Monday 25 January 2010

Monday's marvels

My session was not very long, but it was very effective. I drove to the gym determined to get a Snatch double with 105kg and I got it for the first time since the end of July when I nailed it in John Broz's gym in Vegas. Except now I weight three kilos lighter and I am in the middle of a Russian squat program. Progress, slowly but surely. Nothing was pretty in my lifting tonight and Zag was in the same boat. He Snatched 98kg again despite his technique being rougher than usual. A 105kg Snatch is just around the corner for Zag and he knows it. Here is what I did:

My usual Jerk warm up and some exercises to warm up the muscles in my lower and mid back.

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 60, 80, 90, 100, 105 1x1@110, 112 which I just missed. I will nail this later in the week and I am already looking forward to it! I tried a slightly different set up at the start of my pull and I did not spend as much time before initiating the start as usual. I will avoid over-analysing it and see how it feels over the next two weeks or so.

Back Squat--1x2@126, 135 6x2@144--80%
This was my recovery session and I was going through the motions. I am happily anticipating the challenge of the 6 sets of 6 reps at 80% on Wednesday, so I will keep the Snatch beforehand nice and light.

I am really enjoying the basic program of lots of squats, lots of Snatching and a few Clean and Jerks thrown in for good measure. The Jerk skill warm up is going well and I am feeling more and more comfortable all the time and getting my positioning better bit by bit.

David and Pete made some particularly interesting comments on training camps the other day and I agree mainly with what they say. If one uses them as a crutch, they can have a detrimental effect. However, if they are used as an occasional stimulus and lifters learn from them, push themselves that little bit harder and have more fun than training on their own, I believe thay can affect lifters in a very positive manner.


GoLift said...

Think I need to get the skill work in for my jerk. Have done a lot of speed work for snatch in warm-up but to the detriment of other things. What you been doing for the jerk skill work? Robbie

bigphathar said...

Skill work/warmup for the Jerk:

1. Jerk Dips
2. Jerk Catches
3. Split Jerks

You have to make sure your feet are hitting the right positions every time and that the balance is on the right part of the front foot (and that the weight is properly spread between the two feet.)

The more skill work you do as your warm up, the better your lifts will get, the more you progress.

It doesn't mean lifting light all the time, but it does mean doing a longer, more structured warm-up than most weightlifters do and emphasising quality (of lift) more than quantity (an extra few kilos with sloppy form.)

There is a place for quantity however.

The more I learn as a coach (often more from lifters with different sports backgrounds to mine than from anywhere else) the more I realsie that warming up efficiently, preparing your body with proper skill training and stretching effectively afterwards should amount to the same amount of time that you actually lift on the platform.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree with that last statement. As I see it a 'warm up' serves two functions: to raise body temperature and to rehearse the movement pattern. Both of these goals can be (quickly) achieved with specific bar work. My lifters do power snatches with a bar for 5 sets of 5 reps and emphasise making each rep faster and more precise.

I think it's illuminating that when Barry asked John Broz what stretching his lifters do he replied simply, 'do the lifts'. I think you'd get a similar answer from Steve Gough or Ivan Abadjiev. My advice: don't get bogged down with faff.

There is a tendency within BWLA to teach the lifts via 'reverse chain' (i.e. snatch balance, snatch from full extension, high hang snatch, low hang snatch, snatch from floor). I have generally found that this approach leads to a. 'stagey' lifting and b. paralysis by analysis. IMO once an individual has achieved a basic technique, all lifting should be done from the floor. Then you refine technique by addressing each technical error one by one.

It's significant that when you watch elite lifters, many have them make significant technical errors. The fact is, they've found a technique that works for them. I can imagine a conversation that might happen with a typical British coach:

Coach: Bend your back leg when you jerk / don't jump back when you pull
Lifter: Why? I broke the world record using this technique...

You can effectively address technique within the constraints of regular heavy lifting (there will be at least 10 lifts before you get to 90%) but beyond the very early novice stages I see minimal value in specific 'technique' training.


Anonymous said...

I also have to comment on the so called 'Russian Squat' routine. Some herald this as a 'magical' solution to leg strength. In reality it is just two basic 'pyramids':

1. Increasing work by increasing reps - 6x2; 6x3; 6x4; 6x5; 6x6

2. Increasing work by increasing load - 6x6, 5x5, 4x4, 3x3, 2x2, 1x1

The other sessions are simply active recovery and could be replaced by any exercise mode - swimming, cycling, light Olympic lifts etc.

I instead refer people to the Texas Method as outlined by Rippetoe and Kilgore in Practical Programming. This works on a weekly cycle as follows:

Session 1 (mon) - 5x5reps at 90% 5RM OR 6x3r @ 90% 3RM
Session 2 (wed) - Arbitrary active recovery
Session 3 (fri) - test 5 or 3RM

The Westside System is really a variation of this using lower reps:

Session 1 (mon) - 8 to 12 x2reps at 60% (+ bands)
Session 2 (thur) - test 1 or 2RM

The Bulgarian system instead calls for maximum singles or doubles multiple times per week. In my experience however 3 or 4 sessions provides insufficient volume to continue gains beyond the first couple of months.

At the moment I am experiementing with single sets of maximum 5's... Which I guess is really a form of (whisper it) HIT...

Sorry more thoughts...


brendan said...

I am very interested in any comments relating on how to improve the jerk/split. On paper, it sounds like a simple action but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to nail it.
Also relating to squad sessions. I would love to attend one of these in the near future but realise I am not an elite lifter. My pb's are only 77+107 but if I can improve and not get in the way of the top lifters, I would love to come along. I am close to qualifying for the euro masters which would be a big achievement for me. I would love to get the opportunity to watch our top lifters more often.

