Don’t Ever Clark It

I was talking to someone yesterday about her Olympic lifting programming and the subject of “clarking the bar” came up. Not many younger Olympic lifters even know what “clarking it” even means. I found former US Olympic Weightlifting Team head coach Jim Schmitz’s story on how the coin was termed (LINK).

(On a side note, I like reading most Iron Mind articles, particularly the older guys who talk about lifting in the early days. There are interesting stories and solid pictures. A small portion of each issue consists of irrelevant or silly shit, but each issue is interesting nonetheless).

To summarize, Ken Clark was a pretty good American weightlifter. However, in the 1984 Olympics Clark pulled the bar to belt high and let go. Twice. In retrospect, Ken will laugh about it nowadays, saying, “Hey, I’ve got a lift named after me.” But the reality is that he bitched out. I don’t mean any disrespect to Clark — there are a million factors that could have played into him clarking the bar — but it is what it is. I’ve coached people who clark the bar, and I hate it.

If a lifter allows themselves to quit on a pull in training, they develop a mental safety net that lets them quit on the lift whenever they doubt it. This self-defeating mindset can cause problems in a meet or any other PR situation. Do not ever clark the bar. You’ll let yourself think that it’s okay, and it never is. If the weight feels heavy or uneven, your foot or grip slips, sweat drops into your eyes, or someone walks in front of you, you must continue to explode at maximum capacity and make the lift. Conditions won’t be perfect in a meet. I’ll remind you of my bungle-fuck at nationals when I looked below the judging table, altered my gaze, thus my head angle, and clocked myself in the chin on my opening clean and jerk. Avoid “clarking it” like the plague.

Every single rep in weightlifting has to be a volitional explosion of recruitment; you can’t half ass any of the reps. If you sense that something is wrong with your first pull, then crank the fuck out of it on your second pull and take a shot at it. There is nothing worse than not trying at all, so don’t let yourself even consider the thought of quitting a rep. Nothing is more sickening than not even trying. Teach yourself how to be mentally tough by not clarking the bar.


Below is a picture of some fuck-head showing a fitness version of a clean pull. When a lifter clarks the bar, they’ll typically get to the point that the fuck-head is in the picture; they’ll get the bar higher than a deadlift, but not really attempt the second pull. I’d much rather someone crank the second pull and take a shot at finishing the lift — you know, actually trying and shit.

Edit: Brent found another.

40 thoughts on “Don’t Ever Clark It

  1. This used to happen to me all the time during PR attempts. It was always because I had improper back angle and put myself to far over the bar.

    I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing differently now, most likely my improved hip flexibility, but it hasn’t happened again for almost a year now.

    What is still happening to me now is that I continue to smack myself in the throat with the bar. Dead smack in the cricoid ring. Not every time, but fairly frequently. Especially on anything less than 90%. This happen to anyone else?

    Are you talking about on the clean? You’ll need to meet the bar with your shoulders.

    In any case, I never clark it. Not even trying is the worst.


  2. You do realize that no one ever “tries” to Clark a clean, right? People tend to Clark when they don’t train close enough to their 1RM.

    The body is strong enough to make the pull, but the nervous system shuts it down midway because it’s not used to the weight and speed of the movement. It’s a coordination issue, not a “balls” issue. You can’t couch someone not to do it, it’s the result of a shitty training program (which is why so many Americans seem to do it!).

    I completely disagree. You think that people are going into meets not lifting heavy? Furthermore, this is an instantaneous moment you’re referring to. We see people who haven’t deadlifted heavy have lots of motor unit recruitment issues on the hip extension lockout of the deadlift — it produces a tut-tut-tut that either forces a miss or they motor boat it up.

    You’re suggesting that experienced lifters (such as Ken Clark) don’t have control of themselves. I could understand this point for a novice, although I’d still find it unlikely (novices are capable of jumping without issue — if they miss a weight it’s because it’s just too much weight). However an experienced, or even world-level competitive, weightlifter is not going to have problems with their neuromuscular efficiency and certainly not the point of missing a rep. Not to mention you can overcome neuromuscular issues (even if they are injury related) by committing it with volitional attention and intensity.


  3. God, fuck you, Justin. You must have read my workout log yesterday. “1 x 108 lbs – Bailed before I even finished the second pull because it just felt heavy.”

    @neuro30 – I agree with you. A 108 lb snatch isn’t too heavy for me nor do I not have the figurative balls to make a 108 lb snatch. But, I’ve been stuck snatching 10-20 lbs below that on my beginner template working on my fucking form. THAT is why it felt heavy.

