Category Archives: Bob Takano
The back squat, or simply the squat, has the greatest carryover value of any exercise to the Olympic lifts, short of the actual lifts themselves. It is simply not possible to develop a weightlifter to his or her full potential without performing thousands of repetitions of heavy back squats. It is not only an obviously great strengthener of the legs and hips, but also of the torso musculature, and furthermore stimulates the anabolism of the musculature.
Now before I proceed further, let me answer the obvious question of many – low bar or high bar. I am discussing the high bar squat as it is performed by weightlifters all over the planet. The low bar squat is an event, and as an exercise it has great benefit at improving results in the low bar squat. For weightlifters there are many more useful ways of directing energy than performing low bar squats.
Previously I wrote about the snatch to clean and jerk ratio, but today I’m going to discuss the squat to clean and jerk ratio. In the 1950s and 1960s there were frequent incidents of elite level weightlifters being forced to withdraw from competitions because of knee injuries. These types of situations have abated greatly and in today’s world level competition their occurrence is extremely rare. The reason for that, I believe, is the increase in the squat to clean and jerk ratio along with better selection of athletes.
In the late 1970s the Soviets gathered data and found that their best lifters had best back squats that averaged 131% of their best cleans and jerk. As time passed there was anecdotal evidence that many of the top lifters in the world had even higher figures.
As a coach I’ve used this 131% in calculating the target squatting figure for my athletes. For instance, if I am planning on having a lifter target a clean and jerk goal of 120 kg for the next cycle, I will plan all the training percentages for the back squat off of 157 kg or more, which is 131% of 120. This seems to provide the proper amount of loading on the individual, and enables to athlete to stand easily with whatever weight is cleaned.
Naturally there are variations among individuals, and since I work with Americans and we have no infrastructure for talent selection, the variations are even greater. Once my athletes have mastered technique, and their bodies have been balanced through training, we can plan on targeting back squatting weights at that 131% figure. This can be difficult for those with especially long femurs and who are lifting at a less than optimal bodyweight. Others have excellent squatting leverages and can routinely exceed that target weight. These adjustments in training weight have to be made when planning the training.
Since I’ve been developing weightlifters by teaching technique, balancing their bodies, and then prescribing appropriate squatting poundage, I have seen very few knee problems and no injuries. The strength levels have been appropriate as evidenced by the proper ratio of snatch to clean and jerk weights.
So how often do I have my lifters squat? For my veteran lifters, I program squatting five to six days per week during preparation cycles, with one of them being front squats. For very advanced lifters they may even squat twice in the same day. During pre-competition cycles, the back squats are done once or twice per week and front squats once or twice per week, depending on the individual’s needs. 80% at a minimum is programmed for each session.
Front squat intensities are calculated at 105% of the clean and jerk. Personally I prefer them to be higher. This will insure that the recovery from the deep squat in the clean is relatively easy and there is enough leg strength left for a successful jerk drive.
This piece is being presented to assist coaches in understanding the interrelationship between back squatting, front squatting, and cleaning so that training can be designed in a manner that most effectively uses the energies available to the athlete.
One of the major problems with teaching the technique of the Olympic lifts is that newcomers often are not comfortable and/or familiar with the bottom position before they ever attempt to learn the movements. I’ve always felt that learning to achieve a certain position or result was best accomplished if there was familiarity with the goal of the movement. For most people just learning the Olympic lifts, the overhead squat, front squat, and split jerk positions are neither familiar nor necessarily comfortable.
Squat Snatch Press
I begin by teaching the squat snatch press, a movement in which the athlete assumes a full back squat bottom position while taking a snatch width grip with the bar resting on the shoulders behind the neck. The movement then commences with the athlete pressing the bar overhead while remaining in the full bottom position. The exercise has been mistakenly called the Sots press when in actuality a Sots press is performed with the bar in front of the neck with the hands in a clean width grip.
The squat snatch press is a fabulous exercise for familiarizing the athlete with the bottom position of the squat snatch, while simultaneously improving mobility in all the relevant joints. The most difficult problem for many people is learning how to fire the rhomboids in order to stabilize the scapulae, so the shoulders have a proper platform from which to exert force upon the bar.
