Achieving Success with the Olympic Lifts: 3 Practical Stages to Mastering Technical Movements

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Achieving Success with the Olympic Lifts: 3 Practical Stages to Mastering Technical Movements
I get asked this question a lot, and I mean a LOT!


My answer to this is usually, “How long is a piece of string?” Not really. I do have a framework that I’m going to share with you here. I use this in our classes at CrossFit West Yorkshire and when teaching anything else technical, like how to throw a punch or kick properly for contact sport. In this post I’ll be referencing both Olympic lifts — the snatch and clean & jerk — but this framework can be used for anything else technical.

This framework is heavily influenced by my Martial Arts Master, Ricky Lam of Premier Martial Arts Leeds. We used this framework to learn the “Poomsae” (the forms) of WTF Taekwondo which required technical mastery for progression through the belt rankings. I’ve continued to use this framework ever since with great success for the athlete.


  1. Segment the movement sequence
  2. Perform as if under-water
  3. Perform with speed and weight

This is only one method for learning/teaching the Olympic lifts. By no means am I claiming this to be the best method for learning technical movements. Everyone has different learning styles and different levels of body awareness and control. Hopefully this method will work for you.

I’m also assuming that you have a basic understanding of the Olympic lifts and/or have a coach who has taught/is teaching you the movements (i.e. you know what good lifting technique is)!

STAGE 1: Segment the Movement

STAGE 1: Segment the Movement
I recommend using a PVC pipe, wooden dowel or rolled up towel for stage 1, 2 and first part of stage 3.

The idea here is not to learn how to snatch or clean, but to train your body in the correct movement pattern that will be used during the snatch or clean.
The Olympic lifts are a series of complex body movements which require a lot of skill and strength. In stage one, I want you to break the movement down into logical stages or segments that you can practice independently. With the Olympic lifts I tend to teach the 3rd pull, the 2nd pull and 1st pull independently and in that order. (In case you need a description of the 3 pulls you can find it here.)

Instead of trying to practice the movement as a whole, practice a part of the sequence at a time (E.g. 3rd, 2nd and 1st pulls as three separate movements). For each part of the sequence, perform the movement slowly, completely and with minimal or no loading. Repeat the drill until you’re doing the movement without thinking about it (Remember to execute the movement slowly!! No speed at this stage). Drill, drill and drill. Like Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”.

Once you’ve practiced and drilled the different parts/segments/pulls separately (moving slowly), then start to perform two stages one after the other with a pause in-between the two, still executing them slowly. For example, you could practice the hip drive into the shrug and arm pull as two separate movements with a pause in-between. Keep adding onto the sequence of movements ensuring a pause between each separate part until you’ve been through the whole movement sequence.

It will feel like the whole movement is segmented and slow (which is exactly what it is). Ensure you practice with precision and accuracy to ensure that you don’t carry over any bad habits into the next stages. Ask a coach to help assess your movement.

The idea here is not to learn how to snatch or clean, but to train your body in the correct movement pattern that will be used during the snatch or clean. Trying to practice the full movement with speed and weight is like trying to hit the bullseye on a dartboard while blindfolded: you may get lucky once in every 10,000 attempts! Muscle-memory comes from practicing perfectly and not just practicing!

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