You win with the clean and jerk

Can we talk about the elephant in the room? You will often hear coaches and athletes state that competitions are won with the Clean and jerk, yet I’m not sure if that statement is necessarily behind the rationale of many programs.

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More often than not, people train the snatch a lot more than the clean and jerk. It seems that the snatch tends to be harder to increase in comparison to the clean and jerk – unless you are a natural snatchers (82%+ ratio).

People also tend to think of the clean and jerk as an easier lift than the snatch, which in some regard can be true. In that case, they will train the clean and jerk less. In other cases – and this is especially true for weaker lifters (weak squat or weak pull) – the clean and jerk is trained less because it is a heavier lift and can cause a lot more fatigue. If you are a natural strong lifter (high squat, high pulls, high presses, etc), this does not seem to be the case.

Credit Bruce Klemens. Suleymanoglu
Credit Bruce Klemens. Suleymanoglu

Think about this : 

Weightlifting is a two event competition – being in the first place after the snatch event does not necessarily mean that you will still be on the first step of the podium for the total. At the last world’s, only 6% of the gold medalist won solely based on their snatch performance (beating everyone’s else CJ).

More over, a lot of things can go right or wrong in the clean and jerk and can change the course of the competition. It’s not rare to see people ranked 6-7-8th in the snatch step on the podium after the clean and jerk. Obviously, after the snatch you have 3 attempts to either keep your lead or 3 attempts to make up for a ”poor” snatch performance.

Credit Bruce Klemens
Credit Bruce Klemens

Secondly, the best snatchers tend to not be the best clean and jerkers. This is a statement that seems to hold true over time – ”once a great snatcher, always a great snatchers”. It’s rare that one really converts from being great at one of the event to become great at the other event. Obviously, those that are very good at both lifts have more chances to medal – but generally speaking, on the international stage, lifters tend to really good at one of the lift and good at the other.

Interestingly, great snatchers are often great jerkers – but rarely great cleaners. I think it has to do with biomechanics – the best jerkers and snatchers tend to be lankier than the best cleaners.

Moreover, it is easier to do big jumps in the Clean and jerk than it is to do big jumps in the snatch. If an athlete is 5kg behind after the snatch, it seems plausible to win by total if the clean and jerk is a specialty lift of his/hers. This is seen time and time again. 27% of the gold medals at the 2015 world’s where took from the leading snatchers by people who out cleaned and jerked them. (in 70% of the case, the winner was ahead in the snatch and the clean and jerk, but most had fierce competition in the clean and jerk event which means every CJ attempt was precious and important).

Credit Bruce Klemens
Credit Bruce Klemens

Thirdly, coaches consider that your snatch should be 78 to 82% of your clean and jerk. While looking at international results, this seems to be true – however it is interesting to note that many 82%+ snatchers tend to finish second and that many 78%- snatchers win. Looking at the 2015 World’s results,we can compare the ratios and observe how people win.

Men’s

Om Yun Chol (56kg) – 131 SN – 171kg CJ – 302kg total – 76% (had he made 175, the ratio would be 74%). Wu Jingbiao was leading the event with a 139kg Snatch, but clean and jerked only 163kg.

Lijun Chen (62kg) – 150 – 183 – 333kg – 81%

Shi Zhiyong (69kg) – 158 – 190 – 348 – 83% —- Chen Oleg snatched 160 but clean and jerked 184. Zhiyong beat him with the clean and jerk.

Rahimov Nijat (77kg) – 165 – 207 – 372 – 79% (had he made that 211, the ratio would be 78%)—- In the third place, Andranik Karapetyan of Armenia had a snatch of 167kg, but clean and jerked 196kg.

Okulov, Artem (85kg) – 176 – 215 – 391 – 81%

Straltsou, Vadzim (94kg) 175 – 230 – 405 – 76%, Adrian Zielinski of Poland won the snatch with a result of 177kg, but lost the total since he clean and jerked 214kg.

