Weightlifting Exercises Out of Sync

Andrew Charniga


Sometimes a lot of time is wasted developing muscles whose role in the performance of the snatch and the clean and jerk are very insignificant. The sportsman wastes time and effort in developing muscles which have little bearing on the competition exercises. Furthermore, one risks developing a strength imbalance which can have a negative effect on the technique of the classic exercises.” The Requirements of the Weightlifter’s Training Exercises”, Igor Abramovski, Olymp 1:19:2006

Considerable time and effort in the training of weightlifters are devoted to assistance/supplementary exercises; in order to strengthen specific muscles and muscle groups; enhance speed strength and/or coordination; all with the aim of improving one’s results in the classic snatch and the classic clean and jerk. That being the case, it behooves the coach and athlete to evaluate the effectiveness of various training exercises and methods on the basis of a single criterion: effectiveness on improvement or lack thereof of results in the classic exercises in competitions. 

Typically, the problem of balance/equilibrium especially as it concerns the rising toppling over force of the barbell from the instant of barbell separation from the platform; is accorded insufficient consideration in the selection of assistance/supplementary exercises for the weightlifter. A toppling over force is in effect, the pull the weight exerts on the lifter’s center of mass to topple the athlete – barbell system forward. This toppling force emerges because the athlete is lifting a barbell situated in front of his/her center of mass. The heavier the weight relative to the athlete’s body weight the greater toppling over is acting to offset the weightlifter’s equilibrium. That this critical element of weightlifting technique is neglected in the training of weightlifters is obvious from the typical high rate of missed lifts (see report of the 2022 World Weightlifting Championships www.sportivnypress.com); compounded by the inability of coaches and athletes to ascertain the actual reasons for low success rates in competition.

Figure 1. Evidence of a toppling over effect can be seen in the figure of super elite female lifter with heels slightly raised after only a few centimeters of lifting the barbell from the platform. The shifting forward illustrates the complexity of the skill of weightlifting technique: to produce power and maintain equilibrium; at one and the same time. Charniga photo   

A counteracting of the toppling over force from the instant of barbell separation from the platform up until it is fixed on outstretched arms is a critical part of the ‘balancing act’, of the skill of strength requisite to perform the classic exercises. The weightlifter has to produce power while maintaining a complex equilibrium of the athlete – barbell unit, throughout the classic exercises. The effect of a toppling over can be obvious from the onset of the classic exercises. (see figure 1).  

Consequently, an important consideration for exercise selection is whether the lifter develops the skill to produce power in tandem while balancing the athlete – barbell system; which in its turn, involves the intricacy of performing this skill over at least the same amplitude of movement which occurs in the classic snatch and the classic clean and jerk. 

There are a number of parameters of the classic exercises employed to evaluate weightlifting technique in the literature: barbell trajectory, speed, height of lifting, height of fixation, horizontal displacement of the barbell, joint angles, EMG recording of muscle activity, and so forth. However, there is no concrete equilibrium indicator of the athlete – barbell system. For the most part missed lifts are attributed to insufficient height of lifting, jumping backwards, bar trajectory too far from the athlete’s body and so forth. A lack of balance, however subtle, is not easily quantifiable as cause for failure to lift a weight; especially in competitions.

An illusion of control in the selection of training exercises and method

An illusion of control in the context of selection involves the coach or athlete’s overestimation of the effectiveness a certain exercise is able to contribute to improving results in the classic snatch or the classic clean and jerk. Furthermore, the illusion of control is an overestimation the coach or the athlete’s ability to affect competition results by means of exercise selection alone.

Consequently, one important aspect often neglected, for selection of training exercises is the question as to whether the lifter will/can perfect the skill to establish and maintain equilibrium from the instant of separation to the outstretched arm position overhead by incorporating various supplementary exercises. Producing power while overcoming increasing difficult conditions for equilibrium is a crucial element of the weightlifter’s technique.  In this regard, illusion of control is a commonality amongst athletes and coaches alike.

Typically, selection of special training exercises is based on superficial structural similarities to the classic exercises; and/or popular exercises of the moment. In order to avoid wasting time an effort on exercises which will not yield the desired effect; one should evaluate each prospective supplementary according to the specificity of the skill of strength of the classic exercises.

“The correct technical execution of the weightlifting exercises usually contradicts analysis of each part of the movement separately.” A.N. Vorobeyev, 1988

A significant aspect of the illusion of control in the selection of the weightlifter’s training exercises is the coach/athlete selection is based on the similarity of the assistance exercise to the classic exercises or worse yet portions of the classic. However, as noted by Vorobeyev, 1988; critical analysis of the supplementary exercise usually contradicts what actually occurs in the respective classic exercise. It is these very contradictions which in most cases reduce the effectiveness of the transfer of skill; balance and so forth to improvement of results in the classic exercises.

