Learning the snatch and clean & jerk can be challenging, even harder to master. The abundance of information available can make it even harder to train these movements. Some philosophies suggest the only way to master Olympic lifts is to minimize assistance exercises and simply snatch, clean, jerk, and squat only. Other philosophies suggest drills and auxiliary exercises are key to perfecting Olympic lifts. Both philosophies work and have their pros and cons; certainly, they have both produced World and Olympic champions. If you’re looking to use assistance exercises to develop technique and power, adding “hang” movements to your weekly training is essential. For CrossFitters it’s a must, given that competitions often require hang snatch or hang clean movements within the workouts programmed.
To “hang” lift is to begin any Olympic Weightlifting movement from any height on the body other than the floor. There are three main hang positions: high hang (between waist and mid-quadriceps), mid hang (immediately above knees), and the low hang (immediately below knees). Let’s also include a 4th variation, the power position lift, which isn’t really a hang lift, but is beneficial for perfecting technique and developing power. Ultimately, the rationale behind the use of hang lifts is to (a) drill technique and proper form, and (b) improve power and explosiveness. All hang lifts begin with the barbell at the waist and then are set into position by lowering the barbell to the desired height. As you’ll read on, properly executed hang lifts require athletes to move up and down the same path. That is, whatever path they took to lower the barbell is the same exact path they must take on the way up to perform the lift.
The high hang is unique in that it requires very little movement at the onset of the lift. Stand with the barbell at your waist then lower it somewhere between your waist and mid-quadriceps, allowing your shoulders to pull forward in front of your hips. Once the bar has been lowered to position, without hesitation and at great speed, lift the bar along the same line you used to get to the high hang depth. Immediately upon entering the power position, extend vertically and dive under the barbell. The short timing of the high hang position will transfer beautifully into the snatch and clean from the floor.
Moving lower towards the ground is the mid hang position, where the barbell is right above your knee caps (patella). Stand with the barbell at your waist then lower it to the top of your knees, again ensuring the shoulders shift forward in front of your hips. Once the bar has been lowered to position, without hesitation and at great speed, lift the bar along the same line you used to get to the mid hang depth. Again, at the power position, extend vertically and pull yourself under the barbell. What makes this hang lift different from the power position and the high hang is that with the mid hang you’ll notice a significant “loading” of the hamstrings, which is vital to the snatch and clean.
The third and final hang lift is the low hang position. In this position the barbell hangs just below your knee caps. Stand with the barbell at your waist and bring it down just below your knees. Once the bar has been lowered to position, without hesitation and at great speed, lift the bar along the same line you used to get into the low hang position. Immediately upon entering the power position, extend vertically and dive under the barbell. This position is unique because it’s only a few short inches from the previous mid hang position, yet the difference in distance requires you to move your knees. This can be very challenging for people. So though they’re close in height, the need circumvent the knees makes the lifts worthy of the distinction and both should be practiced.
Power position snatches and cleans are not considered hang lifts per se, but they’re worth mentioning since every hang position begins by setting up at the waist. By definition, if the shoulders are angled forward, in front of the hips, then the move automatically becomes a “hang.” Conversely in the power position, your shoulders are directly above the bar (vertical trunk/torso). As such, it wouldn’t quite fit the description of a hang. Nonetheless, practicing the snatch and clean from the start of the power position minimizes any unnecessary movements we sometimes create. To be successful, you have no choice but to extend vertically in order to get under the barbell. Because there is no benefit of momentum from the floor, and the bar is dead weight from such a height, you have no choice but to focus on the proper extension of your body. You have no time to add those bad habit movements that could hinder perfect form.
Hang lifts also help you become more explosive. The main difference is the load you add on. That’s it! Increase the intensity (weight) and adjust the volume (reps) as necessary. Challenge yourself to perform a mid hang snatch, for example, at maximal weight. The only way for you to be successful is to fully engage your lower body to promote the triple extension (extension of ankles, knees, and hips). Your arms alone won’t work. Putting yourself in a situation where your only choice is to focus on the triple extension will not only reinforce your understanding of the lift’s mechanics but it will also force you to produce optimum power output. Exciting just to think about it, isn’t it?
When there are too many flaws in technique, you have to break the movement down into parts. Because lifting from the ground gives you plenty of time to create velocity, it sometimes hinders proper execution. Hang lifts allow you to focus on a partial lift, perfecting that into lifts from the ground. The worse the technique, the simpler the parts should be. As such, starting with the high hang lift is best. For those with better technique, or once you’ve mastered high hang lifts, then move into the more complex mid hang and low hang. Coaches can even include any of the hang movements into WODs. It would still make for a tough workout while providing an opportunity to work on mechanics, so long as the load is reasonable. Athletes can slow down or speed up the hang movements according to their level of mastery. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast!
I hesitated including this topic in this article but in the end it seemed appropriate. There is a useful complex involving any combination of two hang positions and the floor, the “3-position” snatch or clean. An example of a 3-position lift is one where the lifter stands straight with barbell at the waist, then performs the following snatches or cleans in succession: (1) high hang, (2) low hang, and (3) floor. Yes, a full snatch or clean is performed from all three positions, and after all three have been completed, it is considered 1 rep. Cool exercise. It should be noted that coaches can provide 3-position snatch or clean in this sequence to work on technique. Observe the order. It’s forcing the athlete to work from a higher position going lower and lower eventually lifting from the ground. Exactly how we should have learned.
If power output is of concern, and not so much technique, then reverse the sequence. Have the athlete perform the following snatches or cleans in this order: (1) floor, (2) low hang, and (3) high hang. The idea here is that by the time they perform the last snatch or clean, in the high hang position, they’re more fatigued requiring the greatest amount of effort to finish the complex.
There is no question hang lifts help CrossFitters, though there is huge debate over whether they are beneficial for specialized Olympic Weightlifters. For those who aren’t specialized lifters, there is little debate about using hang lifts in regular training. Not only will technique improve but so will force production. Try hang lifts in training, as warm ups, cool downs, for maximal effort, for technique, for fun, for showing off to others, whatever fits your needs. Just use them!