Alexandr Zaichikov (105) 191 – 230 – 421 – 83%

Talakhadze, Lasha (105+) 207 – 247 – 454kg – 83%. Note that Seim won silver with a ratio of 76% and was ranked 12th in the snatch with 190kg

All in all, the ratio of efficiency of 78% to 82% that coaches aim lifters to get holds true in practice. However, in 3 cases, the ratio was below 80% and in 2 of those 3 cases the ratio was below 78%. In 3 cases, the winner was not the snatch winner.

Split-jerk

Womens

Jiang Huihua (48kg) – 88 – 110 – 198 – 80%

Hsu Shu-Ching (53kg) – 96 – 125 – 221kg – 76.8%, Note that Chen Xiating snatched 5kg more (101kg) and was leading after the snatch. She lost to Shu Ching on bodyweight with a result of 120kg in the clean and jerk.

Kostova Boyanka Minkova (58kg) 112 – 140 – 252 – 80% *** if her result becomes invalidated due to recent doping scandal, the second place here is : Den Mengrong (58kg) – 108 – 137 – 245 – 78.8%

Deng Wei (63kg) – 113 – 146 – 259 – 77%. Second place did 112 – 136, notice the difference in the CJ result (Tima Turieva)

Xian Yanmei (69kg) – 120 – 143 – 263 – 84%

Kang Yue (75kg) – 127 – 155 – 282kg – 82%. Notice that all 3 medalist clean and jerked 155. This is the only case so far where the lifter won based on her snatch performance.

Kashirina, Tatiana (75+) – 145 – 185 – 333 – 78%

Credit Hookgrip
Credit Hookgrip

All in all, the ratio of efficiency of 78% to 82% that coaches aim lifters to get holds true in practice for women lifters too. However, in 4 cases, the ratio was below 80% or below and in 2 (may be 3 depending on the doping scandal) of those 4 cases the ratio was below 78%. In 1 case, the lifter won because she snatched more than everyone else- so it is not impossible to win with the snatch, but it is a lot more rare.

Out of 15 possible gold medals, 4 snatch winners came second after losing in the clean and jerk. 1 won because she out snatched others, and in 10 cases the lifters snatched more as well as clean and jerked more than the rest although they had to lift quite heavy in the CJ to not lose the advance.

My point is : 

Medals can be won with an average result (say top 5) in the snatch, but they are almost never won with an average result in the clean and jerk. In most cases, a poor performance in the clean and jerk will make you lose, whereas you can recover from an ok-ish snatch performance granted you can clean and jerk decently.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t try to improve the snatch – but it does means that the training of the clean and jerk should not be overlooked or pushed to the side because it is a ”supposedly easier lift”, ”harder to recover from”, or because it is not your specialty. You should still do all you can to improve the snatch – but in your quest to do so, don’t forget about the CJ.

Credit Macklem
Credit Macklem

It also mean that the clean and jerk should be trained in a specific way to ensure that your PR in the gym can be replicated on the platform come competition day. That is, the clean and jerk is not the first event, but the second event. In competition, you will do the clean and jerk in a state of fatigue – Perhaps it is an important aspect to consider when training the clean and jerk.

Training the clean and jerk as the second movement of the workout should be the norm in training. You can snatch first, or you can squat or do medium weight snatch pushpress + OHS combo. Getting used to this will allow you to be ready in competition.

I think that the clean and the jerk should be trained together as often as possible. Too often you will see athletes develop a much stronger clean – or stronger jerk – than their best clean and jerk. Yet they fail to put both of them together. Separating them can be done, but it should not be the norm.

Moreover, lifters need to learn to jerk in a higher state of fatigue. This is why I’m not a big fan of the jerks from blocks. If you are going to try and win with the clean and jerk, you will be cleaning a very heavy weight before jerking it. You need to get used to that feeling- This is why I believe front squats should precede Jerks if you are going to train the Jerk alone (ie 2+2, 1+1, 3+1, etc.). This is also why there is a lot of merit to doing clean+FSQ+jerk (1+1+1 or 2+2+2 or 1+3+1). People used to jerk in a fatigued state tend to jerk everything.

In the end, you need to improve both the snatch and the clean and jerk. However, we tend to spend so much time on weakness correction that we forget to really push our specialty. If you are the strong type and the CJ is your event, you should take advantage of your gift.

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

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