Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Squat Style vs The Split - Charles Coster

Norbert Schemansky

Dave Sheppard

John Davis

Squat Style versus the Split
by Charles Coster (1955)

Once upon a time it was safe to say that all bodybuilders were weightlifters. Today, such a statement would no longer be true. For better or for worse, according to the point of view, the ancient cult of the Iron Game is now developing along two distinct channels.

The Olympic weightlifting specialists are a law unto themselves inasmuch as they are primarily concerned with just three internationally recognized lifts for competition. The method of training on these three lifts for competition purposes has not varied much during the past 20 or 30 years.

On the other hand, if we contemplate the realm of pure bodybuilding, it is quite obvious that a complete revolution in methods, apparatus as well as systems of thought and theory has taken place.

Whether one is an ardent bodybuilding fan or not, the fact remains that tremendous strides have been made in trying to bring the art of musclebuilding to an exact science. And today there are literally hundreds of physical specimens in our midst who owe their success to the endless experiments that were conducted in the past.

Scientific nutrition, dozens of specially designed pieces of apparatus, intensive investigation and self-tests into the comparative possibilities of various methods and combinations of methods have worked wonders in helping to produce spectacular results in the field of bodybuilding.

The bond between competitive lifters and pure bodybuilders is not too strong at the present moment, but I am one of the few who foresaw these developments many years ago, and I am still hopeful that our natural interests will prevail – and that closer collaboration will come about.

Who knows? One day the bodybuilding fraternity may turn out a potential Olympic champion lifter, and in any case we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by remembering the old adage that “united we stand – divided we fall” as far as the general public is concerned. All devotees of weight training have at least ONE thing in common – abundant health – a factor which must eventually govern our relations together.

Olympic Lifting Today

Although, as I have said earlier, methods of Olympic training are roughly the same as they have always been, at least one thing has happened to cause widespread astonishment during the last six years.

I refer to the advent of the modern “squat” lifter.

In years gone by – nineteen out of twenty used the customary fore-and-aft style of lifting. (i.e., when a Snatch of Clean & Jerk were performed – one leg was stretched to the front of the lifter, and one leg to the rear), but when occasionally a “squat” type of athlete made an appearance his lifts and totals were usually nothing to write home about.

Squat lifting, for the benefit of the newcomer, means that the athlete’s feet remain parallel to his front; there is no splitting of the legs to the front and rear; he merely squats into a deep knee bend when getting under a snatch or a clean, and very great thigh, hip and back power are required when handling really heavy poundages.

Right up until the last two or three years – most world record snatches, and the majority of record clean & jerks were held by fore-and-aft lifters. Right up to that time squat lifters where usually noticeable for their ordinary or average performance, and then, presto . . . Udodov, Pushkarev, Duganov, Sheppard, Pete George and Tommy Kono all suddenly reach peak form, and give us pleasure and thrills galore? You can search me for the explanation if you like – I just can’t make it out at all.

Udodov, the Russian featherweight has squat snatched 236¾ lbs. Pushkarev and Duganov have snatched 275 and 288¾ lbs. respectively as middleweights. Dave Sheppard has snatched 316¼ as a mid-heavy, and I am told, 304 as a light-heavy. Pete George snatched 281 as a middleweight, at 161 lbs., whilst the latest wonder to squat lifting, Tommy Kono, holds the 181 lb. clean & jerk record with 380¼, and, at 149 lbs. bodyweight has snatched 264 and clean & jerked 341 during weightlifting demonstrations on the European continent.

All these things have come about within a very brief space of time, and the expert and layman alike are wondering just where it is all going to stop.

Squat Problems

As was to be expected after a few sensational squat lifts and totals had been accomplished, “certain people” immediately prophesied that the old tried fore-and-aft method of lifting was now obsolete, and that it would be a “wise” policy for every lifter who was capable of changing over to the squat to do so forthwith. Fantastic levels of international lifting at the very next World Championships were immediately forecast.

Just how wrong “these people” were can be more appreciated by a careful study of National and International Weightlifting results during the past five years.

Undoubtedly the squat technique possesses certain very great possibilities UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS, but to my way of thinking, those conditions do not necessarily apply when the number of attempts is restricted to three.

The problems involved in squat lifting are complex and very interesting. Let us try to mark a few of the essential differences that exist between the two styles. In the first place, when it has been possible to be present to carefully study the things which have actually taken place during the past five years, as I have, it becomes clear and beyond all shadow of doubt that the squat technique lends itself much more conveniently for the snatch than it does for the clean when top-grade poundages are being used on important occasions like World championships. The difference in the degree of application does not apply to the fore-and-aft weightlifting, we must remember.

A careful study of photographs reveals the fact that certain vital structural difficulties are apt to arise when a really heavy squat clean is being attempted, which makes the attempt a considerable gamble and therefore, unless timing, pull and direction are all perfect, failure can occur at a vital phase of the lift.

