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In videos, I see people dropping the weights after power cleans. I tried it at the gym. It was horribly loud and the cap of the barbell popped off. I hear I should be using bumper plates.

How do I use bumper plates (assuming I had them)? Do I mix them in with the hard steel plates, or do I completely replace the hard steel with bumpers?

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They let you do Olympic lifts at your gym? Did they charge you for the damage? Hehe. Definitely bumper weights all the way, but like Sancho said you should be able to reset to your thighs first (and properly) otherwise you're using more weight than you should and need to beef up strength in another area. –  VISQL May 22 '12 at 19:16
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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Completely replace the iron plates with bumpers for the majority of the weight on the bar. You can add smaller iron plates (5s, 10s, etc.) to fine-tune the weight on the bar, but the only stuff to touch the ground should be bumpers if you intend to drop the weight. You should have much more bumper than iron on the bar so that you don't lessen the lifetime of the bumper plates.

Also, you could just put the weight down: http://vimeo.com/25531302 Don't waste a lot of energy lowering it slowly, though. Like in this video, drop it to your thighs, and then just put it back on the ground.

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I might add, that you do need a good quality bar designed to take the stress of dropping the weights without bending. –  Berin Loritsch May 22 '12 at 19:27
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Thanks. And +1 for the video of Rippetoe bursting a blood vessel. –  Mike M. Lin May 23 '12 at 3:36
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If you're going to drop the weights, the only weights that touch should be bumpers, and you should be on an Olympic lifting platform of some kind.

Bumper plates of different weights have a consistent diameter, to maximize surface area. Additional iron plates can be used if they are of a smaller diameter.

Make sure you're using a quality bar. Ivanko, a quality manufacturers of bars, has an article (PDF) with some gory stories about poorly made bars snapping in half in the middle of a lift or on a bounce.

You should try to minimize the amount of bar-dropping that you do, but sometimes you can't avoid it. If you're training the Olympic lifts seriously, you risk a missed or dropped lift. That's the reality of lifting close to your limit. But for most warm-ups you should be controlling the bar for most or all of its downward path. (This is more true for cleans than snatches.) Many people ignore this advice and drop every attempt in the attempt to minimize the eccentric, soreness-producing phase of the lift. In some gyms this is considered rude and destructive. Either change gyms or change your behavior.

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I have to disagree with the last paragraph. Given the proper platform and equipment it's not destructive, and I can't see the benefit to controlling something like a snatch on the way down. As for rude, I guess if youre in the kind of gym that posts a sign warning you not to make loud noises or sweat too much, but then they arent likely to have real bumper plates are they. –  J. Winchester May 23 '12 at 4:38
    
I agree, particularly for snatches, but don't know how to phrase the distinction. :) –  Dave Liepmann May 23 '12 at 12:48
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