Finish Vertical: The Lost Ark of Weightlifting – Garage Strength


The smell of an Olympic weightlifting meet is very specific. Chalk, coffee, terrible body odors and weird-smelling pre-workouts. The sounds are even more distinct. Weights dropping and thumping every few seconds, grunts, yells and sometimes farts are consistent by-products of a training hall or competition. The sound of the weights sliding on the bar sparks a special feeling of intensity. BUT, nothing beats the sounds and cues coming from the coaches. Random cues, athletes nodding, more random cues of aggression, back slaps, ear pulls and even more cues. More cues in one lifting session than could be put into a book of freaking cues!

One cue, in particular, is the cue that consistently leaves me befuddled (that’s a Pennsylvania Dutch term for confused AF).

Coach: “Finish vertical!!!”

Athlete: nods, then continues to throw their head back and jump back six feet like Dane Miller at a USAW qualifier.

This cue seems odd for more reasons than one. First, finishing vertical is simply a by-product of movements executed prior to the finish. If the body is not manipulating movement accordingly, then there will not be a vertical finish. The coach who screams “finish vertical” better have explained and taught the athlete how to do so for the previous 6-12 months and taught them that this cue means execute shit freaking properly so you have a freaking vertical finish.

Second, I always like to compare cues to other sports. Comparing it to shot put or discus, this cue would similar to, “Throw the shot further” or “get the discus to land further away from the circle than the last throw.” I might be taking this a bit far, but I think it is very important to have a distinction between various forms of cues. A by-product cue such as “throw the shot further” will show us that to throw the shot further, the athlete must manipulate their body optimally to provide a greater throwing result. This is similar to the by-product cue of “finish vertical” because finishing vertical is set up from the movements prior to the finish.

This is also similar to a sprinter during the acceleration phase. If a coach cues them, “accelerate faster during the acceleration phase” that means absolutely NOTHING if they didn’t execute the drive phase properly.

So how can we better communicate with our athletes to understand a vertical finish?

What the hell is a vertical finish, anyway?

Out of the five lifters here, all of them have been on a Youth Pan Am, Youth World, Junior World, Senior Pan Am or Senior World team. These are all lifters from close proximity to Garage Strength. They are not freaks of nature but instead athletes that have put in a ton of time and dedication to understanding movement. The pictures below show us that a vertical finish looks slightly different from lifter to lifter but still has a remarkable similarity. The only finish that is remotely close to not being “vertical” is that of 2018 Senior World Team Member and 2019 Senior Pan Am Champ lifter, Jordan Wissinger. Jordan has a very vertical finish but is SLIGHTLY more behind the bar due to shifting forward to his toes slightly earlier in this lift, however, I would argue he is still maintaining what many coaches would argue as a vertical finish.

Technical Models
First, coaches need to establish their technical model(s). I am fortunate to have come from other technical sports such as track and field and wrestling. These are sports where technical models are used consistently. If an athlete can watch an elite “model” execute a movement, the athlete then has an idea of where they need to proceed. When the model is communicated to the athlete, they can study and see what the athlete does in various positions to get to that finish.

Regarding a vertical finish, there is an abundance of lifters that have graced the platform that has been able to achieve a beautiful vertical finish. I would say Yuri Vardanian has the most vertical finish of all time.

Don’t worry guys, I can you hear you all grumbling now, “He was on drugs,” “he had long legs, my short-limbed lifter can’t lift like him.” The excuses are still rolling, that’s fine but remember one of my favorite quotes from Star Trek...resistance is futile.

The technique doesn’t lie, stop overanalyzing “body type” when there are NUMEROUS examples of lifters with short legs and long legs finishing vertically. Loredana Toma vs. Hsin Chun Kuo…very long legger vs a moderate leg length, the result? Vertical finish. How about Tian Tao vs. Lasha? Short limbed vs. long legger and we still see the nice vertical finish.

