On several occasions I have witnessed individuals correcting those who use the term ‘squat snatch’, as if it is a term that originated in the CrossFit community. This tells me right away that the individual most likely has not familiarized themselves with Weightlifting literature that uses the term, or even worse that they haven’t been around authorities that lived during the time when the term ‘squat snatch’ was common in Weightlifting.

There was once a time in Weightlifting history when a majority of the world records were set using the split style rather than the squat style that predominates today. Larry Barnholth, the ‘Father of the Squat Snatch’, coached brothers Pete and Jim George. The George brothers successfully used the squat style, and can be considered as the prototype squat snatchers; Pete went on to become Olympic champion in 1952, with his brother Jim earning a silver in the 1960 Olympic Games and a Bronze in 1956. The following link is an article written by Barnholth titled ‘Secrets of the Squat Snatch’:

Note that this article, taken from a Strength & Health magazine published in 1950, uses the term ‘squat snatch’ many times; this dispels the myth that CrossFit invented this term. We should pay homage to the Founding Fathers of this Iron Game and familiarize ourselves with these individuals and their contributions that paved the way to the sport of Weightlifting as it stands today.

By: Edward Baker

The past few years have been excellent for the exposure of Weightlifting. Membership in USAW has almost doubled in the past year and with that almost double the number of USAW certified coaches. Thanks to CrossFit and social media the popularity of this sport is growing and more gyms are becoming interested in learning more about Weightlifting With the booming interest, more people with certifications and degrees are coming out of the woodwork proclaiming to be coaches. And unfortunately, there is a tendency for consumers to assume that those who possess letters after their name are automatically good coaches. Credentials don’t make coaches.

That last statement isn’t to say that there is no validity in possessing credentials. Quite the contrary, obtaining a formal education in the basics of exercise physiology and biomechanics can give an individual foundational knowledge to build upon, and attending different certification courses or seminars can provide new information, or remind and reinforce what an individual has already learned. One criticism of using a formal education to coach, is that much of the literature used is derived from a Physical Therapy setting, but what is applicable to a PT patient does not necessarily apply to a lifter. For example, Karl Klein’s ‘The Knee is Not for Bending’ article featured in Sports Illustrated back in 1962 misled many to believe that full squats caused laxity of ligaments in the knee. While this has been refuted, many exercise science programs still teach this as dogma (including the University of Georgia). Sure, a full squat wouldn’t be advisable for a soccer player who’s doing physical therapy after an ACL surgery, but a hammer thrower would be missing out on the benefits of the development of the glutes (important and powerful hip extensors) that would only help them in their athletic endeavors.

Lacking a formal education in exercise science means it is up to the individual to properly educate themselves on training methodologies, and there are plenty of Weightlifting coaches in this country that have done so. My coach and mentor, John Coffee, is a prime example. While he doesn’t have an Exercise Science degree, he has definitely read his fair share of literature so that it doesn’t hold him back. At 68 years old, he’s still making strides to educate himself on how to be a better coach.

Notice that I stated ‘foundational knowledge’ earlier in the last paragraph; While credentials can provide an excellent basis, a prospective coach must not stop striving to educate themselves. I feel that too often there is a tendency for people to either go into certifications or seminars just to obtain a credential, rather than aiming to further expand their knowledge on training methodologies.

Just as bad of a sin is that one stops trying to learn after completing the certification/seminar, with the mentality that most of what a coach needed to know was within the course material. And there are those individuals who completely scoff at certifications, seminars, or formal education altogether who, ironically, are the ones that would most greatly benefit from each.

Foundational knowledge serves as a great starting point on how to go about training an athlete, but truly learning to be a coach requires actively learning with each athlete you’re entrusted with. Everyone is different and everyone will need to be trained differently. At the end of the day, a large part of coaching is making lots and lots of educated guesses based on education and experience. When you provide a technical cue for an athlete, experience will say that it will correct a problem, but there’s no surefire way of knowing what we say will 100% work. This goes for programming as well. When I started training at Coffee’s, I hung around the gym everyday and got to see John work with people on a daily basis. This has tremendously helped me in my own coaching endeavors. The mark of a good coach is how well they convey the knowledge they possess to their athletes. Anyone can memorize a biomechanical analysis of the execution of a snatch, but that is only half the equation. If a coach can’t give the information to the athlete in a way that they can understand and execute the proper movement pattern, then it’s useless information.

