How to lift fast-er

Filip Taylor
10min read
September 26, 2022

Weightlifters love to focus on speed - it's always flashy, but how do you build speed? Do you even need to focus on it? Are you just wasting training time on getting worse? In this article, we discuss speed - what it's for, how you build it, and how beginners should develop speed characteristics - in a way that's appropriate for your first few years of training.

How to lift FAST-er

Want to lift faster, like your favourite athletes? It starts in school: do you remember the formula for speed?

Speed, defined as the rate of change of an objects position, is the distance travelled by the object, divided by how long it took the object to move that distance. 

In order to move quickly in Weightlifting you need to:

1. Change the overall distance travelled by the barbell, faster bar movement, and/or 

2. Move yourself from a to b in the shortest time possible. Faster body repositioning under the bar.

#1 is all abut the bar, but #2 is all about the body. In this bar-body complex, speed is your ability to do both of these as much as possible in as short a time as possible.

Lets address these in order of the relative “ease” of improving each.

Changing Overall Distance

If you’re moving the bar further in the same amount of time, you’re moving faster. On the other hand, if you’re moving the bar less distance but you’re getting under it, you’re moving yourself faster. It’s important to characterise speed in both of these ways, because they both contribute to making more, heavier lifts.

However, first thing’s first: changing barbell movement distance can be both productive and unproductive.

You can reduce the distance the bar has to travel and move faster by cutting your pull short, but that doesn’t help you get it over your head or onto your shoulders. Equally, you can make the total lift faster by reducing the distance the bar has to travel by manipulating technique, thus improving the speed of the body movement.

Think about a wider jerk grip and how it allows a lifter to move the bar to their desired position faster as the bar has to clear less space - it takes less time. This technique gets really wacky – but effective – in the “Colombian” re-grip, where the lifter jerks with a very wide grip. You’ll see this domestically in some very talented and mobile athletes, like Cyrille Fagat Tchatchet II.

Effective when performed correctly as the wider your grip the closer you are to the barbell overhead, and the less distance the bar has to travel upwards until it’s reached ‘lock-out’ above your head. 

But wider isn’t always better. A wider grip in any lift can;

  • Compromise grip strength and connection from bar to body
  • Put excess pressure on the wrists
  • Compromise shoulder and elbow lockout mechanics 
  • Cock up your bar path, and/ or overhead position

It also requires more mobility than most of us have, at least without exaggerating technical problems or causing undue joint stress. So try it out cautiously. Check out our ‘how-to’ series for a handy grip width determination guide (or see your coach). 

What’s Bar Path Got To Do With Speed?

Talking of bar path, a good path is critical for an efficient and fast lift. A straight line is the shortest route from A (the floor) to B (overhead). But it’s not enough to move fast – you also have to put both the bar and body in the right place, or you’re missing lifts faster – which we don’t think is your intention?

In reality, you won’t achieve a straight bar path and you probably don’t want to. There’s a lot of discussion about using the straightest bar path, but that’s typically by newer lifters who’ve just discovered bar path tracking software and want to achieve it at any cost.

Athlete breaking our shutter-speed settings whilst achieving adequate extension in the clean pull.

The bar path should be smooth – a light S-curve that moves backwards from the starting position throughout the lift. No excessive 'looping'

Looping is a good way to waste your speed: you’ve moved fast, but you’ve given yourself a much harder job trying to catch the bar. And this is part of the greater point: speed helps proficient lifters lift more, but can be a distraction from learning the lifts correctly in a controlled manner. Speed is a contributor to good positions and not a replacement for it

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

When it comes to bar path, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. It’s a Weightlifting meme that has some real world credibility.

The more jarring, slamming and changes of direction in the bar makes the slower it moves. Each horizontal movement takes energy away from the end goal. Vertical barbell displacement, and then vertical displacement of your hips down under the bar so you can lock your arms.

