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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Catalyst Athletics Olympic Weightlifting Seminar

I'm in the black shirt with my face behind the white pole in the center of the photo.  

My ridiculously long coverage of this weekend's seminar at Catalyst Athletics:

Great weekend!  Spent all day Saturday and all day Sunday learning two of the best lifts in the business.  Thanks Greg Everett and Aimee Anaya for putting on a great seminar.

I learned a LOT!!!!

My previous experience with learning the lifts came from the following:  Crossfit Level 1 Cert.  About 3  hours total of random private coaching including;  30min on the snatch from Adrian Bozman, 30min on both lifts from Dave Williams (Strength and Conditioning coach for Liberty University), an hour from Jeff Sunzeri, an hour on cleans at the California Strength Academy in San Ramon, and watching a good amount of video available through the crossfit journal.  

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that this weekend was a huge step forward in my journey towards learning these lifts well.  I thought one of the biggest strengths of the seminar is the learning progression they presented for the lifts.  They were clear, logical, and built nicely upon each other.  The complexity of the lifts were broken down well with this method.  We learned the snatch on the first day and clean and jerk on the second.  In the next blurb, I wanted tojust  regurgitate as much as possible from this weekend to help me remember it, so here goes.  I hope this is all accurate:

Snatch Pulling Position:  Feet under the hips, legs nearly vertical (slightly slanted out when standing up), toed out slightly.  Weight should be fairly even throughout the foot, centered just over the front of the heel.  Knees flared out.  This gets the knees out of the way of the first pull and brings your butt closer to the bar.  Shoulders just in front of the bar and neutral (not rolled forward or retracted).  Back arched in extension.  Head and eyes up, looking in front for the duration of the lift.  Arms long and loose.  Arms straight, not bent (in other words, the arms should be straight, but don't think about locking the elbows out because this will tighten the muscles in your arms).  Elbows turned out.  Hook grip.  Grip width based on when standing vertical and you lift one thigh parallel to the ground, the bar is just above the leg and the leg does not push the bar up (sounds more confusing then it is).  Bar should be over the base of the toes, ie: the ball of your foot.

The progression taught to us was Second Pull, Third Pull, then First Pull.

First Pull:  As you bring the bar up it should swing in ever so slightly and travel up nearly in contact with your shins and thighs.  The first pull ends and second pull begins as the bar clears the knee and reaches approximately mid thigh where the double knee bend (scoop) begins.  This pull is primarily pushing with your legs, and straightening your knees.  Your back angle should remain constant.  Chest should rise with the hips and the bar all at the same time.

Second Pull:  Butt is back with shins nearly vertical and knees still flared out.  There should be tension on your hamstrings.  Arms are still long and loose.  Head and eyes are still looking straight ahead.  The bar is pulled up the thighs, and kept as close to the body as possible.  The double knee bend of the second pull will occur naturally if the lifter simply drives through the floor with his/her legs, ie: 'jumps'.  This is where the vast majority of the vertical momentum on the bar comes from.  Think about driving through the ground with your legs, not pulling up with your arms.  Think about jumping as this will naturally extend your hips, knees, and ankles.  Ankle extension by the way doesn't add much if anything in the way of acceleration on the bar, but is a byproduct of a full, aggressive, violent straightening of the knees and extension of the hips (basically jumping).

Third Pull:  Shrug of the shoulders (which has a slight overlap with the 2nd pull), as you raise the bent elbows up in order to pull yourself under the bar (not pull the bar up), keeping the bar path as close to you and vertical as possible.  Receive the bar by pushing up and with your wrists laid back, driving your palms up and cradling the bar.  Release the hook grip as you do so.  Your shoulders should be retracted hard as if you are pinching a pencil between the top of your scapulas.  There should be a slight shrug of the shoulders.  This should not be exaggerated with the shoulders pressed up towards the ears.  This is a major fix that I've had to make because with my previous OHS and snatch form, I pressed my shoulders as high as possible and had them rolled forward, trying to make my neck disappear and shove my shoulders into my ears.  This isn't nearly as strong and you don't see any elite level lifters using it compared to retracting the shoulders, and tying them into the body to give the shoulders a strong foundation rather then having them floating with no structural support to tie into.  As you reach triple extension (hips, knees, ankles) and once your feet leave the ground, you are no longer able to elevate the bar any higher, although the bar will still be moving up at this point, you can't add to its height because you can't push off the ground ('its just science' one of the themes of the weekend).  It is at this moment your feet will slide out into the squat position that is a slightly wider stance, toed out approximately 30 degrees.