    Really good quote from Jim Moser about this on the SS forums the other day: “Part of the reason the USA is so bad at weightlifting is while our coaches are telling our athletes less weight and prettier form, in the rest of the world the coaches are throwing on five more pounds and telling their athletes one more rep.”


    Yeah, that’s pussy, T.

    And I wonder what coaches Moser is referring to. Pendlay made a point to me once that it’s the lack of genetic talent as opposed to the coaching that has hampered the U.S. It’s a valid point; I’ll have a hard time believing U.S. coaches have ever wanted their lifters to not be strong.


  4. @neuro30

    agreed to an extent, except I believe this is where the mental training aspect of weightlifting comes into play. One has to train the mind to just shut up and do what you’re telling the body to do, which can be more difficult than the physical portion of training. It could also be a reason why some people never do well in a competition despite posting good training numbers.

    I’m guilty of clarking the bar on occasion, but its usually because I didn’t stay over the bar enough, so the second pull puts the bar way too far out in front to even attempt a pull-under.

  5. We call it “Timming” the bar, after a fellow lifter names Tim who is the biggest perpetrator of said crime. He’ll go up to the bar, set up like he’s going to lift it, explode up until it gets to about his knees, and then just let it go. Sometimes he’ll load up the bar on the platform, walk up to it, and then just waive it off. Them we call him a giant pussy until he actually tries it. It’s fun.

  6. “Pendlay made a point to me once that it’s the lack of genetic talent as opposed to the coaching that has hampered the U.S”

    I would bet against this. Tiny Bulgaria’s gene pool of 7,148,785 is more potent than the US gene pool of 310,232,863?

    What if it’s cultural? My view is that American sporting has been corrupted by t-ball and soccer families handing out last place trophies because everyone is a winner, trying to make everyone feel good, and not enough time pushing our children to be better. I mean moving heavy objects requires one to not feel good, so if we are “touchy feely” within popular culture, how much of us are left to 1) enter the sport 2)have potential 3) train hard?

    In Bulgaria, before the Iron Curtain fell (ALLEGEDLY fell), clarking put you in the gulag… true story.

    No, Bulgaria doesn’t have the NFL, NBA, or MLB, thus they don’t have anything that prevents their athletes from funneling into Olympic sports. My theory holds true and is testable.


  7. @Cainiac

    Weightlifting in europe (countries like bulgaria) is a pretty popular sport. I mean check out Chrusciewicz’s wife/gf at 2:05

    pretty hot.

    Here in the US there’s no reward for being a high caliber weightlifter, so kids aspire to play football or baseball.

    Also, Bulgaria uses a fuckload of drugs, while here in the US anti-doping regs are at their strictest. Unfortunately, to be competitive on the world stage, the US needs to follow the path of other countries – heavy juice regiments and skirting doping regs.

  8. “…I continue to smack myself in the throat with the bar.”

    “Are you talking about on the clean? – Justin”

    Yeah, sorry for not being specific. But yes, on the clean.

    I figured out what I was doing wrong right away when I hit myself in the throat with a snatch…

  9. @MKingW

    “I figured out what I was doing wrong right away when I hit myself in the throat with a snatch…”

    Just tell her to scooch her hips up a little and try again… ;)


    Funny you should mention “clarking” a lift. I read that article over at IronMind purely by chance a few weeks back. Interesting to read the story behind stuff like that. Will endeavour to never commit this lifting sin.

    On a related note, was doing PCs as my DL warmup on Wednesday, ie. just singles instead of 3×5. My previous best was 3x5x50kg, this time I got 1×65, but failed 70 twice – how do I know if it was a Clark or just too heavy? 70 would’ve been 20kg up on best I’ve ever PC’d.

  10. Justin I’m not so sure about all WL coaches wanting strong lifters. When I first visited a WL gym near me, pr’d both lifts and begun to squat coach Charlie almost kicked me out after I told him (the reason I do low bar squat was) “I just want to be strong.” I’ve been back twice in the last two years.

    If I Clark lifts it’s towards the end of heavy single olympic lifting days when I am tired and have already lifted 95%+ poundages or PRs for many reps. I have never done it in a meet, in fact I have never ever failed to get a sn or cj attempt overhead and locked out at a meet. (i’ve done 5) yet I’ve had about a dozen red lighted lifts due to “press outs”. That’s one reason I hate the sport.

    This Charlie guy — who is he? Has he done well with decently ranked lifters? I’ll agree with Pendlay’s opinion on what is wrong with weightlifting today since he A) is one of the few remaining good coaches and B) has interviewed tons of international coaches (he has the programs for about 25 countries).

    By the way, that’s a poor explanation for low bar back squatting when you’re talking to someone who won’t understand its utility. And you may not need the LB back squat — it depends. Article in the future (not tomorrow).


