Monday, May 23, 2011

Lies My Weightlifting Coach told me

Or the less controversial subtitle:

Or the least controversial truth: Different generalizations can be made about different populations.

SO. The traditional wisdom in weightlifting is that one's clean and snatch can be predicted via their back squat. IE, the higher the squat, the higher the total. Obviously, any coach would concede that their are technical elements that contribute to success or failure, particularly stability, depth and speed in the front and overhead squat as well as speed in the third pull.

What exercises are best to supplement the traditional lifts, on an individual or case by case basis is an appropriate argument to have specifically. But to suggest anything other than back squats as the king of exercises generally would be tantamount to heresy. Or so the traditional wisdom goes. It wasn't whether or not back squats were great, it was always whether or not you also needed front squats, or overhead squats, or pulls or power variations for instance.

Various systems of training have argued the relative contribution of the back squat rather than it's necessity. In the Sportivny press, Charniga argues that (due to the high competitive success of athletes who do a greater volume of the full lifts and lesser volumes of back squats) "There does not appear to be any scientific support in the literature for the notion that a "squat routine" (a specific loading in squats for the purpose of achieving higher results in this exercise) would be integral part of the training of weightlifters (2001)". His stance that excessive squatting (12-21% of volume being typical, 15% common amongst successful lifters) will be detrimental to performance sticks out, particularly in america where the back squat is a favorite amongst not only weightlifters, but also powerlifters and other strength athletes.

Ivanov has argued that 127% of your Clean and Jerk would be sufficient leg strength, where as Roman suggested that athletes would be able to Clean and Jerk about that ratio, and Snatch about 80% of their C&J. Basically, most experienced coaches are relating the competitive lifts as some percentage of the back squat. In a recent comment I observed from Glen Pendlay online, he argued that some athletes are C&J'ing weights as high as 100% of back squat, and this was due to (in my understanding of his comments) to the specificity of their training, as well as their technical superiority as compared to novices. I am not sure what to make of this assertion exactly, as many of the citations above were made by russians in laboratory like settings measuring world and olympic champions. This leads me to conclude that most likely where some discrepancies derive from is not content, but rather in labeling and/or measuring.

Furthermore, Pendlay's statements bring to light the role of EXPERIENCE, which is really what I wanted to talk about. The argument that the more experienced the lifter, the more individual strengths and weaknesses matter, and the more specialized training methods are required is to me as simple as stating that training must go from more general to more specific or from easier to harder. DUH.

I have observed in my own students, that over time they go through phases were different things matter, but to be honest NONE of them can be considered advanced, elite, or to have achieved technical mastery or their potential yet. These phases are as follows:
  1. The bent over RDL-High Pull Reverse Curl Tall clean phase
  2. The football power reverse curl
  3. the mature pull to power clean
  4. the "shit, I needed to squat lower" phase
It's not until they reach stage four (6-24 months after initiating training for most) that they begin to understand why I have been harping on the front squat and their elbows for the last two years.

for fuck's sake

It's at this stage, that more than the back squat, the ability to do the front squat (in the clean) or the overhead squat (in the snatch) in excess of what they were doing in their power variations determines their advancement as a lifter. Those athletes who can front squat more than the power clean keep pushing their PRs up, and it's the same with the OHS and snatch.

Thusly, for beginners, I have always felt that the most relevant lift to predict weightlifting performance was not the squat, but rather the deadlift. Until they get to the stage where they are squatting truly under the bar and under parallel to catch and are no longer power cleaning/snatching, the deadlift represents the raw capacity to elevate the bar from the floor.

Important caveat; I understand that a clean pull is not a deadlift. And I can verbalize all the reasons why. But without significant training time, this does not change the behaviors or outcomes of my beginning crossfitters. They bend down, and they pull the bar up, hard and fast. They catch it high. That's just the way it is, and it stays that way for a few weeks or a few months.

