by Jared Richmond
What is Weightlifting?
Olympic Style Weightlifting or just Weightlifting as it is referred to, has been around since the Olympics began in 1896. The sport began utilizing both one and two hand lifts, much like we see in CrossFit with both dumbbell and barbell Snatches and Clean and Jerks. It has since gone through many generations and changes to develop into the sport that it is today. Today, as we know it, the sport of Weightlifting is the combination of two movements: the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
The Snatch is generally performed with a wide grip, well outside of should width, in which a barbell must be lifted from ground to overhead in one movement. The other half of the total, the Clean and Jerk is generally performed with a narrower grip relative to that of the snatch, in which the barbell must be lifted from ground to overhead in two movements. The first movement is the “Clean,” which is the lift of the barbell from the ground to the shoulders in one movement. The second movement is the “jerk,” which is the lift of the barbell from the shoulders to overhead in one movement. These definitions can be hard to understand without seeing, so I have placed links to 2x Olympic Champion Ilya Ilyin, of Kazakhstan, performing each movement, with an obscene amount of weight.
Ilya’s Snatch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-Kg-prpH8M
Ilya’s Clean and Jerk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS_byPGx6q4
Technique vs Strength
Now that you have seen each movement in action, by one of the best weightlifters of all time, let’s discuss how he is able to achieve such a great result in each lift. It comes down to two basic attributes: strength and efficiency. Ilya Ilyin has been able to win two gold medals by becoming one of the strongest men in the sport, as well as one of the most technically efficient.
Many newcomers to the sport get trapped in a “perfectionist” mindset. They practice technique day in and day out with a PVC pipe or just the barbell. Do not misunderstand, there are definitely some basic technique principles that must be learned and are best taught using extremely light weights, but you must also remember that the more strength you possess the more weight you will be able to lift regardless of your technical efficiency. Point being, it is just as important to get really strong as it is to become technically efficient. If you cannot deadlift 200lbs, sorry but you most definitely won’t be able to clean it.
If you are reluctant to add any weight to the bar you will be unable to see if your technique is able to lift heavier weights. For example, I can do everything wrong and still Snatch the barbell or a PVC pipe, but if I load 80% of my 1 rep max, my technique must be practically flawless in order for me to make a successful lift. If I do not execute my technique properly I will miss the lift and see where my technique has gone wrong.
Here is how I recommend working on technique: Work up to a weight that is challenging and once you feel your technique break down or you miss a lift, repeat that weight trying different methods that your coach has suggested until you find what allows you to lift the weight cleanly and efficiently. Then next time go up in weight by a small amount and repeat the process. Remember that weight is always relative. If the barbell is still challenging for you then that is what we work with.
Strength is of huge importance in Weightlifting. In order to increase the weight that you can lift in both the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, you must first develop general strength in certain parts of your body. First and possibly most importantly, you must develop strong legs. Ilya Ilyin demonstrates that he has plenty of leg strength through this 290kg (640lb) Front Squat (http://allthingsgym.com/ilya-ilyin-290kg-front-squat/), which looked relatively easy.
The other area of the body that is of major importance in Weightlifting is the back. Due to the difference in positions between the pull in a Snatch or Clean and a Conventional Deadlift, most Weightlifters do not perform the Deadlift in training, but I believe that a 246kg (542lb) Clean and Jerk demonstrates plenty of back strength from Ilyin. Strength in smaller areas of the body, such as the triceps and shoulders, are also of significant importance for weightlifters, and must be trained to be generally strong. Remember that both adding strength and bettering your technique are going to make you better at weightlifting so do not neglect either of them.
Why Technique? (Technique Triad)
In order to reach your highest level of potential it is not enough to just be brutally strong. You must also possess extreme technical efficiency, which is achieved through three main components, which well-known American Weightlifting coach, Max Aita, calls the Technique Triad.
The Technique Triad consists of 3 components:
- Trajectory of the barbell
- Relative height of the barbell
- Time to fixation.
First, in order to make the lift successfully, the athlete must send the bar up and back into the correct catch position. If the bar is propelled too far forward or too far backward, the lift will be unsuccessful due to the lifters inability to stabilize the barbell overhead and dropping it before the lift is completed.
Second, the lifter must be able to propel the bar high enough, relative to the height of their body to fix the bar overhead in the correct position. If the lifter fails to propel the bar high enough, the lift will be unsuccessful due to the lifter being unable to get under the barbell quickly enough and fix it overhead.
Third, the lifter must possess the ability to fix the bar overhead very quickly and in a very low position. This is often times referred to speed under the bar and lowest point of fixation. The lowest point of fixation for each lifter will determine just how high the lifter must propel the bar to make a successful lift. The lowest point of fixation in the Snatch will be the bottom of the overhead squat. For the clean, it will be the bottom of a front squat and for the jerk it will be the lowest point in the power, split or squat jerk that the athlete is able to fix the barbell.
In the videos linked above, notice that Ilya Ilyin is able to propel the bar up relatively high with good enough trajectory to be able to stabilize overhead, while also being able to quickly pull himself under the bar into a very low position in order to catch or fixate the barbell before standing up. Although it may seem obvious, requisite mobility in certain areas of your body is going to be necessary to achieve proper positions and, in turn, technical efficiency. If you find yourself limited by your mobility, I recommend working with Coach Adrian on the most important areas of your body for weightlifting: hips, ankles, shoulders and thoracic spine.
