The Catch: Weightlifting’s Most Complicated Movement

The benefits of catching the bar in Olympic weightlifting are not emphasized nearly enough for the value they can bring to athletes in other disciplines.

Should athletes in sports learn how to catch if they want to learn how to move faster? Strength is important, definitely. For that they have weighted pulls and more traditional heavy strength training exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. However, with no speed, there will be no power.

That’s where Olympic-style weightlifting exercises come in to play. These lifts are known to provide athletes with the unique opportunity of lifting heavy weights in an explosive manner. Speed. as measured by the bar at peak vertical velocity, is nothing but the consequence of a terrific amount of force applied to the ground almost instantaneously at the lift-off. So, as you can see, with no speed, there will be no power.

Let’s dig into that a little more. Shortly after the athlete begins the lift, the bar becomes a projectile. Force is applied in a relatively short amount time (150-180 ms is the average length of the second pull) while for the remainder of the flying time gravity is the only constraint. The movement is said to be ballistic.

This is nothing dissimilar than the projectile-like motion of a long jumper or the parabolic trajectory of a shot put. In order to achieve peak velocity – velocity of release, in throwing events, or horizontal velocity in the long jump, or vertical velocity in weightlifting – every other force acting upon the athlete needs to be minimized. That’s why jumpers try to be as aerodynamic as possible when airborne and that’s why weightlifters try to “pull” their body under the bar before the bar starts to descend.

What is more ballistic, a full snatch or a snatch high pull? A full clean or a clean pull? A split jerk or an overhead press?

Catching is, without doubt, the most complicated skill to master in weightlifting. It requires the athlete to learn how to “pull under the bar” as gravity is acting upon it. It is, however, a necessary element to provide optimal speed development. If power can be achieved by simply completing the second pull, speed will suffer from stopping the bar before its apex. The ballistic nature of the movement would be lost. On the other hand, by accelerating the bar throughout its entire path, peak vertical velocity can be achieved right before the bar starts to descend.

Photo by Bev Childress

Learning how to catch is not as easy as it seems. It’s not as simple as combining a clean high pull and a front squat or an overhead squat with a snatch extension. It’s a skill, and as any other skill needs to be approached in a simple to complex, general to specific way. This is a simple basic progression to learn how to catch the bar at the end of the second pull:

Medicine Ball Slam

By reversing from a fast, triple extension to an explosive slam atheists can learn how to reverse from pulling to pulling under without the impediment of the bar.

Tall Snatch/Clean

These exercises provide the opportunity to add the final “drop” under the bar without performing the pull. Meaning, speed is not a limiting factor and the skill can be acquired with less inter-trial variability. Snatch balances and push jerks are good propaedeutic exercises before this step.

Hang Power Snatch/Clean

This is the last step of the progression, according to the top-bottom approach taught by USA Weightlifting and commonly used for beginner athletes. By further progressing from mid-tight to below the knees, the starting position will soon be at ground level, including both fist and second pull in the picture.

As any other learning progression, high frequency and high volume with low weights are recommended. These exercises can be added to a daily warm up routine for a total of 30 reps per day.


q. Ebada, K. H. (2013). The Impact of Ballistic Training on Explosive Power Development and Some Biomechanics Parameters for Lifting the Snatch Youth Weightlifters. International Sport Science Student’s Conference (ISSSC 2013) from (Vol. 28).

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