As I mentioned in my last article, I recently attended the Pan American Games. The one thing that stood out to us technique watchers was the wide grip jerks employed by quite a number of weightlifting competitors.
The athletes cleaned the weight with the usual slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip, and then just before the jerk, they moved their grip out a considerable distance. By considerable, I mean some of them moved it out to a point beyond the snatch grip markings. That’s 91cm. That’s very wide. These were not large superheavyweights using this technique, either. In fact, most were small women.
What was most surprising about this technique was that few lifts were lost because of it – and medals were won using it. Despite this, most coaches would and do argue against its use.
Why Wide Grip?
The reason the wide grip is used is probably because someone has reasoned that a wide grip means a shorter throw for the bar as it goes overhead. This is undoubtedly true. Anyone who has taken elementary geometry can figure that one out. But does that advantage outweigh the disadvantages? Let’s look at what is happening with these very wide grip jerks. Let’s start at the floor.
Clean Hand Positioning
Most of the lifters were using a normal clean grip, then moving it out for the jerk. Canadian Marie-Josié Arès-Pilon was a notable exception. She pulled with what would be a snatch grip for many. She then moved her hands in to a regular width during the turnover. Very unusual. The others had to do the opposite. Most did a complete clean using a standard width grip, though some used a wider one.
Marie-Joseé Arès-Pilon pulled with what would be a snatch grip for many, then moved her hands in to a regular width during the turnover. (You can see this in slow motion at 1:43)
After the clean, the lifters then had the problem of moving their grip out, all the while trying to hold the barbell in the rack position. This was best done with a quarter squat drive so the barbell could be caught in the wider grip in mid-air. Others tried moving their hands while standing still. Either way, it is easy to completely lose the grip on the barbell and have it then fall to the ground when making this adjustment.
Starting at :44 you can see Pan Am champion Luis Mosquera start with a narrow grip, then move his hands out while standing still.
Jerk Hand Positioning
Even if an athlete is successful at keeping the bar on the shoulders during the grip-width adjustment, it still becomes difficult estimating just how far out to move your grip. This involves some experienced guessing. After all, you can’t see where your hands are going. Hopefully, they wind up close to even.
During this phase, the elbow position remains low out of necessity. So low that the lifter still faces the possibility of losing the bar off his or her rack. Extra effort is needed to ensure the bar does not roll out of its position on the deltoids.
Another pitfall occurs with the all-important reversal of direction – when dip becomes drive. Elite lifters depend on the elasticity (whip) of the bar to get that little extra out of their leg drive. This works best when the grip is as narrow as possible. This makes for greater torque production via a longer lever (the length of the bending bar measured from the hand’s grip to the weights on the end). This torque is significantly decreased when the hand is outside the 91cm gripping marks, resulting in less jerk drive, then less height.
Genesis Rodriguez Gomez wasn’t so successful with the wide grip for her first attempt at 106kg, but later went on to take silver after a successful attempt at 109kg.
The Jerk Catch
When it comes to the wide grip, the shorter drive needed is the only advantage here. But that is all. With a wide grip at the time of catching the barbell overhead, the angle that the arms make compared to the body approaches and may even equal that in the snatch. That is fine in a lift like the snatch where lighter weights are used, but in the clean and jerk the athlete needs that bone-on-bone support to hold a heavy weight overhead. What this means to wide grip jerkers is that you better have good shoulder strength to compensate for this factor.
Another potential problem in the catch that can occur is the bending (due to rebound) that can occur at the time of lock out. While this is not a violation of the rules, it can still be problematic with a heavyweight in that it may be more difficult to control with a wide grip. As a result, a lift may be lost.
Heavyweight Martin Sabanchiev struggles to keep the weight overhead but ends with success.
A final problem can occur with the flexibility in the shoulders in a wide grip position. In such cases the barbell may more easily be lost forward or backward due to the wider grip. That’s if the lifter is lucky.
For those with so-called “knock-kneed” elbows, ones that hyperextend, there is the danger of elbow joint dislocation. This danger is present in the snatch, but is even more of a danger in the clean and jerk due to the heavier weight being handled.
To handle the wide grip, all three of the lifter’s arm joints will have to be extra strong in order to defend against this possibility of dislocation.
So Why Do It?
With all of these problems, you have to wonder what the advantage is in this wider grip jerk. Does the lower required catching height really make up for all of the other potential flaws? Does the lifter have a problem developing enough extra driving power that this gambit must be considered? It all certainly seemed questionable to us sitting in the stands. It would be nice to hear from the lifters on this, as they are the ones doing the empirical testing.
Of course, this all makes for a good armchair coaching debate, but in the final analysis you cannot argue with success. Most of those using this technique were medal winners. Until we have walked the walk instead of just talking it, we have to defer final judgement.
It’s kind of hard to argue with success.
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