How Important is Speed in Weightlifting?

How fast do you need to be to snatch and clean and jerk massive weight? Well, the answer isn't that simple. There are many positions during a lift that need speed, but there are many that need to be performed slower with more of a focus on proper technique. I remember the first time I saw Yuri Vardanian lift. His pull was incredibly slow and I didn’t think he stood a chance of hitting the weight. It actually scared me, because I thought he was going to hurt himself. I will never forget the acceleration he put on the bar after it passed his knees. The weight moved in the blink of an eye. I replayed the video at least a dozen times. After I was done watching I realized something incredible, that not all parts of a lift need to be lightning fast. I realized that the goal of an Olympic lift isn't to move the weight as fast as possible, it’s to move the weight with technique and consistency.

Yuri Vardanian (82.5kg) Clean and Jerking 222.5kg.

Pulling too Fast can Cause the Position of the Bar to be Off

When pulling a snatch or clean and jerk off the floor the lifter should be thinking about 4 things: (1) Controlling the bar all the way up to the knees, (2) keeping your arms long, (3) keeping your shoulder blades tight, and (4) remembering to push the knees back! An Olympic lift (like the snatch) should involve accelerating slow to fast: slow from the floor to the knee and fast from the knee to the catch. If the lifter pulls too fast off the floor, it will be hard to hit those tight, consistent positions and improve proprioception.

Slowing down the initial pull off the floor will hold the bar in the proper position for the finish. Another common issue when pulling too fast off the floor is the butt tends to rise and the chest drops. Once your butt gets in line with your head, it’s game over. You will get onto your toes early, bang the bar off your hips, or bend your arms. Focusing on a slow pull will help keep your chest up and butt down.

The Efficiency of Speed

An efficient lifter is one that can translate the power and force from their squats into their Olympic lifts. For example, if your best front squat is 175kg and you can clean 170kg, you are a very efficient lifter because your body can transfer the weight lifted on a squat over very well to your clean.

Jake Horst is a good example of an efficient lifter. Here is a 130kg snatch from him at the Pan Am Trials!

Consistency in Weightlifting

The definition of consistency in weightlifting is the ability to perform the same movement over and over again with proper technique. This will allow the lifter to always feel the same positions and in turn, will be able to make technical corrections faster.

The Importance of Efficiency and Consistency in Weightlifting

Efficiency and consistency are two very important aspects of weightlifting. Every elite athlete needs to utilize both on a daily training basis. Athletes are always fatigued but are always training. Going with 100% speed all the time is not going to work. Being consistent in speed is having the ability to stay around 75-80%. This is a percentage most lifters should always be able to achieve. The 75-80% speed range is for the initial pull off the floor to the knees. Once you get to that strong position at the knees with the chest over the bar, you will use 100% speed to finish under the bar.

Efficiency is a tricky thing when it comes to speed. Most efficient lifters are very explosive and fast, and it shows in their Olympic lifts, but the speed typically lacks in the squats. Efficiency can be taught through good technique and through movements like double bounce squat.

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When Should Speed be Used?

Now that you know when to not use speed, we’ll cover when you should be using it. Once the bar passes the knees, the finish under the bar with the upper body should be fast. Pull the bar just past the knee with good technique, and then smash the finish and pull under the bar. When performing a clean and jerk, the same principle applies, slow and controlled just past the knee, then a fast finish with the catch on the bar tight.

Here are some cues you can think about to perfect this movement: arms long, shoulder blades tight and knees back off the floor. Move the knees forward after the bar passes them, and finish with the elbows to the ceiling. In the jerk, the dip needs to be controlled. Often times (with my weightlifting) I will rush the dip of the jerk and the weight will pull me forward causing me to lose proper positioning.

A reason you could be getting pulled forward on the dip is your core strength. Learn how to engage your core on your lifts and continuously strengthen them to improve that dip position. Dip slow and controlled to hold that vertical, stable position (about 6 inches) and then explode up into your split position. If you struggle to stay tight during your jerk drive, think about this: elbows up when you dip, engage the core, push the butt back and drive all the way up through your toes.

How Important is Speed in Weightlifting?
Jacob Horst (67kg) catching a 130kg snatch.

Speed is an amazing thing to have in weightlifting and every elite lifter needs it, but it is only a small part of the bigger picture. Having consistent technique and movement is everything. Put yourself in the proper positions, and then work on speed. Remember, the goal of an Olympic lift isn't to move the weight as fast as possible, it’s to move the weight as efficiently as possible.

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