How to Make Lasting Mobility Changes and PR Your Olympic Lifts

You learned from Part 1 of our conversation with Clinical Athlete founder Dr. Quinn Henoch that mashing, smashing, flossing and static stretching isn’t going to make a significant long-term change in your training. It isn’t going to translate into better functional movement. It may make you feel better, but it’s not enough on its own.

But all strength in the world isn’t going to save you if you can’t get into an optimal position for the snatch and clean and jerk. They are explosive, incredibly technical and frustrating lifts that require a large range of motion and a big demand on your mobility and stability. So, how do you create long-term change with your mobility and movment?

Henoch outlined an alternative approach to your warmup and mobility regimen in the the very popular first installment with lots of drills and ideas coming  from his new book “Weightlifting Movement Assessment & Optimization: Mobility & Stability for the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.” (Which we highly recommend checking out.)

Now, we’ll delve into more drills and mobility movements specific to improving the two Olympic lifts.

SNATCH

The overhead position is a common problem for many lifters, who push the bar way back and dump their shoulders forward, causing their torso to go with it. You want to think of stacking the bar over your mid-back, you want everything over that mid-foot.

The fix comes down to breaking down the overhead squat and giving yourself some slack, whether that’s a heel lift (in lifting shoes) or a counterbalance (such as a kettle bell to hold out in front) and spending time in the correct positions.

The video below illustrates a great way to do that. The key here is to move SLOW, you want to stop right where the depth restriction is and you start to sacrifice form. Then hang out right above that spot, where your form is still solid.

“Cue that reaching back on the bar by trying to put it over the back of your neck,” Henoch said. “You also try to keep the hips under the bar and what you will notice is as someone descends into a squat they want to shoot back their butt. But you just pause right there, correct the movement and have them go again [from the start]. Maybe one rep takes 10 seconds. That seems to be the most effective way is literally just doing the movement and cue’ing it as we go.”

If that doesn’t work, or is too advanced, take the arms away and put them forward, practicing a regular air squat the same way: slow, controlled and stopping when you reach a restriction.

“It’s not necesssarily a hip mobility problem, it’s learning to integrate arms into the squat,” Henoch said. “Do a lot of counterbalance things —maybe one arm overhead with a kettle bell overhead squat and then switch hands. You could also add an elevated heel in there and see if that helps [get into the proper position].”

If lifters do help–and Henoch points out that you should be able to achieve the positions without them—  split squats driving the knee forward deliberately will help. Doing this barefoot will really help maximize your mobility in the position.

The above drill can also be used if you twist in the snatch or jerk, which is a common problem. Just take away the deliberate shift forward and do a split squats with the rear foot elevated (on a plate or box) to really sink into deep hip flexion.

“It seems to help even things out a little bit and level out the pelvis and people can find their balance a little bit,” Henoch said. “If you’re healthy and trying to even out movements, do the same volume on both sides. If you feel like one side is tougher, it can mean you are less balanced or less stable. Move through that side a little slower, increase the tempo and time that you are on that side.”

CLEAN

The front rack is often a limiter in cleans. There’s a ton of lat stretches out there, but Henoch uses the front rack itself as the mobility drill.

How it works: load up the barbell with something decently heavy. Grab the barbell with a full grip and roll your elbows under the bar as if you’re on your way to a regular front rack grip. Go as far as you can until you feel restrictions and then really try to think about bringing your body up to the bar. Hold it there and repeat for five reps and then shake it out and do it again.

“Sure enough, a couple sets in they are in a better position. Over a couple weeks you can develop a decent front rack with that drill,” Henoch said. “In between sets can you foam roll or stretch? Sure. But understand it has short-term effects and you need to follow it up with something. Don’t make it where the passive stuff is your main intervention because it won’t do anything long-term.”


For the squat portion, use the same cues and drills as above with a twist. Grab a kettle bell and –while in a squat– hold it in front of your face with your elbows in close. Then, try to raise it overhead a few times like you’re at the top of a swing. Again, only go as far as good form will allow. Don’t collapse in the squat or lose your back positioning to try to get the kettle bell overhead.

“It’s a coupled motion with thoracic extension— So, if you want your back more upright in the snatch and clean, this does that,” Henoch said. “Even if you only get halfway [up] your upper back extends to mimic what you would want during a front squat. That drill has been really effective with the front rack holds to get both ends of the spectrum.”

JERK

It’s really hard to mimic a split jerk with anything but the bar, so grab one and start adding a lot of pressing in the split position. You can press in your jerk stance from the front rack and also work in some behind the neck as that really gets your shoulders open up and keeps the bar path straight.

The jerk doesn’t have nearly as much mobility demands as the snatch and clean, but it’s still a lift many athletes just aren’t comfortable with. The jerk balance, where you dip and drive overheard, can help with that. This helps develop balance and adding a pause with the weight overhead can help an athlete feel where they need to be at the end of the lift.

Have trouble getting under the bar when you jerk? Is your back leg always straight? Enter today's #ADailyDose – the jerk balance. One of many awesome drills from @caraheadsslaughter. This is a great exercise to add into your training before starting your typical jerk sets. ⠀ ⠀ A lot of people don't bend their back leg enough, which puts more pressure on your back and gives you a smaller margin for error. Having that knee bend can help you save a lift. This drill also helps reinforce the idea of pushing yourself under the bar and can get you more comfortable in the jerk landing stance.⠀ ⠀ Keep the weight light here and do them before you start working up in your jerk. Sets of 3-4 reps are fine. Notice how April sets her jerk feet and stays there, aggressively driving under the bar.⠀ #athletedaily⠀ #movelikeyougiveadamn

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“The main principle of weightlifting is specificity,” Henoch said. “Getting into the positions you are trying to train and time under tension there is going to have much more carryover than just flopping over a foam log. The time that you are spending with that could be in the positions instead.”

NO MATTER WHAT YOU’RE WORKING ON…FIX YOUR FEET

No matter if you’re working on the snatch or clean, keeping your feet flat on the ground for the entirety of the pull is an extremely common problem that manifests itself in back squats, front squats and a ton of other movements.

“I see it in the pull a lot, when it reaches the knee lifters will have toes off the ground or feet spin out and what that tells me is they’ve got nowhere to go,” Henoch said.

“Our feet are our base of support. We want our connection with the ground to be as broad and stable as possible. When we are in shoes we want that entire weightlifting sole to be in contact. I’m always cueing to shift weight forward to get people who are too far back to get back to their midfoot. Cue the big toes pushing into the floor, pushing into your shoe. That’s a nice mental thing that people can feel.”

Don’t be afraid to strip things down- Henoch often prescribes a lot of  these squat drills barefoot.

“Weightlifting shoes in particular are big braces and those foot muscles never actually work. I like to get my toes moving, my ankles moving before I lift. Balance is such a huge part of weightlifting,” Henoch said. “It’s a very easy thing to address– why wouldn’t you?”