Tennis balls bouncing off the floor have long been used as an analogy for this motion. A shallow and smooth approach angle (towards the floor) results in a shallow rebound angle off the floor. It’s simple physics. 

Isaac Newton - Quotes, Facts & Laws - Biography
No matter who your coach is, if they disagree with Newton and Euclid, you might have some bigger issues to worry about.

A smooth and shallow bar path gradient into the hip will result in the least possible horizontal displacement on the bar after the hip contact. We want to be smoothly applying upward force to the bar and bringing it just far enough back to put it on the shoulders or behind the head safely.

Practicing this movement and developing CONSISTENCY in your movement pattern is how your become FAST. The more variability in how you move, the more risk there is of leaking speed on the way up – and consistently good movement trumps good speed in the wrong position.

If the movement is new to you each time, you’ll perform it slowly as you have to concentrate on the new position. Movement familiarity and muscle memory is what makes movements FAST-er over time. Only the athlete with good technique should focus on speed training in the lifts themselves and their variations.

Wasting Force: Leaks and Swings

One of the most common ways to ruin speed is simply putting your horizontal force in the wrong place and using the hip and leg drive to cause horizontal (or, properly, saggital) movement of the barbell.

Barpath, Technique, and Speed in Weightlifting

Any force you’re spending on pushing the bar forwards isn’t going towards moving it upwards. This reduces bar speed, specifically, and can be a total waste since we’re focusing on moving the barbell vertically – that’s the only direction that really helps us get underneath it for the catch position.

Simple: Jumping backwards or forwards is horizontal displacement and takes away from the vertical motion of the barbell you want to achieve. It’s simply incorrect. Argue with us in the DM’s if you want.


Bartonietz, 1996

If your bar path is “correct” – and you’re not doing anything absolutely bonkers with your body to make that path – you’ll likely have a consistent and healthy movement.

Whilst jumping backwards is less or a problem than jumping forward. It's still not optimal. Jumping back and forth is unpredictable and we need consistency in order to move fast and lift big.

Should I Jump Backwards In the Snatch and Clean?

"But Stash.. many excellent lifters move backwards in their lifts" 

Yes, this is true. Whilst zero horizontal movement is better. Many international athletes do move backwards slightly due to the force of turning over the bar up and backwards. The difference is, they move backwards mildly and the distance moved is consistent.

Athlete side note: uncoordinated backwards momentum will either dislocate your shoulders as you wrestle the barbell back to a comfortable overhead position or involve a potentially painful miss behind your head. Especially if you’re wearing incorrect straps for the job. See our guide to straps if you’re in any doubt. 

In general, if you've less than 3-4 years of training under your belt, we'd recommend avoiding any backwards movement. Especially if its intentional! Don't intentionally do something sub-optimal in order to imitate your favourite international lifter. If you've learnt the classic technical model and a slight backwards movement still happens due to your biomechanics, that's different. Bottom line is, unless you have those 3-4 years of experience, you won't know if its a bi-product or caused by a technical error.

What about forward movement?

Forwards momentum is AWEFUL and almost entirely un-correctable once the bar is overhead. Even if you jump forwards to chase the bar. This is a “last ditch” way of stabilising the bar overhead and shouldn’t be happening regularly in your training. Check out our article on stepping out your lifts for some possible causes.

The only muscle group you can use to muscle the barbell backwards to a stable overhead position our your scaps and rotator cuffs. Muscles which maybe lift 5-10kg (during exercises such as the Lu-raise or WYI raises). NOT helpful when you’re trying to snatch anything heavier than the barbell. So don’t do it.

How To Improve Speed As a Beginner and Intermediate Lifter

Once you've developed a somewhat consistent understanding of the Snatch and the Clean. You improve your speed by moving lighter weights faster, focusing on speed in other exercises, and getting stronger. All of these steps require you to deliberately move faster, and maintain that urgency for speed. If you don’t start applying this intent, it just won’t happen.

