Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Use the Overhead Squat to Build Snatch Power - Charles Coster

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The Olympic Snatch reveals a higher percentage of failures than any other lift. Worst of all - top flight lifters often fail with their first and second attempts. Even when a brilliantly successful lift is accomplished, all too often it has something of the nature of an accident about it!

Are there any special weight-training exercises that will help boost competitive Snatch lifts above and beyond the fatal failure point? I think there are.

The high rate of failure is caused by the great speed and delicate balance this lift demands. In most cases, therefore, failure can be blamed on 'lack of control'. This is a weak spot that must be eliminated if failures are to be reduced to a minimum.

After watching the champions from all over the world, I am convinced that a high percentage of failures need not happen. The simple, specialized training program described here can develop the much needed "control" and reduce these failures to a minimum.

When examining this problem let us bear in mind that there are certain features relating to the performance of the Snatch that don't apply to the Press, or the Clean, or the Jerk lifts, all of which are made in two distinct separate movements, with the hands spaced at approximately shoulder width.

The Olympic Snatch is a unique lift in many respects - and because of this needs special training treatment as poundages get heavier and heavier.

Because the lifter's hands are spread out in some cases as far as possible towards the plates - overhead control of the Snatch in the low-split or deep-squat position is much more precarious . . . and this is the point at which most snatches are lost.

Unlike the other two lifts, the Snatch is made in one fast, non-stop dynamic movement (from floor to overhead) that calls for great pulling power, perfect timing and coordination, plus blinding speed, and, as the upward pull ends, the lifter must dive underneath the weight in an all-out effort to fix the bar at arms-length overhead.

The lift is more like a piece of juggling than any other feat I can think of. The whole thing takes place in a flash. But unless the lifter's position is technically perfect as he crouches underneath in the low leg-split or deep-squat, the chances are that he will lose control of the overhead bar - and it will crash back to the platform.

Curiously enough, when the lifter fails to make the final leg recovery movement (after succeeding with the upward pull) it is not always because the weight is too heavy to handle . . . but because he suddenly finds that his muscular power is not great enough to control and stabilize the overhead weight.

Stabilization and complete control are absolutely essential at this stage of the lift. When failure occurs after months of hard training it is a calamity - because it is a common-sense fact that once the lifter has succeeded in pulling the bar high enough for a "fix" he has completed the most difficult part of the lift. If the bar isn't pulled high enough he cannot succeed no matter how great a lifter he may by.

The crucial moment of success or failure therefore occurs in the low-leg-split or deep-squat position. THIS IS THE VITAL POINT THAT MUST BE STRENGTHENED and we need special methods of training to turn this weak spot into a strong point!

Before discussing ways and means by which this might be done, let's try to clarify the three essential mechanical and muscular movements of the lift. They are:

1) In order to make a heavy Snatch successfully, the lifter must have sufficient power to pull the bar upward high enough - in relation to his height and bone structure. If this cannot be done (with a fixed poundage) he cannot succeed under any circumstances.

2) Assuming that he has pulled the weight upwards correctly to at least a minimum sufficient height, he must then be able to follow through and "support and stabilize" the weight immediately he assumes the low-squat or leg-split position underneath the bar. Theoretically this should be easy to do since he has already succeeded with the most difficult part of the lift; i.e., sufficient upward pull!

3) After stages one and two - he must additionally possess sufficient muscle power to control any movement forward, backward, left, or right (faults of balance) that may occur at this point . . . so that he finds himself capable of propelling both himself and the weight upwards with a sure degree of certainty for the conclusion of the lift, and the referee's signal of approval. THIS, as we have already said, is the curcial point of failure, where all too often important lifts are unnecessarily lost.

These remarks apply to both the splitter or the squat stylist - but particularly to the squatter - since he must go into a very low position, and the parallel foot stance makes balance a very precarious matter, especially with top weights . . . unless the special training measures are adopted. 

I think it is true to say that future competitions will be so keenly contested that world titles will only be held by lifters who are in complete control of every stage of each individual lift.

