Category Archives: Wil Fleming
Combos to start
The Real Thing (or a variation)
LOTS of squatting
The Lazy Olympic Weightlifting Program
|Power Snatch + OH Squat||4||(1+1)x3|
|Power Clean + Front Squat+Jerk||4||(1+1+1)x3|
|Power Snatch + OH Squat||5||(1+1)x2|
|Power Clean + Front Squat + Jerk||5||(1+1+1)x2|
|Snatch Pull (or from deficit)||5||3|
|Clean and Jerk||4||3+2 (1+1 style)|
|Snatch Deadlift (or from Deficit)||5||3|
|Clean and Jerk||4||2+1 (1+1 style)|
Sneak into any Russian training hall, Chinese sports school, or Bulgarian weightlifting Mecca and you’ll see dozens of guys with traps popping out of their T-shirts, backs as wide as freeways, and quads that would make the Incredible Hulk turn another shade greener.
These world-class weightlifters may possess the powerful physiques we all want, yet they aren’t following the typical models when it comes to putting on muscle mass.
It’s not Hypertrophy Training For Dummies that they’re using – you won’t find these guys maxing out reps on the dumbbell shrug, leg extension, or leg curl machine. Instead, you’ll see power cleans, snatches, deadlift variations, and several other killers that both stretch the seams of your shorts and scare your momma.
However, were I to peruse college textbooks or ask successful bodybuilder at the gym how to get ripped and get huge, it would be unlikely that the Olympic lifts would come up in any way, shape, or form.
It’s because they’re seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, as the main thing it takes to put on muscle mass, high reps, is the kryptonite of Olympic lifting.
So what gives? My eyes tell me that Olympic lifting can make people jacked, but the textbooks and empirical evidence tell me that Olympic lifting and putting on size don’t mix.
If you’re on this site you know how to get bigger. It’s no secret, putting on size means some serious time under the bar, but let’s review some hypertrophy basics.
The main objective in training for hypertrophy is maximal protein catabolism. In so doing, one should stimulate maximal synthesis of muscle protein in the recovery phase. Break down more muscle through your workouts and gain more muscle through your recovery.
Protein catabolism is greatest when the repetitions per set number 5-12, and the recovery between sets is 1-2 minutes. Training sessions for hypertrophy typically focus on a particular muscle group rather than a particular pattern of movement.
However, compare the above with Olympic lifting and you’ll see more differences than while comparingRambo to The Notebook.
There’s absolutely nothing similar about training protocols for Olympic lifting and hypertrophy. Hypertrophy calls for high reps, Olympic lifting calls for low reps. Hypertrophy calls for minimal rest, Olympic lifting for maximal rest.
|Variable||Hypertrophy||Normal O Lifting|
|Intent||Activate and exhaust working muscles||Recruit maximal motor units|
|Reps||5-7 to 10-12||1-3|
|Rest Intervals||1-2 minutes/set||3-5 minutes/set|
|Weight Used||Maximal or sub-maximal||Maximal or sub-maximal|
So what gives? Training for hypertrophy and using Olympic lifting are like oil and water, but there obviously must be some way to get jacked and use Olympic lifting.
Using Olympic Lifting for Hypertrophy
There’s one common problem that we must overcome to make Olympic lifting useful for hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy requires volume, and big increases in volume result in huge changes muscle size.
But this runs contrary to what most Olympic lifters typically do, as an Olympic lifting program for even a national level lifter rarely exceeds 200-300 reps per week.
Contrast this with the typical “3 sets of 10 reps” hypertrophy workout we often see recommended in beginner bodybuilding articles – applying that to just a total of 10 exercises per week would yield more reps than most serious Olympic lifters do in a week.
Now this doesn’t mean that sets of 3 reps are now sets of 10 and 12 reps. That won’t work with the Olympic lifts (I’ll explain why later). We sneak in volume by using combo movements to double or triple the volume of an exercise.
Combos are multiple movements completed 1 repetition at a time, or 1+1+1 until completion. This is in contrast to a complex where movements are completed in their entirety until completion.
Two examples of a heavy combo are below. The first is a clean combo of deadlift, full clean, and front squat.
In the video I complete it for 1 repetition each. The key here is that I chose a weight (125 kilos) that would be challenging had I done it for only 1 repetition of the full clean, as it’s about 85% of my current 1RM.
In a typical Olympic lifting program, doing singles at 85% of your 1RM is not uncommon, but by using a combo I was able to sneak 2 extra reps in to my weekly volume.
The second combo is a snatch combo of snatch deadlift, snatch high pull, and power snatch.
In the video I complete the movement for 1+1+1 x2, making the total reps completed in the set fall right in the middle of the number of reps one should be doing for hypertrophy (6 reps).
Heavy combos used for hypertrophy should be done with 2-4 combined movements done one rep at a time. Make sure that when doing them the total reps completed within any given set doesn’t exceed 10.
The Klokov Combo
The rules of combos go out the window with this one exception, the Klokov combo.
The Klokov combo is named after Russian lifter, Dmitry Klokov. This combo features 5 movements in sequence completed for 1 repetition each: deadlift, full clean, front squat, push press, and split jerk.
If combos are named after animals (i.e., the bear), this one should be named the shark-tiger-bear. Try completing this combo with 80-85% of your 1RM.
Klokov has famously completed this exact complex with 205 kilos on the bar. The bar has been set!
5+5 Regression Complexes
While I’m trying to be all sneaky about adding extra reps into Olympic lifts to train for hypertrophy, I’m certain some are thinking, “Wait, why don’t I just do sets of 8-12 reps on the clean?”
The answer is simple: high rep Olympic lifts are terrible for you. Consult any textbook and you’ll find that Olympic lifts are never prescribed for more than 5 repetitions…ever. Consult any successful coach and they’ll tell you that 90% of all sets should be done at 3 reps or below. See, no matter where you turn, it just isn’t a good idea.
The problem with high rep Olympic lifts is that no matter how good the technician is at the movements, their form will ultimately break down as the set goes on.
The regression complex is a perfect remedy for this problem.
The concept is simple. Take a complex movement and at the precise moment that form typically breaks down, regress to a similar movement that requires less technical efficiency.
Here’s a video of me doing a regression complex of power snatches and snatch grip Romanian deadlifts for 5 reps of each. It’s another sneaky way to add repetitions to your Olympic lift training program and get huge in the process.
A second example is to use the power clean and deadlift in a 3+3 complex. While 110 kilos isn’t typically a challenging weight on the deadlift, it’s an entirely different story after knocking out several cleans and clean pulls first.
How to Use Them
So how do you use these? Should you just throw some extra reps at your workout and hope for some gains?
No, use the 3-week training program below to quickly develop mountainous traps, aircraft carrier lats, and giant quads. You’ve got my word on it.
|A||Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch||4||1+1+1×2|
|A||Clean Regression Complex||4||5+5|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
|A||Snatch Regression Complex||4||5+5|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
|A||Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch||4||1+1+2×2|
|A||Clean Regression Complex||4||5+5|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
|A||Snatch Regression Combo||4||5+5|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
|A||Snatch Combo: Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Power Snatch||4||2+1+2×2|
|B||Back Squat (10% higher than week 1)||4||5|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
|A||Snatch Regression Combo||4||5+5|
|B||Snatch High Pull||4||5|
|A||Clean Combo: Deadlift, Full Clean, Front Squat||4||2+2+2|
|D||Turkish Get-Up||3||2 each|
While hypertrophy isn’t normally the province of Olympic lifting, here’s your opportunity to get creative like a weightroom Picasso and implement some sneaky strategies to gain massive size from the O lifts.
The epidemic that I speak of?
Horrible versions of the snatch, filmed and put out onto YouTube for the world to marvel at. Just like listening to Fabio talk about astrophysics can drop your IQ by 20 points, watching these videos may lead to immediate reductions in strength and muscle mass.
Well I’m here to put those videos to bed through a lengthy breakdown of my favorite lift in the world: the snatch.
Set up Tight to the Bar
Successful Olympic lifts happen when the lifter and the barbell are moving in one efficient “system.” The lifter-barbell system, as it is called, must share one center of mass, and ideally this center of mass lies within the framework of the lifter’s body. Setting up close to the barbell begins to make sure that this will happen efficiently.
