| By Sam Walls |
We have always been amazed with feats of strength that cause us to wonder about the limitless potential of the human body. We are fascinated with tales of a mother lifting a car to save her young child or the phenomenal expression of human power displayed by Bob Beamon at he 1968 Olympics, when he shattered the world long jump record by over a half a meter. Nowhere is this potential expressed more than in the sport of Weightlifting, which is practiced in more than 130 countries around the globe (1). The impressive display of raw fortitude in this sport has influenced the training methods and regimes of virtually every sport that requires an explosive advantage.
The benefits of these exercises lie in the development of the coordinated sequence of events which propels the bar upward. No other exercises have the capacity to generate rate of force development as the core weightlifting exercises, which include the snatch, clean, and jerk. The power produced during a 150 kg snatch can be as much as 2.5 times greater than an athlete squatting 375kg (2). This example displays the golden rule of power development: Heavy weights MUST be intentionally lifted fast (3). It was this type of leg power that gave the Soviet weightlifting superstar Yuri Vardanyan the ability to not only fly 38 inches in the air, but also to soar almost 12 feet in the standing long jump (4). With wattage like this, it is evident why athletes in strength-based sports would place such a high priority on developing the Olympic lifts.
There are also similarities between the Olympic movements, (notably the snatch lift) and jump performance. This has led to the inclusion of these lifts as a means to improve jump performance. Following the Soviet stratum for classification, renowned national weightlifting coach, Vorobyev has concluded that the elite lifters obtained the highest verticals, revealing an impressive average jump height of 33.7 inches (5). Yes that’s right. These numbers are comparable to some of the best jumpers in the NFL draft.
During strength training the muscle usually follows a particular order of recruitment where the smaller motor units are utilized before the larger more powerful fibers. This pattern is known as Henneman’s size principle. Training powerful movements like the Olympic lifts may allow us to violate this principle by teaching the body to selectively recruit the fast twitch fibers as your front line soldiers (6). This is very important in athletics as many sport movements occur in less than 200 milliseconds (2,7). As a tapering method this can also be coupled with an actual change in the muscle archetype, allowing the muscle fiber orientation to favor higher velocities of movements (8). Not only will your muscles be explosive, they will also look the part.
Two of the most common weightlifting exercises practiced by power athletes such as football players and track and field competitors are the clean and to a lesser extent, the snatch. By definition, a clean occurs when you lift a barbell from the ground and rack it at shoulder height. The snatch however, is lifted from the ground and continues in one motion to the overhead position. While this may sound simple, the mechanics required to perform these lifts correctly can be an extremely difficult task, and proper execution ensures the highest degree of transfer to the athletes actual sport. The complexity of the Olympic lifts has led many coaches who do not have the experience or time, to focus on other methods to improve power (e.g. various jumps).
When instructing the Olympic lifts, I usually teach the snatch lift first and follow a top down progression. Athletes who learn the snatch lift first usually have a much easier time learning the clean as optimal hip extension is well established. If for some reason you are unable to properly support the weight in an overhead position using the snatch grip, a high pull variation will allow proper sequencing without the discomfort. The top down teaching progression focuses on the second pull first, which is a valuable method to teach the athlete the difference between jumping with the weight and excessively pulling the bar with your arms. The latter is a common mistake with beginner lifters and MUST be addressed upfront.
The following progression will get you ready for lifting big weights.
The Setup and Jump (Snatch grip variation)
- Stand upright with an empty bar, and slide your hands outward until the height of the bar is located at your hips.
- Bend over the bar by flexing your hips and knees, while maintaining an upright torso. (Make sure the knees are not bent excessively as you will be unable to use the powerful hip extensors to transfer force to the bar).
- At this time jump upward while maintaining a snatch grip. (Perform this movement using sets of 8-10 reps to ensure you master this power position).
- After you are comfortable with the jump you can now perform this movement while allowing the arms to travel upward until you catch the bar overhead.
- At this point you would have mastered the second pull and can repeat the sequence of events from a lower starting position (above knee, below knee and from the floor).
This progression has taught both novice and international level athletes how to properly perform the power snatch. If a full snatch is required in your sport, add an overhead squat to the movement once you have caught the bar overhead.
1. Drechsler,A: The Weightlifting encyclopaedia -A guide to world-class performance. Whitestone,A is A Communications;1998:1
2. Zatsiorski, V.M: Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL Human Kinetics Publisher; 1995:33-34,43
3. Baechle,T.R, Earle, R.W: Essentials of strength and conditioning 3rd ed. Champaign, IL Human Kinetics Publisher; 2008:94
4. Yessis, M, Trubo, R: Secrets of soviet sports fitness and training. New York, Library of congress cataloguing, 1988:102
5. Siff, M: Supertraining 6th ed. Denver, Supertraining Institute; 2003:456
6. Bompa, T.O, Carrera, M.C: Periodization training for sports. Champaign, IL Human Kinetics Publisher; 2005:4
7. Baechle,T.R, Earle, R.W: Essentials of strength and conditioning 3rd ed. Champaign, IL Human Kinetics Publisher; 2008: 97
8. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Dec; 35(12): 2013-22, Training-specific muscle architecture adaptation after 5-wk training in athletes. Blazevich AJ, Gill ND, Bronks R, Newton RU.
Sam is actively involved in strength and conditioning field as an exercise physiologist, where he has developed conditioning programs and trained athletes in a variety of sports, such as Varsity Athletics, Alpine Ontario, Martial arts and Strongman. He currently teaches Advanced Exercise Prescription at Humber College and serves as one of the professional educators at the Toronto Athletic Club. His interests and areas of focus consist of sport nutrition and supplementation in addition to the adaptation and dose responses to training. Sam is a certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP), a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) under the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a certified Kinesiologist under the Ontario Kinesiology Association and a Nutritional Counselor under the ISSA.
Sam is also an extremely powerful athlete. During his university days, it was not uncommon to see big Sam repping standing push presses with 315 or full ATG (ass-to-grass) squats with 500 plus pounds. These days, you can find him at the Toronto Athletic Club, where he is one of the top personal trainers in the city.