Articles




Programming’s Effect on Technique
Greg Everett

It’s easy to compartmentalize training for strength and technique as two unrelated elements of the snatch and clean & jerk and to approach coaching and program design accordingly. It does make sense in many ways, but I want to point out a few things you may not have considered to help improve the effectiveness of your training or coaching.
 
Weightlifting is somewhat unique as a sport because of the way the competitive motions are also training exercises, and most other training exercises are variations of those competitive lifts. Compare that to other skilled sports like throwing, wresting, baseball, whatever else you can think of, and none that come to my mind have that same level of intertwinement. You largely train the sport skills totally separately from the way you train basic physical capabilities even if your training exercises are designed to directly support the sports typical motions.
 
How you execute the snatch, clean and jerk is not just dependent on your basic skill with those movements (i.e. what you can do with a weight that doesn’t challenge you at all), but on physical qualities like strength and mobility that dictate as loading increases how accurately you’re able to continue perform those basic skills.
 
In other words, the exercises you train, the way you perform them, the timing of exercises relative to each other, and the total loading (volume and intensity) and the fatigue it induces or allows to dissipate all affect both the development and demonstration of technique.
 
 
Exercise Selection
 
This is a broad topic, of course, but let me cover the basics as they pertain to my point here. You’re going to snatch, clean, jerk, squat and pull. We know that. But you have infinite choices of variations and combinations. Choices should be made to support the specific needs of the athlete in question.
 
Does that athlete have a huge gap between front and back squats, and a tendency to tip forward in the squat and pull? They should be doing more front squats and fewer back squats, and possibly more pause variations of one or both, at least temporarily. Does the athlete have a generally weak trunk? They should be squatting without a belt more.
 
Is there a way to make pulling exercises more helpful for this athlete? Adding pauses, slow eccentrics, holds at the top, flat feet, complexes, or risers to address their weak points? Guaranteed there’s a way to make it better.
 
The same holds true for the completion lifts—don’t choose variations haphazardly. If you’re looking at a certain point in a cycle to have reduced loading, more speed, etc. while you push squat and pull strength, for example, you can go with the standard power, hang or block lifts. But why not get really specific? Does the athlete have a problem finishing the pull or moving the feet prematurely or poorly? Do some snatch or clean with no jump, or snatch or clean from power position.
 
The point is that for every basic need a program needs to address, it can be refined to maximally benefit a given athlete. Training exercises need to train and reinforce the positions, balance and postures needed in optimal technique so these things can be achieved under heavy loads. This will develop the athlete’s physical abilities optimally to support the technical execution of the lifts.
 
 
Exercise Performance
 
Even with perfect exercise selection, you can still screw everything up. In fact, you can make technique worse with poor exercise performance. Strength is very specific to position and range of motion, and the body naturally resorts to the positions it’s strongest in when pushed hard.
 
Let’s use pulls as an example. You’re an athlete who always tips over the bar as you pull off the floor, so you decide you’re going to do some segment pulls and get butt-ass strong in the pull. But when doing the pulls, you move the exact same way as when you snatch or clean, in the same wrong positions. Guess what? You just got even stronger in those bad positions, and are now even more likely to lift in them, no matter how hard you try to lift correctly.
 
As the saying goes, practice makes permanent; add to that training makes stronger. Practice and train the way you want to perform, or you’re permanently strengthening the wrong technique. Weightlifting is hard enough without creating new obstacles for yourself.
 
 
Training Fatigue
 
The more tired you are, physically and mentally, the worse you’re going to perform. I suspect this isn’t news to you. But you need to keep this in mind with regard to developing and preserving Olympic lift technique.
 
If you’re constantly beat down and dragging ass in the gym because you’re overloading yourself with volume and/or intensity, not sleeping enough, not eating well, overwhelmed with stress, or whatever else you can come up with to feel terrible, you’re never going to be moving optimally. Consider what this means vis a vis the practice makes permanent concept—you’re practicing poorly the vast majority of the time. How do you expect to develop exceptional technique if 95% of your volume is being done with less than average technical proficiency?
 
You’re going to be tired at times… maybe even a lot of the time. But you should not be that tired that much of the time. If it feels like you’re never on your game when it comes time to snatch and clean & jerk and you’re continually struggling to look like you’ve done the lifts before, it’s time to re-evaluate your training program.
 
Also consider re-scheduling within each week and training session. Maybe you can find a way to reorder exercises so that you’re fresher for what you need the most focus and energy for even if that defies the traditional order. Maybe you can schedule your weaker lifts earlier in the week when you’re a bit more recovered and your stronger lifts later when you’re more fatigued but it has less of a negative impact.
 
 
In short, it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture in weightlifting and not get so absorbed by individual details that you’re stumbling over your own feet. Don’t waste hours doing lightweight technique drills if you’re not developing the specific strength to support those same motions under load. Don’t perform your strength work sloppily and shoot yourself in the foot. And don’t grind yourself into a fine powder that can only manage average technical execution on the best day.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, co-host of the Weightlifting Life Podcast, and publisher of The Performance Menu journal. He is an Olympic Trials coach, coach of over 30 senior national level or higher lifters, including national medalists, national champion and national record holder; as an athlete, he is a fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, and masters American record holder in the clean & jerk. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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3 Comments
Pete Tarling 2019-05-29
Hey Aimee, great article, I really enjoyed it! What are your thoughts on an intermediate level lifter, who clearly has motor patterns that are not optimised - is this a case of trying to make changes gradually over time, or more of a case of taking them back closer to square one for a period of time? think beginners it’s simpler as you can reinforce positions before allowing load to progress, and advanced athletes are maybe too far gone to make major changes, leaving intermediates in a sort of awkward spot.
Haha, the time I accidently put the wrong author in is the ONE time someone actually reads who it is... To the question: It depends on each specific issue and how severe it is. In most cases, you can work on a gradual improvement by really closely monitoring and enforcing the accessory work and adjusting as needed to prevent improper positions and motions. As an example, if you're trying some fancy pull variation and the lifter just can't make it work properly at the weights needed for it to be effective, you should switch to another variation he/she can do better that still suits the basic purpose.

Greg Everett
Pete Tarling 2019-05-30
Hey Greg, thanks! I do appreciate the fact you produce so much written work. And thanks for answering my question!
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