1. Move Faster, Lighter

Step one is simple and important: Use lighter weights. There’s no shame in it. Go slowly and take your time working on the consistent application of good technique at an increasing speed. Speed training takes months or years to really kick in, so you’re not going to get any extra benefit rushing it right now.

Rushing your speed work, ironically, undoes your recent technical development when you go too heavy. You’re ingraining the wrong patterns, often leading to that HOOKED bar path where your back and forward movement are excessive.

 2. Move Faster In Other Exercises

Here’s our take: new lifters should develop technique and speed separately, and then put them together later.

In your first year of training, at the absolute least – but probably 2-3 years, your technique is too squirrely to worry about speed. The development of speed and technique are best separated into practicing the lifts and developing speed characteristics.

What might that look like? The basic example is this: you develop technique in the snatch by snatching, and you develop speed qualities in jumps, sled pushes, and ballistic movements. You keep them separate while you develop the general qualities and consistency you need in each.

Elite athletes can perform snatches for speed, and so can consistent intermediates, with lighter weights. As a beginner, just don’t complicate it – the snatch has enough going on before you start worrying about how quickly you perform it.

3. Focus Less On The Bar

One of the best and most controversial takes we’ve developed is this: it’s more important to think about where your body is than where the bar is. It’s a way of bringing yourself through the movement in ways you can feel very clearly.

The barbell is important, but you need to get into good positions with balance and stability – and those dictate where the bar goes. Your body is the bit you have control over and should be the main place to start with technique and speed.

Putting more focus into how your body is moving, what’s doing that moving, and what it does to the barbell are all key. The better you understand and feel what the legs and hips do, or where your body should be when the bar is at the knee, the better you’re equipped to move properly.

And, as mentioned above, moving properly is key. This is useful for both barbell speed and your speed getting under the bar!

4.     Intent and Weight

Once you’re consistent enough to improve your lifting and speed together, focus on variations and weights that allow you to focus on it. These should be exercises that either depend on speed, or give you a very simple job.

For example, the snatch balance or snatch drop can be used to improve speed under the bar. They’re best practiced – for this purpose – with smaller weights where the focus is on less upward movement and more effort putting yourself one-arms-length below the bar.

This is a great exercise to warm up with, as it lets you focus on the speed and intent you want later in the workout. It’s also great because it can and should be performed light: 50kg is enough for almost anyone to pick up on speed with the snatch balance.

Equally, movements like high snatches (pulling under from the hip) and others should focus on speed, when they’re there to help speed. There are other reasons to use this kind of technical exercise but, when they’re there for speed, it’s a case of moving fast, not lifting more.

Are we repeating ourselves? Maybe. We wouldn’t need to if you’d just use less weight.

5.     Finish Your Pull

The muscles that help you get under the bar develop through the development of a long pull. There’s no “either/or” in weightlifting: you finish your pull and then you get under the bar. Counter-intuitively, the better your pull length, the better your speed under.

First, you give yourself time to sit under the barbell. This is obviously important for making lifts and putting the bar in the right place overhead.

Finishing the pull also lengthens muscles that need to rapidly shorten. The body is good at that – moving from completely lengthened to re-flexing a muscle is actually a naturally fast process. Short pulls don’t provide the stretch-shortening cycle that is the source for real speed – just ask a sprinter.

The change of direction from up to down relies on stretching and shortening, and a full stretch potentiates a fast sit-down. There’s no excuse for cutting your pull short, stop being a wetter.

6.     Develop A Deliberate Turnover

Yes, you want to reduce the input of the arms and their tension in the pull. However, when you get to the top of the leg and hip extension, you need to actively pull yourself into a good catch position and provide a strong upwards “punch” into the bar to stabilise it overhead.

This turnover comes from the upper back muscles, primarily, but will require you to actually put some effort in. Not turning over deliberately means only that you do it by accident, unpredictably, and/or without the stability and force needed to make it quick and stable.

