I do, BUT……. I am NOT an expert! PART I
This weeks blog will be a little off the “experiment” topic. CrossFit has created so much exposure for my sport, weightlifting, and to me this has all been incredible and really more than I could have ever dreamed of for awareness in the U.S. It is an opportunity for me/us to teach what we know. With all of this, there is more and more weightlifting specific programming, exercises, and technical teachings, surfacing throughout the CrossFit community. This is all great as well, but with all the different sources and some conflicting information, I am motivated to help you make informed decisions with some examples of things to be aware of or think about when you are deciding how to move your body. Or how you’ll develop those patterns with a program and the collective exercises within.
Just to confirm though, this is in no way an attempt to belittle what anyone is doing as there is ALWAYS something to be learned or taken away from each different perspective. In fact, there is one exercise in particular, weightlifting wise of course, that I have learned from some of the programming in question that I think is genius. But, I will not sit back and let what I have now taught to so many, be jeopardized, and for those people that have spent so much time to learn and worked so hard to implement, now be confused. I am not saying that you should not be open to taking what you can from any information source, or that there is one specific way for everybody. BUT, at a glance and/or in a discussion here and there over these topics, I feel like there are some basic concepts being neglected or overlooked, especially when it comes to lifting the most you possibly can for 1 rep in the snatch and c&j.
All this goes hand in hand of course, but lets first talk about programming. I only need to see 2 or 3 consecutive workouts to get a feel for a program, and specifically from some of this stuff that has been out there, to pick up a sense of “inexperience.” Some may feel I should take the entire cycle into consideration to give it a fair chance, BUT, my point is that if there is little to NO technique work AND position strengthening exercises within those 2 or 3 days, then there is way too much missed opportunity and too much of a chance of NEGATIVE reinforcement. This technique/position work is still more than needed by the elites, and their programs usually are and should be saturated with them, but especially for beginners and intermediates. So the lack of makes no sense to me. Of further significance is the practice of delivering this type of lacking program to a community that for the most part, is still learning how to move optimally with a barbell. Just keep in mind that snatch and c&j practice alone is NOT enough, especially if technique, positioning, timing, etc. is not right in the first place!
Don’t get me wrong, there does seem to be effort toward some technique/positioning work. However, mostly with exercises that, though they are sometimes creative and flashy looking, will not only work against a more optimal technique and some common sense basics, but in fact, reinforce some of the most common faults that hold athletes back in these lifts, no matter what technique they are trying to use! Basically, anything that reinforces the bar being away from the body, creates forward momentum of the body and bar, an early arm bend, or an UPWARD pull on the bar with the arms, will typically do you more harm than good.
For example, if an exercise requires one to start with the bar AWAY from the body, mandates you will have to bring your body TO the bar. Essentially you are practicing having the bar away and creating forward momentum of the body. Also, practice or focus of “the scoop,” which is the slight, forward movement or shift of the knees as the bar raises from the above knee position to extension. I could write another entire article on this alone, but to sum up, this works WITH that forward momentum of body/bar that we don’t want. Practice of this or focus of it within the full lift, it can and does easily turn into a forward thrust and/or re-bending of the knees which shifts power exertion more toward the quads and away from the most powerful part of the body; the “posterior chain.” Refer to my Journal article, “Oly Optimization,” on how to best activate and then maintain activation of this area.
An example that will very likely make early arm bending or upward pulling on the bar a consistent occurrence within the full lifts, is simply a “high-pull.” This exercise is usually done from the hang (with or without boxes) or from the floor. It requires the lifter to exert power onto the barbell with what most people know as, “triple extension,” which is shoulders shrugged, hips open, and heels raised, as the elbows then bend, pulling the bar UP while the body stays extended. It may make sense if you don’t dig deep enough into it and yes, it WAS a popular exercise back in the day within the Oly world. BUT, remember, within the actual lift, you want to use your arms to pull your body UNDER and not the bar UP! If this happens within the full lift, the bar will lag and significantly hinder your potential. Most people will need to spend A LOT of time and energy learning NOT to use the arms too soon and TO pull the body under at the right time. So, even though there are some strength benefits, they are within a less than optimal timing pattern, and in either case, don’t come close to outweighing the negatives. You should always weigh these out with all partial exercises.
There are many technique/position strengthening exercises that are excellent, and in my opinion, IDEAL for basic strength that are being left out of some of these programs. The best example to me being what I call a “clean lift-off.” This exercise starts you from the floor in the start position of your clean and practices, most beneficially slowly, you raising the bar to above the knee. I always have my athletes and myself HOLD this position above the knee for 2-5 seconds, as an opportunity to speed up the muscle memory and strengthening process of the position. You can of course and should do the same thing with your snatch grip. Even if you don’t care about snatches and c&j’s, but would like your deadlift to go up OR would like some extra/different “posterior chain” work, and you’ve never tried this exercise, I would highly recommend doing so for those purposes as well. Again, see my Journal article, “Oly Optimization,” on how, in my opinion, to best get from the floor up to this loaded position.
The point for any technique/position strengthening exercise is that it is a 100% mimic of a portion of the full lift or, execution of a particular movement or exaggeration cue, in an exaggerated fashion, within the full lift. Most of the best cues are exaggerations. To understand this, keep in mind that the literal movement of the exaggeration wording is not necessarily right. But these are necessary to help create and maintain better positions. Think about it, if you are going to put heavy weight over your head quickly, you better pretty much be exaggerating the whole time! Be aware though that in some cases, exaggerating the “wrong” proper movement, you might be worse off than no exaggeration at all, and possibly need to exaggerate in the complete opposite direction to optimize. A good example of this is “the scoop.” Exaggerating AGAINST it, typically produces the best outcome !
Next week I will delve into more of the technical side of things. Until then, I would like to leave you with a thought to ponder: if you are lifting with a certain technique and have developed a good or even extraordinary amount of strength within those patterns, is it not possible there still may be positions and movements of MORE potential for you to tap into ? Even if you can at present lift much more with your current style than in a way that someone else may be trying to teach you? Looking forward to this next, even more, opinion generating topic!