The Benefits of Combination Lifts
by Istvan Steve Javorek (1998)
In recent years, the term "combination lifts" has been used more frequently in sports conditioning circles. Armstrong discussed the use of combination lifts for in-season training.
[Armstrong, D.F. "Combination Lifts for in-season training." Strength and Conditioning 16(4): 14-16. 1994].
The purpose of this article is to share ideas on combination lifts, incorporating them with earlier publications.
[Javorek, I. "General condition with Complex I and II." NSCA Journal 10(1):34-37. 1988.]
[O'Connel, J. "Triple Threat." Muscle & Fitness pp. 90-97. Jan. 1998.]
By definition, combination lifts consist of two or more free weight exercises that are combined in a nonstop, continuous movement. Although some conditioning specialists believe these lifts consist of just a few exercise combinations, frequently a power clean and another exercise, in reality the list is much larger.
The main purpose of combination lifts is to:
1) Improve and stimulate neuro-muscular coordination.
2) Increase the workout load and intensity.
3) Stimulate the skeletal muscular system.
4) Increase the cardiovascular benefits of the free-weight program.
5) Make the program more dynamic and efficient.
The number of combination exercises is unlimited, depending on a coach or trainer's knowledge and creativity, the availability of equipment, and the goals of the coach and/or athlete.
I make a distinction between the major multi-joint lift exercises (snatch, clean, jerk, pulls, squats) and auxiliary exercise combinations, categorizing them as follows:
A. Simple -- two major lifts in combination.
B. Complex -- more than two major lifts in combination.
C. Assistance exercise combinations.
Variations of the Three Categories
I classify the simple exercise combinations (two major lift exercises) into four major groups: clean, snatch, pull, and squat.
Variation 1. Consecutive repetitions of two major lift exercises.
Example: Snatch grip pull/4 + split snatch/6.
Variation 2. Alternating repetition of two major lift exercises.
Examples: Snatch grip pull/3 + split snatch/3 + snatch grip pull/3 + split snatch/3, or repeat these 4 exercises but 3 = 1 each time.
Depending on the goals and a coach's imagination, these combination variations are virtually unlimited.
Clean Related (power, squat, or split clean from the platform, hang, or boxes).
-- Clean + overhead press
-- Clean + push press
-- Clean + push jerk
-- Clean + split jerk
-- Clean + front squat
Snatch Related (power, squat or split snatch from the platform, hang, or boxes).
-- Snatch + overhead squat
-- Snatch + behind-neck overhead press
-- Snatch + behind-neck overhead push press
-- Snatch + behind-neck overhead squat push press
Pull Related (clean or snatch grip, from the platform, hang, or boxes; single knee bend pull*, straight leg deadlift pull, or "double knee bend" pull + snatch or clean.
* On a single knee bend pull, the knees of the lifter do NOT re bend a second time. However, many lifters hold a bent knee position until their last split second before extending on a second pull, and it is that holding of that bent knee position that has confused many lifters into thinking such a style is a double knee bend pull.
On a double knee bend pull, the knees of the lifter must "re bend" slightly more from the original slightly bent leg or straight leg position, when the bar reaches the top of the thighs. This can NOT happen unless a shrug with traps is initiated a split second before the rebending of the knees.
-- Single knee bend snatch grip pull + snatch
-- Single knee bend clean grip pull + clean
-- Single knee bend snatch grip pull + shrug
-- Single knee bend clean grip pull + shrug
-- Same exercise combinations with straight leg pulls or regular pulls
Squat Related (back squat, front squat, squat jump, wave squat, quarter squat + other exercises).
-- Front squat + overhead press
-- Back squat + behind-neck overhead press
-- Front squat + push press
-- Front squat + jerk variations
-- Back squat + behind neck overhead push press
-- Front squat + squat push press
-- Back squat + squat push press
-- Back squat + good morning
-- Back squat + squat jump
-- Back squat + wave squat
-- Squat jump + wave squat
-- Front squat + clean variations
-- Front squat + snatch variations
-- Lunge variations + clean variations
-- Heel raise + wave squat
-- Heel raise + quarter squat
-- Heel raise + back squat
There are three variations of the complex (multiple major lift) exercise combinations.
Variation 1. Pull (clean grip) + clean (squat, power, split) + press (military press, push press, squat push press).
Example: Clean grip pull + squat clean + push press.
Variation 2. Pull (clean grip) + clean (squat, power, split) + jerk variations.
