Push & Pull Power
by Jim Murray
Assistance Exercises For Power
The term “Power assistance exercises” refers to movements that closely resemble the three lifts, in which the muscles are used similarly, but in which heavier poundages are usually employed either in partial moves or in positions that provide more favorable leverage. The power clean is an exception because it is a full movement – from floor to chest – in which less weight can be used that when good split or squat cleaning technique is employed. Its value lies in the fact that the lifter concentrates on the necessary all-out, complete pull that must be developed to handle heavy weights in the snatch and clean. Despite what you may read elsewhere, by people who ought to know better, weights must be pulled above belt height to be cleaned by the majority of lifters. Although a lifter will drop in the low position, especially in the squat style, to a point where he has the bar on his chest at belt height or even lower, he must pull it higher than this in order to get down into the squat – and especially the split – and catch it before it begins to drop back down toward the floor. Practice of heavy power cleans is one of the best ways to develop the complete, above-the-belt pull that is needed.
PULLING ASSISTANCE EXERCISES
Power Clean – Performance
The lifter stands with his toes well under the bar, ankles brushing it, and then crouches and grasps the bar with a comfortable spacing of the hands (slightly wider than the shoulders; knuckles front). His feet should be spaced a comfortable distance apart. Despite the example of champions with huge legs – Paul Anderson and Dave Ashman – most men will place their feet about a foot apart so that their arms will be outside their knees. Before making the actual pull from the floor, the back should be flattened and the hips lowered, with head up, so that the shoulders are higher than the hips and much of the initial lift comes from straightening of the legs. The arms need not be held forcibly straight at the start, since their pull is begun as soon as the weight leaves the floor; care should be taken, however, not to pull hard against the RESTING barbell with the arms, or some lifting efficiency will be lost. It is just about impossible to separate the components of pulling upward from the floor into (1) legs action, (2) back action, and (3) arm and shoulder action, since it is a coordinated effort. We might say, however, that MOST of the initial lift to knee height should come from the legs, with the back and arm action coming into play to accelerate the barbell after it has started upward. As the weight passes the knees, the lifter should concentrate on pulling close to his thighs and body, and on pulling FASTER; he should try to make the barbell gain speed with the idea of pulling it up to a point somewhere near his nose. Without his thinking about it, by concentrating on this high pull, the lifter will employ a vigorous straightening of the legs and back, with a strong kick up on toes at the height of the pull . . . then he must whip his hands over and thrust his elbows forward to hold the barbell at his chest. Foot movement should be kept to a minimum in this exercise, though with limit weights the lifter may automatically jump slightly, often with a slight sideways shuffle of the feet.
There has been considerable controversy about the “straight line” versus the “S-curve” pull. If the lifter will concentrate on pulling strongly, close to his legs and body, this will probably resolve itself. In all likelihood, the amount of pull back, or “S”, is dependant on the lifter’s structure, though why anyone should deny the evidence before his eyes that champions pull back is more than I can understand.
Incidentally, many – perhaps most men – will find that their best power clean will not exceed their best press by many pounds. It is of great benefit to the press, as well as to the quick lifts, to practice power cleans as described; when a controlled, “solid” clean is made, the press always seems easier. Strong pressers often fail when a sloppy clean causes them to move around unnecessarily, draining both strength and confidence.
When training on power cleans, as in other power exercises, low repetitions (3-2) and single efforts will produce best results. Assuming a top press of 200 lbs. and a clean and jerk of 250 in split or squat style, a lifter might work up as follows: 175-3, 185-3, 195-2, 205-1 or 2, and then do singles in 10- and 5-lb. jumps until he reaches his limit. If the man has good lifting technique, his power clean limit may be about 215-220. If he has trouble with 205, he definitely needs more power work, and if he can get up over 230 with a properly performed power clean, he probably can increase his clean and jerk by more attention to lifting technique.
High Pulls (The High Deadlift)
After reaching a limit power clean, it is a good idea to go on with power pulling in partial movements. At one time, this exercise was called the “high dead lift” and lifters usually selected weights they could pull to belt height. Belt height is still a good reference point, since the transfer value of the exercise is probably slight when the weight can’t be pulled to this point. Lighter weights, but more weight than the lifter can power clean, should be pulled HIGHER.