Everything is pretty much the same for the Clean Pull Position and 1st/2nd pull except for the narrower grip width.  This will also slightly effect the back angle, butt height, and bring the butt further from the bar.  Other then that its pretty much a repeat of the above for the Clean.

The Jerk:  Feet are the same as the pulling position but this is called the drive position.   You should not be squeezing the bar hard.  The bar should be adjusted so it is in the back of the palm, not on the fingertips like it will be when it is racked.  Elbows/forearms should be just in front of the bar and pulled out to the sides, not pulled in narrow.  The dip should not be real fast, if it is you'll lose contact with the bar as you dip and thus the effectiveness of the drive is decreased as the bar comes crashing back into the shoulders as you are already on the way up.  The dip should therefore be at a controlled speed and the torso should be kept upright.  The bar path should be as close to vertical as possible.  Move that face back to get it out of the way. As you drive up and your feet leave the ground, seperate them for the split, with the front (left foot for me) shin being almost vertical, and toe pointing forward when you land.  The rear leg should be bent and the foot should be on the toe, not flat.  The heel of your rear leg should be in line with your rear leg and thus will be toed in slightly.  Your feet should be approximately the same width apart as they are in the squat stance, thus giving you lateral stabilization.  Sink your hips down, keeping your weight even between the back and front leg.  You should be able to pick up and move your front foot in this position without shifting your weight.  If you can't then your weight is too far forward.  

I'm leaving so much out it is just silly.  Topics such as breathing.  The re-grip of the bar before you jerk it.  The bounce out of the bottom of the squat when cleaning.  And on and on.  My attempt at reproducing some of what I learned this weekend was rather futile.  A note should also be made that I put a bit of my own spin/interpretation on some of the above details as I don't remember verbatim everything that was taught.  This is to the best of my understanding what was taught.  I'm afraid I did a poor job with some of the details and probably got a few things wrong.  Hopefully Greg won't hunt me down and destroy me.  

Overall I enjoyed this weekend.  How could you not enjoy learning the OL with other like minded souls?  The class was 30 something athletes.  I believe all but 2 were crossfiters.  There were amazing athletes there including Jolie Gentry, Tamara Holmes (who I watched C&J 190lb for a PR), and Jocelyn Forest to name a few.  And of course the coaches are incredible athletes themselves.  Aimee Anaya is a national champion and can Snatch ~200lbs!  Greg has Snatched 302lbs and C&J 360 something (I hope those numbers are accurate).  Come on!  Thats just awesome.  

Lessons learned:  

I have weak quads.  You see I can power clean heavier then I can clean.  My Power Clean PR is 225lbs, Clean PR is 195lbs.  This is backwards.  Obviously I should be able to get under a heavier bar with a clean which isn't pulled high enough to power clean, by pulling myself under it into a full depth squat.  When I am at or near PR weight on my power clean, my feet go super wide, to get a little lower.  I also push my hips forward over my feet so that my back takes the brute of the weight, instead of the quads when receiving the bar in a standard power squat because my quads aren't strong enough.  Also my Power Clean is 225lbs and my Front Squat PR is 230lbs.  This is because of the emphasis on the posterior chain in my training (low bar back squats and deadlifts).  So relative to my front squat and olympic squat (which I've never done) I have a strong 1st and 2nd pull and I can get under a load that I am not strong enough to then recover from.  This apparently is a very common issue among the crossfiters that Amiee and Greg encounter.  So it looks like if I want to continue progressing with the Olympic Lifts one of the major areas I need to improve on is my quad strength which will largely be done by Olympic Squatting (high bar) and also by Front Squatting.

A little more flexibility for the bottom of the squat would be a good thing.  I need to spend some time regularly hanging out in the bottom of the squat in order to improve this position.