Setting up too far from the barbell will move the center of mass forward of the athlete’s toes and will lead to difficulty in achieving the lift later on.
The proper distance away from the bar is different for athletes based on body dimensions but can be summed up closely for most athletes:
When standing over the bar, the athlete should see their shoelaces covered by the bar. This means that from the coach’s perspective, the bar will be over the midfoot (a much more solid base than the toes) and will be far enough away from the body to allow the lifter to get in the start position.
Stability is the name of the game when it comes to the Olympic lifts, and in the case of setting up for the snatch, stability comes from being in an optimal balance of weight towards the forefoot and the heel.
This optimal balance position is called “tripod foot” position and means that the athlete should have weight balanced between 3 points on each foot. The 3 points of contact are:
- The joint at the base of the big toe.
- The joint at the base of the little toe.
- The heel.
An optimal interplay between weight at each point in the tripod will keep the athlete in balance throughout the lift. The strategy will also allow for corrections to be made in balance throughout the lift. If an athlete is too far forward, then more weight should be distributed to the heels; if the athlete’s toes come off the ground, then more weight can be distributed to the forefoot.
Jump Width or Slightly Wider than Jump Width
The short answer for how wide your feet should be when doing the snatch is “jump width.” The long answer is a little more complex and is more like “it depends.”
Setting up for a hang snatch is a little easier than a power snatch or full snatch from the ground, and in those cases the stance should be jump-width apart. Toes should be pointed out slightly; not much, but slightly.
In the jump-width stance (about as wide as your hips), feet should be directly below your hips. When your feet are directly below your hips, force created in the posterior chain is directed straight into the ground and there is no lateral leak of power. This is a good thing. If we’re using the big movers of the back-side, ideally we’re using the fullest power potential we can create and not losing power to lateral forces.
In the power snatch and the full snatch we’ll again start to think about our starting position as jump width, but trial and error may deem this to be an inappropriate stance for some athletes.
The “depends” part comes into play when getting into the start position. The wider grip of the snatch means that athletes must get lower and closer to the ground to grip the bar. Athletes lacking in hip mobility will achieve this lower position through compensations in lumbar flexion which will, of course, eventually lead to a back that is over fatigued and more prone to injury.
A simple correction is to work on hip mobility and raise the start position on blocks for a period of time. For some athletes, though, it will be necessary to make a modification to the start position on a more permanent basis.
For those athletes, “slightly wider than jump width” is the stance of choice. In this position (the legs slightly abducted) there isn’t as great a demand on hip mobility in the starting position (but they may have to deal with a slight energy leak to lateral forces).
Lock the Lats Down
We use a cue of “lock the lats down” when hands are on the barbell. This is accomplished rather easily. When the athletes’ hands are on the bar, they should picture pinching a roll of quarters in their armpits. Another idea is to squeeze your arms towards your body. Both cues work, so it’s just about finding the right one for the right athlete.
Locking the lats down will pack your shoulders into a strong position, lend more stability to the back, and enable a tight lifter barbell system.
For starters, packing the shoulders down with the lats is a great way to start when your hands are on the barbell. Elevated shoulders will ultimately lead to shoulder pain and discomfort.
Overuse of the upper traps will lead to early fatigue and while I haven’t seen much written on the exact involvement of the upper trap and the shrug movement in completion of the lift, it’s an important part of the lift. Tired traps will not be able to contribute to the lift. Pack the shoulders down by locking in your lats.
Locking the lats also leads to greater stability in the lower back. The origin of the lats is spread vertically down the lower back. When activating this muscle it synergistically assists the lumbar extensors in keeping the lumbar spine, well, extended.
The lats should remain tight until the 2nd pull is initiated. Once the arms become involved, it’s necessary to forget the idea of lat tightness and focus on the fast, relaxed movement of the elbows above the bar. The lats are powerful and if held tight throughout the lift, they’ll inhibit the motion of the arms up and under the bar. That being said, even in a hang snatch, “lock the lats in” is one of the first cues we use.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the idea of a “tight lifter-barbell system.” This idea and a lack of understanding or execution of this idea is at the root of many problems that athletes have in completing the Olympic lifts. The lats being tight leads to this tight system and a better execution of the snatch or the clean.
Hip Hinge to Above the Knee
Regardless of whether one is starting in the hang snatch position or the floor start (like in the power snatch, or full snatch), a hinge is the first movement that needs to occur.
Start each movement by unlocking the knees and then hinging until the hands are at knee level. If you’re doing a floor start, your hands will be free at this point.
If you’re doing a hang snatch, the bar will be in your hands and tight to the body. Both instances – hang and power – require the exact same hip hinge position when the bar or your body are above the knee. That is a constant
Squat to the Bar
The next step is to squat to the bar. When the bar is on the floor, the Olympic lifts are a combination of deep hip angles and deep knee angles.
However, when the bar is in the hang snatch position, the bar is above the knee and the movement is primarily a hip hinge (with slight knee movement). To put together the deep knee and hip angles, we start by RDL’ing/hinging to the knee level and then squatting vertically to the bar.
When in the RDL position at the knee level, the torso is roughly 30 degrees above horizontal (the floor in this case), and ideally we’ll again start at about 30 degrees above horizontal to begin the lift-off from the floor.
Squatting involves the vertical displacement of the hips and will allow this 30-degree angle to be maintained until you reach the bar at rest on the ground.
If there were to be horizontal movement of the hips, thus putting the torso at an angle less than 30 degrees above horizontal, you’ll find it difficult to pull from the ground and maintain a tight lifter-barbell system.
To summarize, to get to the bar on the ground:
- Hinge to your knee level.
- Squat to the bar.
Neutral-ish Neck but Eyes Up
Finding the optimal spinal position in the Olympic lifts is extremely important. Flexion will not do at any point, but a balance between completely neutral and extension is necessary to move efficiently and strongly in the lifts.
The super simple answer to where your neck and in turn, your eyes, should go when you have your hands on the bar is, “keep it neutral.” Cervical spine hyperextension can lead to corresponding lumbar hyperextension, which can in turn lead to some serious pain in the lumbar spine later. We want to avoid this at all costs, so if worse comes to worse, keep the neck completely neutral.
The optimal position isn’t entirely neutral, though. The optimal position is a slightly extended neck/cervical spine, and in turn, a slightly extended lumbar spine.
Let me qualify the statement about the lumbar spine. It should be slightly extended, only to the point that there’s some activation of the spinal erectors to lend more stiffness in the lift and help to avoid spinal flexion.
Keep your eyes on the horizon and let them look forward throughout the lift and don’t focus your gaze on the floor or the ceiling.
Knuckles Back and Down, Elbows Out
The role of the arms is not to screw up the rest of the lift. If the arms are too active, then they’ll likely do just that: screw up your lift.
If, on the other hand, they’re too passive, and no thought at all goes into what your hands or arms are doing in the lift, they won’t be doing their job to keep the lift in the right trajectory.
For the snatch (and even the clean), the goal of the hands and arms is to keep the bar tight to the body; to not let the trajectory arc away from the body.
To accomplish this task is rather simple. Prior to starting the lift, as your hands are first placed on the bar, neutralize the wrists so the knuckles are pointing directly towards the ground and internally rotate the upper arm so that your elbows are pointing laterally.
Now relax. Your arms are in the right position and their only goal is to stay out of the way and then punch aggressively once you need them later.
The Truth About Your Snatch Grip
The biggest problem with most pieces of advice written on the snatch grip is the dependence on various markings and lines on a bar. These recommendations usually center on where the knurling ends or a ring here and there.
If you always train with the same bar, then there’s no great issue with this advice but in cases in which one must train with a different bar, in a different gym, you can be left in the dark as to where to grip the bar.
There’s a simpler solution to always find a consistent grip width for the snatch:
Stand tall with your arms extended and the bar gripped in your hands. Widen your grip until the bar is resting across the crease in your hip. To ensure that you’re at the correct height, flex your hip until your hip is at 90 degrees. If your hip can’t flex to 90 degrees, you’ll need to move your hands wider. This is a starting point for your snatch grip – it may be a little wider or narrower, but this will get you close.
There’s just one more thing about the grip – use a hook grip.
I know it’s going to make your thumbs “hurt,” but I have 12 year old children using it and not complaining, so I don’t need to hear you whine about it.
