Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stability In The Split - Charles A. Smith

Perfect balance ensures a perfect lift and recovery. The Murray Cross above illustrates a lifter's good position - hips above the box with front feet split well forward and the feet moving along two distinct parallel lines.

Back foot is too far rear. Feet have not moved in separate lines.

Here's how the Murray Cross developed from the Russian training aid. Left is the Russian Circle and right the Murray Cross.

Stability in the Split
by Charles A. Smith (1953)

A year or so ago, I began one of my articles with a story about a king who had lost a battle and his land, because of a horse throwing a shoe . . . I remember the old saying, “Because of a nail a shoe was lost. Because of a shoe a horse was lost. Because of a horse a battle was lost. Because of a battle a kingdom was lost . . . all on account of a horseshoe nail!” A small detail, one that the average person would overlook, yet it led to disaster. It very well illustrates the simple lesson I have been trying to drive home in all these articles . . . DON’T NEGLECT A SINGLE DETAIL.

To an ordinary member of the public, a snatch seems to be a single action. The lifter walks up to the bar and hurls it to arm’s length, recovering or dropping the bar, receiving approval or disqualification for the lift. But as you the lifter have seen, there are a thousand and one small details each one of which has an important bearing on the lift as a whole. Each has its place in the scheme of things and each one can mean the difference between success and failure. The strength athlete who aims high, who has his eyes on improving and outdoing his best would do well to leave no stone unturned in his search for perfection.

Let no one deny that he has not, at some time, contemplated the height of his greatest potential. And let no one say that he hasn’t wondered why it was that some fellows with no more physical endowments than he himself possesses were able to make continued progress and forge ahead. Strength isn’t everything. And style isn’t the be-all and end-all of lifting success. It is attention to those seemingly unimportant details like the width of your hand spacing, the angle of your back and thighs, the type of grip you use, the way you chalk your hands and approach the bar and whether or not you are using the correct style, the one best suited to YOUR temperament and physical structure that in the final analysis spells . . . SUCCESS.

Take for instance advice given about keeping the head up and “leading” or “driving” it back as you take the weight off the floor. Not only does this place the muscles of the shoulder girdle and spine in a more powerful working position, but it also prevents you from ROUNDING your back, something fatal to a POWERFUL PULL. A snatch is a coordinated effort of the arms, entire back, and thighs. If but one of these groups is not working at maximum efficiency, then you are not going to snatch your best. Try to analyze and find ways of understanding all the various factors that make for cleaning and snatching success. Don’t neglect a single one, because if you do, you’ll be that much poorer a lifter.

In this article I am going to deal with a problem that has caused a lot of novice lifters despair and disappointment. That is the inability to keep balance when in a deep split, and recover successfully to upright position. Now, it is not my intention to deal with the technique of the split of recover in this article. These two problems will come later and are deserving of entire articles in themselves. At the same time, although I am well aware of the fact that I SHOULD deal with splitting technique first, yet I prefer to tell you how to keep balance first. It is no use you knowing how to split if you can’t hold the lift!

This problem of balance is one that all beginners encounter. Strength doesn’t always enter into it. It is position that is the determining factor. Most coaches will tell you that all you need to do to ensure steadiness when under a weight, either in a snatch, clean or a jerk is POWER -
”Providing you perform plenty of squats and deadlifts you’ll be O.K.” is their cry and they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I have seen some of the strongest men in the world stagger under a lift that for them was “light.” Strength they had in plenty. Power was evidenced by thighs and back bulging with muscle, yet a comfortable poundage saw them staggering all over the platform. The cause? A moment’s disregard of certain lifting musts . . . maybe their thoughts were on other things, their attention divided, and an incorrect positioning of the feet led to the loss of a lift. All the strength in the world is useless if you don’t have a firm base on which to place it . . . from which it can work!

The broader the area over which your weight is distributed, the firmer your position and balance. This you can very easily prove. Stand with your feet placed together. Place your arms at your sides and stand as rigidly as possible. Now, lean as far as possible to one side. See how easily you lose balance? Now stand with your feet well astride. Repeat the lean. Notice the difference?

This principle applies just as much when you split deeply in the snatch or clean. In the experiment you have already conducted, you were concerned only with a side movement. But in the snatch and clean you can lose your balance to the front and the back as well. In the majority of cases the lifter usually drops over to one side. The next time this happens, and you should watch for it, glance swiftly at the feet of the lifter swaying and failing with a split snatch or jerk. Notice that they are placed along the same line – one right behind the other. Instead of the body having a broad base on which to counteract the higher center of gravity that the barbell, held at arm’s length produces, the lifter’s feet on which his weight and that of the barbell is carried is along one line and distributed only over the area each foot covers . . . whereas the distance between the feet should be AT LEAST SIX INCHES. Instead of the feet travelling along one line, they should travel along TWO LINES which separate the feet by at least six inches.

How can you get into the habit of distributing your weight and that of the bar over a broader area? By drawing a simple diagram on your platform, known as the MURRAY CROSS. Al Murray, British National Coach, is the originator of this lifting technique aid, altho it was used to some extent by Russian lifters some years ago. The Russian Cross consisted of a circle divided into quarters by lines. In fact I published details of this training aid for the first time in any publication in 1939, in Peary Rader’s magazine, Iron Man. I had seen some movies of Popov, the Russian featherweight, in training and noticed how the Cross was used to help correct the direction of the split and improve the lifter’s balance. The device was so simple that its purpose and merit were obvious at a single glance. Al Murray’s method is a great improvement in design and much better for beginners to use.

Not only does the Murray Cross improve the balance, but it also improves the entire split technique. Don’t forget that the broader the base on which an object rests, the harder it is to turn that object over, or shove it off balance. When a lifter goes into a deep split in a snatch, it the feet travel along the same line then obviously the weight of the bar, added to the RAISED center of gravity, will make it tough for the lifter to maintain balance and recover successfully. The feet MUST always travel along different lines with these being, I repeat, at least six inches apart.

And it follows that the taller the lifter the wider the base over which his weight and that of the barbell must be distributed. A twelve-inch space between the lines along which his feet travel would not be too great. With this wider space between the feet when in a deep split there is a much better balance and less likelihood of losing the lift because of an attack of the staggers. BETTER BALANCE IS PRODUCED BY A WIDER AND FIRMER BASE.

The Murray Cross should be part of your training equipment from this moment. First, draw a box on your platform sixteen inches in length, the greatest distance separating the feet as allowed by the rules. The box must be twelve inches wide. Right down the center of the box draw two lines three feet in length and six inches apart. Perform your snatches and cleans in this Cross. If you make a good lift your position should be as follows when you are in a deep split – hips should be directly over the “box” and neither beyond of behind it. The front foot should be well forward and the rear splitting foot close to the box itself. But above all, your feet should travel along TWO DISTINCT LINES so that six inches separates them.

In another article I’ll go into more detail about the technique of the split. In the meantime, draw a Murray Cross on your platform. When you practice this, do so with a light bar and check the position of your feet, or have a partner do so. See that you keep your feet well apart and thus maintain a firmer balance. See that you are splitting on a WIDE BASE. Intense practice and determination to improve your style by eliminating all faults will bring you closer to your goals.

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