WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS
PART IV: STRENGTH -Legs
Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5
From the first article, “Work Your Weak Areas”:
Strength – You may have really good technique with lighter weights, but as the weight gets heavier, do you have the strength to hold the correct positions? Are you not able to keep the back and shoulders in the correct position when the bar is at the knees due to poor posterior chain strength? Do you lack the overall leg strength for proper pulling power or to recover from those heavy cleans? Do you have the technique to get under those snatches in a quick, efficient manner but lack the overhead strength to support the weight?
In Part III, we dealt with Strength, but specifically about the Pull and its variations as well as RDLs. Now in this article, Part IV, we will continue with discussion on Strength, but focusing on Leg strength.
Clean Deadlifts: Yes, I include this exercise in the Leg category but, of course, it could be in the Pull category. The reason I put it in the Leg category is the slightly different way I like the deadlift to be performed. If it is done correctly, I want it to match up with the same technique that we want if the lifter is going to be doing a full pull and that means focusing on the legs with the force driving into the floor. The back stays tight throughout and the bar movement ends at the power position with no back arch at the top at all. So, as the bar comes off the floor, the knees extend and then they re-bend to get into the power position. This keeps the legs the focus and keeps the back under constant tension, thus building more strength. Again, the finish position is the key. Unlike a powerlifters deadlift where the shoulders start going back almost immediately after the bar passes the knees, weightlifters want to stay over the bar with the shoulders longer and end up in the power position.
Back Squats: As we all know, good weightlifters have big squats! They are the base of all the strength that is needed for weightlifting (and all sport for that matter!) Just check out any of the many youtube videos out there of the top weightlifters in the country and around the world and you will see some huge weights being lifted (and usually quite easily!) The leg, hip and back development needed for a strong support structure for weightlifting as well as all sports is taken care of in this one major exercise.
High bar vs Low bar: Definitely High bar! It puts the body in a more sport specific position and relates more muscle development needed for weightlifters. Just check out the leg development and massive backs of the top lifters. They all are doing high bar squats and getting the benefits of that technique. Particularly if you are working with athletes from other sports, I believe that the high bar puts them in a more athletic position.
How strong do your Back Squats have to be?: Some coaches say you can never be too strong, some coaches say you should be able to squat at least double your bodyweight. All this is well and good, but the question is, do you have sufficient strength to be able to snatch and clean and jerk more? For instance, if you are squatting 200kg but only clean and jerking 120kg, then, guess what, Squat strength isn’t your issue! This should give you an indication that something in either the clean or the jerk is holding you back, but it certainly isn’t your back squat strength. As a very general rule of thumb, the c&j should be about 80% of your back squat. So, in the example just given, the lifter squatting 200kg should, in theory, be able to c&j 160kg. I use these calculations as a ballpark figure to help determine how to set up training. In that example, I wouldn’t eliminate squats from the program altogether, but I would just de-emphasize them in the program. Instead of squatting 4 times per week, I would drop it to maybe 2 times per week. That allows for more energy to be placed on getting the lifts moving with more emphasis on the clean and jerk. On the other hand, if the c&j is 80% or higher of the Back Squat, then by all means, make improving the squat a major emphasis!!
Variations of Back Squats:
Pause Squats: We do a lot of Pause squats in our programming. In this way, we are doing the concentric and eccentric movement, but the emphasis is on the 3 second pause (or isometric) in the bottom of the movement. This really emphasizes staying tight in the bottom and getting up with no momentum or bounce. We use the same percentages as for regular back squats, but this just adds some great intensity for overall strength. Sometimes we only pause on the first rep of each set, sometimes we pause on each rep.
5 Stop Squats: Again, emphasizing the isometric part of the movement, this time there is a 2 second pause at 5 different positions on the descent. As the lifter starts the descent there is a stop, another stop, then a 3rd stop (just above parallel)), 4th stop (at parallel) and the final stop is in rock bottom. After that stop, blast out of the bottom with as much speed as can be mustered (which probably won’t be much, by the way). Typically, only 70-80% can be used in this exercise and the reps and sets are limited, usually 3-4 sets of 1-2 reps.
¼ Squats : We get inside a rack and just load it up!! Not many reps (4-5 sets of singles) and usually at the end of the workout, but this exercise is an awesome way to get the feel of the heavy weights and really working on the tight core necessary for all lifts.
Eccentric Back Squats: We absolutely love Eccentric squats. This is one of the best ways to build strength. There will be a lot more detail on how to incorporate these lifts into the training in the next article by Chris Taber, but I can vouch for how effective this type of training can be when done correctly.
Front Squats: Most people consider the Back Squat to be the most essential for the pull whereas the Front Squat is more essential for getting out of the bottom of the clean as quickly and easily as possible. The easier the recovery from the clean, the easier the jerk tends to be.
That being said, in order for the recovery from the clean to be as efficient as possible, Front Squats and the clean “rack” position need to be the same. It can be very frustrating for a lifter to have a huge front squat yet can only clean way less than that. The pull for the clean has to be efficient so that the receiving position is the same as the front squat.
How strong does your Front Squat need to be?: Bottom line is do you get out of the bottom of the clean easily? If you happen to get stuck in the bottom of a clean and have to sit there for a few seconds before coming up, can you still do it pretty easily? For the most part, the front squat should be about 85% of your back squat, but the relationship between clean and front squat is even more important. Basically, you should be able to front squat 10-15% more than you plan on cleaning. It depends somewhat on whether you are a lifter who relies more on strength or more on technique, speed and flexibility.
I really like the “Kono-ism” (Tommy Kono back in the day really hit home with some of his training tips) where he said that whatever a lifter plans to clean and jerk, they should be able to front squat that weight for a triple. One rep for the pull, one rep for the recovery from the clean and one rep to have enough “oomph” left for a solid jerk. Over the years, I found this to be pretty true in almost all cases.
Variations of Front Squats:
All of the variations we use with Back Squats are utilized with Front Squats as well
Pause Squats 5 Stop Squats ¼ Front Squats Eccentric Front Squats:
The toughest part of doing the variations in the front squat position is the breathing. Make sure the core stays tight throughout and hold the breath for the duration. Lower reps and less time under tension will help if the lifter gets a bit light headed.
In the next article, Chris Taber goes into the details of Eccentric Training for increasing squat strength. Then, in upcoming articles, the emphasis will be for Overhead Strength.