Getting out of the hole, part 2

Previously we discussed why monster squat strength alone will not guarantee successfully rising from a clean.  What is the secret?  My humble opinion is that a mixture of training for maximal strength and specific strength is the key, to building enough “usable” strength to rise from a clean.  We will talk about the technique component in another post.  Let’s face it, when the average athlete does a maximal back squat set, whether it is a set of 5 or a single, there is usually nothing specific about the positions and speed of the movement.  Very little is in common with either the competitive lifts in weightlifting or with any other athletic endeavor.  This does not mean that there is no value to this, just that it is the BASE for usuable strength, and not a demonstration in and of itself of usuable athletic strength.

It is easy to say that the “secret” is a mixture of two things, but harder to specifically program training in this way.  I would like to demonstrate the actual squat routines of two lifters who are both quite accomplished at the clean and jerk, and both effecient enough to clean and jerk about what they can front squat, and about 80% of their back squat.

Sammi Nichols is a tall, thin, 14 year old girl, and has some problems gaining leg strength.  To make measurable gains on her squat, it is neccessary to prioritize squatting in her training for some time.  I usually start with a number that I think is reasonable for a clean and jerk goal in the next major competition, settle on the squat that will be neccessary to accomplish this, then on the top squat set of 5 that will be neccessary to accomplish squat single goal.  Recently, the clean and jerk goal was 80-82kg, the squat I thought was neccessary to accomplish this was 100kg, and the best set of 5 needed to accomplish this was 90kg.  The relationship of these numbers depends on the individual lifter, but having coached Sammi for 5 years I thought this was about right for her.  Sammi spend about 4 weeks getting to 80kg for 5 sets of 5 on the squat, about 2 more weeks getting to 90kg for one set of 5, and three weeks to get from that set of 5 to a 100kg single.  It should be noted that all of these numbers were significantly above her previous personal records, and the training required to improve to these numbers meant there wasnt much left over for snatch and clean and jerk.  Sammi was rarely able to succeed with more than 80-85% of her previous best on the competitive lifts during this time.  Once the 100kg squat was achieved, squatting became an exercise in retaining strength and building speed, instead of building strength.  Squatting was done less frequently (none at all some weeks) and when it was done, it was usually with 75-80kg done rapidly and with a concentration on bouncing out of the bottom and coming up quickly like a clean recovery.  In the weeks prior to the Arnold, her performance on the snatch and clean and jerk improved, the squat strength was maintained but with much improved speed on “medium” weights, and the meet ended with a very smooth 80kg clean and jerk.  

Caleb Ward is a 16 year old 105kg lifter, and sometimes superheavy.  Like Sammi, he clean and jerks about 80% of his best back squat, but unlike her he doesnt need any sort of special squat training to increase his leg strength.  Since Caleb has an easier time with leg strength, taking periods of training to concentrate on it at the expense of training the competitive lifts would be a waste of time and an impediment to progress.

The main training that Caleb does on the back squat is quick sets of 3-5 reps with weights around his clean and jerk maximum, with the goal to move the weight at the same speed and rythm of the clean.  We base the weight more on the speed of the bar than anything else, if 160 is moving too slowly we will go to 150kg, if it seems too easy we will go to 170kg.    Periodically, we will take a heavier set of 3 or 5 one week, one near maximum or maybe even at a personal record weight, then the next week go to a heavy single, again, near maximum or at a new personal record depending on how he looks.  About 3 weeks before the Texas State Championship, Caleb made a 200kg squat, and at the meet he cleaned 160kg rather easily, then locked out the jerk only to lose it forward.  Calebs next major goal is to clean and jerk 400lbs, or 182kilos, and to do that he will need a 500lb or 227kg back squat.  If he continues to increase his back squat on schedule like Sammi, his training will remain the same.  If this proves impossible, then he will have to undergo some “specialized” training that is seperated from the planned competition by enough time to develope the speed and timing neccesary to utilize that squatting strength on the competitive exercises.  


9 responses to “Getting out of the hole, part 2

  • pauge

    when “specializing” in this type of scenerio how are you gauging what volume is appropriate for your lifter to train or should I say practice their comp. lifts if any?

    Being a specialist in not specializing I would tend to lean toward a days max effort in the planned training goal. Be it bar speed or just pure maximal strength, but I’m keen on hearing your perspective!


  • pauge

    Secondly I assume you are using a high bar back squat?

  • JR

    I am new to weightlifting from a fair amount of success in powerlifting, espcially the deadlift, so I am uncertain of an exact training protocal that mixes the strength and competition type exercises effectively for OL. I can tell from reading these articles that you have a great knowledge of the balance of training the different aspects of lifting, if you could give me an idea of a program or point me in the direction of one I would really appreciate it.
    Thanks, JR

  • Koing Chea

    “it was usually with 75-80kg done rapidly and with a concentration on bouncing out of the bottom and coming up quickly like a clean recovery.”

    Bouncing out of the bottom for a squat?

    Also shouldn’t the focus of squating up fast ALWAYS be the case with squats anyway? I always have lifters squat up as fast as possible regardless of the weight.

    Timing is critical in the Cleans. A comp last year my timing was messed up and I missed Cleaning 126Kg on the way up. A few months later I Clean 135Kg without too much effort. Timing is critical in the Clean and catching the bar correctly.

  • glenn


    When gauging the neccessary volume of snatch and clean and jerk training to do while specializing on squat strength, I usually follow the 80-90% rule. If an athlete can consistently do more than 90% of their maximum on the competitive lifts, we can do them less and concentrate more on whatever we are specializing on. If an athlete cannot succeed with 80%, then we need to maintain more work on the snatch and clean and jerk, and cannot concentrate quite so much on squat. If they can succeed weekly with weights somewhere in the 80-90% range, we are on the right path.


  • glenn

    and yes, high bar squats.

  • glenn


    Lots of knowledgeable coaches have tried to answer that question. Programs from Medvedev, Ajan, and others specify things like 60% strength work, and 40% technique work at some periods, and 30% stregnth work and 70% technique work in others.

    Personally, I dont subscribe to the notion that training can be this simple. It is different for each athlete. The snatch and clean and jerk need to go up, and the squat needs to go up. You need to do enough of each to make this happen.

    For some lifters at certain stages in their career, one set of 5 on the squat (after warmup) done a couple of times a week is all that is needed to keep the strength levels ahead of the snatch/clean ability. For other lifters, there are times when the vast majority of effort must be expended to increase strength.

    For the individual lifter, I would suggest that do an honest assessment of what is holding you back, strength or technique. If it is strength, increase the time and effort you spend on strength exercises. If you have the leg and back strength to clean and jerk 150kg but are only able to do 120kg, stop squatting so much, and work more on the clean!

    I wish it was as simple as an assigned percentage, but I dont think it is. It is a question that each lifter must answer for themselves.

  • glenn


    Yes, when squatting with weights similar to the maximum clean, I believe you should try to descend and ascend just like a clean, including the bounce out of the bottom.

    Timing is critical on the clean, and one of the reasons a huge backsquat doesnt guarantee the ability to rise.


  • Stian Sundvold

    How would you approach converting from powerlifting to weightlifting?

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