Some popular weightlifting exercises are simply out of sync relative to the classic exercises; and, in the long run coaches and athletes alike need to judge relative effectiveness employing them, i.e., as to whether the supplementary exercises actually contributed to improvement of one’s competition results.         

Some exercises out sync with the specificity of the classic snatch and the classic clean and jerk:

/ out of sync in balance and power: lifts from the hang, boxes; snatch or clean and drop for repetitions;

Lifts from (snatch, cleans, and jerks) boxes (discs fixed above the platform) are exercises where the lifter raises the barbell beginning at a level above, where he/she would have to already had to have been producing lifting – balancing efforts to lift the barbell from the floor.

Consequently, the specificity of exercises’ in terms of coordination, balance/equilibrium, power, performed from boxes is distinct from the same exercises raised from the floor. Lifting from boxes means the lifter establishes equilibrium  over a lesser distance than is necessary when performing the exercises from the floor. It is significantly less difficulty for the lifter to produce power while maintaining equilibrium; over multiple changes in joint angles; less inter – muscular coordination and so forth, with lifts from boxes, i.e., the apportion of the skill to lift the weight requires less balance and inherently less complexity.

Figure 2. A toppling over moment begins with barbell separation and increases along with the rising height of the barbell. Charniga photo

The difference between lifting from the floor and a raised start may sound a subtlety; but, the specificity of power – with – balance required to perform the classic exercises is nonetheless a complex skill which distinguishes the competition exercises from those supplementary exercises of lesser complexity. Less complexity is a major reason many lifters are able to lift more from a raised surface than in the same exercise from the floor. And, likewise why athletes and coaches should exercise caution in getting carried away with lifts from boxes. Another consideration is the low predictability of lifts from boxes to anticipated results in the classic exercises in competitions; where the conditions are more sensitive to the specificity of weightlifting’s skill of strength. 

The same situation applies to lifts from the hang position. For the most part, a lifter usually lowers the weight (if the starting point is below the knees) or begins at/or above the knees to begin from an already balanced athlete – barbell system; along with the advantage of preliminary stretched muscles. Equilibrium is easier to maintain from the hang position. Typically, the lifter – barbell system is already balanced from a hang starting position; so, the lifter is able generate power without the some of the difficulty connected with establishing equilibrium from a static starting position, with the barbell resting on the platform; and, preserving equilibrium over the course of an exercises of larger amplitude.   

Figure 3. Jerking the barbell after straining to clean it is significantly more difficult than jerking the same weight after taking it from boxes or even squat stands. Charniga photo.

The jerk from the chest from a raised start (boxes) is another exercise with a limited carry – over to the classic clean and jerk in competition. Successfully jerking the barbell from the chest on the 3rd attempt in competition is the most difficult skill in weightlifting.

Balance in the starting position for the jerk is critical to successfully lifting the weight from the chest. There is a big difference between the skill requisite to balance the athlete – barbell unit; after first cleaning the weight; than merely taking the barbell from boxes. The most significant difference being the induced fatigue of a preliminary lift to the chest. The complexity of the exercise is exponentially greater when a lifter has to gather oneself after a clean; especially after a fatiguing stand from the squat.

So, if one were to compare the carry – over value of lifting from boxes for snatch or clean; with the jerk from from the chest from boxes; the jerk from the chest from boxes would have the least specificity to the classic clean and jerk. Typically, lifters can jerk more from boxes than from the chest after first cleaning the weight. Consequently, predictability of results in competition based on the personal best of the jerk from the chest from boxes would be ‘iffy’ at best.          

Snatch & drop; clean & drop

An intricacy common to the classic snatch and the classic clean is both necessitate an instantaneous switch from lifting up to dropping as fast as possible into a low squat and or the split position in the jerk. Of course a toppling over moment complicates balance in the squat as well; all the more so because a weightlifter has to ‘find’ his/her balance/equilibrium; after an instantaneous switching from a vertical, to a crouched posture. Such a complex skill is hard enough to perfect as it is; one should avoid practices which can interfere with it. And as such, consider following the Verkhovsky principle:

“Well then, learning the clean adheres to the principle: don’t study too much, but study a lot.” F.Verkosky, 1963. Translated by Andrew Charniga

That being said, a common exercise variant of snatch and clean involves the following. The lifter snatches the barbell (or raises it to the chest for the clean) then lowers it to the floor immediately; without securely fixing it on outstretched arms or at the chest; in order to perform a second repetition with a pre – facilitation of energy from the first lift; which in its turn, makes the second lift easier than if it was performed from the floor from a static position.

