Last weekend I had the pleasure of working with three excellent strength coaches at an Olympic/Power lifting seminar held at Crossfit Turbocharged in Cherry Hill.   Carmen and John (the two coaches on the right in the picture above) are power lifters and focused their portion of the seminar on teaching the deadlift, bench press, and back squat.  The other coach who is also John (I’ll refer to him by his last name, Walka) is a nationally ranked olympic lifter, sitting at sixth overall in his weight class.  Walka focused on the snatch and clean & jerk.  With my prior history of performing these lifts as a college track and field athlete, I have tried to incorporate these movements into rehab/performance programs I design.  In this blog I’ll give my insight through the goggles of a physical therapist and share my thoughts on the cues and adjustments that I found most helpful.

The first major golden nugget delivered was hand position on the bar during a deadlift (also applicable to the snatch.)  Carmen was very meticulous with his hand placement on the bar, whether it be narrow, wide, sumo or any hybrid.  He emphasized that the hand placement that  feels the strongest will vary from person to person.  This was true for leg stance width as well.  Since I have a short torso length, John recommended that I try a wide sumo lift technique (pic above.)  When I tried this technique, my lift became stronger. Play around with your technique and see what feels strongest.  Your gains can come at higher pace!

(Coach Carmen giving cues to Dr. DJ on the standard deadlift)

The other pearl of wisdom came with demonstration of the snatch. For those that may not be familiar with Olympic lifting, the snatch is a very complex overhead lift requiring both overhead mobility and stability.  With this in mind, Walka demonstrated his own limitations in upper extremity overhead mobility and how he gets around it.  So, how can the sixth ranked Olympic lifter in the country that has limited mobility compete at such a high level?  Well, he compensates by utilizing a wider grip. A not so obvious adjustment in my eyes but pretty incredible watching him put it all together in real time.  When I was practicing my snatch, with a history of shoulder pain and fear, this adjustment worked really well for me.  If pain is an issue for you when lifting, try making some slight adjustments with your hands on the bar position and see if it works or you.

A very valuable lesson I took from the seminar was John Walka interpretation of four main stages athletes find themselves in when learning these complex movements.  Here’s the order from beginning to end:

  1. Pure Strength- The “I’ll use whatever muscles I can to get this movement accomplished phase”- This is ineffective and extremely fatiguing. This is where the most injuries take place!
  2. Understanding- Taking the time to learn the movement, its components, and the mobility/stability required to execute the movement
  3. Technique-Practicing the movement, no matter how ugly or scary it is at first (be smart and utilize a training assist at first like PVC or an unloaded bar)
  4. Refinement/Mastery-Here’s where you start to throw some weight on the bar. Your technique has been mastered and you are in essence training the movement. You never stop refining or mastering your technique, you just keep going.

As a PT I strive towards the goal of “perfect mechanics.”  Over the past few years I have come to learn that there is no such thing.  Everyone has different biomechanics while performing the same tasks.  Look at golf swings and pitching in baseball, for example.  Everyone is different yet they are able to compete at high levels.  What’s most important is that you achieve proper joint position with good stability.  As a result, I am now mindful of what cues work with different patients and how to correct their movement with what works for them personally.

Power and Olympic lifts are very complex movements and require a lot skill and athleticism.  I encourage you to take the time learn each movement, breakdown the components individually, and master them.  If you want to move on to the next stage (Understanding, Technique, Refinement/Mastery) definitely consider attending a weightlifting/Olympic lifting seminar in your area.  If you’re in the South Jersey area, follow us on social media and we will keep everyone posted on any future seminars we’ll be attending.

Also, go show some love on Carmen’s blog, The Poet and the Platform!  It sheds a lot of insight on what it’s like to be a powerlifter, tips and tricks, and other cool random stuff going on in the world (like Maple Bacon Poptarts.)