Powering Up Your Start Position
Most problems with the snatch, and clean for that matter, happen from the floor to the knee. Screw up early in the lift and you have little chance of making the lift later on.
There are several ways to start moving the bar from the ground, including the static start and multiple versions of a dynamic start.
The rocking start is my variation of choice when it comes to the snatch. It requires greater hip mobility and can be difficult to do, but for athletes that struggle with keeping their chest up as the bar breaks from the ground, this is a perfect way to get the bar moving.
Get to the bar in the normal way (hips back, chest up). Once in the start position, keep the chest up and sink the hips even lower. You’ll end up in a nearly vertical torso position. Once the hips are actually below the bar, let them begin to rise, and as the torso reaches the magic 30-degree angle, the bar breaks with the ground.
Going a little further, you’ll sometimes see this method performed with athletes in a “duck stance,” i.e., their feet and knees will be turned out slightly and their torso should be extremely vertical.
The bar will rise vertically rather than back in this stance. It’s a perfectly acceptable strategy, but keep in mind that athletes still need to have a 30-degree torso angle when the bar passes the knees. A too vertical torso will lead to more problems than casting Vin Diesel in the lead role of Downton Abbey.
How to Power Snatch: The Performance
Drive Through the Heels
At the moment of lift off, the athlete should think “drive through the heels,” but maintain contact with the platform with the entire foot.
The cue, “drive through the heels,” can be misleading if the athlete removes any weight from his toe during the lift off. Using drive through the heels is an effort to ensure that the athlete does not get pulled to his toes while lifting off.
Knees Back, Translate the Torso
The initial lift-off from the floor should be done by extension of the knees. Driving the knees back but lifting the torso is what we’re aiming for. The torso should remain in the same relationship to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
In this way, we’re looking to translate the position of the torso vertically through space. This will maintain the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
There’s one thing to be careful of when athletes are driving their knees back. At no time should the shins go “behind vertical.” At maximum, the shins should be perpendicular to the platform.
Bar Sweeps Back
Up to this point we’ve spoken much about the position and movement of the body in the power snatch. The bar, however, does make a slight movement off the floor back toward the body to maintain the tight lifter-barbell system.
The one exception to this is for athletes that have long legs. In those athletes the knees will be in front of the bar while the bar is at rest on the ground. In these cases it’s nearly impossible to move the bar backwards into the body. The goal remains the same, but as a coach you’ll not see a backwards trajectory of the bar.
Slow off the Floor
A big mistake I see athletes make is jerking the bar from the ground. The first pull should not be a violent movement; rather it should be a smooth movement that may even look slow. A goal of the first pull is to set up the second, more violent pull and a fast first pull will likely inhibit the athlete’s ability to be efficient in the second pull.
A good analogy is the following that I picked up somewhere along the line, but cannot recall well enough to give the proper attribution:
At the Knees
Once the bar is at the knees, several things should be occurring, although this is a difficult place to coach the athlete because the system is already in motion. It is however, a great place to break down video and make adjustments to later lifts.
The feet should be flat so the athlete can transition correctly for the second pull. The hips should still be higher than the knees (very little hip extension has occurred up to this point, any movement being primarily knee extension). The torso should still be roughly 30 degrees above the horizontal. The arms should also remain straight – athletes that have bent their arms by this point will have difficulty with completing the second pull.
Creating the Triangle – The Second Pull
A really important concept that I like to teach my athletes is that once in the above knee position, they’ve created what’s called a “power triangle.” This triangle consists of their entire arm, their torso, and the angle of their hips.
From this point on the only goal, and the only way to make a successful second pull is to flatten, or close the triangle. This is a vivid image that can help any athlete hit the correct positions.
Close the Triangle
Once above the knees, it’s important not to rush the bar just yet. Rushing the bar at this point shows up when the knees begin to slide forward underneath the bar immediately after the bar passes the knees.
This movement does not “close the triangle.” The only way to close the triangle is to begin driving the hips forward to extension. The speed of the bar has begun to increase at this point, but is not at its maximum just yet. The bar will be in a mid-thigh position by this point.
Knees Forward (scoop/double knee bend)
A lot is made about the knee bend during the second pull. Entire articles have been written about just the double knee bend and some would make this post look like small potatoes. The fact is this, in a good snatch, the knee bend occurs to align the body in a position to create vertical movement.
Pure hip extension from the above knee position will create too much horizontal projection and the athlete will jump forward. To counteract this it ‘s necessary to perform the double knee bend (or scoop, or transition) for vertical projection. It’s highly debatable as to whether this fact should be coached, or even mentioned to a novice lifter. This movement is a natural phenomenon that is easily seen in typical jumping mechanics.
Finish the Hips and Knees
Once the bar has reached a high thigh position, and the torso has come to nearly vertical, the hips and knees will both be nearly extended. At this point the athlete should finish driving the hips and knees to extension. Athletes may drive up through the toes in this phase and will achieve FULL extension. This is the highest speed portion of the entire lift.
As I’ve lifted more and more and trained higher level athletes it’s become apparent that plantarflexion of the ankle (sometimes improperly called ankle extension) is not a part of the pull. I, repeat, it is not something to be coached.
At best, ankle plantarflexion is a result of a powerful second pull, or a mechanism of pulling under the bar. At worst, ankle extension makes it difficult for the athlete to get back under the bar as it increases the distance that an athlete must travel to get their heels to the ground and the hips in the right position.
Taking a look at high level lifters, you’ll often see what amounts to a flat footed pull. This flat foot position is a trained efficiency. To coach this position, encourage athletes to complete as much of the lift as possible without extending to the toes. “Heels, heels, heels, toes!” is the common cue used in my gym to coach athletes in the right position and tempo.
Relaxed Arms, Elbows High
After the power spike of the second pull, the bar will have tons of inertial energy and it is important to take advantage of it. Just as a boxer keeps his arms relaxed before throwing a punch, maintaining a relaxed arm is important for maximal speed later. The elbows should remain out and above the bar to guide the bar in a path that’s tight to the body.
Punch the Hands
The arms have stayed relaxed to a great degree up to this point, but once the athlete hits the “high pull” position it’s time to use the arms forcefully. The action of the arms at this phase is best described as punching the hands overhead. The hand punch should result in a receiving position that’s in-line with the spine and over the ears.
When the bar is overhead the athlete should actively press up with their upper traps and try to spread the bar apart. There’s nothing passive about holding weights overhead and this is the most active and “strong” position we can create. Don’t worry much about packed shoulders, worry about not letting the bar land on top of your dome.
A common mistake is receiving the bar too far back or too far forward. Lifts that are received forward are typically missed, but it’s lifts that are received too far back that are the real problem. When received behind the body, imagine an image where the torso and the arms make 2 sides of a triangle. As such, there’s great stress placed on the shoulders. Remember to “punch up, not back.”
Hips Back, Feet Flat
This step will occur simultaneously to punching the hands. Athletes should aim to receive the bar in an athletic position just as they would land from a jump. The useful cue we use is to tell the athletes to think, “toe, heel, hip.”
This means toes to the ground, heels follow, hips go down and away from the bar. The athlete will widen his feet slightly from a hip width/jump width stance to a shoulder width/squat width stance to receive the bar. The athlete should also have very little forward or backward travel at the time they receive the bar.
To get a good handle on the width you need the feet to be at landing, have an athlete do 3 consecutive vertical jumps and stick the last landing. This last jump is the position, width, and knee bend that should occur in a good power snatch.
How the Hell do you Get Down There?
It takes a special athlete to be able to complete a good-looking full (squat) snatch. Many athletes will lack the mobility to get into the correct position to receive the bar. This is the last progression we’ll use when incorporating Olympic lifts into athletes’ programs because of this difficulty.
The world’s most explosive athletes use this technique to complete the snatch in competition, so the upside in terms of potential weight used is great. The full snatch is an even greater total body exercise because of the need for great leg strength to come up from the full overhead squat position.
An easy progression from power snatch to full snatch is the following:
Power snatch + overhead squat. Complete the power snatch and then following the rep, descend into an overhead squat.
Power snatch to overhead squat. Receive a power snatch in the 1Ú2 squat or higher position and then ride the bar down into the bottom of an overhead squat.
