The Training Spectrum

The Training Spectrum

The selection of exercises in a weightlifter’s regimen can be compared to a spectrum; one end of the spectrum contains assistance exercises and remedials with little to no inclusion of the full competition lifts, while the other end contains the competition lifts and front/back squats. Each extreme has its flaws. Most routines rightfully fall in somewhere between these ends, but nonetheless certain individuals choose to advocate their extreme as THE way to train.

In the incipient stages of a lifting career, one should primarily perform the full lifts along with front and back squats. After a month or so, the athlete can incorporate assistance movements based on their needs. This can include: Targeting an identifiable weakness in one phase of the lift, reduce taxation of the muscular and neurological system by only completing partial movements of the full lift, training around injury. As the athlete’s career progresses and they begin to work with heavier poundages, the significance of the aforementioned points become more and more apparent.

Exclusively performing assistance movements can leave the athlete an unfamiliarity of the full lift. The amount of force generated at various phases of the full lift differ from the assistance movements, no matter how much one strives to keep the two the same. For example, when performing a hang snatch, the athlete must lower the barbell to snatch it, in which an amortization (transition) phase occurs. The direction of force on the barbell shifts from downwards to upwards, in contrast to a snatch off the floor which is almost directly upwards throughout the duration of the pull. The athlete may use the oscillation or whip of the bar to generate enough force to complete the lift, but this is different from the full pull from the ground.

The biggest detriment of the assistance movement filled routine is the neglect of the timing component of the full lift. Looking strictly at from the full extension of the pulling phase to when the weight is secured in an overhead or front squat, the athlete must become familiar with their self under the bar in harmony as it rises then lowers. This must be done in such a way that the barbell will not ‘crash’ on the athlete. Pulling under will feel different if the athlete is performing a lift from the hang as opposed to a lift off the floor. Some believe the full lifts are dangerous and may only prescribe the power versions of the lifts, in which no practicing of pulling under and meeting the bar for the full lifts occurs, and as a result the full lift feels foreign.

In contrast, the biggest flaws of exclusively performing the lifts and squats are failing to remedy specific weaknesses and subjecting the athlete to overtraining. There may be a need for the athlete to train a specific muscle, or a particular weak phase of the lift. Either will hinder and limit the athlete, as the cliché goes “you are as strong as your weakest link.” For example, my spinal erectors were so weak that I couldn’t keep a flat/arched back during the pull, which limited how much weight I could pull to my shoulders to clean. It made no difference how much I performed the lifts, and until I addressed the issue with assistance and remedials, I continued having the same problem.The inclusion of some assistance movements will also prevent overuse injuries. Say if an athlete’s just completed a heavy squat workout the day prior, then they could perform power clean & jerks to allow the neuromuscular pathway of standing up out of a squat to recover.

Further out from a contest, more assistance and less full movements can be performed, and as the contest approaches, more of the full lifts should be performed, particularly the last 4 or 5 weeks. For this sport, I am a strong believer in the mantra, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What yields the greatest training benefit is the full competition lifts, however due to the nature of a complex multi-joint exercise, they can be very taxing and must be performed in controlled doses. Some can handle more of the full lifts than others; it is the mission of the athlete and coach to find the ideal mix of the full and assistance movements.

– Edward Baker

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.