Look at any of the best lifters in the world – people like Anton Pliesnoi focus on turnover, as does everyone in the Polish and Russian systems – and they lift better than us. Yes many are juiced to the gills, but that doesn’t change which technical focuses work.

Speed comes from blistering change of direction, and that relies on both the pull and the turnover. You don’t get to choose – you’ll just miss lifts when they matter most.

Changing How You Move

Consistent lifting aside, becoming fast requires you to move from point A to point B in the shortest time possible. This involves moving the barbell upwards quickly and moving yourself under the bar just as fast. We can’t ignore the inevitable structural changes that make this possible.

Moving barbells quickly 

To move a barbell quickly you’ll need to generate a large amount of force in a short span of time. In other words, you need to be powerful

This is achieved through:

1. Getting stronger 

2.     Practicing movements such as the power clean and power snatch 

3.     Performing plyometric exercises to increase your overall ‘fast’ twitch muscle density 

4. Improving your technique and general athletic ability. Just like running and jumping. 

1. Getting stronger 

This is simple. Getting stronger in the squat, deadlift and overhead press, being an overall UNIT of a lifter will make the weights you lift during the snatch and clean and jerk relatively lighter. 

If you have a max deadlift of 240kg, a 150kg clean pull will move quickly. Smarter people than us have developed strength ratios you can use to benchmark your performance. We don’t care about that: stronger is better.

Technique is king in weightlifting, but ultimately it’s a strength sport. Overall strength can and will bail you out of certain technical errors. No matter what R/weightlifting tells you, you cannot technique your way out of being too weak to lift good weights.

There will come a point in your career where technical drills fall on dead ears and a weak back. When that happens, you’ll realise that strength is about habits x time, and that you could’ve been getting stronger and lifting more all along.

Correcting errors will both feel like beating a dead horse and become counterproductive as they take away from valuable strength and positional strength building time. There’s a time and a place for both, but having basic strength lets you have specific strength, and that’s how you get good at weightlifting.

Get strong. It’s both rewarding and productive.

2. ‘Power’ variations 

These are perfect additions to any weightlifting program. Less weight, more speed, and a focus on the finish and turnover portions of the lift.

They add practice time to your bank of snatch and CJ training hours. Force you to move with some deliberate intent and work the ‘power’ section of the force-velocity curve in the most sport-specific way possible. If you’re shite at powers, do more of them. The secret to getting better is doing the thing more often and better. Practice doing it well and all of your lifting will improve.

If you’re already good at them and have beautiful technique, consider additional squats, pulls (or other movements you’re bad at).

Power + Full combinations are also excellent at helping you meet the bar at its heights point and avoiding it crashing down on you. Crashing is one of those jarring movements we DONT want as they reduce our overall movement speed.

Disclaimer: we’re not talking about max weight, power-or-nah lifts here. We mean powers – clearly at the top ¼ of your knee’s flexion range, and without gunking up your technique or doing something stupid. Humility and powers in the 65%ish range.

3. Plyometrics 

No more room in your program for weighted lifts? Plyometrics are the best option, especially for newer lifters.

The gist of plyometrics is that they train your ‘fast’ twitch muscle fibres (the ones which produce force quickly), improve your shock absorption properties, and train the stretch-shortening mechanics that make speed happen 

Plyometrics include your classic exercises like box jumps and broad jump. But also include things like depth drops, side-jumps, sprints, hill-sprints, bunny hops, hurdles, bounds and vertical jumps.

Box Jump -> 

If it involves jumping, throwing , or moving quickly against gravity, it’s a speed movement and it will benefit your weightlifting.

You can also get a lot of these benefits from ballistic movements – like jumps, but with a more complex setup and moving a weight (typically). Med ball slams, scoop tosses, and chest passes are all useful ways of building speed and power.

Yes, you still need to get faster in the upper body. Despite common conceptions, being a weightlifter is not an excuse to go T-rex mode and ignore your whole upper half.