So, when we are talking about novice competitive lifters, who have their own weightlifting shoes, and they snatch over bodyweight and they back squat like they front and overhead, then yes, I agree, 80% and 60% of back squat is a good standard for them. Those numbers just so happen to correspond to the typical ratio novice weightlifters tend to experience between the squats too. Coincidence?

And finally, when it comes to Crossfitters, beginning weightlifters who are not specialists, who enjoy the lifts about as much as they enjoy skin the cats and 2000m rows, well, if you want those guys to clean and snatch more, BRING UP THEIR DEADLIFT. If you want them to continue to make progress past the 1-2 year mark, you better make sure that they are concurrently improving their skills in the front squat and overhead squat. But don't fool yourself: Until they get much better, the deadlift is the best way to get them to lift more in their muscle cleans and power snatches.

And here's the proof: Taken from my record board, I have run SPSS on about 25 of my clients who have 1RM data for at least most of the following lifts:
Front Squat
Overhead Squat

In a regression analysis incorporating the deadlift, front squat and back squat it was determined that you could predict about 94% of the variation amongst clean performance with these three lifts.

In the regression, deadlifts were significant at p=.038, whereas squats (front and back) where not at p=.39 and p=.37 respectively. The correlation between deadlift and clean amongst this group was r=.961. As you can see from this analysis, deadlifting was much more predictive of current outcomes than squatting was. This is not to say that it's time to turn the weightlifting world upside down, and that Chigishev needs to bring his DL up to 600kgs if he wants to take Rezazedah in the snatch.

What it does mean, is that if it's your first year of Crossfitting, and your DL is still not that great, you can do squat snatches from the high hang with an empty bar til yer blue in the face, but the guy that's hitting his 5x5s in the deadlift is going to crush you at most met cons. When I am not working from my laptop and I have more sophisticated screen shot takers and editing stuff, I will put up the outputs from SPSS so you can see the data directly, and I will also publish the same analysis of the snatch.

The gist of it is this: give or take a few (like 5) per cent, your deadlift predicts your clean and snatch like this:

Clean= 52% of DL

Snatch=38% of DL

So, wanna do Isabel as Rx'ed? Get your DL over at least 355lbs (opening up that 135lb power snatch). Wanna do Isabel fast? Make sure that Rx'ed is less than 70% of your max, or in DL terms, make sure you can DL 507lbs.

For the first year or two, it really is that simple. I highly recommend Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline to help you bring up your DL fast, if you can't train in person with me.

(I am an expert)


jamie said...

I think that any comparison between a "grind" and "quick lift" needs to take into account the athletes vertical jump.

Other than that, I agree that stronger is better. I'm not so sure about using the OHS as an accessory lift on a regular basis though. I'll have to think about that one.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

The VJ point is a good one Jamie: a lot of the authors I was drawing on in the Russian literature actually make the same statement. The combination of squats, jump squats and vertical jump told you a lot about power.

I don't have the necessary equipment at this time to measure a true vertical, but will add it to my repetoire some day.

As regards the OHS, for beginners it's a must, because they will most likely be pretty awful at it. Once the OHS exceeds the snatch by a healthy margin (10-20%) the intermediate lifter can get his overhead in with actual snatching. From what I have noticed in the literature on elite lifters, pure OHS work is relegated to special drills to bring up major weak points only (perhaps the actual squat, or in fact drop snatches etc).

Jon said...

I think some of the descripancy between what I would think of as reasonable strength training for weightlifting and your use of the deadlift is because my lifters normally clean around 90% of their best deadlifts. Because of this, a heavy clean is also a pretty heavy deadlift, thus eliminating for most the need to do much deadlifting.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

Interesting Jon:

who are you, and where do you coach, and who are your lifters?

You know my post is about 1st year Crossfitters, right?

You know what I always wonder when I hear O lifting coaches give such figures, is... what can I do to get that?

I have an oly style squat of about maybe 270lbs, but I pull 385 pretty regularly with 405 being best. If you could coach me to clean 360lbs (90% of my DL)(at a BW of 170 and an age of 33yrs) I would sincerely like to talk more!

