When (and Why) You Should Slow Down the Olympic Lifts

Come on, SLOW DOWN! Take your time getting into your key positions of each exercise, hold it, THEN you can move fast and aggressively! This is opposed to a dip and an immediate change of direction back up when going from the hip, or from above the knee for example. You should aim to FEEL the position, hold long enough for you to be aware of this feeling, however long that needs to be…maybe 1 second, maybe 5 seconds.

I promise, you will be far more likely to maintain the more optimal overall quality, create the actual position(s) that are intended, and at least eventually (if not immediately) the end result will feel more solid and easier. It may take a little longer for the slow set up, holds, and any adjusted position to feel better or unforced, BUT keep on making it happen anyway! This means at least for a phase, if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable or too slow in the set up, then it’s probably not right or this is you going back to what you’ve always done, so pay great attention in this regard. Understand all of this is for best carry over into other exercises (specifically assistant/partial exercises into the full movements/real deal snatches and clean and jerks).

In addition, within a heavy, full snatch or clean from the floor (jerk, too), what is your “rhythm” throughout the lift, and is it helping or hindering your pursuit to most effectively and efficiently put more weight over your head? Every time I talk about this idea of there being rhythm in weightlifting, it reminds me of my growing desire to be good at dancing. Just to be able to confidently step out on a dance floor without anyone in the vicinity wondering how in the world I ever made it to the Olympics on such little coordination…fortunately, I think I’ve been able to prove that you do not have to have rhythm on the dance floor to develop some with a barbell!

What does a good rhythm with a barbell look like, what does it feel like, and how do you get some? I am recommending that there be a smoothness, a patience to the lift versus going as fast and as hard as you can from the beginning. For one, this will help you maintain tension, position, and overall quality through the entire lift.

Think about it this way: the faster you go, the more likely you are to lose one of these in any way. On the other hand, the slower you go, the more likely you are to maintain it all. I am not telling you to take 3 seconds from the floor to the knee (though this is a great assistance exercise I like to use for learning and strengthening purposes), but rather a “rhythm” more along the lines of smooth + fast (meaning smooth from the floor to the knee, then fast from there up through extension). For the beginner this may more ideally look like slow + fast. As one becomes consistent in positions and movement it may look more like fast + faster, or fast + faster + fastest, but the point is we need a solid initiation of the bar, and then a building of speed from that point up.

Those athletes that are seemingly going as fast as they can from the floor, or indicating that this is their intention and therefore modeling this as a desired example, are usually “ripping” and from there losing quality/position at least slightly (if not significantly) and usually decelerating by the time they get to full extension where they should be at their fastest point. The few that are able to maintain better movement and acceleration through the pull after going all out with speed as their initiation have likely had years and years of positional development. This comes with strength training and reps where they were moving slower at least with exercises such as snatch and clean deadlifts, potentially with tempo up or down. Additionally, these athletes usually have “excess” strength allowing them that continued acceleration.

I, for one, am not strong enough to sprint out of the gate and still create the positions I want and to hold onto the acceleration I need with my heaviest lifts. People always get confused and even offended when I tell them that I’m not “strong” but what I am indicating is my strength (how much I can squat, dead lift, press, etc.) in relation to my best snatch and clean & jerk.

For example, when I broke the American Record in the clean & jerk back in 2007 with a lift of 190kg, my best front squat weeks before in training was only 190kg for a double. This means that I have just about nothing to give to any movement/technique outside of “clean,” quality and efficient, or less than optimal timing. (The amount of time one is spending in each segment of the lift which can be too short or too long, i.e., leg drive, the “jump” portion, extension, pulling under, meeting the bar, absorbing the bar, and changing direction.)

Additionally, I need a rhythm that allows me to feel and maintain a very aggressive amount of tension in my back from the floor, and the creation of a solid position at the knee (bar is close, feet are grounded, knees are back with shoulders on top of bar). I can THEN really turn it on and build as much speed and power from those solid positions. I like to describe my rhythm as control + VIOLENT! Now, that doesn’t sound so bad does it? Ultimately looking at my lifts it never really looks slow, but you can SEE where the effort is going in regards to the speed.

So, it’s about that time to go move with your barbell, but one last time let me remind you to SLOW DOWN to learn, strengthen, develop, and best execute from any position, and to set yourself up to ultimately move FASTER with a better chance of success in the end. Enjoy the DANCE!

Featured image: @olychad on Instagram

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.