Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Storm

The Storm
Dedicated to Donny Shankle (no homo.)

He does not need to speak
He but stands
And the room goes quiet
He walks slowly
He is patient
He knows what is rightfully his
And will take it in due time
For he is the Lion
King of this jungle
His jungle
He stands calm
In the wind and rain
Teeth bared
Body tensed
He knows what belongs to him
And will take it in due time
He moves like lightning
His soul roars like thunder
A storm is coming
A storm is coming

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Improving the Split Jerk.

It's no secret that my split jerk sucks. A lot. I mean, with a PR clean of a pretty easy 137, my best competition legal clean & jerk is 118, and my best jerk off blocks is 125. Meanwhile, I have strict pressed 102. Seems legit.

With that said, I have made some effective changes to my jerk, so I figured I'd write a bit about stuff that's helped me improve. It is still a work in progress, so please comment on this post if you have further ideas that may help me/others jerk more and better (heh heh.)

Let's start with the obvious.

Are your positions good?

Before discussing what drills may or may not help improve your split jerk, you need to be sure you're not just doing it wrong. We'll work from the ground up.

Dip Drive:
-Is your weight in your heels? If you dip/drive on your toes, not only are you doing a poor job of engaging musculature (the posterior chain will see little to no involvement if you're off your heels,) you're also allowing the weight to come forward, and a forward lift is a missed lift.

-Are you dipping and driving on both feet (i.e. not favoring either side)? If not, you're not using as much muscle as you could be, and you're creating uneven force against the bar. Obviously not the most effective way to move weight.

-Are you dipping straight down, and driving straight up? Same as the first. Dip forward, drive forward, bar forward, miss forward.

-Are you keeping your shoulders pulled back hard? I bet you're starting to see a pattern here. If the shoulders aren't pulled back hard, your chest will collapse, and guess where the bar goes? Hint: not backwards, and probably not over your head.

-Are you allowing the weight to "sit heavy" on your shoulders (i.e. not trying to hold it in your hands or push against it with your hands to make it feel lighter)? This was a big one for me. I really held the bar in my hands and even though it was in contact with my shoulders, my arms were tensed and I was committed, whether consciously or unconsciously, to making it "feel light." Doesn't work. You WANT the bar to sit heavy across your shoulders, with the arms loose and relaxed. That way the legs can do their job without those pesky shoulders getting involved until it's their turn. Remember, the legs drive the bar up, the arms push you down.

Receiving Position (i.e. the split):

-Are your feet where they need to be? Consider both length of the stance (front to back) and the width of the stance (left to right.) If the stance is too short, you won't get under the bar. Too long (much less common, in my experience) and it's harder to get the hips and knees properly positioned, and it becomes harder to recover the bar. Too narrow, you will lack stability, too wide, and you end up in all kinds of weird positions, usually including the stance being too short. I found recently that my stance didn't need to be as long as I thought (particularly, my rear foot was too far back, making it hard to get my hips under my shoulders,) and it needed to be wider than I thought. Honestly, this is one thing where you very well may need a coach to take a look and tell you what needs fixing - that's what I needed, at least.

-Is your weight distributed correctly across your feet? There should be just slightly more weight in the front foot than in the rear foot.

-Are your heels turned out/hips internally rotated? If your heels are turned in/toes out, the hips will be in external rotation, and you're creating openings for the weight to push you out of position. The heels should be slightly turned out, and the femurs internally rotated, particularly on the rear leg. This will help "lock" you into place.

-Is your front shin slightly behind vertical/knees behind toes? Knee ahead of toes = missed lift. Keeping the shin slightly behind vertical helps ensure that the weight pushes you DOWN instead of forward (because what do we know about forward lifts?)

-Is your rear knee soft and the heel off the ground? If the rear leg is straight, then when the barbell pushes down on you, there's no give. So guess where you go? That's right, to that hateful "bar forward" place. Let that knee be soft. And if the heel is on the ground, it's a) unlikely that your knee is soft enough and b) VERY unlikely that the heel is turned out. Seriously, try it. If you can have your heel on the ground, turned out, and your knee bent to a reasonable degree (you need to have give,) you have some weird flexibility, man.