The first repetition involves lifting without fixing the weight; which sidesteps the complex task of balancing the system in the squat position. The second repetition is aided by the elastic energy produced from performing the first lift. In either case, the skill to perform each  lift is very similar; but, the athlete risks ingraining the negative habit of lifting then releasing the weight without fixing it in a balanced squat position. Likewise the facilitation of the first repetition doesn’t replicate the conditions of equilibrium inherent to lifting a weight from the floor with balance secured, before rising.

For instance, it not uncommon to watch a lifter do two ‘snatch and drop lifts’ with 120 kg for a few sets; then be unable to lift 125 for one; due lack of coordination/balance. Consequently, lift & drop lifts don’t replicate the critical phases of balance and equilibrium; therefore, has limited value in training for competitions.    

/ inter-muscular coordination: push press; push jerk;

Figures 4 & 5. Comparison of the inter – muscular coordination, balance skills and kinematics of two exercises: push press and classic jerk. Charniga photos

The push press exercise (see on top figure 4) has little in common with the classic jerk from  the chest; and, nothing in  common with the snatch; even though it is currently a popular assistance exercise for both classic exercises; as spearheaded by digital influencers.

One would logically assume, common sense should suffice to exclude the use of push press in any way shape or form as a supplementary exercise for the snatch. However, experience shows logical assumptions are not necessarily the order of the day.

In a similar vein of logical assumption, there are several reasons chronic use of the push press exercise has considerable potential for negative transfer of motor habits to the classic jerk from the chest.

First, the arms are used to press up on the barbell in the push press. The correct use of the arms is to push off; in other words push, against the barbell to send the body down in the classic jerk from the chest; which would seem to be the same action. However, they are different actions altogether. 

Second, the overall coordination structure of the push press is radically different from the classic jerk. With the barbell situated at approximately the same relative height; the lifter performing push press in figure 4; is pressing up with legs straight; whereas the opposite is true for the classic jerk: the lifter (below) is pushing off with legs flexing (figure 5). In the classic jerk, the arms are (should) be used to push off even as feet are in mid air with legs flexing. This represents a huge differential compared to pressing up with legs straight.

Use of the push press as an assistance exercise for the classic jerk is another case where two exercises seem similar yet have essential differences; with the same potential for negative transfer of habits from the relatively simple push press, to the significantly more complex classic jerk.

Third, a clear – cut distinction between the classic jerk from the chest and the push press is easily ascertained: the arms should be employed to push the body down in the classic jerk; whereas the arms are pressing up in the push press. Therefore, the critical phase of the jerk, the descent under the barbell, is absent in the push press.

Fourth, the legs are used to only drive the barbell up in the push press; whereas the legs are used to both drive the barbell up then instantaneously switch to flexing to pull the lifter’s body down. Furthermore, forcefully and quickly returning the feet asynchronously imparts additional acceleration to the barbell; which is completely absent in the drive to straight leg push press.  

Overall, the push press exercise is unjustified; even a waste of time; due to possibility of negative transfer of habits. The action of pressing up while straightening then keeping the legs straight; teaches the lifter to delay the switching from straightening the legs to flexing; as well as pressing up instead of pushing off from the barbell. The fact that the upper extremity muscles should be pushing the body away from the barbell as the legs are already flexing is a diametric opposite the correct motor skill of the classic jerk; which should preclude this exercise in training; all the more so, close to competitions.

See report of the 2022 WWC (Charniga, A., www.sportivnypress,com) where some lifters and coaches were placing blame for the avalanche of reds on the altitude of the competition site in Bogota, Colombia; all the while in the lead up to the competitions many were doing push presses and other nondescripts; lacking in specificity to the classic exercises. 

Muscle snatch

The muscle snatch is an ‘exercise of the day’. The muscle snatch is performed by lifting a barbell from the floor to outstretched arms without re – bending the knees to squat under the weight. This exercise encapsulates most of the same negatives as the push press.

Figures 6 & 7. At approximately comparable barbell heights between the muscle snatch and the classic snatch there is radical difference between the muscle actions of a muscle snatch and the classic snatch. Charniga photos.

The same discrepancies exist between the coordination structure of the muscle snatch and the classic snatch as are present between the push press and the classic jerk from the chest. The legs straighten in the muscle snatch and remain straight until the barbell is fixed on outstretched arms overhead. All the while the arms and shoulders actively pull the barbell up; and, with heavier weights, the wrists turn over and the lifter presses the barbell until elbows are locked. There are two major distinctions between the classic snatch and the muscle snatch:

First, the arms are used to pull the body down not continue to lift up as the barbell passes the waist in the classic snatch. The turning over of the wrists and straightening the arms in the classic snatch occurs during the descent under the barbell (see figures 6 &7). The muscle action of the arms in the performance of the muscle snatch is radically different from the classic snatch; all the more so because pulling up on the barbell is prolonged and continues after the legs have fully straightened and remain straight.