How about typical American lifters? Let’s take my own gym for instance. Jordan Wissinger has almost the exact same body proportions as Kuo while Jacob Horst is built more similar to Toma. Each possesses a vertical finish. Or Anna Mcelderry vs. Kate Wehr vs. Hayley Reichardt? Long leg vs short vs moderate, all have the same finish.

The Process of Movement
I like to think about the lift as a fully global movement. There is a specific rhythm throughout the entire pull that needs to be found in the snatch and within the clean. If the rhythm is established, especially within the snatch, the finish and the catch will be precise on a consistent basis. If the rhythm is off, the finish into the catch is always a crapshoot. By understanding the global and rhythmic goal, the lifter will be able to execute the movement from a macro perspective and after 1,000 to 1,200 reps, the lifter will be able to work toward more micro-precise movements to impact the overall technical execution.

Floor to Knee
This can be the start of many of lifter’s problems. This can also be where we see the dynamic start have a negative impact on the entire movement. It is important to recognize that the floor to the knee will have a dramatic impact on the vertical finish.

Take Jacob Horst, for example, Jake can only front squat 175k and back squat 192k, but he can snatch 132k. That is because when he initiates his snatch pull, the bar actually moves into his body, forcing optimal recruitment (he still has motor issues we need to fix) and leading to a very tight position to the knee. If the bar is tight to the knee, it is easier to keep the bar tighter into the hip!

Practical application:
Keep the bar tight to the shins at the start.
Initiate the pull by pushing through the toes, the fat pad and the heel of the foot.
Push the knees back gradually as the bar lifts from the floor to recruit the hammies, lower back, and lats.
The hands will hold wrist flexion while the chest rises slightly faster than the butt.
When the bar is at the knee, the chest remains forward, the shins vertical, arms long.

Knee to Hip
Most coaches may believe the most difficult part of a lift is the floor to the knee. However, I believe this range is the most difficult area to master. In fact, I think it is so incredibly difficult to master that even some of the best coaches have ZERO clue what to do from the knee to the hip. They let their athlete figure it out or use random cues such as “finish vertical” or “more legs” without actually teaching the athlete what to do at this range.

I call the range below the knee to just above the knee, “no man’s land.” This is where most big lifts and opportunities are lost. So what can we do?

The term that needs to be remembered is “knee reciprocation.” The knees must reciprocate. That means they are pushed back off the floor for a vertical shin angle and as the bar passes through no man’s land, they reciprocate FORWARD, decreasing the shin angle relative to the floor. This leads to dorsiflexion, loading of the quad and more hip flexion.

 Credit: Hookgrip

The bar will stay tight to the thigh, the lats will remain active, the chest holds over the bar and as the bar moves to the hips, the hips will extend BEFORE the knees extend.
 Credit: All Things Gym

Practical Application:
Bar tight around the knees.
Knees achieve more flexion as the bar travels through no man’s land.
Dorsiflexion increases.
Chest stays over the bar, heels remain flat.
Hips extend FIRST.
Knee extension second, this is when the ankles will fully plantarflex.

The Vertical Finish
By executing the floor to the knee and the knee to the hip properly, the finish now will be vertical. Hold the feet flat as long as possible before plantar flexion, keep the head neutral and use the upper body to finish the lift. It’s important to extend the hips first, then extend the knees. When that happens, the bar won’t be BANGED, the athlete won’t jump back and the bar will remain in a more linear pathway.

Holding the chest forward and the knees forward after the bar passes no man’s land and achieving knee reciprocation will enable an odd feeling of almost moving forward but if the heels remain grounded until the last second, the hamstrings and glutes will be recruited through the finish and the upper body will guide the bar into a well-executed placement!

These are the very simple methods used to create a vertical finish. The pathways and biomechanical actions must be drilled thousands and thousands of times using various movements to imprint neurological control. Cues coordinated with the current technical state will lead to optimal growth and technical process. It’s important to study how your athlete handles various cues and how their body responds and adapts to technical alterations.

Click here to check out our blogs!

Click here for a custom program: