The Lifter’s Toolbox by Joel Slate

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The Lifter’s Toolbox by Joel Slate

About the Author:
Joel is one of our long term Online Mash Mafia Team Members. He is a Master’s Lifter, family man, and a dang hard worker. This article is a must read especially if you are a man or woman that isn’t a full-time weightlifter. In this article Joel talks about some real life advice that a lot of us could stand to hear. Enjoy!

Athletes in all sports need be versatile enough to handle the variety of challenges they are going to face on the field, court, floor, or platform. Weightlifters are no different. Now, I hear what you are saying…”we snatch and clean and jerk…what could be different about that?” For the most part, you are right. Occasionally, an athlete might need to work around an injury or might just not be feeling quite right in a movement. The ability to switch it up and use a different technique might be the difference between salvaging a meet or training session and withdrawing from competition or skipping a day.

Nobody is going to dispute the fact that performing the movements to the full-depth squat position is optimal for lifting the absolute most weight. In an ideal world, every snatch or clean rep is only pulled up as high as is needed for an explosive pull under and deep catch. Unfortunately, not every athlete has the mobility, coordination, or strength to hit the deep positions. Additionally, even athletes who can snatch and clean to the deep position have days where timing and coordination are compromised due to fatigue, inadequate recovery, insufficient nutrition, or any number of “real life” factors. Having a “toolbox” of different techniques to work around challenges is critical to long-term success.

The most common technique variation to work around mobility or timing challenges is to use the power snatch or clean variation. I’m guilty of this a lot, just ask Coach Jacky Bigger. For most of my athletic career, weightlifting supported my “main” activity, football or track. Because of this, I rarely took lifts to the deep positions, and I never really developed the motor patterns for full lifts. For the last year or so, and especially the last several months, I’ve really been working hard on the full lifts. However, I’m a 42 year old super heavyweight, with nearly 30 years of barbell training experience. As a result, occasionally I have things that hurt. Sometimes those things make it difficult to hit a full snatch or clean position, so I’ll do powers. I’ve also figured out by now that heavy squat (front or back) or deadlift sessions take a while to recover from. If I squat heavy on Monday, the odds that a Tuesday or Wednesday session will have really snappy full-depth classic lifts are slim. If my schedule allows it, I’ll probably move some other auxiliary work to the Tuesday or Wednesday session and do full lifts on Thursday or Friday. If not, I’ll often do powers the session after heavy squats. For me, power cleans or snatches can still generate a training stimulus with heavy loads and high barbell velocities without the complex timing and “fine motor skills” that my fatigued legs will struggle with.

Another tool in my toolbox is the use of the split variations of the snatch or clean. Split lifts are not just for old geezers. First of all, split lifts, especially split snatches are fun. To me, they are a hybrid of full snatches and power snatches. I get to rip the bar high like a power snatch, and pull under hard like a full snatch. Second, they develop incredibly quick feet, which will benefit your split jerk, and improve your overall athletic performance. If you throw the shot, discus, or hammer, split lifts really need to be in your toolbox. Learning the split lifts isn’t hard. Watch some videos on YouTube and read some of the articles out there. Start with split snatches or cleans from the hang and see how they feel, then move to lifts from the floor. Really focus on driving those feet into the split. For athletic performance, practice alternating the lead foot on the split. Another benefit of split lifts is the additional stability they add to the “front” of the lifter. That lead foot can help stabilize a lift that you might have lost forwards otherwise. Once you are comfortable, you should be able to split snatch or split clean 95% or more of your full snatch or clean. For mobility-challenged athletes, you might even lift more with the split.

Speaking of split lifts, let’s talk about the jerk. Most lifters use the split jerk. I generally do too. Occasionally, since I decided a few years back to do P90X (which, unlike about 90% of purchasers, I did finish it…twice) and try to run 5K’s at 280+ lbs, I have some Achilles tendon pain. Split jerks can aggravate this from time to time. If so, I’ll do power jerks instead. Power jerks are often used by athletes recovering from knee or ankle injuries or can be used to work around groin muscle injuries. Additionally, power jerks really force you to have a strong jerk drive because you must drive the weight higher than is required for a split jerk. If you can develop a solid power jerk, your split jerk will improve as well because your jerk drive will be stronger and faster. For me, the most important cue on a power jerk is to keep the weight on my heels and really drive through the heels on the way up. If you drive the bar forward, it is much harder to save the lift on a power jerk than a split jerk, much how it is easier to save a split snatch.

It’s time to start building your toolbox. Try some new things in your next training session. Start with some of your light warmup sets. If you can get to the point where you can snatch or clean and jerk with power, split, or full movements, including splitting with either foot forward, you’ll be ready for any training or competition scenario you are likely to face. You’ll get more sessions in, you’ll compete more confidently, you’ll work around injury more, and you’ll have more fun. In the end, isn’t that why we do this? Let’s go..!!

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