Hang cleans, and snatches are a staple of many weightlifting programmes, but they’re often performed incorrectly.
During my seminars, or when working with a new athlete, I rarely see athletes performing the hang lift correctly simply because of how the bar is being lowered: if you don’t put yourself into the correct position from the very start of the movement, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Today I’m going to explain how you should perform the hang, on the way down and the way up!
The hang variations for snatch and cleans are a staple aspect in the training of weightlifters across the world. We see these movements being used so widely because, when the hang lift is performed from the mid-thigh, they are a great way to develop the explosive 2nd phase of the lift, often referred to as the ‘pull’. They are a fantastic tool for cuing the correct positions and muscles for the finish of the extension while keeping the upper limbs relaxed. These are some of the most common problems I see in new lifters, or lifters from other sporting backgrounds, making the hang clean and hang snatch some of the best tools to improve the second phase of the lift.
A lot of lifters approach hang snatches and cleans with the wrong mentality: they focus on the up but completely forget the importance of lowering the bar into position correctly to develop strength specific to the movement being performed. The point of a hang snatch is to put yourself into the position, at mid-thigh, that you want to emulate in the full lift – if you’re not coming into this position during the eccentric or lowering phase, then you’re not getting the real benefit of the movement.
Lowering the bar should be a disciplined and smooth movement: the arms should be relaxed, and the upper back should be tight through the lats and lower traps (not shrugging!). Lowering the bar should be slow and begin by simultaneously flexing the hip and knee – I often see CrossFit athletes begin by bending the knee and then tipping forwards by bending at the hips, but this is not how we complete the extension. By ‘breaking’ at the knees and hips at the same time, you’re performing the opposite of the extension and are more likely to achieve a good extension position on the way back up. Another issue with bending at the knee followed by the hip is that your momentum will be moving forwards, so you are more likely to begin the upward movement with the weight already on your toes rather than through flat feet.
You should only lower to mid-thigh: this is the position that we want to be in when we change speeds on the way through the full lifts, so we need to practice form this point. Starting lower means you are able to generate momentum before hitting the explosive position, hence defeating the point of the ‘hang’ as an exercise.
Key positions from mid-thigh include; shins being vertical, weight on flat feet, shoulders above the bar (not in front or behind!) arms long and loose, chest high, back, glutes and quads engaged. If any of these positions are out, then the lift is likely to be more challenging and less technically efficient: The upwards explosion should be generated from the quads and glutes from a flat-footed position at mid-thigh. The upwards phase should be fast and explosive with the body moving upwards rather than a whipping of the shoulder backwards.
I’m not going to discuss every technical aspect of performing the hang snatch from the floor to the finish, but the key part of this lift is from the mid-thigh to a fully extended position. If you’ve performed the lowering of the bar with proper positions, then the extension should be a perfect reversal of the movement: from the mid-thigh, the feet remain flat and the shins vertical, the movement should simply be a powerful, simultaneous contraction of both quads and glutes to achieve a fully extended position. Naturally, the hips will move forwards without the need to think about driving them through. As a result, there should be some contact of the upper thing or hip area with the bar. If the arms are kept loose, and the extension is a positive leg drive against the floor, both the athlete and the bar will extend perfectly upwards. At this point, the athlete needs to rapidly change direction and move under the bar. Only as the lifter drops under do the arms bend, allowing the bar to remain close to the body.
There are many things that could go wrong in this movement, and it’s beyond the scope of this blog to discuss all of them. I can provide more in-depth online video analysis on a personal level. Simply drop me an email to discuss this further; firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some of the most common problems and corrections that are worth mentioning:
The bar is looping away from the athlete / The athlete is jumping backwards / The lifter is inconsistent and missing too many lifts: All of these are usually the result of driving the hips towards the bar. If you’re driving your hips forwards, that’s exactly where the bar will go! A consequence is that the shoulders will throw backwards to compensate and the bar will swing out. The correction is to relax the arms and focus on staying above the bar on flat feet, driving positively with the legs.
Catching the bar high: This is another symptom of pulling with the arms or simply exerting too much effort. Catching the bar in a full squat position is only possible with the proper upwards momentum on the bar followed by a rapid change of direction. This requires a positive leg drive, with loose arms, and then focusing on dropping to the receiving position. If you’re struggling to catch in the full squat position, it’s most likely the result of poor positioning on the hang, attempting to over-pull the bar or simply putting too much effort into the lift. The corrections are to relax the arms and keep the bar low as you hit full extension. The bar never needs to travel much above waist height.
The hang is an amazing tool for improving technique and strength when it is performed correctly. Whether you’re using the clean or snatch variation, hangs from the mid-thigh are a great tool for teaching the athlete how to control the bar and feel the positions and movement from the hang, but they have to be performed properly to get this benefit. Hang movements need to be performed in a controlled and disciplined way in order to gain their maximal effect, and poor positions in the hang will only make it harder to undo bad habits further down the line. Build solid, consistent movement first!