Example: Clean grip single knee bend pull + split clean + push jerk.
Variation 3. Pull (wide or snatch grip) + snatch (squat, power, split) + press variations.
Example: From hang below the knees, snatch grip pull + power snatch + snatch grip overhead squat + behind-neck snatch grip overhead press variations.
C. ASSISTANCE EXERCISE COMBINATIONS
Assistance exercise combinations should be sequenced in a way that avoids interruption, providing a smooth, continuous motion. It is important to finish this smooth progression of the drill with the combination's most dynamic movement, thus stimulating the athlete's explosive qualities. It is very simple to combine several assistance exercises to give this smooth progression.
Depending on the athlete's own goals, the number of variations is virtually unlimited. Five barbell complex exercises that use in all sports conditioning are included in the complex combination lift assistance exercises:
(a) with barbells, and
(b) with dumbbells.
They can be considered the major assistance-exercise combination groups.
BARBELL COMPLEX EXERCISES
Exercises 1 and 2. Upright row + *high pull snatch* + squat push press + good morning + bentover row.
*High pull snatch (not a snatch grip high pull) is demonstrated in this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eZH1nwl45g
Complex 1 is just 1 cycle performed with 6 reps of each exercise.
Complex 2 is performed with 3 reps of each exercise, repeating the 5-exercise cycle 2 or 3 times from the beginning, nonstop.
Exercises 3 and 4. Curls/6 + high pull snatch from hip/6 + bentover row/8 + behind-neck press/6 +good morning/10 + behind-neck push press/6 +curls/6 + upright row/6.
Complex 3 involves 1 cycle of each exercise.
Complex 4 involves 3 reps of each exercise, repeating the 8-exercise cycle 2 or 3 times from the beginning, nonstop.
Exercise 5. Upright row/6 + high pull snatch/4 + bentover row/8 + push press/6 + upright row/6 + behind-neck alternating leg step-ups on box/14 + 14 + high pull snatch/4 + good morning/16 + squat jump/8.
Complex 5 is just 1 cycle performed with the given repetitions each exercise. Some other exercise samples:
Variation 1. Upright row + high pull snatch + overhead squat + behind-neck push press + squat jump.
Variation 2. Upright row + bentover row + snatch grip pull + good morning + behind-neck push press + wave squat.
DUMBBELL COMPLEX EXERCISES
Combination Lifts (with 1 hand; with 2 hands). I have developed 5 DB combination exercise complexes.
Exercises 1 and 2. Upright row + high pull snatch + squat push press + bentover row + high pull snatch.
Complex 1 is just 1 cycle performed with 6 reps of each exercise.
Complex 2 involves 3 reps of each exercise, repeating the 5-exercise cycle 2 or 3 times from the beginning, nonstop.
Exercises 3 and 4. Curl/6 + upright row/6 + bentover row/6 + high pull snatch/6 + overhead press/6 + rotational curl/6 + upright row/6 + squat push press/6.
Complex 3 is just 1 cycle performed with 6 reps of each exercise.
Complex 4 involves 3 reps of each exercise, repeating the 8-exercise cycle 2 or 3 times from the beginning.
Exercise 5. Curls/8 + upright row/8 + overhead parallel press?6 + overhead parallel push press?6 + high pull snatch/6.
Complex 5 is just 1 cycle performed with the given repetitions each exercise.
I use combination lift exercises year-round. The number of sets and reps differ, depending on goals and preparation periods that demand different intensities.
In the first part of a workout I use combination exercises as a general warm-up drill. Different variations can be used in the complete workout when there are specific goals for training. These might include stimulating muscular hypertrophy, strength, specific endurance, muscular tone, muscular coordination, or rehabilitation.
A coach should first teach the proper technique for each exercise, then establish the 1-rep maximum for each. After this comes the mandatory steps, gradually combining more and more exercises. This is when the coach should determine the number of repetitions, sets, and intensities that will yield maximum benefit to athletes as they prepare for their specific sport.
One of the biggest benefits of combination lifts is that novice athletes can use them. I believe every young athlete should start exercising with assistance exercises and their combinations. The wonderful thing about free weights is the possibility of choosing the intensity, repetition, and sets based on one's preparation level and goals.
Like any other exercise form, teaching (and learning) the combination lifts requires professionalism and patience. The goal is to get the athlete gradually involved in a whole combination lifting program.