The best movement for learning the squat clean bottom position is the traditional front squat. This movement performed with an optimal amount of weight will force the body into the bottom position, while simultaneously stretching the tendons and ligaments involved in achieving the position. At this point the front squat is not a strengthening exercise, but a positioning and stretching exercise. The hands are not gripping the bar, but rather cradling it to keep it resting on the shoulders.
The split jerk is best learned by performing overhead lunges. The weight is supported overhead with the hands taking a clean width grip. The athlete then steps forward with the preferred leg into a lunge position and lowers the hips until the thigh of the front leg is parallel with the floor. The athlete then recovers to the starting position. This movement, like the previous two, is to acquaint the athlete with the bottom position before any attempt is made to assume the position at the end of an explosive movement.
Once these positions become comfortable for the neophyte lifter, the technique training can then commence to the process of learning how to get the barbell to these positions.
For decades I’ve been hearing the complaints about technique coaching and training for the snatch and clean and jerk. People have told me these lifts are just gymnastics and not true strength events. I’ve been told they are too complicated. Some people have even informed me they are just evil. Not unexpectedly, none of these complaints have come from weightlifters or weightlifting coaches.
I’m sure the complaints and arguments will continue to emanate from those who just don’t want to bother with learning how to perform the lifts or to coach technique. For a large number of people in the world of traditional resistance exercise, the movements they employ are of minimal neuromuscular complexity and so the teaching of technique is a relatively simple task. In fact in bodybuilding the whole point of exercises is to isolate muscles and reduce as much as possible the interplay between individual muscles and muscle groups. Furthermore, there is no need to teach the act of actively not contracting the muscle.
For those interested in employing the Olympic lifts in training or becoming a weightlifter who regularly faces the rumors and complaints about technique, I thought a review of the phenomenon of weightlifting technique might be an apropos topic.
The Development of Technique
Modern technique in the performance of the lifts (at one time dubbed the “quick lifts”) took its final step toward its current state in the late 1960s when the International Weightlifting Federation changed the rule that forbade lifters from touching the bar with any part of the body apart from the hands until it went to overhead lockout in the snatch, or resting on the shoulders in the clean. In the clean it is still forbidden for the bar to touch the torso at any point above the lap until the bar is supported at the shoulders.
With this change, athletes were able to employ a thigh brush that allowed the legs and hips to be used more effectively in the pull. With the development of biomechnical analysis of the lifts, the application of biomechanics by coaches, and the recruitment of larger numbers of top athletes to the sport, the modern double knee-bend technique was described in the mid to late 1970s.
Although some individual variations have arisen since that time, the basics of the modern pull have remained constant for the last several decades. It is the most biomechanically efficient technique that can be verified by sport science.
Since weightlifting has bodyweight classes, the primary concern for the majority of competitors is to become as efficient as possible, i.e. to lift as much weight as possible without exceeding the limit of the bodyweight class. This involves two procedures. The first is to lift with the greatest biomechanical efficiency, allowing for the generation of the greatest amount of power and the fastest appropriate body movements. The second is to develop and use the musculature in the most efficient manner.
Developing and employing the best, most efficient technique will also lead to developing the functional anatomy that is most appropriate. By performing training lifts and exercises with the best technique, the body will develop in a manner that is harmonious and conducive to optimal performance. There should be no development of muscular tissue that is not employed synergistically in the performance of the snatch and clean and jerk.
Balanced development refers to both the muscular and nervous systems. Not only should a weightlifter’s body have minimal development of non-functional muscle with respect to the performance of the lifts, but the myelination of the neurons that innervate the functional muscles must also be highly developed.These neurons must be trained in a synergistic manner so that muscles will be contracted in coordinated patterns.
Both of these types of balanced development will come about as a result of properly designed training that employs frequent use of the Olympic lifts and their derivatives. As lifters become more and more advanced, the training will take on a more specialized nature that gradually discards auxiliary exercises that do not work the muscles in the most appropriate patterns.
Injuries frequently occur when the forces around joints are imbalanced for the activity being performed. These imbalances result from poorly designed training including the use of inappropriate exercises or the overuse of certain activities. The balanced development that occurs from properly designed training is less likely to lead to injuries. Of course in any sport geared toward maximum performances, some injuries are likely to occur, but proper training will minimize the occurrence and lessen the severity.
