By Edward Baker
When I was first around John, I’d ask him various questions about optimizing my training, like “Would there be any big benefit to me doing plyometrics at the end of the workout?” “What kind of assistance movements can I do to help me get stronger at the lifts?” Coffee would give me a response along the lines of “You know, the lifts themselves are plyometric. You also get stronger by doing the lifts!” I feel the need to elicit both of these points.
The Competition Lifts are Plyometric
The competition lifts are plyometric in nature, whether we choose to define the word as “eccentric immediately followed by concentric contraction” or more liberally as “skeletal muscle exerting maximum force as fast as possible”
A myotatic or ‘stretch’ reflex is the phenomenon that is the basis of plyometric physiology; when a muscle is stretched, it will immediately contract to maintain tonus (partial contraction). This characteristic ‘smooths’ the muscle’s actions, and more importantly it is employed to the athlete’s advantage in various phases of the snatch and clean & jerk.
Stretch Reflexes Through the Lifts
To initiate the pull, many lifters will raise their hips and then lower them (or repeatedly do this as shown in the video above) to utilize the stretch reflex of the hamstrings (which are recruited about 0.1 seconds after the barbell is separated from the platform.)
When the barbell has reached the height of the knees, another stretch reflex occurs in the hamstrings as the result of the continual contraction of the quadriceps. The hamstrings will contract and ‘double-knee bend’ will occur as the pull progresses.
Exploding or ‘Jumping’ the Weight Up
From the ‘power’ position, the lifter will fully extend their body or ‘jump’ the weight up before receiving it in the bottom overhead or front squat position.
To propel the bar upward for the jerk, the athlete dips to lengthen the quadriceps before it and the thigh extensors contract.
The Competition Lifts are Strength Movements
This may seem obvious, but sometimes I forget when deciding on workouts that the lifts themselves can be considered strength movements (to a lesser degree). Some circles categorize the snatch and clean & jerk as ‘barbell gymnastics’, separating them from strength movements like squats, presses, etc. “You also get stronger by doing the lifts!”