Leave a Dent On the World: Transitioning to Olympic lifting

I’ve been working with a student at Eastern that is trying to transition from power lifting to weight lifting. Before everyone who has actually witnessed my Olympic lifting technique start laughing, then gagging, and stop reading this give me a moment. This person is a good general athlete (meaning good body control and coachable). They have potential, but it will be interesting to see what happens since this is a hard road to go on. Let’s lay the framework where we are starting from first.

Foundation

This athlete has a good base. Yes, they are a powerlifter but in a lower weight class. This is good for two reasons; since they have a good aerobic base for a powerlifter, so they will be able to recover from exercise faster than if they were a full blown SHW (super heavy weight) powerlifter that has to waddle up to the bar and waddle back to their chair after each set. The other reason is obviously they have a good base of strength in general for total body, specifically with squatting and deadlifting. Furthermore this person is just athletic in general so teaching novel movements is not too much of a struggle and they haven’t been taught much in the Olympic lifts previously so they have few bad habits that need to be fixed from the start.

Limitations

The big limitation is mobility. Specifically in the hips and ankles to fully sit in to the bottom of the squat. This is an issue since with powerlifting you just need to hit parallel, but Olympic lifting requires you to drop lower. Also, her shoulders are a bit tight from benching so mobility to loosen up the shoulders is required. Specifically her ability to hit thoracic extension and to allow her lats to release so she can hit a better overhead position.

Programming

This is training for Olympic lifting, not Crossfit. So the first rule is that no set will have more than three reps. Why? Because our goal is movement quality not quantity. Think about if you were to do a very precise movement say for example a cart wheel if you don’t have much gymnastic experience. If you try and throw thirty of them in a row without taking a break the first few might look good, but by the end you are more likely to screw yourself up than anything else. With fatigue your movement quality is always going to decrease.

So after warming up with general stretching and barbell complexes (I use a variation of the Bergner warm up and the JTLC from Justin Thacker), the first set with actual weight will be for a set of three and possibly so will the second. After that the goal is doubles (two reps) ascending to where technique starts to decline and then either drop back down for more high quality reps or switch to singles and do a bit more work there. This is the slow cooker approach where we will slowly increase her training weights, but do so without sacrificing technique. I like to slowly add load to the point where we start to have some technical issues. If you only work with an empty bar for your Olympic lifting when the weight gets heavy you will find you are having huge problems with technique. As the bar weight gets closer to your body weight and start to exceed it, not only does your margin for error decrease, but the technique you have to employ moving around the bar also changes.

Altogether I only let her do 25 total training reps each day. This is based on a bit of Prilipen programming, but also the fact that once again the goal is perfect technique. So by having a cap of how many reps she can perform limits rushing the attempts and increases focus on each repetition.

This Friday her programming for snatch went as follows: 3×3 warm up weights followed by 3×2 and then 10×1 taking about a minute to two minutes between each set. Altogether this gives her a total of 25 completed reps in which she increased her PR in the movement. In the future we will likely decrease the total number of reps. This will not go lower than only 15 reps per session, and I’m wary of going over 25 just due to that volume will likely see a decrease in technique. Keep in mind that she is in shape, if she wasn’t in as good of shape I would have her do less reps per session.

Movements

The goal with Olympic lifting is mastery of the snatch and clean & jerk. For now we have a number of mobility flaws and lack of mastery of technique that I’m working around trying to build good habits. So she is doing the classical movements, but they are slightly modified. For example on the snatch we are doing one good pull from the ground and then she hang snatches the weight followed by overhead squatting it. This is for a number of reasons. She simple pulls the weight with good technique so we don’t rush her pull from the floor and get her out of a good position. This allows her to be aggressive on her hang snatch which she then catches aggressively. Her overhead squat is still shaky and needs work so hence no matter where she catches the snatch I have her pause there and then squat down and stand up. This helps build that technique in the portions of the movement that are lacking. Eventually she will snatch from the floor, but only after her pull from the ground becomes clean enough to move forward with (if you can’t do it right slow is going faster with a movement going to solve your problems?). Here are some example reps from her training: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkUKcc0LYhc  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmCPe_E-BRw

For the clean and jerk she is cleaning from the ground since her movement is good here. She then hits a hang clean and does one front squat. Her front squat and catch position is good, it is her bar turnover and catch that needs help so hence we do two catches (sometimes three). From there her jerk catch is good, but her leg drive needs work (knees buckle), so she does two jerks and really focuses on jumping the weight up.

Summary

So this is a basic approach of taking a powerlifter and then working them in to being an Olympic weightlifter. We will slowly progress this basic frame work not really aiming to max out each time, but allowing her to move up as high as she can before technical failure. I hope that this makes some sense and is useful for anyone reading this. Another aside is that fact that for the sake of both of our schedules we do all of this work on one day. In a perfect world I would like her to be training this three or four times per week as a way to get more exposure to the movements and hence learn them faster. That would require decreasing the volume of the movements though so we don’t over stress the athlete. If you have any questions or anything you want me to elaborate on please just let me know. Thanks again for reading.

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