Second, both legs and trunk straighten to raise the barbell in the muscle snatch exercise. Whereas, the legs initially straighten then rapidly flex to pull the body down into the squat for the classic snatch, i.e., a contraction then a rapid relaxation of the same muscles; a completely different coordination structure.  

That one should exercise care in the use of both of the ‘straight leg’ exercises (muscle snatch and push press) is encapsulated in the quote below from the era of the press:

“The athlete should lower the trunk in the snatch while the arms are straight and in the jerk from the chest or the press when the barbell is still on the chest. By descending at this time the barbell will continue to rise as a result on its on inertia due to the height and speed achieved during the pull.” I.P. Zhekov, 1972

That is to say, by the time the barbell passes the lifter’s waist, he/she should already be dropping down into the squat; which encompasses both the skill to move the body and produce a vertical lifting force against the barbell. 

Pulls with 100% & above

Soviet era research (Roman, 1969; Frolov, 1978) of pulling exercises with 100% and more (dead lifts) showed these exercises are decidedly different in several characteristics from the pull phases of the classic exercises.

First, a lifter cannot raise the barbell in a snatch or clean pull with 100% of the maximum as high as he/she can lift the same weight in the corresponding classic exercise. The additional height necessary to raise a maximum weight in the classic snatch or clean is produced by the descent under the barbell, i.e., after the lifter has ceased pulling up and is pulling the body down. 

Second, inter-muscular coordination between the 100% lifts in the classic exercises and heavy (100% and above) pulls is decidedly different. A lifter should rapidly shift the knees under the bar in explosion phase (from above the knees position) of the respective classic exercises. The ankle joints have to bend more than the knees for this to be effective. This does not occur with heavy pulls; the knees bend more and the ankles less; consequently, the inter – muscular coordination differs; the potential to generate power is less in heavy pulls (Frolov, 1978). 

Figure 8. The ankles bend more in the explosion phase of the classic exercises than in the respective pulls for snatch or clean. Charniga photo. 

Third, a 3rd curve is absent in pulling exercises. A barbell shift towards the lifter at the top portion of the barbell’s trajectory is caused by the lifter dropping into the squat; and, hopping either forwards or backwards. This critical 3rd curve produced by the lifter squatting into a low position shifts the barbell towards the lifter such that it can be fixed on outstretched arms or at the chest. The barbell curves forward, away from the lifter and remains in front, when there is only a pull phase; and, as a result the barbell cannot reach the same height a lifter is able to raise it in the classic snatch or clean where there is a descent phase (see Charniga, “The Secret to the Weightlifter’s Strength: Speed of Muscle Relaxation .. www.sportivnypress.com).   

Four, high pulls (snatch and clean hand spacing) with 100% and more are essentially deadlifts; and, as such, are close to static muscle contraction; which has little in common with the skill of strength of the classic exercises (V.I. Frolov, 1978). 

/ height of lifting, triple extension {speed pulls}; jumping squats

The myth of a triple extension has been debunked in several essays (Charniga, www.sportivnypress.com) nonetheless it remains a persistent misnomer for the many already enumerated valid reasons. In point of fact,  many still incorporate training exercises to perfect the mythical triple extension.

For instance, consider the following, from a Chinese internet posting with advice for weightlifting training:  “Snatch speed pull is the best intermediate to connect strength and technique” The power of the triple extension decides how high you can drive the barbell overhead” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8fHwsJ92cQ

The triple extension in the pull phase does not determine how high one can lift the barbell. A timely and powerful switching from standing to squatting produces the power to lift high enough to fix the barbell with near maximum and maximum weights in clean or snatch; not a prolonged and full extension of trunk and lower extremities. Consequently, triple extension pulling exercises promote the same idea as the muscle snatch and push press; which is the incorrect habit to prolong lifting up and delay the entry into the squat.

A version of pulls for snatch and clean is to have the lifter straighten the legs and trunk then quickly re – bend so that the bar rises higher relative to the lifter’s chest. This variation was a Russian idea dating back to at least the 1960s.

However, in point of fact the lifter moves the body down, i.e., an illusion of extra height of lifting. This variation has little in common with the classic snatch. The emphasis of the exercise is to move the barbell higher on the chest towards the chin; all the while pulling barbell and torso as close possible (see figure 9). 