-Are your hips directly beneath your shoulders? If your hips are behind your shoulders, your torso is probably leaning forward, and there's that terrible word again. It also means that shoulders will probably be behind the bar, and that's no good.

-Are your shoulders directly beneath the bar? If not, the bar is likely forward. THIS IS A TREND IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T FIGURED IT OUT YET. Pretty much everything we do in the jerk, is done to ensure that the weight ends up squarely over the shoulders, which are squarely over the hips. The position and angle of the feet directly affects the position of the hips and legs, which affects the position of the torso and shoulders, which affects the position of the bar, which affects whether or not you make the lift, which affects how much you hate yourself at the end of the day.

I think that about covers it. Now onto drills and skills.

Stuff that might help

One thing I should get out of the way right off the bat: the biggest difference maker for me, was switching my grip. I used to jerk with the bar in my hands. This is probably optimal if you can do it, but I couldn't do it. I had the flexibility, but my natural inclination to press would completely take over. I dipped in poor position, didn't drive hard with my legs, and tried to lay back and get behind the bar. No worky. One day I decided to put my elbows higher and move the bar more towards my fingers, and almost immediately saw significant increases in the weights I could consistently jerk with pretty good, and legal, form. Not a chance in hell I would have managed 125 off the blocks with the bar in my hands. I was able to let the bar "sit heavy" more effectively, and stayed loose and relaxed through the arms. Again: for most people, it's probably optimal to have the bar in the hands (as long as you can also have it sitting across your delts,) but if you have a significant "press out" problem, especially one which occurs early (i.e., I would start pressing the bar around forehead level, not just at the top,) then give this a shot.

1) Press, push press, jerk from split. I got this one from Coach Pendlay, who got it from Donny Shankle when he brought it back from the OTC. This is a tremendous way to establish an understanding of what your position should be in the split jerk and how you should feel when receiving the bar. I ALWAYS warm up my jerk or C&J with this drill.

2) Behind the neck jerks. Particularly if you have problems with trying to press the jerk, because it's a whole lot harder to do from BTN. Much like moving the bar into the fingers can do, putting the bar behind your neck disincentivizes pressing because it puts you in a suboptimal position to do so. It can also help teach you to keep your shoulders back, weight on heels, and get a nice, straight dip and drive. I hope you have jerk blocks, because I don't, and let me tell you lowering the bar behind your neck SUCKS.

3) Clean + Jerk + Jerk from split. I don't go too heavy with this, and I never go to a point where my form isn't good. Doing the jerk after a clean is always good, since that's the contested lift, and I find that doing the jerk from split after a normal jerk helps me keep the position. I typically do this as I'm warming up my clean & jerk, and after 80-85, I switch to regular clean & jerk.

4) Timed sets. Light weight (I typically use 85.) Anywhere from 10-20 singles on the minute, preferably off blocks. Ideally your form will get better with each rep. Coach Pendlay said to me "the most important thing you can do for your jerk, is to do a lot more reps with weight you can do correctly." I took that to heart, and unsurprisingly it helped.

5) Mobilize your shoulders and thoracic spine. Seriously, if you're not mobile enough to get into good position in the first place, nothing else you do is going to matter. If you have no idea how to do this, head over to Mobility WOD, start with the very first post, and begin your journey to becoming a Supple Leopoard.

6) Rush it a bit. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but for some reason, if I very quickly begin the jerk after standing up the clean, I do better. Even if the clean felt heavy or I feel like I need more time, I just get onto my heels, pull my shoulders back, take a big breath and GO. This one is probably pretty individual, so give it a shot, and if you suck more than usual, discard it.

7) Focus on the legs. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But hey, it helped. Just really think to yourself "LEGS, LEGS, LEGS." Let your arms be loose and don't even think about them. Just try to send that bar FLYING with your hips and legs and then move your feet.

