The Olympic lifts– the snatch and the clean & jerk– are less about brute force and more about technique. Little things like foot placement and back angle make a huge difference in the amount of weight you can move. As your technique improves, you will find it easier to do the lifts and you’ll make better times on workouts that involve lots of them (like last Wednesday’s WOD).
There are two very common mistakes on both the clean and the snatch. First is lack of full hip extension, second is improper foot position on landing. The trick to of both of these lifts is to accelerate the bar to maximum height, then pull yourself under it, getting as low and as stable as possible while catching the bar either overhead, for a snatch, or in a front rack, for a clean.
In order to get the bar as high as possible, you have to fully extend at the hip. The common problem in this phase is mental; you think you can get under the bar faster if you don’t stand up all the way. The problem is that if you don’t finish the hip extension, you can’t get the bar high enough to get under it. Notice the second frame in the picture.
After you accelerate the bar up, there will be a very brief moment when the bar is “floating,” just before gravity accelerates it back toward the ground. At that point, you pull yourself under the bar. The trick in this phase is to get as low and as stable is possible to catch the weight before it speeds up too much. Foot placement is very important. Again, the problem is mental. Most people think that if their feet are wide, they will be low and stable. This is partially true, but going into a full squat (like in frame 3) is both more stable and lower than a wide stance.
The two common errors in these lifts are caused by not understanding the nature of the movement. Next time you’re going to do a workout with either of these lifts, spend a few minutes visualizing and practicing opening the hip and landing properly. Figure out the technique part and the strength and power parts will come quickly after.