So I did work up to a max single rep C&J:

Clean and Jerk

135 x 2
155 x 1
175 x 1
198 x 1 (PR + 13lb)

The hardest part was the recovery (front squat portion of the clean).  The Jerk felt strong.  I could have tried heavier but decided to walk away with my 13lb PR and call it a weekend.  Not a bad way to end the seminar!

I now want to build an Olympic Lifting platform.  I also want to buy Werksan economy bumpers.  A Werksan training bar would be pretty sweet too!  I like my Pendlay training bar, but the Werksan bar was very cool.  Much more noticeable though was the difference between my wright bumpers, a set of black and a set of colored all in pounds, and the Werksan economy bumpers.  Even though they are the lowest end that Werksan carries, I thought they were slick!  Pendlay is coming out with some new bumpers though.  Actually his new training bumpers are out and some competition grade bumpers are in the works.  His prices trump everything else in a major way.  Tough to argue with those kinds of savings.  But its also tough to argue with the name, reputation and quality of Werksan.  We'll have to see what ends up happening with all that.

An argument can absolutely be made that the Snatch and Clean & Jerk are THE best lifts on the planet.  If I was forced to chose, I'd have a hard time choosing anything better.  The ability to pick up a heavy load and put it over head is certainly functional.  And the way these two lifts accomplish this produces such a powerful athlete.  More powerful then any other training you can find.  They will also make you wicked strong.  And flexible.  Maybe more so then any other worthwhile sport other then gymnastics.  And their complexity gives them that degree of timing, coordination, and balance that you don't get from most other movements in the gym. 

If you couldn't tell, I'm down with the sickness.  I've got the OL bug.  In short, I'm on the path to get better at the Olympic Lifts.  

I can't think of much else that will improve my fitness more then to spend some concentrated time to that end.  Just so happens that it also falls in line with working on my greatest weakness which is pressing strength.  Going overhead with heavy weight can only improve this.  I will continue doing my cash in and cash outs of ring dips and HSPU's to focus on two particular pressing weaknesses.  But alas, I believe its time I shift away from Crossfit Strength Bias for a spell.  I want to be clear though.  CFSB has been nothing but great for my fitness.  It has made me stronger.  It has improved my metcons.  I've really enjoyed it, which I find to be a very important component in a successful program.  By me switching to a cycle with an OL focus, it's not a knock on CFSB.  I plan on coming back to it in a few months.  I simply want to improve on these lifts.  I also have a documented case of "Icantstickwithaprogramforverylongitis" also commonly known as programming attention deficit disorder.  Therefore it suits me to switch things up a few times a year.  So I'm thinking of a 10 week cycle of the Catalyst Athletics WOD.  That will be 3 metcons a week so as to not loose all metabolic conditioning.  It is obviously focused around OL with the first 6 weeks being OL based  strength work and the final 4 weeks centered around the clean and jerk and snatch.  Should be an interesting journey.  I've written faaar too much then any one blogger aught to.  That is more then enough for now.

Thanks again to Greg and Aimee for a great weekend!  Now get on over to Catalyst Athletics and go to a seminar or check out their awesome website.  What a resource to the lifting community!


metric said...

Ah yes, I recognise you in the photo. :-)

Way cool AB, thank-you very much for posting that.
How does Greg's coaching style vary from Coach Burger's in the videos? Coach B is coming to NZ in November and I'm wondering how I can swing it, if nothing else because I want to learn how he teaches the lifts to a group.
I could see you getting hooked on the O. lifts, you've talked about wanting to improve them many times.

JAK said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

I can't really answer your question as I haven't yet had the pleasure of being coached by Coach B. But I do know that Burgener is Greg's mentor. I think the teaching style may be a little different, the progressions may vary slightly, but in general the content should be very similar. I would absolutely encourage you to go if there is anyway possible. You WONT regret it!!

Joel said...

Great post. I really need some Oly work, especially on the Snatch.

JAK said...

Thanks Joel. I think snatches are probably the most underdeveloped skill in most people's crossfit toolbox. I also think it is one of the BEST skills to have. I mean if I could pick only a couple of things to be great at within the fitness world, Snatching would be right near the top. Is that anti crossfit to want to excel at one thing? I'd say no, that the desire is to excel as much as possible at everything you do, right? I'd just rather have snatching as strength, not a weakness. So I'm right there with you at wanting to improve on them.