I suspect there's a lot more to it than that, and as I am not an weightlifting specialist, I'd like to know more.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

As I mentioned to Pendlay and others via FB, with my oly squat being 270 and my clean 210 and my snatch 155 (me thinks I need to retest) the old adage of clean=80% and snatch=60% is pretty spot on for me.

But, I have been training the power variations for 10 years and the full lifts for about 3-4, and I can front squat 90 and OHS 80% of my best oly style back squats (250 and 215, plenty of room for the full lifts).

To further confuse the situation, I may oly ~270, but with a belt I can powerlifting style BS about 325.

Glenn said...


"Jon" is me, Glenn, screwed up because of the way google likes to link youtube, blog, etc, accounts.

Anyway, as you know I am not of the opinion that the deadlift is as important as you believe it is, or the OHS for that matter. I believe the difference in our opinions is caused by the following:

I MAKE lifters do the squat version right from the start, even if this means artificially holding the weight down so that they can front squat or OHS squat the bar. So my lifters are doing front and overhead squats right from the start while performing the lifts.

My lifers also, as I said, tend to get their clean up to a high percentage of their deadlifts fairly quickly, so heavy cleans are also fairly heavy deadlift attempts, thus negating the need for lots of heavy deadlifts. You use your own example of a deadlift much higher than a squat, which is a situation rarely found in Olympic lifters, but is probably the case in your personal situation because of previous training that somehow favored the deadlift growing out of proportion to the squat, or at least out of what would be thought of as proper proportion for a competitive weightlifter.

Crossfitters are a special population. Their snatches and cleans are not usually going to be as high a percentage of their squats and deadlifts because they are not specialists, and generally do not develop the same skill in the lifts as a specialist olympic lifter. Whats more, they also often develop in such a way as to have the deadlift outstrip the squat, I believe becasue crossfit, at least the way i normally see it programmed, heavily favors posterior chain development.

One more factor is age. It is a lot more usual for a 40 year old beginner to have a deadlift that is initially stronger than their squat than it is for a 12 year old. I don't know the details about your situation, but in most crossfit boxes I have seen, the average participant is closer to 40 than to 12. Mary McGregor, a lifter I coached who started at age 55 and won the Masters worlds and set all new world records in her age group, went to a deadlift meet and pulled a 300lb deadlift at 61 years of age. Not bad for a grandmother! At the time, her maximum high bar squat was 220lbs. She NEVER deadlifted in training. I attribute this situation to her age when she started, and her age at the time she did this.

Jason Struck, CSCS RKC said...

More about my 'data' set:

average training age is ~20 months, but median is more like 10 (there are one or two lifters with 4+ years of experience skewing the data).

Average chronological age is probably about 31 years old.

Average clean is 140, jerk 150 and snatch 105 (POUNDS).

My training began with Power to the People by Pavel, and as such, combined with my long femurs and general skinny-ness my Deadlift FAR OUTSTRIPPED my squat, something that has been addressed but far from corrected. I highly favored that which I was good at, and avoided that which I was not (DL:BS respectively).

I think what's important, and what I didn't spell out enough in the post, was that 1st year Crossfitters are guiding themselves on benchmarks that are fairly unrelated to THEM.

While I BELIEVE your contention that if I did full cleans, and some front and back squats and nothing else I would improve my cleans, it leaves a lot to be desired of a well rounded strength and conditioning program, particularly one geared towards 'average' crossfitters:

35 years old
no athletic background
somewhat overweight
mobility restricted
cardiovascularly challenged
basically pansies that need a lot of work

I think that the olympic lifts make a solid base for most S&C programs, but I also think I still need some DL and Bench, some gymnastics, and some energy system development, with sleds, KBs or circuits or whatever.

Glenn said...

I agree with your last comments, OL alone is not a well rounded program for general fitness.

I would not advocate training like aweightlifter for the average guy wanting general fitness, for one thing, if you are not cleaning and snatching fairly high percentages of your squat/deadlift, the lifts will have a very different affect on your body than they will if you are lifting high percentages.