Full snatch. Aggressively pull under the bar after completing the 2nd pull.
The best lifters in the world aren’t separated by their ability to pull the bar to higher heights and higher speeds. The true separation point is the speed with which they can move under the bar. This is an important point to consider when coaching the full snatch and full clean.
Ask me about a problem with the snatch and you’ll likely get a common prescription – snatch deadlifts and snatch balances.
Most problems at the receiving position can be solved with the snatch balance. This movement mimics the timing and effort that’s required in the catch of the snatch and teaches you to not be a passive participant in the movement. It’s my panacea of snatch related exercises.
Selecting Loads for the Snatch
For goodness sake, can we start by saying that under no circumstances is 30 consecutive snatches for time ever a good loading strategy? With that out of the way, let’s move on to the right way to load the snatch.
The 100% snatch should be about 78% of your 100% clean and jerk. This percentage increases as the athlete becomes more highly trained. The clean is much more about strength and at some point as strength plateaus, your snatch will begin to catch up to your clean.
The power snatch is typically around 80% of your 100% snatch. Pulls and deadlifts can be based off of the 100% number as well.
For novice lifters, much of their training should be centered around using 50% of their 100% snatch. This weight will allow lifters to learn the motor patterns associated with the movement at a less challenging weight. Advanced lifters will get little out of a 50% snatch for reps, and a much greater portion of lifts will be done at 70-80% of their snatch 1RM.
For lifters of all levels the greatest majority of reps should be performed between 70-85% of the 100% snatch and Prilepin’s table can be used fairly accurately to determine the repetitions and sets necessary at each intensity zone.
|Percent Zone||Rep Range per Set||Total Reps|
|70-75%||3 to 6||18|
|80-85%||2 to 4||15|
|90%||1 to 2||10|
I’m a big believer that those learning the snatch should spend more time working with just a bar or up to 50% of their bodyweight than anything else. Every athlete that I work with spends a significant amount of time working with just the bar prior to loading. Spend the time to learn the movement and then have confidence to attack big weights later on.
Wrapping it Up
By no means should you take everything I said in this article and start to add it to your program. Just pick a portion of the lift and start to make it work.
Then move on to the next problem spot and do the same thing until you’ve attained mastery of this magnificent lift.
I know what you’re all thinking: another article about complexes that I’ll never use cause I want to be big and strong, not just smash myself.
I feel your pain. Complexes have been covered extensively in the fitness and bodybuilding media, including T Nation. That said, this ain’t your momma’s complex training article – what you’re about to read may be the Greatest Complex Article of All Time (yeah, I said that).
So How’s This different?
The complexes in this article will help you burn fat, get strong as an ox, and put your will to the test. Granted, there are many complexes already published that can accomplish this, but these are different.
They use different rules, different implements, and way different rep schemes than what you’re used to. And the results they deliver give new meaning to the expression “change is good.”
New Rules for the Complex
1. Pick an implement.
Barbell complexes are the most popular and are what I choose to do most of my complexes with (Im an Olympic lifter, so it makes sense).
However, any implement will do. Kettlebells, sandbags, dumbbells, or a TRX can all be the tools of your destruction. Each implement has its advantages and disadvantages, so use them accordingly.
For instance, barbells suck when it comes to upper body pulling exercises, and the TRX sucks for vertical pressing exercises. Pick something and rock it out the best you can.
2. Choose from several categories (or just a couple).
With barbells I like to choose from tons of categories. Pretty much every complex has an explosive movement, some sort of hinging and squatting pattern, and likely some pressing or pulling.
When it comes to the other tools, you can still do the same thing and stay balanced, but an alternative is to smoke a particular movement pattern or a body part.
- Use the kettlebell to just work on your conditioning by doing a ton of swings, snatches, and carries.
- Using the TRX or suspension trainer, pick multiple movements that require a ton of stability, and targeted ab exercises to hammer your core.
If you choose from multiple categories you can get an awesome finisher; if you choose from just a couple you can dominate some body part training.
The list below offers some ideas for movements from each category.
|Lower Body Push||Bear Hug Squat,
Reverse Lunge w/ Rotation,
Dbl Front Squat
|RFE Split Squat,
|Lower Body Pull||Zercher Good Morning,
Stiff-Leg King Deadlift
|SHELC (Supine Hip Extension to Leg Curl) Supine Sprinters|
|Upper Body Push||Shoulder to Shoulder Press,
|Push-Up Variations (Hands In or Out),
|Upper Body Pull||Bent Over Row (Again)||Bent Over Row,
Double Sumo DL High Pull,
|Miscellaneous||Crawl and Drags,
Chops and Lifts,
3. Use rep schemes that make it interesting.
We always see the same thing, “Do x reps for x sets.” It’s time to ditch that line of thinking!
Try some innovative ways to use complexes in terms of sets and reps. Here are some that I use:
Ascending/Descending Pyramids (1,2,3,…3,2,1)
Start with 1 rep of each exercise and move through. Each set add a rep until you can add no more. Then, descend the pyramid back until you finish with 1 rep again. When it gets hard, tell yourself that after you finish the hardest set (the top of the pyramid), it’ll only get easier.
Accommodating Complexes (AC)
You know yourself better than any coach, so why not figure out yourself how many reps you can do on each exercise?
For instance, say you can do 10 kettlebell swings, but only 3 snatches per arm, 8 goblet squats, and 15 Romanian deadlifts? Voila! You now have the perfect rep scheme for your kick-ass kettlebell complex.
Complex Drop Sets (DS)
Pick your exercises, sets, and reps; say 3 sets of 6 reps on every exercise.Now choose a challenging weight and get to work on your 3 sets.
At the end of 3 sets drop the movement that’s most challenging, or the one where you were closest to technical failure. For each set after that, move up in weight to challenge yourself and approximate the volume from the first 3 sets.
The Sandbag Complex
I’m a big fan of the sandbag. Adding in a rotational component to exercises makes it an awesome tool for athletes needing greater stability in all planes of motion.
The cool thing about the sandbag is that it offers so many different options for holding it. While the barbell offers very little in the way of changing grips, with the sandbag we can shoulder it, hug it, crossbody hug it, and Zercher hold it. The possibilities are many, and each different grip or hold offers a different set of challenges.
Here’s an example:
|D||Zercher Good Morning||8|
In the video below my athlete is using an 80-pound bag and he’s getting crushed by the end.
The KB Complex
Everything is rosy when you have 2 hands firmly on a barbell, but it can be a different story when you’re forced to move unilaterally. The beautiful thing about many kettlebell movements is that they’re designed to be completed one hand at a time.
This complex forces you to brace for rotation, and can absolutely smoke your core. I use this with drop sets by working up to 3 sets of 5 reps and then dropping the hardest exercise, in this case, the Single Leg Romanian Deadlift Plus Row.
Once that beast is out, I move up in weight with my ‘bells while thanking the Almighty for taking mercy on me, and move on.
|A||One-Arm Swing||3||5 each*|
|B||Threaded Lunge||3||5 each*|
|C||SLRDL + Row||3||5 each*|
|D||Strict Press||3||5 each*|
The 2 KB Complex
This is one of my favorite complexes for developing strength. There aren’t many things harder than working with two heavy-ass kettlebells.
In no scientific way whatsoever, I’ve determined that a double-kettlebell front squat is just as difficult as a barbell front squat with twice the weight. Seriously though, even the strongest athletes wilt under two racked kettlebells.
In this video my athlete is on his 3-rep set as he descends the backside of the 1-5 pyramid illustrated below. Needless to say, he’s smoked.
|A||Double Clean||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1|
|B||Front Squat||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1|
|C||Push Press||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1|
|D||Sumo Deadlift High Pull||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1|
And Now, Introducing Monkey Jumps
This complex features a move that I named monkey jumps a long time ago, before I had ever seen a real monkey in nature or a zoo, and it turns out monkeys don’t actually do this.
The name stays, though.
Monkey jumps are just the C exercises of this complex, and combine an alternating split jump with a high pull on each jump. They may look funny, but the truth is they actually have some carryover to the Olympic lifts as it mimics the timing of pulling yourself down to the bar.
