Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stay Over the Bar!

Whether it's the snatch or the clean, one of the biggest mistakes I see as a coach is that beginner lifters have a tendency to want to open the hips and lift the shoulders too soon.  This creates a couple of big problems:

1) A reliance on pulling with the arms.  Intuitively, since we are lifting weight from the ground to our shoulders or overhead, the first thought is to pull with the arms.  WAAPPPSHH!  That's the sound of me slapping you and telling you to knock it off.  Pulling with the arms forces you to lift your shoulders way too early, which kills your power production.  These lifts are about using your legs, not your arms.  Your legs are much stronger than your wimpy little arms, so use that to your advantage.

The faster you can grasp the concept of driving your legs into the ground as hard as possible, as opposed to "ripping" the bar off the ground, the faster you will become proficient in these lifts.

2)  Receiving the bar too far forward.  Because you open the hips and lift the shoulders too soon, your shoulders are too far behind the bar.  With your shoulders behind the bar, the bar cannot get into the right place (the hips) when it comes time to FINISH.  The result is that you cannot fully extend to generate the power and speed you need at the top of the second pull.  Secondly, the bar typically comes off of the thighs, not hips, and is projected too far forward in front of the body causing you to miss the lift completely or make it a fight to hold the receiving position and stand it up.

So how do you improve on this?  Use more of your legs and STAY OVER THE BAR.

In the most recent edition of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, there was a study done on exactly this as it relates to the clean.  While the study was done only on the clean, the pulling mechanics of both lifts are very similar, so I would bet money that if a similar study was conducted on the snatch, the findings would be similar, if not the same.  The research concluded:

"Greater relative lift mass appears to be associated with steady trunk position during the first pull, relatively small hip motion during the second-knee bend transition, and rapid hip extension during the second pull."(1)

Essentially, you are keeping your shoulders over the bar until it reaches to about the mid-thigh area followed immediately by a rapid hip extension and explosion of speed and power!  The best way for you to see this is to watch slow motion videos or still shots of lifting progressions of the most elite lifters.

So, next time you lift, cue yourself to a) use your legs, and b) stay over the bar.  If you can video yourself to give yourself immediate feedback after each lift, even better.  Let the improvement begin!

Source: Rob Macklem's Flickr

Source: Rob Macklem's Flickr

1) Kipp, K, Redden, J, Sabick, MB, Harris, C. Weightlifting performance is related to kinematic and kinetic patterns of the hip and the knee joints. J Strength Cond Res 26: 1838-1844, 2012.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Strength vs. Technique

So, what's more important: strength or technique?

While strength is undoubtedly very important, technique wins the day in the long run. Always.  At a certain point, strength can only take you so far.  If your strength is through the roof, but your technique is poor, a "weaker" person with better technique will out lift you any day of the week.

In a previous post, I told you I'd talk about this as it relates to weightlifting.  There is a misconception out there by some that our lifters need to improve on the "strength lifts" in order to get better at the snatch and the c&j.  The problem with this is that it is pretty well known in the weightlifting community that American weightlifters are pretty strong in the "strength lifts".  It is our technique that is lacking at the national and international levels.

At a certain point, "strength" doesn't transfer over to the lifts, or even athletic performance for that matter.  In this article, Sean Waxman provides a great example of when too much strength doesn't transfer over as he discusses the difference between the Olympic (high bar) squat and power (low bar) squat.  If you're too lazy to click on the link and read the article, here's the point:

"It is true the Power Squat will allow you to squat more weight however, more is not always better.  Is a 700lb Back Squat going to help you more than a 500lb Back Squat? In the sport of Powerlifting it most certainly will, but that doesn't necessarily equate to improved performance in other sports.  Sport is not about maximal force development.  It is about maximal rate of force development.  Once my athletes reach a particular squat weight (between 2-3 times bodyweight calculated as a function of body weight and the physical demands of the particular sport), I maintain their strength levels while switching the training focus to generating force quickly.  I use the Olympic lifts to accomplish this because they do it better than any other exercise."

Again, don't get me wrong.  I believe strength is essential, especially if you're a beginner.  What I am saying is that strength can only mask your technique deficiencies for so long.  Solid technique is what will take you to the next level!

Here's another great article that asserts that the problem with USA weightlifting isn't a lack of strength (quite the opposite actually), it is a lack of technique.  This one is definitely worth the read!

So, for all you people out there who are strong as hell, its time to dial in your technique.  You do that, and I'm willing to bet you'll see a big jump in your snatch and c&j.

Lift with efficiency!

I need to get stronger, bro!