In Part 1, I told you how a few nights ago my wife and I were hanging out with my step dad, Nasko, and a family friend Dmitri for dinner and drinks. Dmitri and Nasko are both gymnastics coaches, my wife is a math teacher, and I’m … well you know what I do! What was cool is that we ended up doing what people who love their jobs do: we talked shop. And, some of the lessons that we discussed are not what you’d expect. Last time we discussed “punishments” and “rewards”. This time, we learn about how ALL coaches lie to you … if they’re any good.
I had this friend in High School who failed nearly every class he took. Not because he wasn’t smart enough. He was a very intelligent guy – he just didn’t care, so he never did any homework or anything else for that matter. He spent most of his time screwing off with friends, smoking weed, and listening to the Doors.
Eventually he dropped out of high school at 16 years old and continued to screw around until he was about 19.
Then, as though a switch got turned on, he figured out what he wanted: He wanted to be a mathematician. (See why we were friends!)
He enrolled at the local community college and in 2 years – and nothing but straight A’s later – transferred to the University of Oregon to finish his math degree. He then went to UCLA to get his masters in math and now works for NASA.
My friend is doing pretty well for a guy who never got his high school diploma, a GED, or anything equivalent. He skipped right over all that and just went to college when he finally decided on what he wanted to do with himself.
Lying is Good
You see, we’re told that if you don’t do well in high school and get good grades then you will never be able to get into a good college and have a rewarding career. That’s an outright lie. It’s a useful lie, but that doesn’t make it less of a lie.
When I went back to school to get my own math degree I met A LOT of other guys just like my friend. Hell … I’m just like my friend. (… Though for slightly different reasons related to my having to learn how to deal with my depression.)
Before I went back to school, it had been 8 years since I’d had a math class. That math class was Trigonometry, and I’d failed it … twice! My first math class in college was Calculus and I got an easy A. What a difference 8 years make!
The thing is, Parents don’t want to tell you that you can drop out of high school, roam around doing all manner of crazy shenanigans, then go back to college as an adult and be highly successful.
Why? Because it is rare for that kind of thing to actually work out.
My friend, myself, and the people I met in the Math department are exceptions that prove the rule. We’re unusually motivated people who are passionate about what we do and therefore work harder to make up for lost time than other people would.
Most other people, if they did what we did, would still be floundering.
The lesson parents (and teachers and coaches) know is that just because something works for talented motivated people does not mean it will work for everyone else.
3 Big Lies I Tell My Students When Teaching The Snatch
I teach people to snatch by lying through my teeth! I hold back all kinds of information from them that I will only bring up later when they become more advanced. And I tell them to do things that are flat-out wrong by advanced-standards that I will have them stop doing as they progress.
But, doing it this way has increased the rate of progress of lifters in my gym substantially.
Lie #1: The bar should “scrape” up your thighs on the way up
I teach the snatch pull as a 3-step process. (I didn’t invent this, I learned it from Glenn Pendlay, and many other coaches teach it the same way.)
The 3 steps, or positions, I want EVERY beginner to drill, drill, drill are:
1. The Hip Position
2. The Knee Position
3. The Floor Position
The lie I tell people is that when shifting from the knee to the hip positions you should SCRAPE the bar up your thighs. I do this for a couple of reasons:
- It keeps the bar over your center of balance better
- It trains you to flex your lats tight and use them as “depressors” which is essential
- It helps you to stay back on your heels
- It makes getting the bar to actually touch the hips FAR more likely. If you don’t touch the hips with the bar at the top, then EVERYTHING else is worthless.
That last point is bolded for a reason: it is important!
Beginners will almost never get the bar into the hip like they should. So … I lie to them. Keep the bar ON YOU at all times. Physically rub it across yourself.
Advanced Reality Check:
As you become more advanced I want that bar to only “hydroplane” up your thighs. In reality, a good lifter should only touch the bar on their thighs/hips at the hip position. Otherwise, it shouldn’t really be on you. Having it scrape up your thighs causes unnecessary friction and can cause a lifter to not get their knees back far enough, not get over the bar far enough, not STAY over the bar for long enough, etc …
But, for a rank beginner, those are advanced concerns that they should avoid thinking about too hard. Instead, I want you to scrape that bar up your thighs from the knee to the hip. We’ll worry about the other stuff later!