If you ever get the urge to do a complex on a beach or in a forest (which I’m embarrassed to say has happened to me on more than one occasion), and don’t have access to your kettlebells and dumbbells, you’re basically out of luck. However, if you happened to have a suspension trainer with you, you’re ready to rock it out no matter where you find yourself.
This is a killer complex if you use it in an ascending fashion. In the video below I filmed my set of 5 reps as I worked up to 8 reps of each exercise.
|A||SHELC||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
|B||Push-Ups||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
|C||Core Worm||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
|D||Handstand Push-Ups||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8|
The Obligatory Barbell Complex
You didn’t think that I’d leave this one out did you? Like Vin Diesel in The Fast and Furious series, you knew the barbell had to make an appearance, even if only for a moment at the end.
For this cameo I’m going way back in the archives to bring out the Javorek complex, appropriately named after its creator, Istvan (Steve) Javorek.
So how is the oldest complex in the book any different from the hundreds of complexes you have seen before?
Big ass weights.
Javorek writes of the need to do this complex at extremely high weights as a predictor of future performance. He tells tales of this complex being completed with 240 pounds by Romanian weightlifters, and 220-pound exploits by American record holders.
I personally witnessed my former Olympian coach complete this complex with over 200 pounds. After picking my jaw up from the floor and searching for my manhood, I completed this complex with 165 pounds. I went on to clean 330 pounds later that training cycle.
But in case you’re not going to the Olympics, there’s a very simple rule to follow to make sure this complex will challenge your strength and will: use 50% of your 1RM clean and jerk.
The 50% rule is what the best athletes are able to do with this 30-rep complex and it provides an indicator of what you’re capable of (with good technique) on the platform.
In the video below of the Javorek complex, I’m using 143 pounds (which is about 50% of my current 300-pound clean and jerk 1RM).
|A||Barbell Upright Row||6|
|B||Barbell Muscle Snatch||6|
|C||Back Squat to Push Press||6|
|E||Bent Over Row||6|
Complexes are a fantastic, multifaceted tool, and using a variety of tools and many different rep schemes makes them even better.
When you’re stumped for a training session, crave some variety, or just want to punish yourself, there’s likely a complex for you. If you manage to get through all of these complexes, I’m certain that your next challenge will be how to design a complex of sleeping, eating, and napping.
You can’t beat the snatch – at least not in terms of things you can do in the weight room for developing explosive strength, ridiculous traps, and extreme athleticism.
Unfortunately, few recreational lifters have the slightest idea how to perform a snatch, and those that do often still make some common mistakes that turn this solid exercise into a chiropractor and soft-tissue therapists’ wet dream.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And if you keep an eye out for the following six mistakes, you can take your snatch game up a notch and develop the mountainous traps and explosive power you deserve.
Mistake 1: Always going from the floor
Problems in the snatch often result from bad movement once the lift has begun, but an even more prevalent problem is a poor starting position.
There are a number of explanations for this, but the most common is simply not knowing what the heck a good start position looks like.
At the floor level, the key is to maintain a trunk position that’s about 30 degrees above horizontal. The angle of the shins and the thighs can vary greatly based on the height of the lifter, but the trunk angle remains constant.(1) Get this wrong and you don’t have much of a shot at getting the pull off the ground correctly.
Let’s take a look at getting in the correct position. The true start position for the snatch is uncomfortable, maybe even downright difficult, for the following reasons:
- Hip mobility. A quality you lost by sitting at a desk all day.
- Ankle mobility. Probably taken from you in that heated game of pick-up basketball 3 years ago when you rolled your ankle going for a game winning lay-up.
- Thoracic spine extension. Again, stolen from you by your desk job.
- Trunk stability. Unless you’ve been practicing some awesome diaphragmatic breathing patterns over the last several years, this is probably gone as well.
Most aren’t lacking in every area required to get into the correct start position, but even one red flag means that you’ll default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground.
For example, those lacking in hip mobility, thoracic mobility, or trunk stability will likely default to flexion at the lumbar spine, meaning a jacked-up back is right around the corner.
Fortunately, it’s possible to improve mobility in areas that you’re lacking and achieve the correct start position in no time. So make your first goal to develop mobility and stability where you need it, and then come back to trying to snatch from the floor.
In the meantime, starting the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (a low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that doesn’t include lumbar flexion.
Here’s an example from when I was working on recovering some hip mobility that I’d lost over the years.
Mistake 2: Hitting pop ups.
Getting into the correct start position for a snatch from the floor doesn’t mean that you’re out of the danger zone. A big mistake could still be waiting to bite you in the arse.
We’ve already established the correct torso position for when starting on the ground – roughly 30 degrees above horizontal – and that’s also the angle the torso should be in when the first pull is complete and the bar is above the knees.(1)
Snatching mistake #2 is letting your hips pop up too early. Doing so results in the bar being too far in front of you, and effectively puts your chances of making a good lift on par with the odds of Carrot Top winning an Oscar.
The initial lift off the floor should be done by extension of the knees – driving the knees back while lifting the torso. The torso should remain in the same position relative to the ground (30 degrees above horizontal) throughout the first pull.
Now we’re looking to translate this torso position vertically through space. This maintains the powerful RDL/hips loaded position above the knee. The knees should continue driving back until almost reaching extension as the bar begins to pass the knee.
Here’s a video that shows the difference when your hips rise too fast versus when they rise at the right pace. It doesn’t appear to be a huge difference, but it will significantly affect your ability to complete the lift.
Mistake 3: Not keeping the bar tight to the body.
Just as if you told me you saw an awful movie recently, I’d guess that it probably featured sparkling vampires and bad acting, if you were to tell me that you miss a lot of reps in the snatch, I’d immediately think this mistake was the culprit.
Mistake #3 is letting the bar get too far from your body during any part of the snatch. One of the basic concepts of weightlifting is once the bar breaks from the floor, the body and the bar must act as one unit. This unit, or lifter/barbell system, functions optimally when the bar is close to the body.
There are two typical instances when the bar can get away from you during the snatch:
First pull off the floor
If the bar gets away from the body during the first pull, you’re basically screwed. The lifter/barbell system is loose, and you’ll have a hard time recovering the lift.
To correct this, try pulling the bar tight to the body in a sweeping motion as you start the lift.
After the bar passes the knees is another point in which the bar can get away from you. If this occurs at this stage you have zero hope of making the lift because you’re no longer in control of the bar. As the bar drifts out away from the body, you must move away from your upward motion path and jump forward to catch the bar.
Mistake 4: Not closing the “triangle.”
The next mistake goes by a number of names: a short pull, leaving the hips out, or not finishing with extension. We call it “not closing the triangle” and it’s mistake # 4 on the list.
The triangle is the position you achieve when the bar is above the knees. This position is important to form: the hips are away from the bar, the arms are directed back towards the thighs, and the chest is over the bar forming three sides of a “power triangle.”
The triangle stores a ton of potential power – the hips are primed and ready to explode with force on the bar. It’s easy to achieve any sort of triangle above the knees, but often people are unable to shut it.
Focus on driving the hips to the bar as soon as the bar passes your knees. Finish the second pull and shut the triangle with force and finality to get the most out of your snatch. If you leave it “open” you’ve left a lot of power on the platform that could’ve been used to lift bigger weights.
Mistake 5: Being a swinger.
In snatching there are two types of people: swingers and pullers.
Although the term “swingers” invokes pleasant images of a loose and free-loving lifestyle, being a swinger isn’t a good thing when it comes to the snatch.
Efficient weightlifters finish the second pull with a vertical spike of power. Swingers, on the other hand, finish the second pull with a forward spike of power, leading the bar to “pop” off their hips in a distinct forward arc.
While big weights can be lifted in this way – you’re still reaching full, powerful hip extension – it’s far from efficient, and will lead to more missed lifts than you’d care to have.
Focus on achieving a vertical finish to the bar. Know that by actively pulling yourself under the bar you’ll be able to get around the bar, rather than making the bar move around your body.
The video below shows the big difference in bar path and the loss of efficiency that comes from swinging versus pulling.
Again, it isn’t a huge difference in the “looks” category, but one that will screw you up big time going forward. And that’s why it’s mistake #5.
Mistake 6: Catching like a Starfish.
A largely overlooked component of the Olympic lifts is the receiving portion. The snatch is great for force production, but just as important is the force absorption that takes place as you receive the bar.