Barry said...


I agree that the Russian squat routine is very basic and unimpressive when on paper. However, it is helping me improve my squat and the fact that I have that part of my workouts planned and I know I have to hit those targets is really beneficial. When I finish this I would love to give the Texas program a bash and see of that helps too. I have been squatting with no particular goal in mind for far too long, so I find the structured nature very beneficial. Your points about the different squatting systems were very interesting, so thanks for taking the time to put them up.

In regards to warm ups being skill related and specific muscle related, I think they have a place if you want to remain injury free. Working on your muscular imbalances helps you stay healthy and it is obvious what the skill warm ups help with. In saying this, sometimes you have to just get on with it and get lifting. For half my workouts I would have a more comprehensive warm up than others and usually my mood and fatigue levels dictate this.


Thanks for the comprehensive response. I could not have phrased those same thoughts nearly as well.


Next time we are having lifters up you are more than welcome. It is looking like there will be a bit of a get together on the 15th of Feb on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You and whoever else would like to come just needs to get in touch.

Barry said...


I forgot to mention that none of us are elite lifters either. I consider myself still a beginner as I have a long long way to go. 19 months training in the sport makes me a beginner/intermediate lifter and I have no illusions otherwise.

bigphathar said...

I agree with you to a point David, especially on the point that "you refine technique by addressing each technical error one by one."

Too often people tend to throw in exercises into plan without any reasoning behind why they need to do that exercise. Need speed under the bar? More extension? Stronger legs?

And I agree that the ideal situation, for an experienced international lifter is to just do the lifts.

If you have access to lots of lifters with great flexibility, if you don't need to worry about replacing a lifter who gets injured, then just doing the Snatch, Clean & Jerk and Squat would be enough and ignoring flexibility, core work, skill work and all the other faff would be fine.

But most weightlifters don't have a long enough background in the sport to train like senior international athletes:

By the time a young Bulgarian/Pole/Russian gets to even a Junior international team they've already done thousands of hours of weightlifting, including skill work and they and they have worked out the technique that works best for them and their levers.

If you're a 20 year old lifter in Ireland or the UK who's been lifting for two years you might have almost a thousand hours of lifting experience. The same lifter in Russia would have at least 7 or 8 times that much training.

And there are examples of elite lifters who have succeeded despite their technique, not because of it. But whatever the technique, they do the same movement every time, irrespective of the weight:

For a beginner who only been doing the sport for a few hundred hours, that's not the case.

If you're a mortal who wants to get as good as you can be, you need to make sure that you have good technique, speed and flexibility as well as strength.

And flexibility imbalances can cause injury: you can't train when you're injured.

brendan said...

Thanks Barry. It is great to see the progress you are all making and more importantly, really enjoying it.

Anonymous said...


'Flexibility imbalances'?? I think you might have been reading too much Men's Fitness! Once you have the flexibility to hit a full snatch position, you have the flexibility to do the lifts. In my experience lifters who are very flexible look 'soft', i.e. they lack stability in the catch positions.

I took a novice 80kg lifter from 50 and 75 kg in his first session with me to 101, 121 in 7 months. He did only 2 session per week and only 3 exercises total. Another (69kg) girl I worked with went from 47 and 67 to 73 and 93 in 5 months. Did these athletes have perfect technique? No. But their technique was being addressed and was improving with each training session.

Steve Gough and John Broz are doing a similar thing with novice lifters in the states. Are we all just being lucky getting the right athlets?!

Training age is really a red herring - you are never too old or too young to start training properly!


snatch_pete said...

After reading these posts I remembered a message I had read recently on goheavy. Its quite interesting in my opinion regarding age 'elite lifters' start at:

From a personal point of view I found from my own lifting and also helping to coach two other folk being able to work on skill while trying to increase the poundage lifted led to a more interesting introduction to the sport. I remember someone from Hercules showing me a Russian(?) video of skill training years ago and thinking to myself if I had to endure the monotonous training that wee guy on the video had to go through I would never have stuck at the sport!

I suppose there has to be a bit of balance between skill work and increasing poundage to keep lifters interested and I am not arguing with anyones viewpoint!

bigphathar said...

Hey Pete: Xiaojun Lu is a great lifter and he certainly gives hope that it's possible to take up the sport late and make it to the top.

But I'm sure as a Scientist you'll agree that taking the one lifter that defies the odds and using them as a template is not going to lead to great results.

(Nor do I presume that you're making that point: The glory of the internet is the ability to completely misconture other's points and I hope I'm not doing that in this case.)

Statistical anomalies are just that; anomalies.

Plus, a full time athlete in a sport with certain common traits (fast twitch fibres, short burts of intense training) like sprinting and weightlifting will, clearly have a greater carryover (training age vs. chronological age) than an untrained individual or someone who is training fulltime in a sport with very little in common (long distance running.) It still doesn't make success more likely.

I do agree that emphasising skill is unlikely to bring success is you don't also work on the traits that are also necessary (strength, speed, flexibility) and like you I couldn't train like a Bulgarian: I'm not a robot and I have other opportuniries in life. Working at light weights all the time prepares you to lift... Light weights.

Dave: Can't say that I've ever read Men's Fitness, but I'll be sure to check it out on your reccomendation.

CathalByrd said...

'Men's Fitness' is like the 'Hello Magazine' of the strength training world. What you want to read is 'Flex'magazine, outstanding read and much more hardcore.

bigphathar said...

I'll be sure to pick up both of those Cathal: Do you know are they translated into Mandarin? I need to find a good article on blasting my calves...

Post a Comment