Weightlifting Lessons from Natalie Burgener

Back in November, the coaching staff at CrossFit King of Prussia had the pleasure of Natalie Burgener’s presence to help us become better weightlifters and coaches. Natalie is an Olympic weightlifter and yes, I mean the actual Olympics and not just an “olympic lifter.” If you CrossFit, then her last name is familiar. That’s because she is married to Casey Burgener, son of Mike Burgener of CF Olympic Lifting Seminar fame. Natalie grew up as an avid gymnast, but then was introduced to weightlifting by her dad. At the age of 25, she competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and placed a respectable 12th in a very competitive field (63kg). At 138 pounds, her best lifts are 105kg (235 lbs.) in the snatch and 120kg (265 lbs.) in the clean and jerk.  I think you would agree that if you wanted to learn weightlifting from someone, an Olympian is most likely a good choice.

The private seminar consisted of both lecture and hands-on teaching, but most of the time was spent on the latter. Natalie went over the snatch and the clean and jerk, and went over everything from the setup, to the finish, to assistance exercises. As someone who runs his own clean and jerk seminar for KoP athletes, I was extremely interested to hear what she had to say. I didn’t participate in the physical movement because of my shoulder surgery, but I didn’t take copious notes. Here are just some of the notable things that I learned from her. (These are more intermediate and advanced tips and cues, as there are a plethora of beginner tips out there.)

“Keep the bar over your base”

There are two parts to this phrase. The first refers to the bar staying over your feet in the first pull. Since you’re driving through the midfoot and then back through the heels, the bar ideally is being swept back towards the body to prevent your balance from being in the balls of your feet the whole time. We see this a lot with novice lifters as the bar gets away from them in the first pull off the ground and their heels are pulled up off the ground as their body lurches forward.

The second part is in the catch of the snatch or clean and jerk. When the bar is locked out overhead, make sure it is stacked over your shoulders. If we look at it deeper, the bar is stacked upon the wrists which are stacked upon the elbows which are stacked upon the shoulders which are connected to the torso which is stacked upon the hips, then knees, then eventually ankles and feet on the ground. (and you do the boogy oogy and you turn yourself around…) The whole system is a base that must be locked out and strong at each joint, otherwise failure is imminent.

“Jump, not extend”

We talk about hip extension or triple extension all the time, but the word “extend” simply implies an opening of the hip. Speed is not accounted for. By loading ourselves and jumping weight, we can understand the idea of jumping with a barbell in hands. That loaded, athletic position is something I emphasize especially to beginners because it’s something they are probably familiar with from other sports. They just need to be reminded that the jump is straight UP (not back) and that they shouldn’t be leaving the ground in a lofty manner, but rather pulling themselves under the bar as quickly as possible.

“Feet and hands at the same time”

Whether it is catching the snatch in a full lockout or catching the clean on the anterior delts (shoulders), your feet and hands should be finishing at the same time. Doing so establishes your base when your feet land on the ground at the same time as locking your arms out in the snatch or receiving the bar in the clean. Timing is a big deal with this sport, so practice it!

“Ankle flexibility matters”

Dorsiflexion is when you flex your ankle so that the top of your foot comes closer to your shin. (plantar flexion is the opposite) This might be a bigger factor in people’s squats than even hip mobility. I think people focus on the hip a lot because it’s a major joint in a lot of movements, but looking at Natalie’s dorsiflexion (see below) makes you realize how helpful ankle flexibility can be for the squat. Kelly Starrett has some nice resources over at mobilitywod.com for everything including ankle and hip mobility and he just came out with a book “Becoming a Supple Leopard” which you can find in my Amazon Store.

Assistance Drills

There were other drills that are harder to explain, so I will just list them and if you’re curious you can Youtube them: Sotts press, drop snatch, snatch balance, three position snatch, jerk press, jerk push press, jerk balance, and jerk step. These drills are all meant to help speed and coordination through certain parts of the snatch and clean and jerk.

Overall, this was a great seminar and just goes to show that you can never stop learning. Coaches have different ways of saying things and different cues, so if you want to become a better coach or athlete, I suggest experiencing different coaching styles! I want to thank Natalie for taking time out of her crazy busy schedule to come help us at KoP. At the time of the seminar, she was a couple months pregnant, so now she is only a few weeks away from having a baby! Here’s wishing Natalie and Casey have a healthy baby that will summon the power of two very strong parents and be in the 2032 Olympics!


One thought on “Weightlifting Lessons from Natalie Burgener

  1. Pingback: 3 Steps to Becoming a Better CrossFit Coach | Constantly Varied

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