  11. I work out in a big box gym; a good one, not one where d-bag trainers wag their fingers at you for a snatch attempt, And chalk is allowed too, but dropping the weight gets you kicked out. So, when I am working on my lifts, I have no choice but to get that shit up there! And, everyone will agree, that lifting light is boring, so even on PR attempts, when my confidence isnt high, I cant drop it!

  12. Justin, I think this is a little harsh – But I don’t think this is your fault (explained in points i & ii).

    There are a couple of reasons why i ‘clark’ it:

    (i)on the top of a snatch, I have smacked the head of my ‘johnson’ with the bar (maybe there is an ironmind-esque story behind why it is called a ‘johnson’, hahaha). This is normally because I have taken a toilet break, and left ‘the old chap’ pointing upwards in my compression shorts by mistake.
    I think this is a valid reason to not carry on with the lift.

    (ii)Some idiot has WALKED ON TO THE PLATFORM, like, literally right infront of you. This puts you in a bad position if you miss the lift (i don’t care how 70’s big you are, if you don’t miss a lift properly at the bottom of a clean/snatch due to trying to avoid someone, you could really injure yourself) – Which would you prefer, 1 missed rep or many months of missed reps due to injury?.
    I think the faciilty’s you train in don’t have this problem. But the place i train is full of idiots, but it is the only place to o-lift.

    (iii)Screwing up the ‘drop under’. I get the impression you have had some great training advise from great teachers, so you know exactly what to do to get under a clean and snatch.
    I have not had the luxury of this. So as a result of this I often screw up the drop under, i.e. I just don’t get under it and ‘clark it’.

    To date, NOT ONE person online or otherwise has EVER told me how to get under a clean or snatch.

    I think my points are valid, and many people reading this will agree.

    R P McMurphy

    Eh, you’re talking about something else.

    i) This isn’t clarking it. This is being physically unable to complete a lift; like getting injured.
    ii) If he’s in your personal space and can get hurt (and is too stupid to realize it), then this makes sense to stop the lift. You’re over reaching with this example as it obviously isn’t the norm (in most settings, not yours).
    iii) I never had anyone coach me on “getting under the bar”. I taught myself how to do this. It took longer with the snatch and I actually hated snatching. I was convinced for a while I’d just be a split snatcher. Then I got better. I had coaching on other points of the snatch in my learning process, but it never was relevant to “getting under it”. So that point is moot. Besides, failing to get under the bar and clarking it are not the same thing. Can you see why or do I need to explain?


  13. I found the page easy, I meant that the document link for the directions sends you back to the main page.

    Sorry for the aborted fetus comment. I understand now and am working on it. I’ll e-mail it to you in the mean time.


  14. A.C,

    “This Randle McMurphy guy sounds like he has a big dick and really little balls.

    The balls being figurative of course”

    ‘What we have here, little yellow sister, is a magnificent specimen of pure Alabama Blacksnake. But it ain’t too goddamned beaucoup’

    R P McMurphy

  15. As weird as it sounds, my natural inclination is to give my member a female name.
    You know the way sailors give their boats female names? pretty fucked up, huh?

    Anyway, I don’t think Justin would appreciate his informative post being marred by dicussions about my proud phallus.

    That is a good assumption.


  16. Hey Justin,

    Let me ask you this.

    If a lifter Clarks a first attempt, then goes out a second time and hits it, does it mean that he “pussed out” the first time, or that the lifter needed the first try to get used to the weight for that day?
    He pussed out.

    You’d be surprised how many things we humans do are completely involuntary, a product of conditioning, not desire.
    You can condition yourself to puss out by clarking it on a regular basis. This was the basis of the article; my point was to not condition yourself to fail. Do you like to fail? I hate it.

    I do know from first hand experience that most lifters in this country train with percentage based programs that rarely give them work close to their 1RM. It’s simply not specific enough to the task of lifting a maximum weight overhead for a single rep.

    I am not familiar with the current training program at the OTC, but I did live there for over a year and saw first hand what programs the men and women were using. This was back in the days of Dragomir and Lyn Jones. A lot of lifts were left in the training hall simply because the tapers used would lead to uncoordinated lifting at the meet.
    Well, this is an old critique of the OTC. I’ve heard the similar argument. I will point out that Kendrick Farris, one of the best U.S. lifters (85kg for you viewers) doesn’t train at the OTC but with Kyle Pierce, and I’ve seen Pierce’s program (as well as talking with Pendlay and sorta talking to Broz). I think it’s safe to assume that this method that we have seen out of the OTC is inadequate compared to the more loosely based Bulgarian style that mostly consists of snatch, clean and jerk, and squatting.

