Definition: The biggest amount of weight a person can lift one time in a given exercise.
For the 9 months leading up to January of 2015 I wasn’t lifting much, and deflated from 112kg to about 98kg in bodyweight. In January of 2015 I found out that I would run a seminar and be able to lift with Tatiana Kashirina a few months later. An opportunity to train with one of the best lifters of all time, in her prime, is something I can’t pass up – so I restarted my training with the goal of being able to keeping up with her lifting.
Tatiana was coming to the US in part to compete at the Arnold championships, and I expected for her to be in pretty good shape (not peak, but not far from it) and possibly tapering for the competition. Her best lifts from Worlds just a few months earlier were 155kg and 193kg – numbers that didn’t seem out of reach for me at the time.
We were invited to train at the beautifully-designed weightlifting corner of Crossfit Union Square. It was just Tatiana, her coach Vladimir and myself. Tatiana had a plan written out (very interesting, will discuss later), for which she started warming up. Vladimir and Tatiana both told me to follow what Tatiana was doing – and that they would give advice or correct my form as needed.
The workout included:
- Muscle snatch to squat – which is a snatch without moving feet, no hook grip and no hip contact. 3(3), 3(2), 2(2)
- Snatch 3(4), 3(3), 2(2)
- Snatch pull, 3(4), 2(3)
- Back squat 5(6)
I’ve done the muscle snatch into the squat many times before, and have lifted 120kg in this exercise. Tatiana and I start lifting. When I lifted 60kg both Tatiana and Vladimir stopped me to correct my form with some good corrections:
To catch more upright, whip the wrists on the catch, and squat lower in the catch.
Tatiana and I then go to 75kg for a few sets, where (I think) my form looks as crisp as Tatiana’s. Tatiana adds more weight, and ends up going to 105kg for her last working weight, but as I get to 85kg, my form starts to break down, and I start lifting with my old technique – not as crisp as they would have liked.
They stopped me and told me to lower the weight, and work at a weight where I am doing everything correctly. By using a weight that is too heavy, where I’m unable to perform the exercise correctly, I am not using or strengthening the right muscles. I went down to 80kg to continue this exercise.
We move on to the snatch. Our first working weight was 80kg. 80Kg is a weight I can toy with on any day. Both Tatiana and Vladimir stop me to correct some technical issues:
Feet weren’t going wide enough on the catch. I wasn’t using my upper back muscles on the pull up or pull under.
I fix those issues, and ask if I can add more weight. They don’t protest, so I kept up with Tatiana and went up to 110kg. At this point my form broke down to what it was before their corrections, and they told me to go back down to 100kg.
In a way, this is typical when working with a new coach. They want you to lift their way, and do so at lighter weights. But for me this time it struck me in a different way. There was more theoretical discussion on why their method of lifting was more right. One big point was on my selection of my one-rep max, which I used to justify the weights I lifted in training. I’ve always based my one rep max on the biggest weight successfully lifted in competition. And this is a good measure, because if it counts in competition, it should be considered a good lift. But that’s not fully true. Being successful in competition only takes a few things into account – the biggest of which is whether the elbows are straight on the catch – which is just one of many factors that makes a good, efficient snatch. It doesn’t take into account a bunch of other factors:
- Were the angles correct?
- Did I use the right muscles at the right time?
- Did I position my feet correctly on the catch?
When I based my training percentages on my max snatch, I’ve been basing it on a technique with a combination of checkmarks that really don’t amount to something I wouldn’t call a ‘good snatch,’ or one I would like to continually repeat in training.
Tatiana and Vladimir told me to base my max on the biggest amount of weight I can lift with ideal technique, and not on the biggest I can just lift, and train to increase the weight at which I can snatch correctly. And if I do, my lifts will have a higher potential for which I can train. So, my maxes went from:
- Snatch: 156kg to 125kg
- Clean and jerk: 181kg to 145kg
- Back squat: 225kg to 180kg
- Front squat: 200kg to 170kg
The theory was that if I go heavier than a weight that I can lift correctly, I am strengthening muscles that are already stronger than they should be, and not pressuring the muscles that are weaker than they should be to grow.
As soon as I reduced the numbers in the program I was on, I started increasing my new maxes very quickly. The major muscles started working more, and I could see them get bigger over the first few weeks. Within 1.5 months my numbers were back to where they were before – but they felt much better. I had control over the bar at all weights. I also lost weight during this, and had much less daily pain. Every lift, at every weight had the same timing, and the ratio of strength needed from each muscles remained the same.
When we lift correctly and in the most efficient way, there is a specific amount of power each muscle group should produce. When lifting too heavy, the muscles lacking in strength are the ones that get underused, and to make up for it, the stronger muscles work more. The stronger muscles become stronger and the weaker ones don’t, which furthers the balance of strengths in your body from the ideal ratio.
But if the lifter only lifts in the technique that is efficient and all of the ratios of strengths are as they should be, then the weaker muscles are pushed to work harder than what they are used to, and the stronger muscles are pushed less than expected. The weaker muscles get stronger, and the ratio of strengths gets molded to the ideal ratio – which is different for everyone.
Tatiana has awesome technique, and is a cool chick. She does the same thing when warming up with the bar as when she lifts her near-max lifts. Every time she does a snatch she’s working the same muscles in the same order. Her body doesn’t know how to do any other movement.
TL;DR: Your technique is good at 50%, it’s ugly at 90%. Work to increase the weight at which your technique is perfect – to grow faster and have a higher ceiling.