8) Try a belt. For some reason, the belt helped me a ton. Maybe it's just because jerks tend to make my lower back feel strained, so this may be totally irrelevant for you. But it seems to keep me from laying back and lets me get a more "solid" set-up for my dip and drive.

I think this pretty much covers the stuff that made the biggest changes for me. Post thoughts to comments.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I guess my back is going to get strong.

Welp, I'm not squatting heavy for the next 4-6 weeks, because it's beating the crap out of my knees, and adding 5kg to my squat isn't going to help my lifts any if my knees are too worn out to snatch and C&J consistently. I'm replacing my 3 days of squatting/week with RDLs on Monday, snatch pulls on Wednesday, and clean pulls on Saturday. Also I'm going to do a lot of pause lifts. Basically here is my training schedule, if you're into that kind of thing.

Snatch, heavy single
Pause snatch, 3 doubles (both reps from floor)
Clean & Jerk + Jerk from split, moderate single
Clean & Jerk, heavy single
Pause clean, 3 doubles (both reps from floor)

Drop snatch, heavy singles
Drop clean, heavy singles
Miscallaneous Bullshit

Snatch, heavy single
Pause snatch, heavy single
Clean + Jerk + Jerk from split, moderate single
Clean & Jerk, heavy single
Pause clean, heavy single
Snatch pulls

Friday AM
Snatch heavyish single
C&J heavyish single

Friday PM
Snatch to max
Clean & Jerk to max

No Hands/No Feet snatch, heavy singles
Snatch Grip Push Press, heavy singles and possibly drop down for some volume
Clean Pulls
Miscallaneous Bullshit

Basically my back is gonna be real tired all the fucking time.

I guess I'll talk about why I'm doing everything.

Heavy singles in snatch, C&J: I'm not explaining why I'm doing this.

Pause variations: improve strength in the second position, get better at sweeping bar, get better at bringing bar towards hips from second position and getting into/staying in my heels.

Clean & Jerk + Jerk from split: This just seems to make my jerk feel more solid.

Drop snatches/Drop cleans: improve receiving positions for the lifts. I don't think either of these are really good ways to develop speed under the bar (too different from pulling under,) but I'm hoping it will help make me more "rigid" when I catch the bar, and help me get better at catching the bar in the right place (more behind head on snatch, further back on shoulders on clean.)

Snatch pulls, clean pulls, RDLs: Well, I'm not squatting, so I need to do SOMETHING to get stronger.

No Hands/No Feet snatch: because it's fucking awesome. Encourages a smooth pull, hitting the positions correctly, and speed under the bar. I'm starting to feel like this drill is not only great for more experienced lifters, but as a teaching tool as well.

Snatch Grip Push Press: help stability in the receiving position for the snatch.

Miscallaneous Bullshit: Phase 1, do curls. Phase 2, ... Phase 3, PROFIT!

Training 2/6/2012
Snatch, 205#
Pause Snatch, 175#x2x3 (both reps from floor, missed 2nd rep of 3rd set but immediately reset and made it)
Clean & Jerk + Jerk from split, 185# (jerk from split was ugly
Clean & Jerk, 245# (cleaned 255#, no jerk)
Pause Clean, 225#x2x3 (both reps from floor)
RDL, 300#x3x3 (100% of clean)

1) Not squatting was a good decision. My knees felt better after training yesterday than they did before, and they still feel good this morning.
2) Fuck my left shoulder and left wrists, srslyuguyz.
3) When pause snatching, an exaggerated focus on pushing the bar back towards me after the 2 mississippi pause at the knee, led to my best lifts - caught ass on ankles with the bar well behind my head.
4) "rushing" into the jerk after standing up from the clean seems to help. Perhaps because I just don't "feel" the weight, or the stabilizing muscles aren't tiring out. Something like that.
5) pause work is hard
6) I hope girls like thick, pythonesque spinal erectors, because if the way I feel this morning is anything to go by, I'm going to be seeing some serious spinal hypertrophy.

