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.