front rack position clean

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Weightlifting Part II

This blog post was written 2 days before I got married (9/27/12), and about a week before I had a catastrophic health event where I nearly bled to death… I am posting it now because I am in the process of reorganizing The Perfect 105 and I came across it in my saved drafts.
-Paul NEWT

Ok listen… let me tell you what DOES NOT help you succeed at weightlifting… BIG BICEPS.  Yes, really.  It does not help AT ALL.  It is cruelly ironic that the one muscle group that seems to grow on me NO MATTER WHAT I DO, is the one that is MOST IN MY WAY!

My damn biceps are making it extremely hard for me to achieve the correct “rack” position.  The “rack” position is seen when the bar is sitting across the clavicle/front deltoid area at the end of a clean or the beginning of the (I hate to say it this way, Jon) “Olympic-style” front squat.  The wrist position is just SO difficult.  Call it a flexibility issue if you like, I call it I am having a heck of time with my wrists.  After 10-15 sets, they feel like I may just break a wrist if I am not more careful.  But I perservere.  My attitude is that the body can adapt to anything.  The key is time and small incremental improvements in the right direction.  The power of this approach is for real, at least for me.  Ten months ago, 65-85lbs front squats with the “rack” position was PAINFUL.  This past week, I was able to front squat with the barbell in the “rack” position, without breaking a wrist, with 315 lbs.  A new PR.  Although I had front squatted many times in my “bodybuilder” years using a “superman” or crossed armed, clavicle lock position, this is only my 10th month front squatting in weightlifting style.

But it is getting better.  I guess it is important to mention that I have pretty much always had relatively big biceps.  I started my career lifting weights with totally bodybuilding influences and, consquently, devoted most of my time an attention putting size on my chest, arms, and shoulders.  On top of that, my biceps seem to “grow” no matter what I do.  Even now, my biceps will get fairly “pumped up” even from squatting!  Sure, I trained them pretty hard (The Pain Game), but I always had that “mind-muscle” connection with my biceps which made it even easier to train them.  When I work with clients, I instruct them that “almost everyone has a muscle that it is easy for them to connect with- for some people it’s chest, for some it’s shoulders…”.  Almost everyone has one muscle group that it is easy for them to “feel” while training.  But this is training from a bodybuilding perspective, which does have a role to play in training, but in (Olympic) weightlifting, you don’t have time to “feel” the muscle.  In fact, trying to “feel” any muscle during a snatch or clean & jerk could end up in disaster!  Also, in bodybuilding, there is the technique of creating more muscular tension ON PURPOSE.  A technique of making the exercise harder but altering the form, increasing range of motion, and moving the weight slower.  This places bodybuilding, in those ways, on the OPPOSITE END of the scale from weightlifting.  Your technique in weightlifting NEEDS to be to make the movement(s) feel EASIER not harder, MINIMIZING how far the bar needs to travel, and moving the weight (and your body around the weight) AS FAST AS YOU FREAKIN CAN!

As I continue to train the snatch and the clean & jerk, I am starting to gain a new perspective on how to use the various disciplines of the weight room where they best fit in.  I am beginning to see, time and time again, ways to integrate the tools of my previous 30 years of weight training into more effective programming for improving in the snatch and clean & jerk.  It’s really all about compatibility and organization.   For example, if on Monday, I go to the gym and snatch to a max, clean & jerk to a max, and then finish with some non-maximum front squatting, on Tuesday morning I am going to wake up probably a little tight, sore… maybe achy.  Well then, Tuesday morning would now be an ideal time to get in the gym for a much more bodybuilding type workout.  Causing overall systemic blood flow, flushing sore muscles with blood, using relative light weights, increasing the duration of sets, and hitting muscle groups from multiple angles, are all bodybuilding techniques that I can employ on Tuesday morning so I can RECOVER QUICKER.  I will recover much quicker this way than I would sleeping in, or riding the couch.  The thing is, I COULD go in on Tuesday morning and snatch and clean & jerk LIGHT.  Or do less intense exercises that are variations of the snatch and clean & jerk, such as snatch max 5 from above the knee.  OR I could combine elements of both the bodybuilding type recovery workout or the lighter (olympic) weightlifting workout.  These are strategies that I am currently experimenting with in my training.

Overall, I love, love, love performing the snatch and the clean & jerk.  There is just something about training these lifts… When you see someone who is proficient at the snatch and the clean & jerk, you are looking at the equivalent of a martial arts master.  People like Jon North and Donny Shankle are MASTERS, much like Jet Li and Jackie Chan are MASTERS.  You simply cannot move with the power and grace of someone like that without THOUSANDS of hours of training.

I feel like some people might adopt negative attitudes about learning the snatch, clean & jerk when they discover just how difficult it can be and how much they would need to invest in themselves just to approach basic skill in thoses lifts.  They might say, “why do it, if you cannot be competitive in it?”, or “what’s the point of doing that?”.  Granted that learning these lifts might not be for everyone.  But, I feel it is crucially important to point out that this endeavor is very much about the PROCESS.  Your goal may be to just snatch 100 pounds, which may not be alot of weight and people may not be “oooing” and “ahhing” about your Herculean strength, but you cannot imagine how just the pursuit of this goal will change you, if right now, you cannot even snatch the 45 pound bar for 1 rep properly.  More important than the goal itself is who you will be when you reach it.

In the beginning of your weightlifting career, it is CRITICAL who you learn your technique from. Choosing the right teacher can save you thousands of hours of frustration. There is one book that I emphatically recommend to anyone practicing the snatch and/or the clean&jerk – Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches

Thank you for reading.

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