I know what you’re thinking.
You’ve read the title of this article and are ready to litter the Muscle & Strength inbox with your vitriol that a coach is egregiously trying to promote a crossover that isn’t useful in any way.
Before you do that, hear me out.
The thing that makes bodybuilders successful is their day-in, day-out emphasis on just that when training: Bodybuilding.
A form of training involving a combination of heavy lifts and lighter lifts, generally done to create a base of strength and to chase a pump by increasing the volume in each muscle belly.
No one’s taking anything away from that, because when it’s time to be stage ready, that’s exactly the recipe that can separate the winners from the losers.
But we have to remember something. Bodybuilding and physique competition often features competitors on stage in their weakest, most depleted state. They may look lean and jacked, but the second that competition comes to a close, they’ll be stuffing their faces with food, and possibly taking a short break from training also.
I say all of this to make one point: For any goal – especially a very specific and possibly extreme goal – there will be an expense to pay in the form of another goal being neglected.
For people looking to lose weight, their muscle mass may suffer, at least a little. For well-trained people seeking to get lean, chances are they won’t be quite as strong as they were when they weren’t lean. And for those trying to get big and strong, their conditioning, flexibility, or mobility may pay a price.
With all of this said, it would do a typical bodybuilder well to get the best of both worlds – exercises that exploit flexibility and mobility while not sacrificing their goals of attaining muscle and strength.
Olympic lift variations offer just that, since they’re moving significant loads very quickly.
An Injury Waiting to Happen?
It’s easy to think that, but it also depends on the variation of Olympic lift we’re talking about.
The standard Olympic lifts are the full clean and jerk, and the full snatch. They ask a whole lot of a lifter’s athleticism to perfect, and it’s not realistic to think someone neck deep in bodybuilding life is going to have a quick and easy learning curve to these kinds of lifts.
With that in mind, it’s useful to simplify lifts into their derivative patterns and still receive all of the benefits.
It’s unreasonable to think a seasoned bodybuilder will have the requisite mobility to be able to do this with ease:
A suitable modification would be to perform the lift from the power position first. Catching any Olympic lift in “power” means you’re avoiding the deep squat catch position, and instead catching the weight as close to “standing” as possible; anything above a 90 degree knee angle is fair game.
Power snatches make this Olympic lift that much more accessible for people to perform them, only leaving shoulder mobility as the limiting factor as far as proper and safe execution of the lift goes.
As you get better at the power snatch, feel free to work your way into better mobility by adding an overhead squat to the mix after it’s said and done. This takes work to build up to, but segmenting each phase is a good place to start.
Notes on Power Snatches:
- Choose a grip that allows the bar to rest at your hip fold (or as close as possible) when you hang your arms while standing. If you’re taller, that may end up equaling the entire width of the barbell.
- Use your body first. The arms should get involved last in the order. This pull has to come from creating momentum with your bigger muscles first.
- If you can’t create a flat back position while in a snatch grip, don’t pull from the floor. Pull from higher blocks that allow you to achieve a flat spine, or pull from the hang position instead.
Still Can’t Do it?
If your coordination, mobility and explosiveness are just plain in the pits, and barbell snatches of any sort are way beyond your means, then simplify even more and use dumbbell power snatches. Bringing things down to one arm and catching in power position makes the pattern much easier to learn and keeps your risk for injury lower.
The clean is an Olympic lift that requires the same measure of timing, coordination, and power to perform effectively. Most people’s issues come in the form of struggling to achieve a proper rack position.
Allow me to walk you through some simple progressions to improve that, my muscular friends.
Step 1: Get Your Flexibility & Mobility Drills In
For cleans and front squats, a solid rack position is mandatory. Your elbows shouldn’t be pointing down towards the floor, and if they are, you’ll have a really early ceiling on what you can lift. With that said, take these mobility drills and stretches to heart to perfect your rack position.
Step 2: Practice Your Catch Timing
As you probably guessed, I’m emphasizing cleans from the hang position, and a catch in “power” once more. This makes things accessible and easier to learn for people who aren’t as familiar with the movement.
With that said, practice exactly that with the empty bar. Don’t use your lower body. Simply upright row the weight, and focus on high and fast elbows. You shouldn’t let the bar “fall” on to you, rather, you should “dive” under it.
Sets of 6-10 reps are sufficient to help your cause.
Step 3: Hang Power Clean
Focus on sets of 3 reps to start, and keep the weight light, but still significant enough to prevent you from doing the whole thing with your arms (for a lot of strong guys, 95lbs is a great starting benchmark). Remember to catch high, and get those elbows moving fast!
Far Too Advanced?
For many, they just plain don’t have the wrist mobility or flexibility to get the proper catch position, and one article won’t fix that. A great alternative is to go through the same full extension pattern, but simply subtracting the “catch” phase of the lift.
Training barbell high pulls can deliver nearly all the same benefits, without having to worry as much about the flexibility of the wrists, shoulders and T-spine. I like using blocks or pins as a set starting point so I can pull from a dead stop.
Last Thing: Push Press!
To deal with more eccentric loading and more explosive pressing, switch your overhead presses with some push presses. It’ll involve more motor units and affect your timing.
You’ll be surprised how much different the lift is, and the coordination involved to be strong in it. Sometimes the little things make all the difference.
I’m not expecting you to hit the only lift platform in your speed suits by next week after reading this article. What it should do is open your eyes to the benefits of changing your lift patterns, rep speeds and exercise nature to work towards a greater result concerning your strength and muscle.
And that’s exactly what these bad boys can do. Why not give them a chance?
If you’re humbled at first, work on getting better at them. Deep down, you know you can.