I’ve been thinking about the importance of the position of the combined centre of gravity of the lifter and the bar recently and how this is mainly felt in the where the weight is distributed in the lifters feet.
In the coaching courses I run one of the key positions in the snatch and clean pull is when the bar is just passing the knees. This is a relatively weak position in the pull as the torso has to be leaned forward a lot more than you would in a deadlift or even just picking the bar up. The reason you need to be “over” the bar (shoulders directly over or slightly forwards of the bar” is because you want to keep your centre of gravity behind the balls of your feet and your shins have to get near to vertical to achieve this. Having your weight distributed either at or behind the balls of your feet allows you to move the bar back into the power position during the transition. If your centre of gravity is in front of the balls of your feet you’ll tend to come on to your toes early and your thighs will go to the bar during the transition instead of the bar coming in to your thighs. Plenty of great lifters go onto their toes early by the way, they just do it while keeping their weight back and transitioning correctly so it’s not a problem. If the bar is over or behind the balls of your feet in the power position it’s fine. If it’s in front you’ll have problems.
Where your centre of gravity, or point of balance, is at the start of the second pull is vital to the success of the lift. If you think of jumping, you need to lean forwards as you prepare to jump forwards, you need to keep your weight directly over the balls of your feet when you prepare for a vertical jump and you need to lean back to jump backwards. When you jump the direction can only follow where your centre of gravity has led and the same goes for the pull in weightlifting. As we need the bar to travel upwards and slightly back we ideally want our centre of gravity (bar and lifter combined) to be just behind the balls of our feet in the power position.
One of the compromises we make when teaching beginners is between getting them to feel where the weight should be over their feet and positioning them correctly. When you’re learning to lift with a light weight, as little as 10kg if you use a technique bar loaded with 2.5kg technique discs, the bar and weights makes up a small proportion of the total weight of the lifter plus the bar. This means that if you’re in correct position both at knee height and in the power position for lifting heavy weights your centre of gravity will tend to be further back than is ideal and you can get used to having the weight back on your heels in the power position which isn’t ideal. Conversely, if you feel the weight correctly through your feet when practising with light weights then in actual fact your positions will be shifted a bit further forwards than you’d want and you may find yourself weighted too far forwards on your toes when lifting heavy weights. As you load more weight on the bar, the combined centre of gravity of the lifter plus the bar moves forward towards the bar.
If you’ve taught your lifter the correct positions you may find them sitting on their heels a bit too much and not getting a nice drive through their toes (“rocking” from heel to toe instead of “jumping”). This leads to excessive leaning back in an attempt to counteract the over accentuation of the hip drive which pushes the bar out forwards. I like to accentuate the jump as a cue to sort this out or give jumping pulls as a drill/exercise. If a lifter can’t do a jumping pull (they literally can’t leave the ground in the jump) then this is a sign that they’re not delivering force correctly into the ground.
If you’ve taught your lifter to jump at the top of the pull you may find them over balancing forwards during the pull, especially during the transition, and having to jump forwards after the bar to try and catch it. They might even lose the bar overhead because they’re swinging on it to try and get it back over their feet. To try and sort this out I like to drill the key pull positions with a light weight. Shins vertical with the bar at knee height, weight central on the feet in the power position then complete the lift from there.
These fixes don’t always work and, as you’ll see if you watch a few internet clips of non-elite lifters lifting, it’s not easy to get your balance right during a lift but it’s something you need to learn if you’re going to get the most out of yourself.
To finish, I’d like to emphasise that if you’re not missing them, it’s not necessarily worth fixing anything. A bit of leaning back at the top of the pull isn’t a problem, it’s a matter of degree and if the lifter is driving their hips up with a strong knee extension they can still deliver plenty of force to the bar. It’s amazing what a bit of strength, aggression and application are worth. There’s a lot of information available on the internet and I see too many lifters worrying endlessly about relatively insignificant technical issues and ending up lifting so carefully in an attempt to correct them that they’re losing 10kg or more off what they could potentially snatch instead of the 2kg the initial error might be worth. Pull it hard – get under it. If you’re missing too regularly with sub-maximal weights look for what’s wrong. If you’re consistently successful and there aren’t any glaring errors forcing you to lift much lighter than you’re capable of there’s no need to fix it.