By Bob Takano—Member USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame


I just got back from the American Open in Reno.  It’s well possible that it was the meet with the largest entry ever, anywhere in the world.  The entry list was over 900 athletes, an unheard of figure for USA Weightlifting a few short years ago.  What has happened is that the sudden increase in participation fueled by the introduction of more people to weightlifting through Crossfit has resulted in a much higher number of athletes who can hit the qualifying standards for national events.  While the number of qualifying athletes has increased, the skill levels of the beginning coaches has not.  This resulted in two large fixable problems that I witnessed at the event.

Before going any further, let me state that this critique is offered with the goal of improving weightlifting in this country as a whole and not just to be critical.  I enjoy watching good lifting and when I see something that can be fixed, I need to point it out and hope that that will lead to an improvement. 

Too much or too soon the arms

                                     Figure 1 Premature arm pull plus elbows pointing rearward rather than to the side.

                                    Figure 1 Premature arm pull plus elbows pointing rearward rather than to the side.


                                   Figure 2 Premature arm bend before the extension of the hips.

                                  Figure 2 Premature arm bend before the extension of the hips.


There were simply too many lifters (mostly men in this case), employing premature arm pull.  This has a number of negative effects as listed here:

·      Some people are just overly arm oriented and once they begin to use their arms incorrectly or at the wrong time, they minimize the roles of the other parts of their bodies.  I know that some individuals are using their arms to pull the bar into the heap crease, but once there the hips and legs do not extend fully so there is little point to doing so.

·      When the hip and knee extension fail in the snatch, it was obvious that many lifters were trying to arm the bar into place with most failing to do so on a very consistent basis.  This resulted in a large number of snatches being lost in front because the hip action necessary for correct bar placement was lacking.

·      Premature arm bend causes a partial contraction of the trapezius and hence prevents a complete and explosive contraction of the traps at the very top of the pull.  This prevents the full speed of the pull from being achieved.


I’ve found the two best solutions is to do more snatches and cleans from block with the bar set at mid-thigh.  The emphasis must be on hip and leg extension followed by a violent trap contraction and then the arm pull. 

To be most effective the exercises should be performed with the arms held forcibly straight until the traps have contracted.  If the mind is not focused on something to do with the arms other than bend, the habit is harder to break.  This initial forceful straightening of the arms should be emphasized during all pulling movements. 


Another Big but Solvable Problem

I coached in 1 C session and 3 A sessions.  What stood out to me was that in the C session, the coaches were using all of their changes on the weight attempts.  I observed them and found that they were reacting to their athletes’ warm-up attempts, and not working with a pre-conceived plan of weight selection. 

Good coaching should involve the planning of weight selection for a good period of time (several weeks) before the competition and not something done on the fly based on the perceptions of warm-up lifts by inexperienced coaches.  There is a proper order and sequence of increments that should be applied to weight selection that will lead to the athlete performing the maximum lifts for that particular day.  I saw very little in the way of proper planning taking place in that warm-up room.  As a result there were many missed lifts due to improper weight selection. 

I’ve mentioned this to USAW Coaching Education Coordinator Mike Conroy and he is planning to include a module addressing this topic in future coaching education offerings. 

This topic is one that is addressable through proper program planning as well. 

For those of you who are just getting into coaching and are interested in upping your program planning skills, I am offering a webinar that will go into great detail on this topic.  Those interested in raising your value as a coach can register at

With a recent large influx of new athletes and coaching to the sport in the U.S., there are a number of expected situations that have presented themselves.  Fortunately, most of them are fixable through good coaching education.