Exercises for Improving the Snatch

This article examines how to build a training program for improving the Snatch beyond the initial technique learning stage. Making continued progress requires an understanding that it is fundamentally necessary that an athlete develop all the physical and mental abilities required in the snatch – technique, speed, power, timing, stability, balance, flexibility, will-power and confidence. It is a gross over-simplification to think all that is necessary is to just get stronger.

Relative proportions of volume and intensity spent on Snatch exercises
Figure 1: Relative proportions of volume and intensity spent on Snatch exercises

In Figure 1 above, the relative size of circles depicts the distribution of training volume and effort between various groups of exercises for improving the snatch. The small circles indicate the training intensity (effort) while the larger circles depict the training volume. Thus, figure 1 depicts the dominance of two exercise groups for improving the Snatch – the Power Snatch group and Snatch Pull group (see Figure 2 below for examples of exercises in these groups). There are a number of reasons why variations of the power snatch tend to predominate over variations within the full snatch group for most of the year round. Firstly, as a lifter progresses beyond their first year of training experience, technique tends to stabilise and more time can be spent developing power and strength. Secondly, all Weightlifters must focus on developing the “finish” of the pull. Exercises in the power snatch group and snatch pull group will be more effective in developing power in the finish of the pull. Thirdly, if an athlete overly concentrates on full movements all the year around, chronic knee soreness may arise.

Exercise groupings for Power Snatch and Snatch Pull
Figure 2: Exercise groupings for Power Snatch and Snatch Pull

Furthermore, Figure 1 also provides an indication of the useful intensities in each exercise group. Thus, for example, the most prevalent intensity in the Snatch Pull group is likely to be 110%, then there should also be significant volume at the 105% and 115% intensity, and then smaller training load at the 100% and 120% level.

Other Exercises for Improving the Snatch
Figure 3: The exercise group that includes overhead squat and snatch balance can very beneficial for improving the Snatch by developing overhead confidence.

However it should not be construed that the other two exercise groups (Snatch group and Other Exercises group) are not important. Quite the contrary, it is fundamentally important to spend a great deal of time on these exercises to perfect technique, timing, speed and confidence in movement under the bar while securing weights overhead in deep squat positions. While there may be conjecture amongst coaches about the usefulness of exercises in the “Other” group (see figure 3) for improving the Snatch, these exercises can be greatly beneficial for many lifters in developing overhead confidence and positional correctness, and in the case of Snatch Balance, speed under the bar. The “No Heave” Snatch Balance is performed by simply dropping into the receiving position without any push of the bar upwards up.

Figure 4 below aims to portray the volume of training across the whole spectrum of intensity. In terms of improving the Snatch, it is important to use the full range of intensities  between 60% and 125%. As the following illustration depicts, the lightest end of the intensity range (60-70%) is important for developing speed and the heaviest end (115-125%) is for developing force (strength). The range (80%-110%) is where most training occurs. This intensity range is much needed to develop power (a combination of speed and strength).

Intensity spectrum for pull exercises for improving the Snatch
Figure 4: Pulls with weights more than 100% of personal bests on Olympic Lifts are an important part of the training program for experienced weightlifters

The really important principle is that proper attention and effort should be paid to training over the whole of the intensity spectrum. By proper attention, it is meant that the quantity, proportion and frequency of training done at the various intensities from 60-125% must be closely managed. By proper effort, it is meant that athletes need to know and understand the purpose of training at all of the intensity spectrum so that they will be consistent in their application of effort.

So often, athletes fall into a number of traps:

Trap 1: “Lighter intensities are just warm-ups!” It is common to see athletes perform lighter intensities very poorly in terms of technique and speed as if these sets do not matter. They absolutely do!

Trap 2: “Power snatches are just an exercise you do when you give full snatch a rest!” No, power snatches are a critically important exercise that enables the athlete to really focus on speed, power and technique of the pull. The exercise is also saving of knee soreness for those who are sufferers. Improving the snatch really requires the athlete to really get a move on with the power snatch. New personal bests in the power snatch are an indicator that improvement in the snatch may be in the pipeline.

Trap 3: “Pulls are not that important, 5-6 sets should be enough!” Since pulls (all variations) should in total be about 20% of all training, an athlete should be performing a minimum of 8 sets in a session (intermediate experience) and 10-12 sets (advanced athletes). There is no rule that says an athlete cannot perform two variations of pulls in a single session.