This song makes me want to sneer like Johnny Cash at a bar loaded to a PR, snatch the fuck out of it, sit at the bottom and yell "COME AT ME BRO!" before standing it up and slamming it to the floor ala Jon North, and then giving everyone and everything around me a two finger salute.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Thoughts on the Power Variations.

I've been thinking about power lately. Specifically, the power variations of the lifts, i.e. the power snatch and power clean. This post is going to be a bit stream of consciousness, but I want to get these thoughts down, so forgive me. Or just, you know...don't read it.

First, to define the power variations: a lift is considered a power variation when at the point where the bar is caught – more specifically, the lowest part of the receipt of the bar - the crease of the hip joint is at or above the level of the top of the knee. In other words, if it would get red lighted for depth in a powerlifting meet, it's a power snatch/power clean.

There's a fairly widespread misconception about the Olympic lifts, at least in the U.S., that the primary goal is to get the bar as high as possible, rather than putting the focus on extending the hips and immediately retreating under the bar. "Hips and under, nothing in between," as Coach Pendlay puts it. But I feel like even lifters who understand that the idea is to get under the bar, not to get the bar up, often have trouble carrying this over to the power variations.

Because the lifter is limited in how deep he can receive the bar in the power snatch or power clean, it is ostensibly beneficial to pull the bar as hard and as high as possible. However, I think this is based on the assumption that the limiting factor is the lifters ability to pull the bar up. That's not the case. The limiting factor is the depth at which the lifter can receive the bar, and thus lifters tend to try to pull the bar higher. Seems obvious, I suppose, but thinking about it this way created a shift in thinking about the power variations, at least for me.

The case may be that when executing the power variations, a lifter may be able to use greater loads if they put more emphasis on getting the bar up. But will there be as great a carryover to the Olympic lifts? If so, why? I feel like pulling the bar higher means more time at the top of the pull, and worse timing, and my initial thought is that most lifters would be better off using lighter weights with better timing.

How about in the context of athletic performance?

These are not questions I know the answers to. Would like to hear some thoughts on the subject.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Importance of Context.

Pretty regularly, someone will ask me to "write them a few workouts." I used to oblige - after all, a few workouts is only a few minutes of work. But, these days I usually say no.

The problem is, programming without sufficient information about the athletes goals, athletic history, current training plan, injuries, strengths, weaknesses, etc - in a word, context - is weak sauce. It may work for your fat friend who has been on the couch for most of his adult life, because he just needs to get up and move, but for athletes? Not a chance.

When you program out of context, you risk interfering with the athletes planned training, aggravating injuries, failing to address necessary skill development, etc. Now, of course, the athlete can just change the programming you give them to suit their needs - but then what was the point of asking for programming in the first place?

Programming shouldn't be random. Varied, yes, random, no. Even my competitive CrossFitters only have a certain degree of randomness to their training. For most of their preparation period, they have a set structure wherein only the conditioning sessions are "random" (meaning they do not necessarily progress from one to the next.) In their sport specific phase, all their training is varied, but I am still ensure that they have a minimum and maximum frequency for everything they do (for example, an athlete in their sport specific phase for CrossFit competition may not squat heavy on the same day each week, but will certainly squat heavy at least once per week. Same goes for running workouts, snatch, pullup workouts, etc.) It'll be different for each athlete, but there are always general guidelines.

If you want to see some of my programming in action, check out my good friend and athlete Owen Satterley. His blog has good information and he logs his training there as well.

Training has been nothing special. I've pretty much just squatted a bunch and done some clean pulls, GHRs, etc. I'm paying for last Friday. I'm really focusing on improving internal rotation in my left shoulder - I seriously think if I can get it up to par, I will be snatching 110+ very soon. Some mobility stuff I've been using regularly:

LAX ball to anterior shoulder with arm in internal rotation (lie on floor, face down on top of LAX ball, reach arm behind back as if someone was twisting it)
LAX ball to lateral border of scapula, alternate from internal to external rotation
"Pitcher" stretch (See the first stretch in this video)
Thoracic mobilization on double LAX balls