The Snatch is Not 'Dangerous'

by Edward Baker
   Let me first say that my deepest condolences go to Kevin Ogar and his family; out of respect I wanted to remain quiet about the unfortunate accident altogether, but it has come to my attention that a misinformed individual is using this event to label the snatch, or Olympic lifting in general as dangerous. Follow the link to donate to his recovery!
This article is in response to the article by Nolan Hamilton, link here:

Hamilton states:

“It (The Snatch) is also one of the most dangerous exercises that you can do in the gym.”
     The writer goes on to say that the fact that the snatch is fast is what makes it dangerous, and it can happen to anyone. It is true that lifting a heavy barbell overhead poses a risk for injury, but so does any everyday activity. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there is a 1 in 100 chance that a person will die in an automobile accident in their lifetime. 
     Lebanese weightlifter Jamal Traboulsi became paralyzed at the 1991 World Championships in Donaueschingen Germany. Traboulsi was attempting to jerk 175 kg when his toe caught onto a crevice in the platform. Traboulsi was unable to get out from under it and the barbell struck him on the shoulders, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. In weightlifting, this is the last and one of the only instances I can cite as leaving an athlete paralyzed. 
     Kevin Ogar’s injury was done under the circumstance that he was in the middle of a CrossFit (not Weightlifting) competition. A few hours prior to the accident, competitors ran three miles, holding 2 36 pound kettle bells the first mile and 1 36 pound kettle bell the second mile. The day prior competitors had to complete other events that certainly would be enough to fry someone’s nervous system (which takes longer to recover than the muscular system.) 
     I do maintain that there are disparities between how I believe the Olympic lifts should be integrated into the grand scheme of CrossFit and how others believe, but let me make manifest that I think overall it is evolving towards the right direction. Explosive multi-joint exercises like the snatch and clean & jerk need to be performed in a rested state as they are more demanding on the neurological and muscular system; the incidence of injury is greatly increased when these movements are performed in a state of fatigue. If multi-joint exercises are to be performed in a circuit, the exercises need to be performed for fewer repetitions as performing each sequential repetition will deviate more and more from the first few reps. 
     My coach John Coffee will have us do triples on the snatch further out from meets, sometimes 4’s if we’re able to maintain an arched back. When lifters get fatigued from the snatch or clean, the spinal erectors are typically the first muscle to lose the ability to maintain contractual pattern of movement and lumbar flexion (rounding of the back) will occur, which puts more stress on the spinal column and poses a risk for disc herniation. WODs like Grace or Isabel need not be done in training at all, they may make you breathless but poses an unneeded risk and yields little to no training benefit.
     Notice that I said “need not be done in training”. If I were to say disparaging things about CrossFit competitions, then I would need to remark about weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman, as these sports aren’t 100% safe either. Even sports outside of the strength world have great risks (gymnastics, cheerleading,) but that doesn’t stop people from participating. There are instances of individuals going into cardiac arrest from running, but this shouldn’t stop people from running to promote cardiovascular health. 
I end with saying that the sport of weightlifting can be dangerous. The true danger of the sport are people that deem themselves to be authorities on the sport and advise others on the sport when they have no business doing so. 

The Low Bar Squat is Not an Exercise

– 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympic champion Kakhi Kakhiasvilis performing a squat the way it should be done.

     I know that what I am about to write will piss some people off, but I’m an old man, 66, and don’t have anything to lose. I also know that many people will disagree with what I am about to say and it is certainly their right to disagree. What I have to say is only one man’s opinion, but it’s the opinion of a man who’s been around the block a few times with this iron game.
     Lately, from several sources, I have noticed that the so called ‘low bar’ squat is being taught as a legitimate way to perform an exercise that many people (myself included) consider to be the best and most productive exercise that can be performed with a barbell. This ‘low bar’ squat style seems to be particularly prevalent in some CrossFit circles. I have also had people show up at my gym performing squats in this style after reading about it in a certain book.
     I will start my argument by stating that after well over 50 years as a competitive lifter, coach, and gym owner, I have never seen a top-ranked bodybuilder, Olympic lifter, or serious track or football athlete doing low bar squats.
     The squat movement, whether it be high bar full back squats, front squats, half or quarter squats, or Hatfield bar squats, to my mind, should be about developing and strengthening the quadriceps, as well as the glutes. The high bar squat, when done properly, should not involve the hamstrings much at all. These muscles should be developed with straight legged deadlifts and Good Mornings (always with the knees slightly unlocked) as well as the various leg curling and glute ham gastroc movements. The hamstrings are also strongly involved in Olympic lifting movements such as snatches, cleans, and pulls.
     I can remember the first powerlifting meet held in Georgia at the old Butler Street YMCA in Atlanta in December 1965. It drew a diverse crew of bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, and men who already considered themselves powerlifters. As one can imagine, all kinds of squat styles were used. A few years later virtually everyone at powerlifting meets were setting up with the bar half way down their deltoids, using a relatively wide foot stance and barely breaking parallel; and this is as it should have been. Squatting in this style allows one to lift the most weight while staying within the parameters of the rules for the squat movement in competition.
     In the old days at Coffee’s Gym in the 1980’s, the powerlifters would do high bar squats until about a month out from the competition, at which time they would put on their super suits, widen their foot stance, and set up with the bar half way down their shoulders. Immediately they would squat 100-200 pounds more than they’d been doing on the high bar squat. After the competition they’d go back to their high bar squat routine. Not only did these men become very strong in the squat movement, they also possessed very good quadricep development.
     In closing, I would like to say that most trainers should stick to high bar squats, front squats, or squats with the Hatfield bar if it’s strong legs and good quadricep development you seek. If it’s the posterior chain you want to strengthen and develop, stick with Romanian deadlifts, Good Mornings, Olympic lift movements, as well as hyperextensions and various leg curls.
      The low bar squat is not an exercise for leg development; it’s a way of doing a strength feat that allows a man or woman to lift the most weight while staying within the rules for the lift, but it’s not a movement that those who wish to develop leg strength for sports or to improve the shape and appearance of their legs has any business doing.
     If one wishes to develop real leg strength, every effort should be made to keep the torso upright when squatting. When the torso is inclined forward, much of the effort is transferred to the butt, lower back, and hamstrings. This is not what we want. I would also like to add that all squatting and pulling movements should be performed with the back strongly and rigidly arched. In my opinion the very best test and developer of real leg strength is the full front squat with the back strongly arched. The full high bar squat is not far behind. The low bar back squat is not even on the list.

John B. Coffee
USA Weightlifting Senior International Coach