Article written by Fletcher Pierce for LiftBigEatBig.com
There are a few things in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting that will ensure a missed lift; an elbow to the knee in the bottom position of a clean, waiting beyond the allotted 60 seconds to start the lift, or the most frustrating of them all, the press out. If you haven’t encountered the dreaded press out in competition you have been lucky so far and hopefully this article can help you avoid any simple mistakes and possibly utter failure.
First of all, you have to understand what a press out is. Olympic lifts are done in a single quick and fluid motion. If the arms do not extend and lock out in a fluid motion, the lift is considered no good and the judges will force you to drop the bar prematurely. If your arms are physically incapable of locking out in a straight line, it is important to let the judges know what your extended lock out does look like. As you approach the platform, hold out your arms in the fully extended position so that they are aware of what to look for. Many people are unable to straighten their arms fully, and an inexperience judge may take that as a sign of a press out. There is no sense in missing a lift because you didn’t inform the judges.
As in competition, we will begin focusing on specifics with the snatch and then move to the clean and jerk. In the snatch, the press out is less common because of the quickness and natural fluidity of the lift, but they still go wrong at times. The most common reason for a press out in the snatch is an incomplete pull. When a lifter gets over anxious, while lifting close to max weights, they tend to undercut the pull and move under the bar too quickly. When this happens, the bar height is too low to fit under so the athlete will bend their arms to adapt. Once under the bar, the athlete will finish extending the arms and press out the weight. Because this is not one fluid motion, the lift is no good and the down signal will be given immediately. In order to correct this, make sure to complete the pull and get adequate height on the bar.
Another way to help this issue is to work on the depth of your bottom position in the snatch. If you are able to keep stable and upright with your butt closer to the ground, you will be able to fit under a lower pull without having to compensate by bending your arms. Another issue with the press out in the snatch comes from the individual athlete’s grip width. Make sure your grip is comfortable, and works with your arm length. If you have long arms and grab the bar too narrowly, then you will most likely have issues with press outs because you will be trying to fit an unnecessary amount of arm length under the bar. On the contrast, if you have your arms too wide, you may have issues with grip strength on the pull and the wider grip is much more difficult to support overhead. One final thing to think about in the snatch is the transition from the pull to moving under the bar. Your elbows should be turned out and away from your body, while your arms should hang like ropes, so the bar will smoothly follow the desired path during the pull and transition.
After the pull has been completed, you need to keep tension on the bar (not pull with your arms) so that as you pull yourself into the bottom position you are able to lock out your arms at the exact moment the weight settles above you. Making the transition can be difficult, especially for new lifters, but getting it down to muscle memory will really improve your lifting and limit the number of press outs you will have in competition.
Now we will move on to the Clean and Jerk. The press out in this lift obviously occurs in the Jerk, but it is important to remember that having an effective and efficient Clean will save quite a bit of energy for the Jerk. If you find yourself exhausted after every Clean you will probably have issues getting the necessary amount of power in the Jerk. I’m going to cover two major technique issues with the Jerk that will result in a press out. The first technical issue I would like to address is undercutting the explosive drive after the dip. If the drive is not completed, or the lifter does not have a deep enough split to compensate for lack of bar height, then the lifter will likely be unable to lock out their elbows in a single fluid movement.
Many times the bar will stop just inches short of locked out and the lifter will be able to save the lift, but it will not be acceptable for competition. If you are having issues with this, you may be focusing too much on driving with your arms. Many new lifters see the Jerk and assume it is primarily an upper body movement, when in reality it requires a great effort from the lower body and core as well. If you are relying on your arms to complete the movement, you will not be able to get the power and acceleration needed to do max weights (There is a reason I can Jerk 200lbs more than I can press). On a side note, it is beneficial to consider driving with your hands after the initial explosion with your lower body and trunk because your arms are critical in ensuring proper body placement after the split has occurred. Another technical issue that leads to an abundance of press outs is splitting too deep.
If a lifter splits too deep (compared to their traditional split – every lifter is different) the bar will often travel to the proper height, and the lock out will occur, but the added depth will lead to downward momentum and the lifter could be caught off guard. This usually results in the lifter wiggling their elbows or losing their lock out entirely, resulting in a missed attempt. It is important to remember that consistency is more critical in the jerk than being strong at times. If your split depth and your upward drive are consistent, you will be much less likely to have issues with press outs.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list of all possible issues that can lead to press outs, but it is important to remember that press outs generally stem from technical issues. If you are physically capable of doing a partial lift and still completing it, then it is not directly related to a strength deficit. Consistency is key in both lifts and the goal of our sport is to be explosive and fluid, not choppy and sporadic.