To leave an important Olympic lift like the Snatch "in the lap of the gods" at the halfway mark, after successfully making a good enough upward pull, is most unsatisfactory. It's high time we adopted more scientific measures to cut down on the percentage of failures that occur in competition after months of training preparation. The whole Snatch situation just isn't good enough. I came to this conclusion after comparing what happens in the Snatch . . . with the Press, the Clean, and the Jerk. Here's what I mean:

Not many Presses are lost - after this "half-way" stage has been reached. Not many Cleans are lost at the "half-way" mark, after the weight has been fixed at the shoulders, despite the low-leg-split of low-squat position of the legs . . . plus the much heavier poundage. Not many Jerks are lost either (once the elbows have been securely locked) despite the fact that anything up to two-and-a-half times bodyweight has to be handled and controlled in a fast, low-leg-split position.

Why then do we still experience so many disastrous Snatch failures after the lift has been half-way completed - remembering that even high grade Snatch lifts are considerably less than double-bodyweight!  

The leg positions used fror a Clean, a Jerk, or a Snatch are almost identical at the half-way, or leg-slit stage. (These remarks hold true for both the Squat Clean and Squat Snatch).

The most enormous weights have been successfully cleaned by splitters and squatters alike at various times . . . which proves conclusively that the heaviest Snatch should not be too great a burden for the powerful hip and thigh muscles to cope with at the low-squat or deep leg-split stage of the Snatch.

It appears that the "weak spot" of the Snatch is caused by the hair-trigger balance and very high speed at which the lift takes place. Whatever the cause - we definitely need a special form of training that will build additional power and control in the deep split (or squat) where it is needed most for the Snatch.

And this has not been provided so far! We have provided basic power methods of training for the Press, the Clean, and the Jerk - with great benefit, but we have neglected to apply the same methods to the Snatch, apart from a few upward pulling power movements.

Is it possible to apply really heavy basic power training methods to a very fast and scientific lift like the Snatch? The answer is Yes! And I don't think any basic power training technique will give better results than the Overhead Squat.

It tackles the whole problem of lifting very heavy weights in reserve . . . dramatically building up a much greater margin of power and control from the overhead finishing point, right down to the actual squat or leg-split sticking point itself! Exploited thoroughly and regularly in training sessions I believe it is capable of supplying the master key to greatly improved lifting performances.

The Olympic Snatch is so fast and complicated that many people just don't realize exactly how failures occur. We know that the upward pulling movement is usually fairly well performed. But after that point everything seems hazy . . . and before you know what's happened the bar has crashed back onto the platform.

Let us examine the whole Snatch problem in reverse. Let's commence eat the finish of the lift. Let's work our way backward to the half-way sticking point, in order to find solid ground for future progress.

We will deal with the squat-style snatcher first - and afterwards make alternative suggestions that can be adapted for the front-and-back leg-split Snatch stylist.

First of all it will pay us to remember that all present day Olympic lifting records have been powerfully influenced by various basic power forms of training that were originally advocated by Prof. E.M. Orlick and put to use in America during the past 20 years or so.

The Bench Press and Incline Press helped the Olympic Press. The Front and Back Squat helped to improve the Clean. Chest Supports, Overhead Supports, Power Heaves and Power Jerks all helped to speed the progress of general lifting ability to the peak at which it stands today.

The ONE lift that has largely escaped the influence of modern power training methods is the Olympic Snatch, and I am convinced that this is the main reason for most of the troubles mentioned in this article.

Basic power training schedules speak for themselves. They seek to concentrate on overcoming "sticking points". They make full use of short range movements with extra-heavy weights and build up additional finishing power from every conceivable position - for all lifts.

This is what we want more than anything else for the Olympic Snatch - EXTRA POWER that will enable the lifter to "fix" the weight once he has flashed underneath the bar and gets the weight to arms' length, EXTRA POWER to control the deep split or deep squat position (where failure usually results) and EXTRA POWER to stand erect with the weight for official approval.

Especially important is CONTROL in the low-squat or deep-split position and there is no better way of developing this than by handling heavier and heavier weights in the very unstable OVERHEAD SQUAT POSITION. And these weights should be handled exactly as they would be if you were actually doing the Snatch.

