Power for the Snatch and Clean
by Charles A. Smith (1955)
The development of lifting power is just as important as training for style. Here are some basic power assistance exercises that will improve your strength and speed in the snatch and clean.
Some years ago, Muscle Power Magazine published a series of articles entitled “The Foundations of Power.” They covered the various exercises which build the important quality of basic strength in all the body’s muscle groups. It was my opinion then that these movements would give any man a strength foundation that would help him make the most rapid advances whenever he began any specialized weight training.
Time has not weakened my opinion but has strengthened it. The exercises, ideas and training principles – even the term “body power” – have been adopted by authorities all over the world. Some of these individuals have conveniently forgotten the sources of their information; a few . . . very few . . . have been generous in their praise.
Today an Olympic lifting schedule without such basic power exercises such as squats, half-squats, dead hang cleans and snatches, high pulls, deadlifts and bench presses is considered incomplete. Every prominent weightlifting champion uses one or more of these basic power movements.
Tommy Kono uses the Front Shoulder Squat and the Bench Press, as does Dave Sheppard; both of these men have become amazingly proficient, for their respective bodyweights, in these two exercises. Paul Anderson, the “1100 first total” man built his lifting power with Squats, Half-Squats, High Pull-Ups and Bench Presses; while Doug Hepburn, “World’s Strongest Man,” uses Power Presses and Deep Knee Bends. The great John Davis, National, Olympic and World champion for so many years, also uses Bench Presses and Squats.
Yet I feel that power exercises have never been completely exploited What we have done up to this time is use a few movements which have been general in their effects, rather than developing those exercises which have a deeper and more beneficial influence on the local, weak muscle groups. Let me enlarge on this statement.
In The Moulin Rouge, the movie dealing with the life of artist Toulouse Lautrec, some of his more famous works were shown. These were a wealth of color and form and thrust themselves so much on us that in the big lasting impression they created, we missed the finer details of each painting. If we had the chance to look at them longer, instead of the brief view we did obtain, we would have noticed the smaller, subtle details.
We would have noticed a man’s watch chain, the expression of the face of a woman, the lace of her petticoat. We would have seen the rouge on a dancer’s face, the drops of liquid in the glass a drunk was clutching. The view of each picture, as a whole, would have been replaced by the impressions made by finer, local detail.
Take the two hands snatch or clean. Look at these lifts from a spectator’s viewpoint and they are simply the violent tearing of a barbell from the platform to arm’s length overhead, or into the shoulders, accompanied by a quick split or squat.
But look at these lifts for the small details and you notice the movements of the arms, the part played by the muscles of the shoulder girdle, the position of the back, the effort to maintain balance during the recovery, the fight to keep the barbell locked out overhead in the snatch or jerk, the effort to prevent the trunk bowing forward in the clean, plus a host of minor details. There’s more than mere color and form in a painting, and there’s more to the snatch and clean than pull and split or squat. But this is of course obvious.
What isn’t always obvious is this – that we need more than squats or deadlifts to build up basic snatching or cleaning strength. We not only need power in the thighs and lower back, but in the smaller muscles that keep us steady while the weight is overhead or at the shoulders, power to make a recovery and the strength to make minor adjustments to foot and thigh positions while down deep in a split or squat, and the basic exercises such as squats and deadlifts help only to a certain extent.
Some authorities claim a lifter doesn’t need power training. They say that lifting strength can be built solely by practicing the Press, Snatch and Jerk. Others maintain you can cut down the three Olympic lifts to a minimum and concentrate almost entirely on power training . . . a few reps with a press or snatch and clean, and the rest of the schedule taken up with basic power movements.
Both schools of thought in my opinion are wrong. I believe that one must use a combination of the three Olympic lifts and power exercises for the best results and steady progress, emphasizing the importance of the Olympic Three only by placing them first in the workout, then following along with the power movements. This is especially necessary where the snatch and clean are concerned.
In these two lifts a much wider range of muscles are used than in the press, and in addition we have the problem of keeping balance and making a strong recovery; we also have to consider the pull with both arms. All these are taken care of by the thighs, the upper and lower back, shoulder girdle muscles and arms which cooperate to successfully lift a heavy poundage. Now let’s see what type of schedule should be used.
POWER FOR BALANCE AND RECOVERY
When a lifter takes a heavy snatch to arm’s length and is down in a deep split, he has the job of recovering to erect position and still keeping the weight locked out overhead. In the clean, he has to do the same with the weight at the shoulders. He depends on the ability of his muscles to bring him upright while holding that heavy poundage. The same rule applies in the squat snatch and squat clean when recovery can be improved by performing squats with the weight held across the fronts of his shoulders.