    The women would have a “peak” in their program about two months out, train above 90% for two to three weeks, and hit some wild numbers in the gym. They never seemed to make those same lifts later because they didn’t have any work above 85% during the run up to a meet.

    They were plenty strong for the lifts they attempted, but their nervous system forgot how to express that strength. Many of them Clarked, lost cleans due to a saggy catch, or dropped snatches forward they could have made otherwise. The pulls were plenty high so they were obviously strong enough. In fact, it was a bit of a running joke around the gym.

    Personally, my weightlifting career ended with a severely broken wrist and forearm because I forced myself to dive under a max clean when I should have Clarked it, so I guess I have a bit of a bias. lol

    Understandable. The coach’s taper messed up the women that you reference. As for you, I don’t know what was or wasn’t going on in your program (an unfortunate event, you have my condolences). But barring the situations where coaches improperly program their lifters or set them up for failure, clarking = shitty when you otherwise have the potential to avoid it. 99% of the readers here are not in a position like you or athletes at the OTC are in (regardless of how good or not the OTC is). They will lift in meets mostly as a hobby. I have coached people that lift for this reason, and when someone clarks their lift when I wholeheartedly believed they could do it, it’s a mental failure. Nothing more, nothing less.

    In other words, I think this is a bit too much thought on the topic, especially given the crowd. Clarking the bar implies that it shouldn’t have been done (the negative connotation is derogatory, thus something that should be avoided when possible).


  17. I think you guys should read the article again. “Clarking it” is when you just let go of the bar mid pull. Where on the other hand a missed lift can be from any number of factors.. if you get to the rack position and fall over and dump the weight its a missed lift…not “Clarking it”. Clear as mud?

    Thank you.


  18. The guy’s name is Charley Jones, he doesn’t like to be on the internet much. Him and Roger Sadeki own TCB. He’s a bit cranky at times and a hypoglycemic, his best lifters are all girls because men can’t stand him or vice versa.
    Natalie Johnson, Ben Harrison (doesn’t listen to a word charlie says), Holly Drombrovski are their best lifters.
    They all lifted in this meet (as did Thunderthighs):
    Holly’s total of 180 @ 63 is good (top 3 in the nation) but she has a receding hairline, deep voice and refuses to enter national meets.

    Looking forward to that article, not looking forward to having to high bar squat.

  19. Why the U.S. lifters aren’t doing so well is a complex issue and has a lot of converging factors. I remember Pendlay posted a while ago that there’s a strong negative correlation between GDP per capita and international weightlifting success of a country. In poorer countries, being a weightlifter pays. It almost always means a better life financially. In the U.S. you have to make huge financial sacrifices to be a weightlifter. Not only does our government not support weightlifters, but the guys in the 85kg classes and higher have a big opportunity cost in that they probably could have been good at other sports and made a shit ton of money. In Bulgaria/Iran/Russia, becoming a weightlifter means you have enough money to raise a family, and probably a decently paying coaching position down the road. In America, becoming a weightlifter means quitting your job, barely scraping by, and having an uncertain future. The existence of NFL/NBA/etc doesn’t fully explain everything, because if that were the only factor then we would still have smaller weightlifters who were good at lifting but stood no chance playing basketball/football. The drug discrepancy certainly plays a big role as well. I think the relative incentive structures are the most important factor. Weightlifting just doesn’t pay in America.

    The programming decisions might have some impact on the failure of U.S. weightlifters, but probably not as big as people think. There’s just such a broad variety of successful training programs that can all churn out champions.

    I think your paragraph is more support for my “NLF/MLB” comment. Incredible athletes can make, at the minimum, very above average salaries as professional athletes (what is the NFL minimum now? 500k?). Even if they liked weightlifting and actually looked into doing it, it’s clear that it doesn’t pay well. Other sports do.

    However, I doubt most of them ever consider weightlifting in such a fashion because culturally they are herded into sport programs that select up the professional level. Pee-wee (kid playtime) turns into high school (where better athletes are playing because coaches don’t have to appease parents by playing shitty athletes), college selects from high school (obviously getting the cream off the top; only the high-end performers are given lucrative scholarships), and then higher level professional leagues select only the best from the collegiate system.

    Don’t like that fact? Then tell me how many Division I college football programs there are compared to collegiate weightlifting clubs/teams/whatever.


  20. Mendes “clarks” it at 2:35, this was the Arnold classic.

    I believe he already had Caleb beat at the point, so I guess the incentive wasn’t completely there.

    That was a long time ago in Mendes’ career.

    Edit: I just watched it — there wasn’t any way that lift was going up. The previous lift took a lot out of him and he was tired. My definition of clarking is more psychological than physica.


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