There are 3 main phases in training for weightlifting:
– The Base Phase – where we build strength (in the form of volume lifting) and set technique
– The Competition Phase – where we take the strength we’ve built and sharpen it to be able to lift as much as possible in a single attempt for the snatch and the clean and jerk
I will discuss each phase in detail in a future post – but I want to lay the terms down before moving on to the weapons in my arsenal.
By the time an athlete gets to the base phase, they should be fully ready to work. They have the mobility to control the body in every needed position, the rigidity to hold the right angles, to withstand the weight in the receiving positions, and the endurance to perform all of the needed exercises, day after day for 6 to 9 weeks.
During the base phase, we are building strength with a specific goal in mind: to be able to lift as much weight as possible in the snatch and the clean and jerk. Having good technique is important. It will allow you to lift more if practiced correctly. Ilya Ilyin has a good way of analyzing technique: He gives a % grade based on efficiency. For me – he looked at my clean form and said I had about a 78-80% efficiency, and listed the parts I was doing inefficiently, and how many percent each part took off of my grade. For my clean, this included:
- Over pulling: -6%
- Not widening my stance on the catch of the clean: -5%
- Passively going into the catch without pulling myself into place -4%
- Hitting the bar too high on the thigh: -3%
- Not controlling the bar on the catch: -2%
Some of these inefficiencies are the result of other inefficiencies. For instance I over-pulled because I hit too high on the thigh. If I had actively pulled myself into the catch, I would have been in control of the bar in the catch, and the bar wouldn’t crash on me.
These were all things that I needed to improve for my cleans to get better. He had the same lists of errors with % for snatches, squats, and jerks – all of which I took into account in my training.
Important note – 100% would be perfect technique which should be the goal when training and using working weight. When in competition, technique will break down at max attempts, and at 1 kilo over the current best, it will break down enough to not make the lift. But if we train with perfect technique, our weakness will show itself at higher weights since weaknesses will be closer to our strengths.
During the base phase a lifter should be working on correcting technical inefficiency and weaknesses – and building all around strength. If one part of the snatch is weak/incorrect and keeping you from snatching more, then strengthening everything else may increase your lift, but you are leaving the biggest kgs on the table. You must strengthen the biggest weakness that is keeping you from lifting more.
The tricky part is that you can’t sufficiently improve your clean and jerk by doing a clean and jerk – your body already has a defined and refined series of movements for the clean and jerk. If you tell your body to do something differently it may listen for a bit at lighter weights, but when the volume gets up, or when the weights are scary, the body does what it knows how to do.
During the base phase you must select exercises that will force good technique, exercises that target weaknesses in strength, timing or position. You need to choose exercises that are difficult to do incorrectly, and will force your body to understand how to move correctly. The goal of doing these exercises is to have a carryover of the essence of the exercise into the full lift. These exercises are the weapons a coach has. And the bigger the arsenal, the more the coach can refine their athletes’ technique and strength to get them closer to 100% efficiency.
Most world class lifters go through years of performing a wide variety of corrective or specific strength building exercises to get well rounded strength and good technique. Once this is accomplished, the corrective and specific strength building exercises are replaced with more classic lifts.
One of my favorites is the snatch without moving feet.
The error it addresses: there is a moment after the hips hit the bar when the lifter is not pulling the bar up, and not pulling themselves down. The lifter drops down with gravity as the bar has momentum traveling up – and they meet in a balanced catch position. This is a fine snatch, but the efficiency is reduced by 5-6%, and Ilya is getting out his red pen. The inefficiency is in the fact that there is a moment when the lifter is not acting on the bar. You can spot this when the max height of the bar is significantly higher than where the lifter gains control. The bar should fall a minimal amount if the athlete is constantly pulling it up, or using it to pull themselves down.
To fix this, try the snatch without moving the feet. Its main goal is to force control of the bar at all times through the pull and pull under.
Place your feet in the catch position or slightly narrower, and don’t move them while doing a snatch. Because the feet never leave the floor, and there is always direct contact between the lifter and the floor, and the lifter and the bar, there is no time at which you don’t have full control.
Once the lifter can do this exercise at a heavier weight (80-85% of max) – this problem is no longer a weakness. However the lifter may still not have the right control of the bar at all times – this means there was no carryover of the work from the snatch without moving feet to the full snatch. A good way to remedy this is to do the two forms of snatch in one set, “snatch without moving feet + snatch.”
We typically do something along the lines of:
Snatch without moving feet + snatch 4(2+1)80%
By the end of this exercise, there shouldn’t be a moment when the lifter is not in control, and the bar height shouldn’t change much from the top of the pull to the position where the lifter is in control.
There are variations to the snatch without moving feet: no hookgrip, no hip contact – each of which has a specific purpose to be discussed later.
When a lifter is in the base phase, and has 4+ weeks before a competition, they should be working on strengthening the weaknesses, and not repeating the Olympic lifts with bad, but fixable technique over and over again. I suggest to replace 40% to 80% of the classic lifts during the base phase with weakness targeting variations. This way the lifts are still being done, but with more precise purpose.
When targeted, most weaknesses can start to go away within a week – and during the base phase, this is a worthwhile investment.
Next weapons: muscle snatch to standing.