This position should look like landing from a jump. When it doesn’t, not only are you missing out on the benefits of force absorption, you’re also training yourself to land in bad positions in other athletic movements. Your training just went from injury prevention to injury promotion. Hello mistake #6.
The starfish is an ugly creature that likes to poke its head out when weights approach a maximum. Most have seen it before, and likely done it as well. The feet splay out wide, with all the weight towards the toes. It’s about the least athletic position you can imagine.
Landing like a starfish occurs because you haven’t prepared to move rapidly under the bar. Your body defaults to what it thinks is the fastest way, which in most cases happens to be the feet wide, starfish position.
Prepare yourself by doing drills like the snatch balance to improve your comfort level in getting under the bar for max weights. Although this drill requires that you go into a full overhead squat to receive the bar, it will still equip you with a strategy to get under the bar that’s far better than the starfish.
Wrapping it up
There are plenty more mistakes lifters make when performing the snatch, but these 6 are the big ones that keep most from hitting big weights. Correct these mistakes and you’ll be on your way to putting some serious weight over your head.
Having started my life in the iron game as an Olympic lifter, I’ve always been influenced by the training done by the most explosive athletes in the world.
The Olympic lifts have a rhythm to them like no other. After a big fast pull, the weight rockets up high overhead before slamming back down to the ground. It’s physical poetry in motion.
Even as a teenager and just learning about lifting, I knew that the Olympic lifts were for me. Big weights? I’m interested. Fast? Sounds like something my type II muscle fibers can get down with. Slam it to the ground at the end? Where do I sign up?
So at the ripe old age of 15 and just two weeks into my training, I sat down and planned it all out. Soon, through the simplicity of the overload principle, I would have the world beat. By only adding 1 kilogram to each lift (the snatch and the clean and jerk) every week, I would have the world record in the snatch in only 2 years and the world record in the clean and jerk in 2.5 years.
Well, you might’ve noticed that my bio fails to list world records in either the snatch or the clean and jerk. The reason? The simple overload principle fails to deliver indefinitely as gains don’t always come on a weekly basis. Gains do come, however, with improvement in your movements and improvements in strength.
Recently, I decided to return to the competitive platform for the first time in over 10 years. I needed a program that would drill my movement patterns, but also help me get strong at both the snatch and the clean and jerk.
So I put together the following program and have used it on myself and five other lifters that were all training for their very first meets.
We all PR’d – me at a bodyweight that was 30 pounds lighter than the last time I lifted competitively. This program is simple, to the point, and ready to use.
Getting Off On The Right Foot
Before you start, I strongly encourage you to hire a good lifting coach to evaluate your movements. You don’t want to be wasting energy off the floor or in the second pull – a good coach can quickly identify this and help correct it.
That said, the Olympic lifts aren’t difficult to learn – I can teach a group of athletes how to Olympic lift in just a couple sessions. What I’m talking about is becoming good at the Olympic lifts, as opposed to that meathead in the gym who reverse curls the weight to his chest and then muscles it overhead.
Your typical reverse curler may have the muscle mass and power to Olympic lift, but it takes more than 3 sets of 3 once a week to be legitimately good at the lifts. The Olympic lifts respond to efficient patterns just as well as they respond to big ass traps and huge quads.
The ideology at work here mirrors that of legendary Soviet weighlifting coach AS Medvedev. In his book,A Program of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting, Medvedev outlines every lift used over the course of six years to take a weightlifter from novice to elite level. Much of the first two years is done with imitation lifts, no more than 50% of bodyweight, with technical efficiency as the only goal.
I’m not going to make you spend two years or even 20 weeks working with a bar, but this program is based on the idea of movement efficiency and developing technical patterns to improve at the lifts.
The program is as simple as it gets, 4 lifts per day with 1 complex before training. That’s it. The program only has the lifts you need to be doing to get better at the Olympic lifts.
All of my athletes still do core work and corrective work, and I’m certain you’ll need it, too. Throw this stuff in at the end or beginning of your training session, but don’t overdo it.
Each day you’ll begin with an “imitation complex,” during which you’ll only think about complete technical efficiency. No wasted thoughts of a “big pull” or worries about whether you can come up with the front squat or overhead squat.
In these complexes your goal should be to imitate the best lift you can picture in your head. You should use just the bar for at least one set and then go up to a maximum of 50% of bodyweight for any additional sets, so for a 200-pound guy that would be 100 pounds, max.
Remember, this isn’t about getting strong; this is about learning to do the lifts the right way. As you do these complexes, imagine the best Olympic lifter in the world walking in at the end of your third set. If you’d be embarrassed by how badly your form has deteriorated, then you need to go down in weight.
The imitation complex for the snatch and clean are below:
|Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Pause x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Snatch Pull x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Clean Pull x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Power Snatch x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Power Clean x 6 reps|
|Mid-Shin to Full Snatch x 6 reps||Mid-Shin to Full Clean x 6 reps|
|Overhead Squat x 6 reps||Power Jerk x 6 reps|
|Split Jerk x 6 reps|
This complex could be adapted to suit your individual needs – it doesn’t always have to start at the mid-shin level – though most lifters have difficulty moving around the knee. This complex ensures that you’re comfortable off the floor and around the knee.
Here’s a video of me doing the snatch complex before a workout. It’s just the bar, and it isn’t easy.
The first lift in your Olympic lifting session will be a variation on the traditional Olympic lifts, either from a modified starting position or into a modified receiving position.
When using the power variations, for the ones that you catch “high” or in the quarter squat, your focus will be on developing an efficient second pull. These lifts produce massive amounts of power and bar speed, as you must catch them in the high position.
The positional movements work on different phases of the lifts and transitions of your Olympic lifts.
A power lift should be alternated with a positional lift – one from the hang or from the blocks – each session. So in the first week, you may do all your first lifts from the floor as a power clean and power snatch, in the second week you may do all your lifts from hang start positions.
Be sure to choose your positional lifts based on the areas that need the most attention. The area that gives most people trouble is the phase where the bar passes the knees, or even at the highest position of the second pull (the power position).
If you know you have an area where you struggle, then focus more on positional work get the kinks worked out. You’ll have plenty of time to work from the floor later in the program.
The second lift in the program is one of the full, competition-style Olympic lifts. You’ll pull from the floor and receive the bar in the low squat position. When using the clean you should finish with a jerk.
If you have difficulty receiving the bar in the low squat position, then break these lifts down to combination lifts: a power clean + front squat or a power snatch + overhead squat.
As you get more comfortable a couple weeks into the program, start working to receive the bar as low as you can and ride the weight down to the bottom position.
The video below shows an easy progression from complete combination lift, to riding the bar down, to an actual low receiving position.
Partial Lift (Snatch and Clean Pulls)
When it comes to getting stronger at the Olympic lifts, partial lifts are the way to go. Unfortunately, like all Jason Statham movies, these lifts are under-appreciated. Partial lifts (the snatch and clean pull) allow you to overload the lifts without increasing the impact on your body.
Rather than finish in the racked position, you’ll finish with arms extended down and in full hip extension. These lifts can be done with up to 110% of your rep-max for whatever rep scheme you’re doing. So if your 3-rep max is 200 pounds in the snatch, then you can use up to 220 pounds for a 3-rep snatch pull.
Becoming more efficient in the movements of the clean and snatch is one thing, but we need to get stronger, too. Having great technique in the lifts is cool but it doesn’t mean much if you still get buried in the hole.
Alternate your strength work between back squats, front squats, Romanian deadlifts, and presses. You still need to be squatting once a week – twice per week isn’t necessary, and if you still have energy, do some extra pressing. You can also do jerks from the rack to develop your technique in this area as well, especially if your aching legs need a break.
What’s the Program Look Like?
I don’t like rigid programs and most lifters don’t want to train that way, either. This program is no different; the actual movements should change based on your needs as a lifter.
If you’re rock solid in the clean and jerk but need a lot of help with your snatch, then don’t spend your time improving by miniscule percentile points in the jerk. Do some damn snatches and put something respectable over your head.
If this is the case, three out of every four days should be a snatch day. If both lifts need work then just alternate days that you snatch and clean.
The rep scheme, however, is more rigid (hey, we gotta live with some rules right?). All days should look very similar in terms of repetitions. You’ll still need to vary the movements on each day though.