EXERCISE 1. Split Squats, Weight Held at Arm’s Length Overhead.
Pull a barbell to arm’s length overhead and sink down into a split position. The shadow portion of the drawing shows the perfect position for the exercise. From here, without moving the position of your feet, straighten out the thighs; lower the body down again into the deep split and repeat. If you find the exercise tough at first, try using a light bar to accustom yourself to the movement. This exercise can be adapted to the squat-style lifter as well. Start off with 4 sets of 6 reps, work up to 4 sets of 12 reps. 2 sets with the right foot split forward and 2 sets with the left foot split forward. If you are a squat-style lifter perform 4 sets.
POWER FOR THE LOWER BACK
The lumbar region is one of the most important muscle groups involved in quick lifting and is especially active when the trunk straightens up during the first and second pulls (so called). Here are two great exercises to strengthen the entire lower back.
EXERCISE 2. Stiff Legged Deadlifts On Box.
Stand on a strong low box, a barbell held in your hands, knuckles to the front. Lower the bar down until it is just above the box, then return to upright position and repeat. Keep your legs locked at the knees and perform the exercise with a steady but not too rapid rhythm. Break into the exercise by using a light weight first to stretch the muscles at the back of the thighs, then gradually step up the resistance. Begin with 3 sets of 6 reps, work up to 3 sets of 12 reps.
EXERCISE 3. Two Hands Dumbbell Swing.
Once a popular competition lift, the swing has suffered neglect during the last two decades, yet it is one of the best exercises for packing the lower back with power, giving the shoulder girdle muscles a workout and pumping up the anterior deltoids. Place a heavy dumbbell lengthwise between your feet. Grasp the bar with both hands and, keeping your arms locked at the elbows, swing the dumbbell up to arm’s length, lower to commencing position and immediately repeat. Don’t pause between reps. Start with 3 sets of 6 reps, work up to 3 sets of 12 reps.
POWER FOR THE THIGHS
Power legs give any lifter a strong initial pull to the snatch or clean and this, added to the power of the lower back, shoulder girdle and arm muscles helps produce a successful lift. Here are two movements which not only strengthen the thighs but also help build coordination between them and the lower back.
EXERCISE 4. Two Hands Deadlift From Boxes.
Stand on two strong boxes as in illustration 4 with a barbell held in your hands, regular reverse deadlift grip. Squat down until the bar is an inch of so above the box, then recover to upright position and repeat. Try not to bend too far forward but make your legs do as much of the work as possible. Begin with 3 sets of 6 reps, work up to 3 sets of 12 reps.
EXERCISE 5. Seated Front Shoulder Squats.
Put the bar on the racks, load it up and place a strong box or bench right in front of the racks. Step up to the bar, place it on your clavicles and lift if up and off. Squat down until your buttocks touch the box, then recover to upright position with speed and repeat. Start off with 3 sets of 6 reps and work up to 3 sets of 12 reps.
POWER FOR THE SHOULDER GIRDLE
Movements to equalize the pulling power of each arm and strengthen the trapezius muscle can be used with the greatest possible benefit by any lifter, even if the other power exercises are discarded. You can build a considerable degree of determination too. The weight is by no means heavy and encourages the lifter to grind out those final tough repetitions.
EXERCISE 6. Seated Snatches.
Sit on the end of an exercise bench or box with a barbell on the floor in front of you. Reach down and grasp it with a regular snatch handspacing. Pull it arm’s length overhead in on movement and repeat. Make your arms do as much work as possible. Begin with 3 sets of 6 reps, work up to 3 sets of 12 reps.
EXERCISE 7. One Arm Upright Rowing.
Take up the position for the one hand snatch. Make sure your grip is even on the bar. Pull the weight to the chin, lower slowly and repeat. Take a look at illustration 7 and note position of the elbow in the shaded section. It is pointing up. This is the correct finish position. Begin with 3 sets of 6 reps, work up to 3 sets of 12 reps. Exercise each arm alternately until 3 sets for each have been completed.
One final word of caution. Never let a power schedule take the place of an Olympic workout. Even if you intend to devote the major portion of your training session to a power program, begin with the quick lifts and then when you have finished pressing or snatching or cleaning and jerking begin your power program.
Remember this . . . the exercises given in this article are Assistance Movements only. They will help your quick lifts improve not because you are using just them, but because you are practicing both Olympic lifting and basic power exercises.