In conclusion, coaches are made by education and experience. From my own personal experience, if you are aspiring to be a coach, find a well‐established, knowledgeable coach and ask if you can shadow them to see how they work with their athletes. “One can never know it all, and one should never stop striving to learn more.”

Photo courtesy of: hookgrip

Smooth Off The Floor
by: Edward Baker

In technical analyses of the Olympic lifts, much attention is appropriated to the latter phases. The incipient phase of the pull is equally, if not more important, and in many cases determines the outcome of a made or missed lift. Echoing the sentiments of John Coffee, “If you can start it right, chances are you’ll end it right.”
The separation of the barbell from the platform must be smooth; not necessarily slow, but in such a way that body positions are not compromised. For example, when an athlete yanks or jolts the barbell off the ground, the back tends to round (it’s also not good practice for the sake of integrity of the shoulders.) Many times the athlete will rush pulling the bar from the floor and commit faults that severely hinder the possibility of successfully completing the lift. These faults include: Not getting the knees back enough, the bar drifting away from the athlete from the ground to the knees, and the bar coming off of the ground too fast.
Not getting the knees back enough will force the athlete to pull around the knees, and this horizontal deviation away from the body will result in more of an abrupt ‘sweep’ as the bar is being pulled from the knees to the hip (a forceful contact of the hips will result in anterior translation of the barbell.) The barbell drifting away from the athlete will result in the same fault.
Many athletes mistakenly assume that if they pull the bar off the ground really fast, then this in turn will mean that their second pull will be faster and that they will be able to get under the bar. The bar needs to be moving with the greatest acceleration as triple extension occurs at the top of the pull. If the bar accelerates off the ground fast, then there is a chance that the bar will actually decelerate as it gets to the hip. (The opposite of what we want.)
Being ‘smooth’ and controlled off the floor will assure that these faults are avoided, John will often iterate “I don’t care if it takes you five seconds to get to the knees,” to stress that hitting the proper positions in the first phase of the lift is more important then trying to come off of the floor fast.

by Edward Baker

The big meet is over, preparation for the next has begun. You didn’t feel like you made quite the progress you’d have hoped. With an insatiable champion’s mentality, you’ll never be quite satisfied. Back to the drawing board to figure out where you went wrong, where to start off, and where you have to finish.
There will be days when the will to lift comes naturally. From warmup to working sets, all of the lifts you make will feel as though you were born holding a barbell. A good lift will further inspire you, and the extra inspiration will enable you to complete even more good lifts in succession. These days come easy.
There will be days when nothing feels quite right. The first warmup feels heavy, the lifts feel irregular and never quite in the groove; even the knurling of the bar feels foreign as you grasp it. And out of nowhere this trickle of bad days becomes a storm, and in no time you’re dejected before even stepping foot in the gym.
Then you remember that you’re in this for the long haul, and have to keep moving forward. The tempest is stagnant; No matter how discouraging, how unpromising, how rocky the path seems, as long as you keep moving forward you’ll escape the storm. And once again will you and the barbell move in harmony.


The Power Jerk: Set Yourself Under
By: Edward Baker

The power or push jerk is a less common, yet equally viable way of executing the jerk portion of the clean & jerk. Weightlifting literature may give it a brief mention, but technical issues are not really addressed. This is presumably because for most, the power jerk serves as no more than an assistance exercise. After collaborating with biomechanists and well respected international coaches (including Pyrros Dimas’s coach, Christos Iakovou) I will begin to address the technical faults that are most prominent with power jerkers. The one we will address today is: Not setting one’s self under the bar.
The two biggest disadvantages of the power jerk are that the athlete must drive the barbell higher (in relation to a split jerk) and that there is a reduction in anteroposterior stability. The reduction in anteroposterior stability means either: If the barbell has horizontal deviation when being driven overhead, or if the athlete isn’t optimally set under to receive the barbell, then there is a significantly reduced chance of a successful jerk. The split jerk is much more forgiving if either of the aforementioned faults occur, and there are many instances in which the athlete can dance around the platform and save the lift.

In the following example, the athlete drives the barbell vertically, but jumps back a couple of inches and has to incline forward at the torso to successfully make the lift. Ideally you’d like for the torso to remain fairly vertical.