The specific loads aren’t something I program, but here’s my rules for any given rep scheme on any given day, and one that applies really well for the Olympic lifts:
- Work up to the highest load you can do for a given rep scheme with great technique.
- Any sets on that day that fall within 10% of your best set should be counted as a work set.Ê So if your best set with great technique was 200 pounds in the snatch, then any set above 180 pounds (within 10%) will count as a work set.
Here’s an idea of how you can vary the movements over the course of 4 weeks using a simple undulating periodization. This program would be perfect for someone with familiarity with both lifts and some decent overall strength numbers.
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||2-3|
|A||Power Clean||Power Snatch||Power Clean||Power Snatch||3||3|
|B||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||3||2|
from below knee
|D||RDL||Front Squat||Back Squat||RDL||3||5|
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||2-3|
|A||Power Snatch||Power Clean||Power Snatch||Power Clean||3||2|
|B||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||3||1|
|D||Front Squat||Back Squat||Front Squat||Jerk from rack||3||3|
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||2-3|
from below knee
from below knee
from above knee
from below knee
|B||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||3||3|
|D||Back Squat||Jerk from rack||Press behind neck,
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Sets||Reps|
|Comple x||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||2-3|
from high blocks
from high blocks
from high blocks
|B||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||Clean and Jerk||Snatch||3||2|
from below knee
|D||Press behind neck||RDL||Jerk from rack||Back Squat||3||3|
In week 5 you should pick two days to work up to a heavy single in both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Use these numbers to base your workouts for another 4 weeks.
This program can be repeated immediately after you complete it the first time and you’ll continue to see gains, so long as you select the movements that will help you improve the most.
Improvement with the Olympic lifts isn’t simply about strength – if it were, then every man wearing Zubaz pants would’ve just returned from a triumphant performance at the Olympics in London.
These movements are also about being efficient in the movements – meaning you first need to learn them well, and then focus on improving how well you perform them through repetition.
Get a coach to critique your lifts, try this program, and dominate the platform.
Much has been written about an old but brutal friend of mine. A friend to whom I was first introduced the day I walked into my first real weight room – a dark and dusty pit stacked with chalk-dusted bumper plates and Eleiko bars; a sanctuary for incredibly strong people to clean, snatch, squat, and otherwise dominate massive weights.
This old friend has a name: the complex.
A complex is a series of exercises done in succession, wherein all reps of a prescribed exercise are completed before moving onto the next without ever putting the implement down, which in most cases is a barbell.
This isn’t to be confused with the complex superset, where a strength lift is followed by an explosive lift for the same pattern, such as a front squat and a jump squat.
Recently, complexes have been gaining mainstream popularity due to their efficiency. They’re being touted as the quickest, most effective way to get a workout. Heck, you don’t even have to have much weight on hand to do them!
And all of the above are true. You can get a complete workout in 15 minutes just by doing 3 sets of a given complex. Get in and get out, leaving plenty of time for Home Depot and maybe even Bed Bath and Beyond. No wonder complexes are so popular!
However, that kind of complex isn’t the one I remember. No, the complexes that haunt my memories were formidable beasts that we had to endure every training session. Our complexes were designed to finish us off and send us stumbling out the door, lungs still burning long after the training session was finished.
The complexes in this article are like the ones I recall. They’ll challenge you. They may even leave you lying on the ground in a sweaty heap and looking forward to rolling out of the weight room, if only so you can get back up on your feet.
- Each of the complexes outlined below are to be done with a barbell, and are designed to improve your Olympic lifting skill, strength, and power.
- I suggest completing 5-8 reps per movement, and doing 3-4 sets of each complex. If your form turns to crap, then reduce the weight or the number of reps that you’re doing each set.
- As a metabolic conditioning tool, complexes can also be used to finish off a training session. Each of these complexes is perfect for the athlete seeking strength, but needs a little more conditioning to lean up or improve endurance. Just up the reps and reduce the rest, and do 2-3 rounds of a given complex at the end of a workout.
- If you’re focusing on technique as part of your complex, use a work to rest ratio of 1:1 or greater. You want these to ‘suck’ because they’re difficult and metabolically challenging, not because you get injured doing them.
The Rules of Complexes
I designed the three complexes below. You can design your own, but you need to follow the rules of the game:
1. Start with the hardest stuff.
Start with the most technical movement first. Typically, this means an Olympic lift. If you don’t include an O lift, then pick something else that’s taxing to the entire body.
2. Make it flow.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but work your way up and down the chain, and don’t make any wasted movements. For instance, if you started with a push press, don’t do a deadlift next and then go back to a front squat – your hands will hate you and you’ll waste considerable energy moving the bar up and down.
3. Choose from several categories.
There aren’t many things that you can’t put in a complex, but you have to love your ‘pullers’ as much as your precious ‘pushers.’ So don’t design a complex that consists of push presses, lunges, behind the neck presses, and squats. The backside of the body needs attention too.
Try selecting from different categories of movements based on what you’re doing in training to make the best total body complex you can.
|Explosive/Olympic lifting||Snatch, power clean, hang snatch, power snatch, clean pull, squat clean, squat snatch, split jerks, squat jumps, split clean, split snatch|
|Lower Body Push||Back squat, front squat, forward lunge, reverse lunge|
|Lower Body Pull||Deadlift, sumo deadlift, Romanian deadlift, single-leg Romanian deadlift, good morning|
|Upper Body Push||Press, push press, behind the neck press, split stance press|
|Upper Body Pull||Bent over row (sorry, not a lot of options while you’re on your feet)|
|Miscellaneous||Bar rollouts, push ups, Turkish get-ups|
4. Make it mean something.
Training should always have a goal. Although the following complexes are brutal, each has a specific goal – some are for technical improvement in the Olympic lifts while others are for conditioning at the end of a training session. So pick a goal and get after it.
If you’re training for strength, complexes should have several strength-based moves for low reps – 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps per movement. Rest times between sets of complexes should be large (twice the time it took to finish the complex).
If you’re training to get leaner and need to address your anaerobic metabolism, simply use more reps. The rest to work ratio on these should be close to 1:1 or even less.
If you’re trying to improve your Olympic lifts, then use a specific complex each day to target your weak points. Do 2 sets of no more than 5 reps for your O-lift, and 5-8 reps for everything else.
The Clean Complex V 2.0
This complex is extremely technical in the early portion and a good opportunity to focus on a portion of your clean technique.
- If you suck pulling from the floor, concentrate on keeping the bar tight as you move to your knees.
- If you’re shaky in the jerk, focus on sticking each jerk in great position.
The idea is to focus on the technical aspects early in the complex before your legs get fried. It’s hard to improve a skill when you’re doubled over in pain or puking in your sneakers.
Here’s the complex in action:
The Snatch Complex V 2.0
I avoid making most people I coach pull from the floor in the snatch. It’s a position that requires a ton of mobility, and if you happen to be tall, forget about it.
This complex is no different – rather than pulling from the floor, you should pull from the hang, and work on developing your transitions around the knee and at the top of the second pull.
Transitions in Olympic lifting are areas in which the movement seriously changes.
There are three distinct transitions in the lifts:
- From the floor.
- Around the knee and into the second pull.
- At the top of the second pull.
This complex addresses the second and third transition of the lifts. To work on the first transition, all you’d need to do is take the bar to the floor for some snatches at the beginning of the complex. See the video below.
The Beast Complex
Remember how I called the end of the clean complex a grind? Consider this a diamond tipped, industrial strength, super grinder. Your goal for this complex is to simply get through it.
This complex is perfectly suited for athletes that are seeking strength above all else, as there are no technique-heavy Olympic lifts, unlike the previous two complexes.
As a special challenge, I like to do this complex in an ascending/descending ladder format: do 1 rep of each on the first set, 2 reps of each on the second, and so on until you reach 5 reps. Then start again at 5 reps and work your way down to 1.
You’ll hit 30 total reps of each movement and finish your workout soaked in sweat and awesomeness.
Wrapping it Up
Fair warning, if you’re of the “Get in shape in 15 minutes or less!” ilk, these complexes are not for you. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading T Nation if you did hail from that shallow end of the gene pool.
