In any athletic event, winning is at least partially determined by how much discomfort you can tolerate. Some sports are well known for producing discomfort. Everyone can imagine how the athlete must feel at the end of an endurance event like a marathon. But shorter events can be miserable too. Many consider wrestling to be the toughest sport. I certainly remember my high school wrestling days and the how bad I hurt at the end of a match or a particularly tough practice.
But weightlifting has its own special brand of misery. There is truly nothing quite like it. The lifts don’t take that long, and they usually aren’t, or shouldn’t be, painful. Misery in the sport of weightlifting isn’t in the competitive event, it is in the training and it is all about fatigue. It is not the sharp pain of a pulled muscle, but the dull ache, the bone crusing ache, of fatigue. To become good at this sport you have to learn to live with that ache, and continue to train and push yourself anyways. You have to get to the point where you actually like it.
In the end, this is what is going to determine your success. Whether you can shoulder yet another set of squats and start to descend on the first rep even though you know the misery that has to happen before you can rack the bar. Whether you can jump under a clean or snatch with absolutely NO hesitation even though you are scared to death. The mental challenges of weightlifting are at least as great as the physical ones. And when you reach your goals you will find that although your physical changes are huge, your mental changes are even greater.
The Pendlay WOD uses deadlifts. I know some coaches do not, preferring to use the clean or snatch pull. This was my opinion for much of my coaching career. In fact for much of my career I used mostly the snatch and clean to build pulling strength without using either pulls or deadlifts at all. What changed my opinion? Well to put it simply, drugs! Many of the elite lifters that we all admire and love to emulate use them. For a variety of reasons, we do not. I do not intend to discuss the reasons behind this “double standard” or how or why it came to be, but this is the reality of the situation as it now stands.
The fact is, performance enhancing drugs assist one thing, strength. They do not help you build great motor patterns or great technique, they simply make you stronger. And for many lifters using PED’s simply doing the correct amount of snatches and clean and jerks ensures that for them, strength will never be the limiting factor in their lifts. This is not true for most clean lifters. Strength is almost ALWAYS the limiting factor for any lifter who is not using PED’s. If you do not think you could snatch more weight if both your snatch grip deadlift and your back squat were 20kg higher, you are lying to yourself.
Once you arrive at the conclusion that being stronger on the pull will assist you in snatching and cleaning more, ask yourself what will build that strength faster, the snatch grip deadlift, or the snatch pull? Snatch grip deadlifts are generally done heavier and with a slower bar speed because they are based off of your snatch deadlift maximum. Snatch pulls are generally based off your snatch maximum, which for many lifters nearly unrelated to your maximum snatch grip deadlift. A really efficient lifter like James Tatum might be able to snatch 70% of his snatch grip deadlift, while many beginners might not be able to do 40%. Basing the programming of one of your most important strength exercises off of a guess such as this is asking for failure. Now it is true that you could do the same motion of the snatch pull, with weights far in excess of your snatch, and achieve the same amount of tension, and the same bar speed as the snatch deadlift. But why rely on a guess?
Why not just accept that it is a deadlift. A slower, heavier movement than the snatch or snatch pull. Snatch and clean deadlifts are programmed similarly to the back squat. The main difference being that I will use less volume for the deadlifts, and I generally limit their use to the first half of a training cycle. So in an 8 week training cycle, you will use the snatch deadlift for about the first 4 weeks, and switch to the snatch pull usually with far less weight for the second 4 weeks. Deadlifts are not for those only interested only in quick progress. Deadlifts take a while to recover from, and adding deadlifts to your routine probably won’t increase your maximum today, or tomorrow. But if you are willing to put in a few weeks of work and then recover from it, they will make your total go up. Getting stronger always does.
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.
The summer weightlifting camp just started today, and my house is already filled with napping weightlifters. Many people look at naps as a sign of laziness, but for a hard training athlete naps and just generally learning to take it easy is absolutely crucial. None other than Paul Anderson said that a lifter should never stand when he could sit, never sit when he could lay down, and never lay down when he could sleep. And Anderson seemed to know what he was talking. He won Olympic gold and become the strongest squatter in history.
If you are not willing to rest and recuperate, training hard is a waste of time. This camp is a great break from the real world of job’s, responsibilities, kids, etc. It is a week in a make believe world where an athlete can focus on themselves and approach life and each day of training as if they were a professional athlete with nothing to do but train and recuperate.
I really believe most lifters really need an experience like a training camp at some point in their career. Not that you are going to make enough progress in the 1 or 2 weeks of the camp to propel yourself to the top of the rankings. You won’t. What you might do is learn how hard you can push yourself and what your real limits are. and that is far more valuable.
One of the lifters coming to the camp this week ask me what to expect. My answer is, the same type of training I have used for years. When the lifters show up, we are going to jump right in and train heavy. I use a wide variety of exercises but they are usually variations of the competitive lifts, and we almost always go as heavy as possible. So snatches from the hip, the knee, and the floor as well as cleans or clean and jerks from those positions. We will also do complexes consisting of one snatch or clean pull plus one snatch or clean and jerk. We might add in snatches or cleans with a pause, or snatch or clean pulls with a slow negative.
For most of the lifters this camp will consist of 14 or 15 training sessions consisting of at least 10 different exercises. If this camp is anything like previous camps there will be multiple PR’s set every single workout. And one thing that always surprises the athlete, while they will feel like crap by day three or four, they will keep performing and keep making PR’s.
Even at the Christmas camp, which was a full two weeks, athletes were still making new PR lifts right up until the last day. Whether they felt good or bad, they were often able to perform maximal lifts when asked. Jon North used to say that this was what he liked about me as a coach, the fact that I did not put limits on him as an athlete. He was right about that, and the reason I don’t is I don’t know when a lifter will have a huge day and when they will have a terrible day. I might suspect that they are tired and wont lift well, or I might suspect that they will be strong that day, but I don’t know for sure. And the only way to tell for sure is to warm up and try it. So twice a day for the next 7 days we will be trying to make new PR’s. Wish you could be here!