For one, the conscious effort of endeavoring to drag the bar very close to the chest would not be a viable strategy for the female weightlifter.  

Two, dragging the barbell up the chest and or pulling the chest up against the barbell is not necessarily an indication of good technique. The weight doesn’t have to be that close to the chest or that high to fix it in the squat for the classic snatch. Furthermore, elite lifters typically do not necessarily descend into the squat with the barbell so close to the waist and chest (see figure10).  

Figures 9 & 10. Two examples illustrating the difference in the proximity of the bar to the chest between so – called speed pulls (figure 9) and the classic snatch (figure 10).  

The aforesaid is likewise true of another weightlifting supplementary exercise: jumping with a barbell on the shoulders. And, the dubious value of this exercise has been known for many years:

“Jumping with a barbell from a half – squat does not mimic the same posture of the explosion.” L.N. Sokolov, 1973

The same negatives apply as with the aforementioned exercises to fully extend lower extremities and trunk without a re – bend. There is plenty of jumping in weightlifting; the jumping is down; not up.

/ depth of squatting: power snatch & power clean;

Although excellent for developing coordination and power; one can get carried away with power snatch and power clean exercises; especially close to competitions; and, all more so, they are inappropriate for warmups in competitions. There are a number of shortcomings associated with these exercises:

1/ the 3rd curve in the trajectory of the barbell  of the classic exercises; which occurs when the lifter drops into a deep squat; is absent or minimized (see Charniga, “Speed of muscle relaxation .. www.sportivnypress.com). The barbell is fixed on outstretched arms or at the chest, slightly forward over the feet; such that the necessary rearward barbell trajectory, which is produced by the lifter descending into a deep squat, is not perfected with these exercises. 

Figure 11. Disposition of the weightlifter’s links in the low squat with significant tilting of the shins. This tilt serves as both a counterbalance of the athlete barbell system; and, is mechanically more efficient to utilize the elastic recoil of muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower extremities to stand from the low squat. Typically there less bending at the ankle in power snatch or power clean. Charniga photo.  

2/ the ‘braking’ stopping action of squatting for the power snatch and power clean is a diametric opposite to the switching from pulling to a very fast drop, full flexing of lower extremities, by means of relaxing muscles; to descend into a deep squat; characteristic of the classic exercises.

3/ the abbreviated squatting characteristic of the power snatch and the power clean ( up to a half squat or parallel) is typically performed with the trunk leaning forward (with heavier weights) and stopping with the aforesaid at an angle to the vertical; a bad habit to transfer to the classic exercises where the squatting is with trunk vertical or even leaning backwards to facilitate the speed of entry into the low squat.

4/ the shins are typically closer to vertical when the lifter stops bending in a power snatch or power clean position; which is not an effective disposition for counterbalancing the athlete barbell system in the low squat; the wrong habit for the classic exercises (see figure 11). 


One has to be ready to begin pushing away from the barbell, before the legs are fully straightened.” I.P. Zhekov, 1976

/ training for weightlifting with exercises out of sync to the classic exercises have characteristically one or more insufficiency connected with the coordination structure, i.e., the skill of weightlifting strength;

/ most supplementary training exercises do not adequately replicate the complexity of power with balance/equilibrium of the classic snatch and the clean & jerk;

/ chronic practice with exercises of out of sync can cause negative transfer of habits to the classic exercises;

/ practice of out of sync training exercises should be restricted in the lead up to competitions;

/ exercises such as muscle snatch, power clean and power snatch should be excluded altogether in competition warm ups.


/ Charniga, A., “The secret to the weightlifter’s strength: speed of muscle relaxation”. www.sportivnypress.com

/V.I. Bystrov, A. I. Falameyev,“The Dynamics of Weightlifters Achievements” Weightlifting: Sbornik Statei 24 – 31:1971 Lenningrad

/ Vorobeyev, A.N., Weightlifting, 1988. English translation Sportivnypress, Livonia, Michigan

/ Zhekov, I.P., Biomechanics of the weightlifting exercises, 1976. English translation Sportivnypress, Livonia, Michigan

/ Frolov, V.I., Lelikov, S.I., Levshunov, N.P., “Criteria of the Weightlifter’s Technical Mastery”.Teoriia I Praktika Fizicheskoi Kultury3:17 -19 1978. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Roman, R.A., “The effect of large loading in pulls and squats on the weightlifter’s sport results”, Tribuna Masterov, FIS, Moscow, 26-40:1969. Translated by Andrew Charniga.

/Verkovsky, F., “The clean with a deep squat”, Tribuna Masterov, FIS, Moscow, 1963. Translated by Andrew Charniga.