The high pullup is performed like the power clean, with the exception that the lifter does not (can not) catch the weight at his chest. Instead, he keeps his elbows up and simply touches the bar to the front of his body as high as possible. A weight 10-20 lbs. heavier than a limit power clean should be pulled high enough to touch the bottom of the pectoral muscles. The lifter should then continue to add weight in 10-lb. jumps, pulling as high as possible in sets of 2’s and singles. When he can no longer get the bar to belt height, he may well move on to another exercise; a man who can clean 250 lbs. ought to be finishing this exercise with 300 lbs. or more.
Pulling Assistance Exercises, Summary
An effective assistance exercise routine to gain strength for weightlifting is to work up to a limit single power clean from sets of 3 and 2 repetitions with lighter weights; then continue to add weight in 10-lb. jumps and perform partial high pulls until the weight gets so heavy it cannot be pulled to belt height.
PRESSING ASSISTANCE EXERCISES
Believe it or not, there are still a few competing weightlifters who tend to sneer at “bodybuilding” exercises to build pressing power. If these men would put to the test a period of training during which heavy supine and inclined pressing supplemented their regular overhead press, they would soon find that these assistance moves are valuable. I doubt that an exact amount can be assigned to expectation of improvement after, say, a month of heavy work on the flat and inclined benches, but if any of the topnotch pressers fail t make use of one or both of these exercises – with results that speak for themselves – I’m not aware of it. Again, the greatest benefit will come from working in sets of 3 and 2 repetitions up to heavy singles. Higher repetitions may add more to the tissue mass of the arms, shoulders, and pectorals, but it is doubtful if they contribute as well to the explosive drive needed to move heavy weights.
A man pressing 200 lbs. probably could start with about 185 lbs. for 3 reps and work up to about 230-250, at least, in the flat bench press. When working muscles on an incline, he is very unlikely at first to be able to handle as much weight as he can press standing. Once he learns to find the groove comfortably, however, he will soon be able to press more against the back rest than in the free standing position. Obviously, a steep angle is an advantage in transfer value to regular pressing, for once a an works up to substantially beyond his best regular press at 45 degrees or more, he is bound to improve in the competitive lift. The angle – despite what the rules say – is very near to that assumed by national and world champions as they heave, push, and bend during contests!
Pressing Assistance Exercises, Summary
Heavy, low-rep barbell pressing, on flat and inclined benches, is a valuable supplement to build power for the standing press. Not only do these assistance exercises accustom the muscles to working against heavier weights than can be pressed standing, but they have a beneficial psychological effect in making heavier weights feel “light.”
SQUATS AND PARTIAL BENDS
Most weightlifters consider the squat a “must” assistance exercise. The value of doing low rep squats – again no more than 5 repetitions and preferably 2 to 3 – with a weight heavier than a lifter’s best clean is evident. The transfer value of doing this exercise with the weight held at the chest in front of the neck is especially obvious in the case of squat-style lifters. There is a question, however, of how much weight should be handled over the lifter’s best clean; possibly a margin of 20-50 lbs. may be adequate. It’s likely many lifters work to greater poundages in squats than they need for maximum competitive efficiency.
Another valuable squatting type assistance exercise is the partial squat – about ¼ knee bend – with heavy weights both in front and back of the neck. Short dips in sets of 5 reps with a weight 20 to as much as 100 lbs. more than the lifter can jerk will develop jerking power and a psychological felling that heavy weights are “light.”
The assistance exercises described above are not intended as a complete, exclusive list of power moves for use by weightlifters – there are other good ones, such as dumbell presses and flip snatches to mention only two – but they are among the best and can be used in the manner and order described. There are others that should be employed to correct specific deficiencies, but these are subjects for other articles. Because of time and energy limitations, many lifters today practice the press and snatch in one workout, and the press and the clean and jerk in another. Power presses, squats, and partial squats can be practiced, in that order, after a workout on the specific lifts. When these exercises are practiced intensively, less weight need be employed in the competitive lifts, where more attention can be given to form, speed, and timing. If the full routine or power moves is too exhausting or time-consuming, they can be broken up into different training sessions. One way of doing this is as follows:
Press, Snatch, High Pull, Squat, Bench Press
Press, Power Clean, Clean, Quarter Squat, Incline Press
Press, Snatch, Clean & Jerk, High Pull, Bench Press
Any lifter can work out similar programs, emphasizing the power moves he need most to improve his competitive performance.