4. Improving technical and athletic ability 

Working plyometric exercises will make you a better athlete, improve coordination, and reduce overall injury risk. 

Jumping and sprinting movements transfer directly across to the “power” positions of the snatch and the clean. If you don’t believe us, just record yourself performing a standing vertical jump and a snatch from the side. Compare these side by side and judge for yourself. 

The bottom line is power transfer to the floor. That’s what it’s all about, because that’s the only place it actually achieves anything.

To shift big weights quickly, you need a strong foundation of strength and stability in the core and lower limbs, specifically the feet and ankle joints. Being a better overall ‘athlete’ will improve these characteristics and take your training to new heights. Early exposure to sports in childhood is critical to development of these characteristics. As an adult, there’s a lot of catching up to do, especially in the general developments you’ve missed out on if you never played sports as a kid.

If your feet roll inwards, knees collapse, and you look like a shitting dog during your lifts. The amount of power you can produce in individual muscles is irrelevant. Think of it as a 800Bhp sports car on £40 Chinese death-slide tyres from Ali-express. The power may be there, but you can’t transfer none of it to the tarmac. You go nowhere if you’re lucky, or find a ditch if you’re not.

As a lifter, it’s much of the same. If you can’t transfer the power to the platform and into the bar, it won’t matter how strong you are. Equally, sustainable training is built on these general athletic qualities and, when they’re lacking, you’ll get dinged up incredibly quickly compared to a more robust athlete. Effective programming and periodisation by your coach will incorporate the development of these general athletic characteristics. Collectively lumped under the “GPP” (“General Physical Preparation”) period. You’ll likely spend most of your training year in this phase - especially as an adult with some catching up to do. 

If you’re confused how to develop these characteristics or simply CBA to make changes to your carefully thought out program you found online (guilty). Don’t overcomplicate things. 

Go to the local park. Do some 40 yard sprints. Hop, skip and jump your way across the local football pitch, expose yourself to some exercise other than Weightlifting every now and then (low risk ones, preferably, like cycling, swimming, and airbike).

If you’ve zero time to mess around with training outside of the gym. Circuit training! 5-10 min after a session is a small price to pay for preparing your whole rig for less-specific, more-varied skills. It’s just called “being in shape”, and it can cut through the one-note nature of weightlifting quite nicely. 

Finish off your session with some bodybuilding movements, plyometrics, sled pushes, tyre flips, sled drags. Anything ‘fun’ which involves you standing on two feet and testing your balance will probably fall under the realm of ‘athletic’ development. 

As a seasoned lifter, it might help you hate training a little less, too”

Finally: Make Space For Speed – Mobilise! 

We saved the worst for last, as nobody wants to hear this (yet again). But mobility. 

Mobility, as opposed to flexibility, is the ability to move through a desired range of motion with control. You unfortunately need good mobility to sit into a comfortable and strong overhead squat. Certainty in this movement makes confident, fast, movement easier.

Comfortable is the key word there. If you’re not comfortable in a position, your body won’t be in any rush to get into it quickly, especially under load. That’s a one way ticket to snap city. I’ve been there and I wouldn’t recommend and extended stay.

Practicing the front squat, deep lunge, and overhead squat at every opportunity will improve your mobility and make it easier for you to move into that position at speed. It’s simply one less thing to think about when training. So don’t neglect mobility, it will make you a faster lifter. 

Conclusion: Putting It Together

The final piece of the puzzle is putting it all together. 

  • You have good, consistent and efficient technique and a textbook bar path.
  • You’re an athlete with good movement mechanics and efficient power transfer to the barbell. 
  • Your programming and sporting background has prepared you for this sport (with a little help from genetics and heaps of type 2 muscle fibres). 
  • You can sit in an overhead squat for days and have no trouble getting into the positions required by weightlifting. 

So what now? How can we make you even faster?

Move consistently, quickly and with intent. 

Need more help? Drop us a line at

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