But if you’re a hard-working SOB and your aim is to challenge your body and mind to become a better athlete, a better lifter, and a stronger person, then start here. Attack these complexes, get your ass handed to you, and then get back up and attack again.
Suffer, persevere, and conquer – and once you’ve mastered these, use the framework to create your own complex that will precisely target the areas that you need to improve.
Building power in the gym means moving weight fast to recruit the most motor units possible. This typically involves a healthy dose of power cleans and perhaps a few variations of the other classic Olympic lifts, but I’m here to help you broaden your training horizons.
When it comes to building serious power and explosiveness, you have options and it’s not just ‘change for the sake of change.’ The more athletes I’ve worked with, the more I’ve been forced to expand my power training toolbox beyond just the basics – and the results have been far better than simply power cleaning till the proverbial cows come home.
Each of the following movements should be programmed early in your daily training session, just as you would any explosive movement. You’ll get the most out of these power training movements while fresh.
Your goal with each movement is to recruit the maximum number of motor units before fatigue sets in.
1. Hang Snatch
You didn’t expect a lover of the Oly lifts to choose something other than a variation of an Olympic lift for first on the list, did you? Sorry to disappoint if you did, but the hang snatch wins out for the best explosive power movement.
In terms of power output, the snatch matches the clean closely (1), but for pure coolness the snatch wins every time. And let’s be honest, coolness is a big part of a great training program.
The snatch may be heavy on technique, but once you get the ‘hang’ of it (after some serious coaching, I hope), you’ll find its power-creating potential to be unparalleled; power that carries over to the rest of the weightroom. I’ve never met an athlete that’s strong enough to snatch 225-pounds that couldn’t squat, clean, and bench with the strongest carnivores in the gym.
I chose the hang snatch over the power snatch because it’s much easier for most to achieve a respectable start position from the hang than it is from the floor. The snatch from the floor takes a ton of mobility at both the hips and ankles, and for many athletes this is an area that requires a serious intervention.
2. Kettlebell Swings With Band Resistance
The traditional kettlebell swing could also make my list, as it’s one of the first tools I use to teach young athletes the power of a well-executed hip hinge movement. However, most athletes will find themselves quickly running out of ‘bells as they start to get stronger. Adding band resistance to this movement can add 30-70 pounds of resistance at the top while addressing the end range of hip extension.
It’ simple to add band resistance with a half-inch to one-inch band. Just loop it through the handle and then back through itself, then step on the end of the band with each foot and you’re all set to swing. This movement has the added benefit of not requiring you to buy giant, novelty-sized kettlebells.
Bonus “No band” Movement: Kettlebell Spikes
What happens when you don’t have any bands that fit the bill? Simply enlist an awesome partner to help you perform the kettlebell “spike.” At the top of each swing, have your friend mimic the action of a band and spike the kettlebell back toward the ground. This requires you to resist a tremendous eccentric force, so prepare to feel it in the old hammies tomorrow.
3. Split Jerk
At some point, putting a bar overhead became unfairly vilified, much like Ivan Drago after he steamrolled the beloved Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match. This is a shame, as the jerk creates more power than any other movement in the gym, and Apollo should’ve realized that “exhibition” in Russian loosely translates to “ass whipping.”
The jerk has been shown to generate more power than both the clean and the snatch (2), and is a tremendous movement for developing power through quad-dominant movement.
The power jerk is an awesome move as well, explosive and total body, but splitting the feet takes the movement to the next level. Much of what you do as an athlete revolves around being able to adapt to changing conditions, and changing from a bilateral stance to an offset, semi-unilateral stance trains you to be adaptable.
It also trains your lead leg to be strong in absorbing force. If you have any aspirations of being fast or athletic, this movement is a must for your training program.
4. Medicine Ball Throws
Let’s just get this out of the way: throwing things is a good time. It’s also an unbridled expression of power. Throwing a medicine ball is unlike anything else that we can do in the gym. No deceleration period, only acceleration.
This is also the first movement on my list that trains power in the transverse plane. Transverse plane power is necessary for nearly every athlete, from the high level football player during a change of direction to the beer league softball player-during all non-beer drinking activities.
Throwing a medicine ball is also an awesome core movement to redirect force from the ground through the upper body. The linkage between hip rotation, core stability, and the expression of power through the upper body is hard to miss and tough to beat. Make sure you generate power through the lower body and rotate the back foot to finish the movement.
In the video below one of my athletes is doing a medicine ball side throw, but you could do the same drill with a pressing motion to make it even more effective in your upper body training.
5. Power Clean From Blocks
No list of explosive training movements would be complete without some variation of the power clean. For the same reasons that I chose the hang snatch (mobility requirements) over the power snatch, I’m going with the clean from blocks over a power clean from the floor.
For most athletes, cleans from the floor are difficult to do with good form. Starting the lift off blocks provides the same explosive benefits without exposing your back to injury.
There’s a performance benefit as well. By eliminating the eccentric lowering of the bar to the start position, power cleans from blocks also help develop starting strength.
In the video below I’m doing power cleans from a low block (to work on my transition around the knee), but you could do them from any height that suits your needs.
6. Clean/Snatch/Trap Bar Pulls
The Olympic pull is one of the best tools available to improve power, and is an absolute must if you have any interest in being a better Olympic lifter. At higher loads, the pull is a great way to develop power and get acquainted with moving serious weight in the Olympic lifts.
Both the clean pull and snatch pull help improve your feel with either lift, and you can also do a similar movement with a trap bar. The big advantage with the trap bar is that it allows you to keep the load closer to your center of gravity as opposed to in front of the body in the traditional pull.
The pull is great for athletes with flexibility limitations or when trying to reduce the impact on the upper body. Just be careful not to let the quality of the movement diminish when the weights start to get heavy.
In the video below I’m doing pulls from a deficit first and then contrasting it with a pull from the ground level. Only athletes that have sufficient mobility should try pulls from a deficit.
7. Crossover Sled Drags
We’ve been able to figure out a ton of ways to increase power; unfortunately, most of these methods occur in the sagittal plane. And if you’re an athlete – or work with athletes – improving power in only the sagittal plane will only get you so far. To be truly powerful, in every direction, you need to train in multiple planes.
The crossover sled drag is an awesome tool to train in the frontal (side to side) plane. This explosive move is just like the first step that aspiring NFL players take when they test their lateral movement at the NFL combine. Heavy crossover sled drags also train your backside like nothing you’ve ever done before and leave you super sore when you stumble out of bed the next day.
8. Rotational Lunge Swings
This movement was first introduced to me by coach Robert Dos Remedios and immediately became one of my favorite training tools. A simple rotation of the sandbag (or kettlebell, if no sandbag is available) while descending into a reverse lunge will challenge your strength and core stability in the elusive transverse plane.
Then, when you add in the power of a swing, what you wind up with is a really cool explosive movement – the swing requires decelerating the implement at the bottom of the movement before you explode from the lead leg into hip and knee extension.
9. Seated Box Jumps
While most plyometrics take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle to produce power, the seated box jump removes all eccentric loading and allows athletes to focus on only the explosive, concentric action of the movement.
Taking out the swing of the arms will force you to focus on developing power from the ground up. To take this movement to the next level, hug a weight to your chest. Now you have a loaded plyometric movement that doesn’t trash your joints. Not too shabby.
Like any box jump, make sure you’re truly able to land on the box to which you’re jumping. Choosing a box that’s too high doesn’t make you more of a man, though it will remove some flesh from your shins when you miss.
10. Supine Medicine Ball Reactive Throws
Most of the movements used to train explosive power have a distinct lower body bias. Training the lower body to be more explosive will make you more athletic andÊ teach you to recruit the muscles needed to power through a squat and sprint faster, but explosive upper body power is also important to being freakishly strong in the weightroom.
The supine medicine ball reactive throw is an awesome tool to improve upper body power. These throws train you to maintain a good position through a fast eccentric phase, and then explode through the concentric motion to finish strong. Try using these throws in a superset with the bench press and watch yourself power through the lockout.
Don’t believe the rhetoric that you can’t build or improve explosiveness. It can be done, and it begins with hitting the old school staples like the power clean and snatch with gusto.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the only tools in your toolbox. You have at least 10 other drills (to be discussed later?) at your disposal, and the more expansive your assortment of explosive movements, the better you’ll be at rising to whatever athletic challenges may be in your future.