Friday, June 22, 2012

Splitting the clean and the snatch -- making the Olympic lifts accessible for the mobility-challenged

Part of CrossFit is Olympic lifts -- clean, jerk and snatch. But some of us -- mostly CrossFitters of a, er, certain age -- aren't flexible enough to catch a clean or a snatch in a full squat position. It's a scary thing. This is a good demonstration of a power clean (without the full squat), followed by a full squat clean (I am not the Steve in the vid):

I can do a power clean, but I can't get low enough fast enough to catch a full squat clean that low. In fact, even my power clean doesn't go as low as that guy's.

The same is true, even more so, of the snatch. This is a power snatch, without the full squat:

I can handle that, but I can't get very low for the catch, which then limits how much weight I can snatch. This is a full squat snatch:

Notice how crazy low she gets to catch it? I just can't get down there that fast after pulling up so hard. So, I have been stuck for months at the same max weights for those two lifts because all I can do is power clean and power snatch, and I have maxed out. It is a little frustrating. So I started poking around on the fabled Interwebs and, lo and behold, I learn that a very few lifters still use the old-school "split" technique for these two lifts (on the other hand, lots of people split their jerk -- that is a whole different story).

I particularly ran across these two videos. the first is fabled lifting coach Mike Burgener working with an older CrossFitter named Jacinto Bonilla. Bonilla's shoulder mobility is limited enough that he doesn't squat snatch well. How about the split snatch? Check this out:

And then there is CrossFit Games veteran Josh Everett, who splits on a snatch as well:

And then, even less common, is the split clean, which this guy does:

So, last week I went in all fired up to try the split snatch. And this week I have twice worked on a split clean. The results?

Well, using the split technique, I have easily gotten back to my old "power" PRs for both lifts, but, more importantly, because the speed of my squat is such crap, I actually can get lower much faster using a split. This means that two things happen: (1) my bar speed going up is way quicker because I am more confident about my ability to catch it, and (2) I don't have to pull the bar up as high because I can get lower faster by splitting. This means that my old PR weight went up easily. Drawbacks? None, it seems, except that my body is not yet 100% adapted to catching a flying barbell in what is an asymmetrical position. I split with my left foot forward (like I snowboard) and so my left glute and hip are getting more pressure, strain, etc than my right. It is all just a matter of muscle memory and playing it smart by training at less than maximal loads. I *know* I can PR both these lifts by splitting. But I am going to hold off for a bit while I practice them at a heavy, but not maximum, weight. I want to get my body used to the weirdness of the split catch.

But it has "big payoff" written all over it for me over the long haul.

Should you do it? Probably not, as both Burgener and Everett tell you. This is an old-school variant on lifts and it is inefficient if you are otherwise mobile. Only the mobility-challenged might gain a benefit from splitting either a snatch or a clean. But if mobility is hindering your squat clean or squat snatch, you may want to take a crack at splitting either or both of those lifts. Just play it smart and get your body used to the new movement before you try anything at near-max weights, Hercules.

And never stop learning.


  1. Steve and I facebook chatted about this, and my personal opinion is that there's no downside to doing the split lifts if the athlete is at the stage Steve is at. When coaches talk about split cleans/snatches being inefficient and a bad idea, they're talking about young lifters who are trying to maximize their capabilities and win national championships. Squat cleans and snatches are the most efficient way to lift, and they'll lead to the biggest weights.

    But when you're talking about older master's lifters, all those rules go out the window. When you're older, the only factor that matters is "Can you find a way to do the lifts successfully, given your body's limitations?" If you can find a way, it's the right way. Believe me, I've known older lifters who moved to split movements because they just felt right and they didn't have the mobility to squat anymore. I once trained with a guy who started lifting when he was around 65 and he simply couldn't do any kind of squat movement. But he picked up the split clean/snatch right away and was able to lift well and make PRs for years.

    As long as you get plenty of practice with light/moderate weights so you really memorize a consistent, safe position, I think splitting is a great idea for where you're at. I think the good feeling you have about it is the real thing.

  2. I have been a competive lifter in the late 70's and thru the 80's and competed squat snatching and split cleaning and had good results against squatters and never missed on the jerk in competion [as Tommy Kono says no sense cleaning if it don't go up] as squater regularly miss their jerks. [snatch pr 242,split clean&jerk 325 in competition]

    1. [previous reply bdy wgt.183lb/]