift fixes, mobility fixes are definitely underrated. There are certain problems that most people encounter that cannot be influenced by technique or strength, unless the underlying mobility fix is addressed first.
Olympic lifting Mobility Problems
Problem: Getting in a good start position
The start position of a full clean or snatch can be a feat as difficult as getting through a viewing of The Notebook for many readers of the blog. Impossible for some, difficult for many others, and only slightly bearable for the rest.
The start position requires mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine that so many of us just don’t have anymore. You can use ankle braces for men to gain some support. Blame it on a desk job, blame it on rec-league basketball, or blame it on the pec deck, the fact still remains that being tight isn’t conducive to getting in a low start position.
Fix: Open the hips and mobilize the ankles
We can’t be sure if the problem is at the hips or the ankles when it comes to the bottom position without a fair amount of testing, but we sure as heck can throw a bunch of stuff at it and see what sticks.
For the hips we attack from all angles, developing better external and internal rotation and working on releasing tight hip flexors. Spend time on the roller, spend time on stuff like this (Donnie Thompson).
For the ankle we can definitely work on standing ankle mobs against the wall, or we can do stuff that has a little more carry over like this band mobilization in the photo below.
Whatever you do, don’t start at the floor if you cannot get in the right position. Instead elevate the start position on a low block or a bumper. Until your mobility problems are fixed, your full lift starts 3-4” above the ground level.
Problem: Racking the bar at the chest
A bad rack position effects plenty of people. Elbows down, bar “resting on” (more like crushing) the wrists, you have seen it before. This position not only sucks for your wrists but it puts your shoulders at risk.
The shoulders should create a great shelf to receive the bar, but many people can’t get in the right position. Whether it is a length problem in the lats, or a mobility problem in shoulder external rotation. Let’s work on both until we get to the right spot.
Fix: Get lat mobility, and shoulder external rotation.
I have two go to drills for this very problem.
1) Lat stretch w/ band
2) Rack position stretch w/ band
And this video (at 3:15) to see the rack position stretch
Substitute: Pulls (not high pulls)
While we’re waiting for your shoulder to come around there is still time to get in some good work. The pull is my recommended substitute at this point rather than a high pull in this case.
The high pull, in individuals that already lack external rotation, tends to continue to promote even more internal rotation. Keep the arms straight, finish on flat feet and focus on your hip extension, it will come in handy later.
The Problem: Catching the bar overhead
Catching the bar overhead can be a tenuous experience for some. A great pull can go to waste without the mobility to receive it overhead.
While plenty of tissue restrictions (from too much benching perhaps?) can cause difficulty in the overhead position, the most common restriction that I see is due to a lack of thoracic extension.
Fix: Break in the thoracic spine
Here’s my best fix for T-spine mobility that directly relates to your ability to snatch.
Remember to eliminate rib flare (because rib flare sure as hell isn’t T-spine extension)
Substitute: 1 Arm Dumbbell snatch
When moving the arms independently there is much less of a requirement for extreme thoracic extension. Be sure to finish overhead with ribs down.
These are just 3 of the Olympic lift mobility problems you can encounter. Work these movements into your warm-up or between your sets to find immediate relief. Use the substitutes until you can get in the right positions.