Most squat lifters use approximately the same style when squatting, but owing to skeletal and muscular variations in the individual there are some small details which vary – the most remarkable one being the partial “dislocation” of the shoulders which is sometimes seen when a squat snatch is being fixed in the deep knee bend position.

This dislocation is seen to advantage in lifters such as Dave Sheppard and Pete George, and it enables them to fix their weights more securely overhead than would otherwise be the case – prior to the final leg straightening movement being undertaken.

Both these young lifters are blessed with wonderful arm locks and I shall long remember the way Pete bashed 280 lbs. overhead at Helsinki last year when weighing five pounds less than the middleweight limit.

Nineteen year old Dave Sheppard treated 280 in the same manner at Milan a year previously, and if I live to be a hundred I shall always remember the consummate ease with which the lift was made, and the confident smile flashed at the audience when he was folded up under the weight.

The partial shoulder dislocation means that the lifter’s back is INCLINED FORWARD, whilst his arms are INCLINED BACKWARDS – thus forming a slight V angle when viewed from the side – an ideal position for final leg recovery, for the balance is perfect.

There are a few squatters however who do not dislocate when they snatch either because they cannot, or do not, choose to do so. The amazing Russian featherweight Saksonov, and the American lightweight Tommy Kono both come into this category – and they both once held World snatch records.

The position of the trunk at the moment when the arms lock is almost perpendicular when these two lifters squat with their snatches. There is no V shape to be seen from a side view – their back and arms form a straight line when the final leg recovery movement is made – and in Saksonov’s cast at least his trunk and arms were almost completely upright at Helsinki, when he squat snatched 220 and 231 lbs. and only just failed to lock his elbows with 237. The Russian’s elbow lock from where I sat did not appear to be too good, but this may have been because of the moderate handspacing he used – which should have been wider in my opinion.

Undoubtedly, a lifter experiences much less difficulty in maintaining his arm lock if he is able to use a wide hand spacing coupled with partial dislocation of the shoulders.

When Tommy Kono scored three brilliant squat snatch successes at Finland with 241-253-259 lbs. there was very little forward slope noticeable in his trunk and arms – and the leg recovery was easy in each case. But, when a few months afterwards he gave a demonstration in London as a middleweight, I noticed that he had to run forwards a few paces in order to regain control of lost balance as he pressed upwards with his legs when handling 260 and 270.

When high quality poundages are held balanced overhead in this manner the fact that the lifter’s feet are both placed parallel with the overhead bar proves conclusively that there is very little room for maneuvering – if an error of timing or direction has taken place.

Providing everything is judged perfectly, and the lifter’s arms are securely locked – the task imposed upon the back, hips and thighs is not too severe – since the poundage elevated is not likely to be more than 120 to 130 lbs. in excess of the lifter’s own bodyweight, and the thighs and hips are acknowledged to be the most powerful parts of the anatomy.

Additionally, as I said in the first instance, it is structurally possible for the impact of a well executed squat snatch to be well distributed through the muscles and tendons of the lifter’s back, hips and thighs and for a good “line of gravity” to be attained. When this occurs, successful leg recovery is almost automatic as there are no unfavorable leverage problems to solve.

Clean & Jerk Problems

Unfortunately, the same logic cannot be applied when comparisons between squat and split weightlifting styles are worked out in relation to the clean & jerk, as I shall try to explain.

To be able to guarantee a good line of gravity is of the utmost importance when clean & jerking is undertaken the squat way – because of the extremely heavy poundages involved in the leg action. Absolutely every detail of execution must go according to plan if success with heavy weights is to be assured in competition.

The fact that Pete George has succeeded with a very high proportion of squat snatches during the past five years has led certain “enthusiasts” in Great Britain and America to burn the air in their efforts to glorify the advantages of squat cleaning. But if everyone cares to go through the World Weightlifting Championship printed programmes, they will discover that there is a much greater percentage of failures in the squat clean than are suspected. During the last five World Championships, Pete George has recorded six failures out of a total of fifteen attempts.

The fact of the matter is that squat cleaning involves split-second timing, and a balance that must be mathematically perfect if near-world record weights are to be succeeded with. Failure to whip the elbows well forward so that the bar is securely held high at the sternum usually means that the lifter has to lean forward – and once the trunk is forced out of the upright position the lifer’s task of straightening his legs assumes superhuman proportions.

Sagging elbows, or a lean forward with a rounded back, almost invariably means that the line of the bar is somewhere above the lifter’s toes, and it is impossible to exert maximum muscular effort once the line of gravity is at fault.

It is absolutely vital for the full weight of the bar to be immediately above the lifer’s heels if he is to make the most of his three attempts in competition.

The logic of these remarks, and the difficulty of reproducing this split-second, hair-trigger balance and timing on a weightlifting platform can be visualized by comparing the difference in the poundages which as average lifter can handle in the deep knee bend FROM THE BACK OF THE NECK . . . as contrasted with the maximum weight he is able to deep knee bend with when the bar has to be maintained IN FRONT OF THE NECK AT THE STERNUM.