Trap 4: “I like to train on the snatch more than the clean & jerk (because the clean & jerk is too hard)!” You have to be good at both lifts, its completely unavoidable. It is common to see lifters spending 30-35% of their entire session on the full Snatch, and more in some cases. Such a strategy tends to cause the lifter to “plateau” and if they are in a habit of lifting to maximum on a regular basis, with frequent failures, then they may even go backwards. The problem for many lifters is that too much time is spent in the 85-95% part of the intensity spectrum results in damage done to confidence and technique and a failure to take opportunities to develop speed, power and strength.

Trap 5: “I don’t bother much with snatch balance or snatch squats (overhead squats)!” This is a very common error. It is critically important to develop a stable and CONFIDENT receiving position. Take a good look at experienced elite-level athletes and notice that they all have excellent receiving positions. No-one is going to have any confidence moving under a heavy bar if they have inadequate strength overhead and a poor receiving position.

Apart from the need for constant attention to technical perfection in all movements, Weightlifting is obviously a sport where the accumulation of great strength and power over time is completely important. To this end, the weightlifter must spend much effort and time developing “the pull”  by using to best advantage the whole intensity spectrum from 60-125%. The Weightlifter should endeavour to realise that all lifts in this intensity spectrum play an important role in developing the expert performer. Great attention should be paid to correct body positions and movement irrespective of the exercise and the intensity.

The Path to High Performance: Part 2

In Path to High Performance: Part 1, the article identified four challenges that an athlete in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting will face. These challenges are:

  • The pursuit of technical mastery
  • The magnitude of the training
  • Limitations of the training environment; and
  • Self-imposed performance limits

The article followed with a discussion about Technical Mastery and the paramount need for good quality coaching to avoid developing persistent errors of technique. This second article discusses the magnitude of the training regimen required to achieve the superb physical adaptation of athletes who compete at the highest level. Continue reading

Mindset of the Olympic Weightlifter

Carol Dweck is a distinguished professor and well-published researcher in Psychology who has taught at the universities of Columbia, Harvard, Illinois and Stanford where she is still a member of faculty. In 2006 Dweck published an influential book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck theorised a continuum between believing that one’s abilities are innate and believing that one’s abilities are based on hard work and learning. According to Dweck, if a person believes that their potential is governed by innate factors then they have a “fixed mindset”. Whereas, if a person believes their potential is governed by their individual effort and learning, then they have a “growth mindset”. Importantly, Dweck’s view was that people who are high-achievers have a Growth Mindset. Continue reading

Training Intensity for Pulls

“Pulls” is collective name for a range of exercises that, depending on experience and ability, enable the athlete to focus on strength development or technique improvement, or both. The range of exercises include pulls from hang, pulls from blocks, pull starts, pull to the knee, pulls with a halt at knee, mid-range pulls, jumping pulls, pulls standing on a block, high pulls, shrugs and of course the typical full pull from starting position to full extension.

The fact that pulls can be broken down into small segments has great value to the coach in teaching skill development. However in this article, the focus is mainly on the use of “Pulls” for strength development.

Pulls are a Necessity

As a weightlifter progresses through their career, pulls will inevitably become an increasingly important part of the training program. In fact, once a lifter has attained stable and effective technique, which usually occurs within 3 years, pulls will constitute around 20-25% of the entire training regimen. The rationale for the inclusion of this volume of snatch pulls and clean pulls in the training program is that the weightlifter must work on all factors of performance i.e. technique, speed, power and force (strength). Whereas technique, speed and power is mostly covered by performing Olympic Lifts, training for the development of force (strength) is far more effective at intensities of greater than 100% i.e. more than the athlete’s personal bests in the Olympic Lifts.

Distribution of Training Volume on Pulls

The following diagram provides the range of training intensities for developing the pull in terms of skill (technique), speed, power and force (strength). The important point is that developing the force component of performance requires intensities of over 100% to be effective. However it should be noted that the spectrum of intensity does not apply to beginners or novices who, in fact, may spend very little time on pulls.

Intensity spectrum for pull exercises in Weightlifting
Pulls with weights more than 100% of personal bests on Olympic Lifts are an important part of the training program for experienced weightlifters

The diagram indicates that the predominate range for pull training is 105-115%. This range is most effective if the technique of the athlete does not degrade or is caused as a result of heaviness of the barbell to be defective. Above 115%, athletes will begin to struggle to keep good body positions throughout the pull. Too much pre-occupation with very heavy pulls i.e. 120% and above, may also lead to injury.

Pulls of 105-115% intensity are not easy and sets of 3 repetitions is recommended. Sets of 5 repetitions at 100-105% intensity is also worthwhile at certain times of the year but at higher intensities 110% and over, the fatigue induced by extra reps is a risk factor that is unwarranted.

