February 1, 2012

    How Should You Olympic Lift?

    Weightlifting dates back to 3000 BC in a Chinese text that describes soldiers lifting weighted objects before entry into the military. Now you can walk into most team weight rooms and Cross Fit gyms, to hear the familiar sound of rubber weights being dropped and chalk scattered all over the ground. Weightlifting, particularly the Olympic lifts such as clean & jerk and the snatch, are one of the most common forms of training for explosive strength. But if you are a competing athlete, you have a limited training window, and there are many variations for these lifts beyond just pulling a barbell off the floor. There is a place for each variation, and you should know which lift, if any, to pursue for your needs.

    First, a little nomenclature behind Olympic weightlifting. There is the hang clean, or snatch, and the classic version. The hang clean involves starting with the barbell off the floor, either at raised blocks or held by your arms while standing. On the other hand, the classic version is the type used in the Olympics since 1891, where the barbell begins static on the floor, before being pulled in the air. With the classic version, hopefully the weights are generally so maximal that a squat is required after the catch. An added variation to both of these movements is the power catch. This type usually employs lighter weights so a squat after the catch is not needed.

    At Sparta, we only use the hang power clean for 2 reasons; the greater technical expertise of the classic version and the more specific benefits from the hang. The first rationale is based on the classic version requiring the barbell to move continuously from the floor. Such smooth knee action is only perfected by thousands of reps to allow heavier weights to be lifted. Besides, if we needed the Olympic lifts for maximal weight, we would just squat instead, a lift requiring far more maximal strength, and far less technique than the Olympic lifts.

    Recent research has validated our second reason for employing the hang power clean. In a December 2011 study out of the University of Salford, in the UK, authors found this movement to be the most advantageous variation to maximize power, peak force (EXPLODE) and rate of force development, or LOAD. LOAD was 100% greater in the hang conditions compared to the floor, most likely due to the smaller distance the bar moves, requiring more sudden acceleration.

    To further complicate matters in weightlifting nomenclature, above the knee (ak) and below the knee (bk) variations exist, referring to the position the bar ends in the countermovement. We use the (ak) shown in the video below as it does shorten the movement further, emphasizing LOAD even more.

    The video shows a large emphasis on the most important part of any Olympic lift, the brush of the bar off the mid thighs. This aspect is critical objective feedback that you have engaged the most important joint in your body for maximal power, hip extension. The brush from the hang version can also drastically improve your classic version if you are competing for Olympic weightlifting or your team’s testing.

    So if you need LOAD, one of the best options is the hang power clean. If your goal is low back and wrist pain, just skip the brush though.

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