The actual distance of the angle involved amounts to about six to nine inches. But the difference in the poundage one is able to handle is enormous, and this particular factor constitutes the greatest single disadvantage of squat cleaning when estimated with other methods.

Even when a grueling squat clean has been successfully made, there is evidence to show that the enormous effort involved often leaves the lifter too weak or “giddy” to finish the jerk with any degree of certainty. This actually happened four times at Helsinki – and two world records were lost as a consequence. Saksonov, the USSR featherweight, twice squat cleaned 308 pounds, Tommy Kono twice squat cleaned 341, but not one of the jerks were held overhead.

I shall always remember what happened to Pete George in London in 1948. In a do-or-die effort to gain the middleweight crown Pete asked for the terrific weight of 363 lbs. He was only 20 years of age at the time, but he made a gigantic effort and actually stood upright with the bar at the sternum. He was so distressed, however, that he failed to lock one elbow, and a world title and new world record lift were lost by the smallest of margins.

Thus, as can be seen, this particular angle of the squat clean forms yet another handicap which will have to be mastered before we can honestly and enthusiastically recommend this brand of Olympic lifting to all and sundry.

I believe a good many squat specialists are alive to the difficulties they have to face and are taking logical and energetic steps to find a solution. For instance, Pete George has since improved his jerking ability by specialization to the point where he can now nearly elevate 400 lbs. from the shoulders. It is very wise for all Olympic lifters to see that they possess a comfortable 30-pound margin of safety in this respect – especially the squatters. After all, it’s just so much wasted effort if a lifter cannot guarantee the jerk after having performed that much more difficult feat of cleaning the weight successfully.

Sticking Points

It is important to keep an open mind when studying weightlifting phenomena, and any tendency to get into a rut with certain training habits is much to be deplored. Just as there is a sticking point which it is difficult to negotiate during the Olympic Press, so there is a certain sticking point encountered as the squat lifter fights his way to an upright position during the halfway stage of a clean.

I am glad to say American lifters are using great imagination and enterprise in their efforts to solve this little mentioned problem of leg recovery. Both Pete George and Tommy Kono are taking steps to improve their fundamental basic power all the time, and undoubtedly the sticking point is being gradually made less dangerous in competition by the practice of deep knee bends and half knee bends – with the bar held in front of the neck. By methodically attacking the problem in this way a lifter can increase the power of his thighs, hips and back by gradual degrees, and at the same time form the habit of keeping trunk perpendicular at all stages of the movement. This form of training is most logical, and, theoretically at least, it has much to recommend it.

Kono in particular is reaching great heights as a squatter, and it is a well known fact that he has great basic power, having trained his legs to perform great feats of strength and stamina. Early this year I was reliably informed that Tommy made two deep knee bends with 420 lbs. – with the bar held in front of the neck at the sternum. He was a full middleweight at the time.

The time honored split style of lifting has been in use for a long time – but I wonder how many lifters have ever tried to improve the strength of their back, hips and thighs by
“getting up” from the split position with weights which were substantially heavier than poundages which could be handled in competition. Not many, I’ll bet. The practice of standing up with weights which are supported on a couple of stands has much to recommend it, in my opinion.

The crowning climax of squat-style lifting problems took place at Helsinki last year surely, when an odds-on favorite split-style bantamweight favorite was unexpectedly defeated by the Russian squatter Udodov, but, be it noted, this surprise was brought about by someone who makes the best of both worlds by combining a squat snatch with a split-style clean & jerk – an interesting point which should make “certain people” pause for thought, surely.

The greatest surprise of all, however, came in the featherweight division where the sensational squatter Saksonov was expected to carry all before him. He was beaten by another Russian who used the “old fashioned” fore-and-aft technique, making NINE successful lifts, and a World record total of 742 pounds!

It would be well for the critics to remember that the split style of lifting has proved to be wonderfully reliable in International competition. Long, long ago 160 lb. Stan Stanczyk snatched 280 an clean & jerked 353½ lbs. at the 1947 World Championships. Stanczyk is a fore-and-aft leg splitter.

And more food for thought is available from the exploits of Norbert Schemansky, who snatched 330¼ and clean & jerked 425 lbs. last year.

Finally, as I write these words – there is the wonderful weightlifting total compiled by the Russian mid-heavy Vorobyev, who made 314-314-385¾ lbs. to total 1013¾.

Achievements such as these all bear mute evidence of the fact that the tried and reliable fore-and-aft leg technique is far from being a spent force.

Squat lifting possibilities, of course, are far greater for record-breaking purposes where an unlimited number of attempts may be allowed. But when it is necessary for a squat technician to regularly duplicate his best training lifts within the limited confines of just three attempts – then the position is very different, as statistics prove.

I believe that it may be possible sometime in the future to iron out some of the sticking points and difficulties which are peculiar to the squat-lifting phenomenon at the present time, and when eventually they are solved I have no doubt that we shall see and hear of some very wonderful things. But it would be a great mistake to imagine that the fore-and-aft specialist is going to oblige by remaining stationary in the meantime.

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