Importance of Technique

Pulls, if not performed with good technique, will provide little value to the athlete. Even though the athlete may indeed develop strength as a result of heavy training on pulls, unless the technique is adequate, the athlete will not be able to capitalise on the strength gain. Weightlifting is fundamentally about maximising force in a vertical direction and minimising force in a horizontal direction. Furthermore weightlifting technique is all about being able to apply force in a vertical direction for as long as possible. It is greatly important therefore that weightlifters are coached  to achieve good body positions at all stages of the pull. This will be the subject of another post!

The Path to High Performance: Part 1

If any athlete starting out in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting should aspire to reach a high performance level, they will face a succession of challenges through which their destiny will be determined. The beginner athlete will possess little prior knowledge that adequately prepares them for these challenges. They must seek knowledge from all sources including coaches and athletes in their immediate training environment, coaching staff in other places wherever possible, and all forms of literature and electronic resources. And yet there is a scarcity of literature that deals directly with the topic of High Performance in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting save a few good texts that have emanated from Eastern Europe in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This article seeks to assist by identifying four challenges that will surely present to any athlete who would tread the path to High Performance in Olympic Weightlifting. These challenges are:

  • The pursuit of technical mastery
  • The magnitude of training
  • Limits of the training environment
  • Self-imposed performance limits Continue reading

5 Decisions for High Performance in Sport

Okay, so you love Weightlifting and you really want to be a part of a future Australian team to the Olympic or Commonwealth Games!

If you have any chance of achieving such a goal, you will need to make some tough decisions.

Decision 1: Can you devote 30 hours a week to this goal?

Before everyone throws up their hands and says “What!”, consider the following. If you want to be a High Performance sports person, then your training is your job. You will need to train 8-10 sessions per week, each of which will take approximately 2 hours. As a more serious athlete, you will spend more time warming up and more time on flexibility. So 2 hours per session is not unreasonable. You will incur a significant amount of travelling in order to attend training. If you live close to the gym, you might be lucky to keep travelling down to around 4 hours per week. The remaining 6 hours a week will be a combination of many factors including visits to the physiotherapist, injury management, planning training, monitoring training, discussions with your coach, and travel to and waiting around at competitions. This does not even take into consideration that you may need extra sleep. Continue reading

Leo Isaac – Olympic Weightlifting Coach

Leo Isaac at the 1980 Commonwealth Championships

Leo Isaac at the 1980 Commonwealth Championships on the way to a new Commonwealth Record in the 67.5 Kg category

This website has been developed by Leo Isaac whose  career in Olympic Weightlifting spans 40 years as an athlete, coach, coach educator and administrator. He is an accredited Level 3 (National) coach and recently (2015) completed a Masters in Sport Coaching through the University of Queensland.

He is currently active as a Weightlifting coach in Hobart, Tasmania, and as a leading coach educator for the Australian Weightlifting Federation.

Academic

  • Masters in Sports Coaching, University of Queensland
  • BSc (Hons), Physical Education, Sports Science and Recreation Management,
    Loughborough University, England
  • Grad Dip Teaching, University of Queensland

Voluntary Roles Currently Held

  • Member of the High Performance Program Panel of Australian Weightlifting Federation
  • Director and Head Coach of the Weightlifting Academy of Tasmania
  • President of Weightlifting Tasmania Inc.
  • Coach Education Program presenter for the Australian Weightlifting Federation

Overseas Coaching Appointments

  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast, Australia
  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2017 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, Gold Coast, Australia
  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2016 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, Penang, Malaysia
  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2016 Oceania Weightlifting Championships, Suva, Fiji
  • Head Coach, Australian Team, 2015 Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships, Pune, India
  • Coach, Australian Team, 2014 Pacific Cup Weightlifting Tournament, New Caledonia
  • Head Coach, 1991 Junior World Championships, Wolmirstedt, Germany

Professional and Voluntary Roles Previously Held

  • Former National Coaching Director of Australian Weightlifting Federation
  • State Administrator of Queensland Weightlifting
  • NSW Coaching Development Officer

International Appearances

  • 1979 European Championships, Varna, Bulgaria, 9th place, 67.5Kg category
  • 1979 World Championships, Salonnica, Greece, 10th place 67.5Kg category
  • 1980 Commonwealth Championships, Cardiff, Wales, 1st place 67.5Kg category
  • 1980 European Championships, Belgrade, Serbia, 8th place 67.5Kg category
  • 1980 Olympic Games, Moscow, Russia, 14th place, 67.5Kg category
  • 1982 EEC Championships, Lommel, Belgium, 2nd place, 75Kg category
  • 1982 Commonwealth Games, Brisbane, Australia, 4th place, 75category
  • 1985 World Championships, Stockholm, Sweden, 9th place, 67.5Kg category