Training the Jerk

It has long been my view that the critical factor for developing a confident and reliably successful Jerk is that the athlete must attempt to mimic the conditions of a maximal Jerk all the way through their warm up to the moment when a maximal Jerk is actually achieved. This requires the athlete to have conceptual knowledge of what actually happens during a maximal jerk, and how a maximal jerk can be achieved if it is to be achieved at all.

Jerk Warm Up

Let’s consider that an athlete has a previous best of 128Kg in the Clean and Jerk and aims to succeed with a new personal best of 130Kg in competition. Let’s now try to envisage exactly what the athlete will likely experience at the most critical moment.

In that moment several important things must happen:

  1. The athlete must ‘fully commit’ to the movement.
  2. The athlete must commit to dropping the depth required to achieve a lockout of the bar overhead
  3. The athlete must exert great effort to maintain structural integrity of the body to resist the downward pressure of the bar
  4. The athlete must maintain control of balance until the referees’ down signal

If any of the above four aspects of performance are absent or substantially lacking, it is very unlikely that the jerk will be successful. On the other hand, minor indiscretions of technique, for example a slight error in foot placement, may not cause a failure.

The common issue for athletes is that as they warm-up in the jerk taking successively higher weights, there is no practise of that final moment of intense pressure. Warm-ups are characterised by inadequate practise of the depth required for a maximal jerk, a lack of attention to structural integrity (perfecting receiving positions), and complete oblivion to the need for balance. This occurs because the weight is light and they can get away with any indiscretion. Then at the moment of near-maximal or maximal attempts when every aspect of technique is required, it has not been practised and is therefore undeliverable.

This concept of practising the skill that is needed at a maximal weight applies equally to the Snatch and the Clean. It is not a good strategy to practise one set of movement characteristics when weights are relatively easy and then to try to adopt a different set of movement characteristics when the weight is heavy.

A possible reason why athletes tend to take ‘short cuts’ in technique as they warm-up is that Weightlifting is so much a psychological sport. It is a natural disposition of the athlete to want every warm-up weight to feel as easy as possible.  Making a concerted effort to extend the time duration of the lift so as to practise receiving low positions, working on structural integrity and balance incurs an energy cost, and as far as the athlete is concerned, this does not work towards making warm-ups feel as easy as possible. Therefore athletes tend to cut corners only to suffer the consequences of what they have not practised.

Gestalt and Temporal Spatial Approaches to Movement Analysis

It is extraordinary that experienced coaches can often identify, with only the naked eye, faults and inefficiencies in the movement of their athletes that occur in the briefest of moments. At the core of theories of how such movement analysis is possible, is the concept of the schema (8). The term schema is used to describe an abstract representation of rules governing movement (Schmidt cited in Magill & Anderson, 2013) and the accumulation of such schema enable the coach to develop a mental picture of what movement is correct and should be expected (1, 6).

The Gestalt Model of Movement Analysis

The Gestalt approach to qualitative movement analysis relies on the triggering of schema held in the long-term memory of the coach (8). The coach looks at the whole of the movement to gain an impression (Gestalt) of whether the quality of what is viewed is in accordance with internalised schema and can be declared as broadly acceptable (6). The Gestalt approach can be enhanced by the coach clarifying the correctness of their memorised schema and, in a written form, crystallising the essence of an acceptable performance in terms of movement preparation and execution (2). An example of such an approach is presented in Table 2.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Gestalt approach is appropriate and sufficient for coaching at the High Performance level. In my view, as a coach and coach educator in Olympic Weightlifting, there is value in the Gestalt model for use in real-time coaching yet neither coach education curricula nor general literature on Weightlifting contain any reference to this approach. In my own coaching practise, I am accustomed to obtaining an overall impression of an athlete’s movement based upon a very small number of significant criteria that enable inferences to be made about the biomechanical efficiencies of the movement. Table 1 below provides an abbreviated Gestalt Model for analysis of the Snatch. The key inference made is that if an athlete can arrest a bar motionless in the receiving position for the snatch, then to some extent there must have been some biomechanical efficiency achieved in the performance.

Table 1: Gestalt Model (abbreviated) – Gaining an Impression of the Snatch
Acceptable Not Acceptable
Athlete appears to move under the bar fluently into the receiving position and attains a situation where the bar is momentarily motionless overhead. Athlete movement under the bar appears awkward or constrained and a motionless position under the bar is usually not attained.

Table 2 below provides a more extended Gestalt model for the analysis of the Snatch. The criteria provided improve on the first example given in Table 1, but still only amount to a crude evaluation of performance. However, the provision of further and more comprehensive criteria would undermine the purpose of the Gestalt model which is to assist the observer to obtain an quick impression of efficacy of the movement execution, usually in real time.

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The rest interval between sets

The time interval between sets in Weightlifting training and what happens during that interval is a source of great interest to me personally and perhaps to others as well. Initially, my thoughts centred around the quest for productivity in training and the need to get as much training done in the time available. For many years I have operated on the premise that an average of 2 minutes between sets in training is optimal, and I am still of that opinion. It’s not rocket science to work out that, in any fixed period of training, an average of 2 minutes between sets accomplishes 50% more training than an average of 3 minutes.

However, in more recent years, my thoughts about the time interval between sets have expanded beyond the mere need for productivity. What has also become an interest to me is the mental process of the athlete in that time period. Furthermore, through observation and study, I have begun to formulate ideas about environmental factors that beneficially or detrimentally affect that mental process as the athlete prepares for their next effort.

It is probable that we have all experienced or witnessed the situation where an athlete in training, having completed the previous set with comparative ease, fails unexpectedly with the next set. This might happen even if there is no increase in the weight on the bar. The situation is similar in the competition environment. An athlete might succeed well with their first attempt, and be momentarily confident of the next lift, and then to seemingly suffer a loss of confidence as the wait prolongs.

While it seems clear that the time duration of the rest interval is a major factor that impacts on the performance of the Weightlifter, an explanation is needed why this is so. Furthermore, it is important to consider whether factors other than the passage of time are at work.

This article proposes that:

  • the underlying cause of performance reduction due to the passage of time is the weakening of the neural imprint or memory of the previous performance
  • during the rest period, a range of environment factors may disrupt or degrade the neural imprint of the previous performance.
  • the possible environmental disruptors include sights and sounds in the gym, conversations with other athletes, the mobile phone, and interestingly the intervention of the coach.

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