There's a saying from the military that goes like this:
"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast"
This is often applied to decision making, but I find it also applies to something that many would not guess: the Olympic Lifts
The Olympic Lifts, and primarily the Snatch and Clean, are likely the fastest weight room movements we can do in training aside from some medball work. But with a technical movement, there's small things that can wrong that can lead to decrease weight on the bar, and decreased power outputs.
One of these things, is bar path.
There's a pretty common problem with athletes that causes their bar path to alter or for them to extend too early and end up having to jump forward (or outward) to get under a Snatch or Clean. Often times, we think this is an issue of extending the hips in a forward manner too aggressively, but it can also be an indicator of an issue caused by rushing the movement, especially in the first initial pull off the floor.
When we rush the bar off the floor, there's a tendency that many athletes will have where they will shift their hips up wards and drop the chest, causing space to be created between the body and the bar. This space will then leave an athlete with two options, cut the pull short in order to pull under it, or shove the hips excessively forward to make contact with the bar. Both leave us with sub-optimal power outputs and decreased chances of a successful lift. It can also be identified as a lift that looks choppy, or the athlete movement has lags or delays at different points in the lift.
So how do we fix it? We focus on slowing the lift down during the first pull. When we break the bar away from the floor, we want to make sure that we maintain the same back angle (in relation to the floor) that we have at the start of the lift. In order to do this, we have to drive into the floor and pull the knees back and out of the way of the bar. If we rush, we allow the hips to rise too soon and ultimately change the angle of the spine in relation to the floor. We have to slow it down.
When we slow down the lift, we give ourselves more time to identify the positions we are in and course correct. Especially when it comes to setting up the second pull of the lifts, where most of the power and acceleration should happen, we need to be starting from an optimal position. By slowing it down, it also allows us to make the lift smoother. If you ever watch most of the top weightlifters in the world, you'll notice that their lifts look incredibly smooth. There's very little halting or aggressive punching of the hips, and more a smooth transition from the floor past the knee, from the knee to the hip, and from the hip into full triple extension. This allows for optimal transition of power from the hip into the bar, and be able to get the most out of the lift.
So if you, or your athlete if you're a coach, find yourself wondering why Cleans or Snatches keep getting away from you or are causing you to jump forward, consider slowing down the first pull. Slow it down to make it smoother, and once it's smooth it will increase in speed.