How to Utilize Overhead Squat Training

First of all, perform a few Snatches and have a partner mark you exact foot positions on the floor with chalk. The heel and toe angles of both feet should be clearly marked. The same foot marks should be used whenever you perform any of the Overhead Squat exercises.

Next, you should enlist the help of some catchers or use adjustable stands in order to handle the heavy weights which are required by this specialized training program.

Exercise Number One - Regular Overhead Squats

Load barbell, step on your foot marks, using Snatch grip, raise bar to arms' length overhead and then do full squat. Holding weight at arms' length, straighten legs again. Repeat. Do 3 sets of 4-5 repetitions using all the weight you can handle. As your muscles get stronger add more and more weight to the bar but continue doing the same number of sets and reps.

Exercise Number Two - Heavy Half-Way Overhead Squats

This exercise is performed exactly the same as above except that you should use much more weight on the bar and only lower your body half-way down.

Exercise Number Three - One-Way Extra-Heavy Overhead Squats

Load more weight on the bar than you can possibly stand up with. With the help of your catchers or a pair of stands step under this weight and hold it at arms' length overhead. Your feet should be on your foot marks. Now, continuing to hols the weight at arms' length overhead, bend your knees slowly and perform a full squat. Hold this full squat position for 6 seconds, then have your catchers take the weight. Gradually add ore and more weight to the bar to force yourself to work harder and harder. If you train alone you will have to devise a way to use stands and boxes to enable performance of this and all other exercises. 

Exercise Number Four - Maximum Weight Overhead Squat Supports 

Step on your foot marks, lower yourself into the full squat position, spread your arms wide as though doing the Snatch and have your catchers place the heaviest weight you can support in your hands. Hold this for about 6 seconds, tensing your leg muscles as though attempting to stand up. Then, have the catchers grab the weight. Take a short rest and repeat. With practice you should be able to handle tremendous weights in this very unstable position.

Uneven Variations of the Overhead Squat Exercises

For all four of the above exercises you should practice handling an unevenly loaded barbell from time to time. This can easily be done by slipping an extra plate on one end, or by having your catchers do this while you are performing reps of an exercise. Change the amount of uneven weight used and also the end of the bar on which it is used in order to force yourself to develop more control.

By following this simple program of specialized exercises you will soon build the extra power you need to boost your Snatch to higher numbers.

The foregoing instructions apply directly to squat-style snatch lifters. But they can be adapted with equal benefit for the fore-and-aft leg splitters.

If you are a splitter and your bone lengths prevent the making of complete overhead squats . . . just take the weight downwards as far as you can. The half-way Overhead Squat can be performed by squatter and splitter alike. Heavy Overhead Snatch "supports" in the deep fore-and-aft leg-split can be made with the rear knee touching the platform if necessary. The heavier the weight, the better chance of competition success - if increased power of control is built up this way. The use of an unevenly loaded barbell is especially beneficial to the leg-split stylist, since this type of Snatch often becomes wobbly or uneven at the half-way stage.

In conclusion: Did you ever hear of a horse failing to pull a heavy load downhill - after the uphill task had been completed? Yet this analogy roughly illustrates the world-wide Snatch problem that exists today as top-flight lifters fail to finish important lifts after completing the first half upward pull successfully!

Tommy Kono's amazing Clean of 380 lbs. as a middleweight is undoubtedly closely related to his ability to make a front squat with nearly 500 lbs! Featherweight Isaac Berger's best ever training Clean of 335 lbs. is undoubtedly due to the fact that he has front-squatted with nearly 400 lbs.

WHY is there such a close link-up between the front squat and the squat clean? Because the movements are identical - and the lifters have learned the great value of handling much heavier weights during training sessions.

The Overhead Squat movement discussed in this article is just such another parallel exercise . . . for developing greater finishing power for the Snatch, whether you are a splitter or a squatter. It builds up extra muscular power and control for the Snatch, through the use of much heavier weights than can be handled in competition, by making almost identical movements in training.

I am amazed that no one though of applying BASIC POWER TRAINING to the Snatch similar to that which has long been used for the other lifts. I am surprised that the use of OVERHEAD SQUATS should have been neglected for so long. They have tremendous development possibilities and you can be sure that those who first use them regularly in their training will be the first to establish new Snatch records.

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