The Training Process
To improve your numbers you need to improve both your technique and your general strength. Technique can be improved through class, but for faster progress you may want to work privately with your coach to develop sound motor patterns.
To improve general strength we must perform exercises which strengthen the areas of the body used during weightlifting. These include, but are not limited to, your legs, back, triceps and shoulders. To develop leg strength we must strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. The primary exercises we use to develop these muscles are Front Squats, Back Squats, Belt Squats and Pulling Variations. To develop back strength we will do squatting variations, in addition to pulling variations such as: snatch pulls and clean pulls, which are similar to deadlifts. We may include weighted Back Extensions and Romanian Deadlifts to further develop back and hamstring strength. Calf Raises and plyometric jumping exercises will sufficiently Calf Strength. In order to strengthen the Shoulders and Triceps we can include press exercises such as the Strict Overhead Press, Push Press and Snatch Grip Overhead Press/ Push Press.
Training these movements will give you the capacity to perform the Snatch and Clean and Jerk with the proper technique, but they won’t in themselves make you better at the Snatch and Clean and Jerk until you teach your body to apply that strength to the correct pathways by practicing the movements themselves. To put these principles into practice systematically we must spend time first strengthening the muscles necessary to lift the weight by doing more general exercises and less of the specific lifts. Once we have improved our strength in the we reduce the amount of general exercises performed and we do more of the competition exercises.
While training for the National Championships in May, I spent the time up until six weeks before the date of the competition to focus on general strength and then shifted my focus to practicing the Snatch and Clean and Jerk during the last six weeks in order to practice the exercises I will be performing during competition. From this point I would spend the first 3 of 6 weeks performing more volume with lighter loads in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, and then during the last 3 of the 6 weeks I practiced the most specific exercises to the competition by doing heavy singles in both the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.
I hope you see the pattern here. We begin with general exercises to increase the potential for the competition movement, then we get more and more specific as the competition gets closer in order to see that this potential comes to fruition. Even though most of those reading this are not weightlifters and rather CrossFitters we can still apply these principles to our training. Our gym programming has followed these principles through doing both a deadlift and squat cycle to improve both pulling and squatting strength and then now implementing a Snatch cycle to take the leg and back strength gained and applying it to the Snatch.
Although this way of organizing your training works for almost everyone, there are a few individual considerations to keep in mind. If you are already brutally strong, but your Snatch and Clean and Jerk numbers are relatively low compared to your squatting, pulling and pressing numbers you should place more focus on performing the lifts and practicing your technique, rather than putting all of your energy into the general strength movements. If the opposite is true then we must put a greater emphasis on the general strength movements and take a step back from performing the lifts for the time being. Here are some general guidelines:
- If Front Squat Max is less than 85% of Back Squat max, focus should be placed on Front Squats. The opposite is also true.
- If Clean Max is less than 85% of Front Squat, focus should be placed on Cleans. The opposite is also true.
Snatch should be around 80% of Clean and Jerk. There is no hard rule here due to body structures, but if your Snatch is more than 80% of your Clean and Jerk you are likely to have better pulling strength than squatting strength and you need to improve quad strength through squatting. If your Snatch is less than 80% of your Clean and Jerk then you have better leg strength relative to your back strength and you need to focus on pulls for improved performance.
Remember, these are general rules. There will be outliers. Find your optimal level of efficiency. If you are spinning your wheels focusing on the Snatch and Clean and Jerk it may be time to go back and focus on building general strength. Remember, you can’t flex bone. Muscles move weight, so build some.
My Improvements and Plans Moving Forward
Implementing these principles into my training is what has driven my Snatch from 275lbs (125kg) to 315lbs (143kg) is under 8 months. I have also been able to improve my Clean and Jerk from 325lbs (147kg) to 377lbs (171kg) in the same time. I have spent my days focusing on building strength in the areas needed, while also improving my technical efficiency. At times they were not done simultaneously, but now that Nationals Championships are 2 weeks away I have tried to maximize my current strength potential through the practice of a lot of heavy Snatches and Clean and Jerks. In the final week before competition I am training slightly deloaded and cycling with rest to keep the the motor patterns ingrained in my head and perform the best I can on the platform. Once Nationals is over, I will cycle back to mostly squats, pulls and presses to strengthen up all the muscles needed to lift big weights and then I will focus more on the specific lifts again as the next competition rolls around. I recommend a general macrocycle such as this for those looking to improve.
2017 USAW Nationals and Thank You
I will be competing at the 2017 USA Weightlifting Senior National Championships in Lombard, IL, at 4:30pm on Saturday May, 13th at the Westin Yorktown Center in the 85kg A session. I would love for anyone who has some free time that day to come out and support me, as well as watch the amazing talent that will be performing there so that you can learn and understand a bit more of what I am trying to convey to you. After this week I am moving back to Port Byron, IL, therefore it is my final week coaching at The Foundry. I have loved every second of my time coaching all of you amazing and coachable athletes. You have all made a profound impact on my life and I hope that I have, in some way, made an impact on yours. I will be back up to visit you all from time to time and I hope that this article was able to instill most of what knowledge I have on weightlifting in you.
Thank you for reading!
The Foundry will be helping to organize carpools to go to Nationals May 13th. See an upcoming Facebook event invite