When To Learn Technique
At one time it was thought that technique was best learned in a gradual manner over a period of several years of a lifter’s career. Current best practices indicate the greatest benefits are derived from learning technique early in the career. In many national programs, the emphasis is to learn technique during the pre-pubertal years. Technical training is performed with dowels so the athlete is already beginning the process of neural development before resistance training begins.
For those of you interested in training the Olympic lifts, the best results will occur when technique is mastered first.This should be the first major task of the coach – the teaching and perfecting of technique. Coaches employing the Olympic lifts in the training of athletes must accept the fact that coaching technique is a significant part of the equation. There is no way to avoid it and no amount of grousing that will make it go away. If you are in the position of just learning the Olympic lifts, learn everything you can about performing them properly. Get the best coaching you can until you absolutely master them. If you are a coach, you must learn to perform them with good to excellent proficiency, and then study the teaching techniques of top coaches if you want to teach them effectively.
Snatches and clean and jerks are technique oriented – period. That’s not to say that performing them at high levels does not require great physical strength. This is an error in thinking many people make. They think great technique pre-empts the development of strength. In fact, the best weightlifters have outstanding technique and are exceptionally strong and powerful.
Hopefully this article will provide a perspective for aspiring coaches.
When I see lifters competing in a meet, I and other experienced coaches can easily determine the appropriateness of their trainings and the expertise of their coaches. I can see common features of the technique of a team’s lifters. I can see whether a certain phase of a given lift is especially strong or weak. I can determine whether or not lifters are competing in the proper bodyweight class. Many things about the coaching and training become obvious in a competition.
One item that is rather obvious is the ratio of the snatch to the clean and jerk. If an athlete is mature, and is lifting in the appropriate bodyweight class for his or her height, proper training is reflected by this ratio. For many years, the top international lifters had best snatch figures that were within the range of 78 to 82% of the clean and jerk. With the advent of heightened drug testing protocols at the international level, that range is likely to expand upwards to about 84%, as the use of performance enhancing drugs is more necessary to improve the results of the clean and jerk.
So when I see a lifter who has been competing for some time, is at the appropriate bodyweight for his or her height and the technique is sound, but the snatch figure is below or above the aforementioned range, I know that the training needs some adjustment.
How is the training to be adjusted? The key figure that must be calculated is the average absolute intensity. This number is determined by taking the average weight of each repetition performed in the training over an extended period.
I have a twenty-week training program I wrote for my lifters that worked exceptionally well through several meets. I set up the program for a lifter who wanted to snatch 130 kg and clean and jerk 160 kg at the end of the cycle. For each exercise I multiplied the amount of weight used by the number of repetitions and added all these figures together.
This lifter totaled 910,945 kg over twenty weeks. He performed 7,782 repetitions for an average of 117.1 kg per repetition. At the end of the cycle he did snatch 130 and jerked 160. 130 divided by 160 equals 81.25%, which is comfortably within the 78 to 82% range, so this average figure of 117.1 is a valid one.
If the results were, for example, a 120 snatch and 160 clean and jerk the quotient would have been 75%, which is below the optimal range. In that case the training would need to be restructured so that the average weight is less than 117.1 kg.
Another way to look at it when projecting ahead is to calculate what is called the K-value. In this calculation we use the same absolute average intensity and compare it to the total lifted at the end of the cycle. In the previous example if we take the 117.1 average absolute intensity and divide it by the total of 290 (130 + 160), the quotient x 100 is equal to 40.5. Empirical studies of the best training programs show this quotient should be in the range of 38 to 42, so this absolute average intensity is an appropriate one.
By using the ratio of the snatch to the clean and jerk and the absolute average intensity, it is possible to determine whether or not the training is balanced and will continue to lead toward ongoing progress. Some of you might think that this is a lot of work, and it is, but this is the type of work a coach must perform in order to get an athlete up to championship levels.
For those of you who are just getting started, the ratio of 78 to 84% is a good place to start and use as a monitoring device for your own training program planning. If your athlete’s number is too far below this range, the average training weight must be reduced. If it’s above this range, the average training weight needs to be raised.