Photos thanks to: Hookgrip

Keeping the shoulders and hips in line with the barbell overhead or ‘joint stacking’ is especially important for a power jerker. A vertical torso will also enable the athlete to ride the jerk into a partial squat with maximal poundages (The jerk would be missed out front with an overly inclined torso, just as a squat would.) The feet move out slightly, not back when going from the driving to receiving position of the power jerk. Some higher tiered power jerkers (Dimas, Kakhiasvilis, Bedzhanyan, etc.) jump forward in several instances.

If the barbell is driven in almost a perfectly vertical manner then there may be a need to jump forward a little so that the athlete’s shoulders and hips are in line with the bar (If the bar is starting on the anterior deltoids and being driven overhead in a secure receiving position then this makes sense.) While I certainly wouldn’t advocate consciously displacing the feet forward when receiving a power jerk, let it serve to emphasize the importance of being in an ideal position for receiving the barbell.
I also witness people not making any sort of attempt to go into a receiving position when the bar is driven to arm’s length, they are simply straight up, which means the barbell has to be driven higher, and means that the barbell is much more precarious overhead. Even if the power jerk is being used as an assistance movement, special attention must be given to ensure that the athlete wedges themselves between the barbell and the platform in a nice and secure position.
Just a little sharing of observations I’ve had, I’ll scratch the surface on a couple of other points regarding the power jerk in the future.

The Training Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Edward Baker

by Edward Baker
   Let me first say that my deepest condolences go to Kevin Ogar and his family; out of respect I wanted to remain quiet about the unfortunate accident altogether, but it has come to my attention that a misinformed individual is using this event to label the snatch, or Olympic lifting in general as dangerous. Follow the link to donate to his recovery!
This article is in response to the article by Nolan Hamilton, link here:

Hamilton states:

“It (The Snatch) is also one of the most dangerous exercises that you can do in the gym.”
     The writer goes on to say that the fact that the snatch is fast is what makes it dangerous, and it can happen to anyone. It is true that lifting a heavy barbell overhead poses a risk for injury, but so does any everyday activity. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there is a 1 in 100 chance that a person will die in an automobile accident in their lifetime. 
     Lebanese weightlifter Jamal Traboulsi became paralyzed at the 1991 World Championships in Donaueschingen Germany. Traboulsi was attempting to jerk 175 kg when his toe caught onto a crevice in the platform. Traboulsi was unable to get out from under it and the barbell struck him on the shoulders, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. In weightlifting, this is the last and one of the only instances I can cite as leaving an athlete paralyzed. 
     Kevin Ogar’s injury was done under the circumstance that he was in the middle of a CrossFit (not Weightlifting) competition. A few hours prior to the accident, competitors ran three miles, holding 2 36 pound kettle bells the first mile and 1 36 pound kettle bell the second mile. The day prior competitors had to complete other events that certainly would be enough to fry someone’s nervous system (which takes longer to recover than the muscular system.) 
     I do maintain that there are disparities between how I believe the Olympic lifts should be integrated into the grand scheme of CrossFit and how others believe, but let me make manifest that I think overall it is evolving towards the right direction. Explosive multi-joint exercises like the snatch and clean & jerk need to be performed in a rested state as they are more demanding on the neurological and muscular system; the incidence of injury is greatly increased when these movements are performed in a state of fatigue. If multi-joint exercises are to be performed in a circuit, the exercises need to be performed for fewer repetitions as performing each sequential repetition will deviate more and more from the first few reps. 
     My coach John Coffee will have us do triples on the snatch further out from meets, sometimes 4’s if we’re able to maintain an arched back. When lifters get fatigued from the snatch or clean, the spinal erectors are typically the first muscle to lose the ability to maintain contractual pattern of movement and lumbar flexion (rounding of the back) will occur, which puts more stress on the spinal column and poses a risk for disc herniation. WODs like Grace or Isabel need not be done in training at all, they may make you breathless but poses an unneeded risk and yields little to no training benefit.
     Notice that I said “need not be done in training”. If I were to say disparaging things about CrossFit competitions, then I would need to remark about weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman, as these sports aren’t 100% safe either. Even sports outside of the strength world have great risks (gymnastics, cheerleading,) but that doesn’t stop people from participating. There are instances of individuals going into cardiac arrest from running, but this shouldn’t stop people from running to promote cardiovascular health. 
I end with saying that the sport of weightlifting can be dangerous. The true danger of the sport are people that deem themselves to be authorities on the sport and advise others on the sport when they have no business doing so. 

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