I was talking to Donny Shankle on the phone last night, and the conversation meandered from our Wichita Falls days and Ayn Rand all the way to current fads in weightlifting. There is one fad that we not only hate, but both think is as dangerous to big totals as ebola. This idea is purposefully letting (or pushing) the bar out in front of you during the pull. Purposefully looping the bar.
One of the few things that all coaches agree on is that the bar should be as close as possible to your thigh as you pull. Some start the bar right off the floor a minimal distance in front of the shin to aid in straightening the bar path off the floor, but it should ALWAYS be touching or almost touching once it passes the knee. And it should stay close. The Chinese are the best at this. On many Chinese lifters there is virtually NO gap between the bar and their skin the whole pull. And because the bar has no horizontal motion coming back into the hip, it also doesn’t bounce out from the hip. The typical Chinese lifter has an incredibly straight bar path. An American that does this as well as the Chinese is James Moser. There are some bar path representations of James snatching at various meets floating around. Look at one and you will see a bar path that is almost perfectly vertical. Keeping the bar right up against the leg and body as it travels up the thigh and into the hip is one of the keys to a bar path without that big loop after the hip extension in the second pull.
One person has said that pulling with the bar away from the thigh allows you to get a bigger “pop” or explosion on the second pull. This is nothing but an illusion. Illusions don’t count for much when it is time to calculate the total. If the bar is away from the thigh as it approaches the hip and the second pull, it will also bounce out away from the body AFTER the second pull. And THAT is no illusion. It is simple physics. A bar path that deviates forward from vertical as little as possible is a key to efficient lifting. Vertical is consistent. Vertical is strong.
Just like ebola purposefully looping the bar is dangerous. This idea should be killed wherever it is found.
Louie Simmons said something to me several years ago that resonated with me. He said “Glenn, I have lived the life of a samurai”. What I believe he meant by that is that he had devoted his life to one thing. Louie’s one thing is strength, and the development of strength. He became a master in the development of strength, his one thing. I do not pretend to compare myself to Louie, but I have pursued one thing in a similar fashion. My one thing is weightlifting, the snatch and clean and jerk. I have given up a lot in pursuit of my “one thing”. A marriage, a successful business, and many of my friends. Even my relationship with my son has been strained almost to the breaking point. I have walked away from everything that didn’t fit in with my pursuit of producing a bigger total in an American weightlifter.
From time to time I question if it has been worth it, or if it will ever be worth it. I have one friend who I believe is as obsessed as I am with weightlifting. Donny Shankle and I have never spoken about the subject in these terms but even without speaking about it I know he would understand perfectly. He would understand because he is as obsessed as I am. Just the fact that a like-minded person is out there makes life easier somehow.
I continue to believe that if you succeed at doing one thing really, really well everything will work out. Your life will have been worthwhile. Your life will have been a success.
The Pendlay WOD is programmed in 8-week training cycles. I do it this way because this length of cycle works the best for the most people. Training cycles work for a simple reason. Neither the human body nor the human psyche react well to monotony. We thrive on change, particularly when it comes to stress. So we constantly change the stressor. On the competition weightlifting movements, every week brings a change in the intensity and the volume. We also do variations of the weightlifting movements such as the power variations, or lifts from the knee or the hip. While the competition movements are done weekly with moderate intensity, we do the variations with high intensity, often going right up to our maximum. We can do this indefinitely because we change which variation we are using every week or two. The combination of doing the actual competition lifts with moderate intensity and different variations with maximal intensity while regularly changing the variation works. But it is only half the story, or actually 1/3 of the story. Doing only the snatch and clean and jerk doesn’t make an effective program.
As amazing as an exercise like the snatch is, it is not all that effective for building maximal strength and muscle. For that, we have to do movements like the squat and deadlift. Ideally the exercises that we use to build strength and muscle will work the body through the same or similar ranges of motion as the weightlifting movements but will use much heavier weight and therefore slower bar speed. The exercises that work the best are the back squat, the deadlift, and the front squat. The use of training cycles is even more important for continual progress on the squat and deadlift than it is for the snatch and clean. Each 8-week cycle on the Pendlay WOD moves the athlete from higher volume training on the squat and deadlift at the start, to lower volume and higher intensity by week 8. Each 8-week cycle should end with PR sets in the squat and deadlift as well as PR lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk.
The combination of moderate competition lifts and maximal lifts on a variety of variations is 1/3 of story, an effective strength program is another third, and the final piece of the puzzle is something that few weightlifters like to do. Assistance exercises like glute-hamstring raises, back extensions, hip extensions and other similar things done for sets of 10 at the end of every training session. No one likes to do these exercises. No one looks forward to their time on the GHR. But just because they are not fun doesn’t mean we don’t do them. Exercises like the back extension and hip extension build muscle and strength where we need it most, in the back, hips, and hamstrings. They also build tolerance to workload and enable an athlete to handle MORE squats, snatches, and clean and jerks. With each successive 8-week cycle you get stronger in the snatch and clean, stronger in the squat and deadlift, as well as in better shape and able to handle a higher workload.