Lie # 2: Your arms do NOTHING
I’ve found that if I start discussing what the arms do during a snatch or clean, then the lifter will start over pulling with their arms and underutilize their legs and hips – and worse, they won’t drop under the weight fast enough.
I tell lifters to ignore the upper body completely other than keeping the core and lats tight, and chest up. That’s it. Don’t think about the traps or arms or anything. If you do, you’ll mess up. Better to focus exclusively on hip and leg drive.
Advanced Reality Check:
The arms are not “like ropes” as I and other coaches are wont to say. They are very active in pulling you DOWN under the bar. The same is true of the traps. After you finish your pull, as your legs relax causing your body to drop, your arms and traps actively pull you down under the bar. The better you get at this the stronger you will be …
But, that for advanced lifters who are already doing everything right with their lower bodies. What’s more, most lifters will learn to do this without ANY conscious effort what-so-ever.
Pull hard and keep pulling until the bar is over your head and you are locked out like a maniacal gorilla.
The second thing the arms do is mitigate swinging. If you do what a lot of us do naturally – lock the arms at the elbows and keep them that way – then the bar will have no choice but to swing around you. That is NOT ideal. But, I always prefer to see a lifter swinging the bar this way at first to them over using their arms.
Lie #3: Jump off your heels
This is a controversial one! (Read my Low Hip Start Redux to see part of the reason.)
I’m not going to get into a discussion about the so-called “triple-extension” which is the full extension of 3 joints in your body at the top/finish of the pull: hips, knees, and ankles.
Some coaches believe that the entire idea of the triple extension is a myth – there is no ankle extension. Others disagree.
Now … to make sure you understand the debate properly, what we’re talking about is INTENTIONAL and ACTIVE extension at the ankle NOT simple momentum. Clearly most lifters will end up in a position where the ankles are extended.
The questions is whether or not that extension should be made on purpose and with an active flexing of the lower leg.
I don’t care … seriously.
I don’t teach the triple extension any more than I teach lifters to use their arms and traps.
Over time some of my lifters start to extend at the ankle on purpose – as evidenced by their sore calves! Others don’t. Some lifters get sore traps when they lift, others don’t.
Doesn’t matter to me.
That might sound weirdly cavalier! I know … but that’s the point. Coaching someone is a process of getting them to find what technical adjustments are necessary to make them the best lifter they can be given their own body mechanics and psychological make-up.
This process requires two things that are at ODDS with one another:
1. A clear structure they must learn to fit into given to them by the coach (like the 3-step pull: Floor, Knee, Hip)
2. Wiggle room so that they can develop their own “style”.
The only thing I tell people to do when finishing their pull is to focus on the hips and stay on the heels. If they can learn to maximally extend the hips with as much force as possible AND do this while (at least starting) on the heels, then they will go far.
Advanced Reality Check:
No lifter is going to honestly stay on the heels all the way right up to the last second when fully extending at the hip and knees. But, the better the lifter, the closer they’ll get. (This stuff happens so freakishly fast that most video cameras will only catch about 1 or 2 frames of it. It’s like magic, it’s that fast!)
It may be true that some lifters are finishing at the last millisecond with a powerful ankle extension as well, but that isn’t something beginners (in my opinion) should be thinking about.
Why? Because they will mistakenly believe that it is more important than it is.
Think about it. What muscles do you think are more powerful: The muscles that extend the hips and knees … or the muscles that extend the ankles?
Drive off the heels as long as humanly possible. Try your hardest to do a “Heel Jump”. And then let the chips fall where they may. You might develop the full triple extension, you might not.
We’ll deal with that stuff later.
Parents lie. Teachers lie. And coaches most certainly lie. We have to or our students will do things in the wrong order, get caught up over-thinking minor details, and get strange ideas while watching the most talented and gifted athletes doing things only they can get away with.
Learn the basics. Stick to the basics. Learn complex tasks in the order your coach/teacher tells you to. They may be fibbing a bit here and there, but it’s for your own good.