Olympic Lifting for Athletes: Using Static Holds to Improve Technique

TAGS: static holds, isometrics, olympic weightlifting, snatch, Jerk, elitefts.com, power clean, olympic lifting, clean, power, Elitefts Info Pages, Mark Watts

The popularity of Olympic lifting has grown over the last decade. This article is not intended to persuade you as a coach to implement Olympic lifting in your program if you are not already a proponent of it. Whether you have the facilities, equipment, time, and experience to teach, coach and enhance your teams' performance using the Olympic lifts is a decision that you, as a coach, will have to make.

Teaching the Olympic lifts to large groups present its own set of obstacles. Team training environments are usually not conducive to the highly technical-skill development it takes to master the Olympic lifts. There are distinct advantages to incorporating Olympic lifts in your training program once you, as a coach, institute a needs-analysis (characteristics of the sport + needs of the athlete) in conjunction with a risk-to-reward formula. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? As a strength & conditioning coach, asking these questions can help:

  1. Do I have the knowledge base to teach the bio-mechanical positions and the movements?
  2.  Do I have the experience with identifying and addressing technique discrepancies while instituting corrective strategies?
  3. Do I have enough qualified coaches for the number of athletes I have at one time in my facility?
  4. Do I have enough time during the training session, training week, and training cycle with my athletes to ensure technical proficiency of the lifts?
  5. Do I have enough space and enough stations to safely accommodate novice athletes performing explosive movements (some of them overhead)?
  6. Do I have the proper equipment (the correct bars, bumpers, platforms, or appropriate flooring) for my athletes to execute these movements?
  7. Are my athletes' chronological, biological, and training ages all conducive of productive training sessions using Olympic weightlifting movements?

To further cloud this decision, Olympic weightlifting skills are general physical preparedness skill development for their particular sports. Joe Kenn, head strength & conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers, has warned, "Don't train a sport with another sport."  Meaning, the amount of time spent on skill development of training the Olympic lifts can have diminishing returns and impede on the skill development of their particular sport.

HOW THE OLYMPIC LIFTS SPECIFICALLY RELATE TO OTHER STRENGTH SPORTS

*Maximum Effort Method includes Circa-Max Effort, Repetitive Effort (Repetition Method) includes Submaximal Effort for the sake of this chart.

Using static holds: mid-rep, multi-positional pausing to benefit the athlete and coach

Olympic lifts can be very complex and have a high rate-of-force with proper execution. Pausing the barbell at strategic points of the Olympic lifts can give the athlete immediate feedback and allow the coach to make mid-rep corrections; two aspects that are extremely difficult to accomplish for most athletes and coaches without an isometric hold. Holding a static contraction at these positions will assist the athlete in achieving the correct bio-mechanical positions and allow coaches to evaluate and give coaching cues that may not be possible otherwise.

Advantages for coaches and athletes

  1. The coach can more easily establish coaching cues by helping the athletes identify buzzwords during the repetition.
  2.  Coaches can see incorrect positions and correct them before the completion of the rep. It is difficult for most coaches to see technique flaws at full speed. This is the same for coaches who make corrections to sprinters while they are sprinting. This is difficult for most coaches without video analysis.
  3. Athletes can receive immediate feedback by holding a certain position at critical times of the lift. Common mistakes like having shoulders behind the bar, pushing through the toes, catching the bar with the feet wide, etc., are extremely difficult to do if the athlete has to hold that position. The athlete can make the adjustments and "fix" themselves if they have to hold that position for two-five seconds.
  4. Increased time-under-tension can be accomplished at specific pulling and catching positions to further develop strength, flexibility, and hypertrophy by extending the set.

Positional terminology

It really doesn't matter what you call each position of the Olympic lifts as long as your athletes and other coaches understand what these positions are and how to achieve them. It is also advisable to eliminate as much variation between the lifts as possible. It is understood that pulling the bar from the floor when performing a snatch, clean, and conventional deadlift may all have slight variances in execution. Reducing these variation and gray areas in coaching cues can go a long way in standardizing.

Secondly, drawing relationships between the positions can enhance the comprehension of the athlete based on familiarity.

Power hang snatch and hang cleans

  1. Pause above the knee (power position)
  2. Pause at the catch position

In this video, Denison University head athletic trainer Derek Fry demonstrates a hang power clean with a pause at the power position (above knee) and at the catch position. Additionally, having the athlete pause at the pocket position or perform a paused front squat can also benefit the learning curve.

Halting snatch and cleans from the floor

  1. Pause Below the Knee
  2. Pause at the Catch Position (not shown)

In this video, Penn State University assistant strength & conditioning coach Cam Davidson clinics on the proper positioning and execution of a halting snatch where the lifter pauses below knee from after lifting the bar from the floor. Coach Davidson also goes through some coaching points and common mistakes.

Split jerk, push jerk, or push press with a pause

  1. Pause at the power position (dip)
  2. Pause at the catch position (lock out)

In this video, University of Arkansas assistant strength & conditioning coach Jordan Jacobs demonstrates a barbell split jerk with a pause at the power position and at the catch position to further accentuate the proper posture and mental cues.

Using multiple pauses at more than two positions

In most instances, it is advisable to incorporate two pauses with each lift. Where you coach your athletes to execute these specific isometric contraction depends on technique discrepancies, weak points, individual needs, and specific progressions within a training cycle. This is not to say that more than two pauses cannot be implemented, especially early in a training cycle. Below is another video of Cam Davidson demonstrating the 5-position german snatch.

To summarize, using isometric contractions within the performance of an Olympic lift can help give your athletes immediate feedback they need to improve technique and hit bigger weights. Static holds for one-five seconds can assist coaches see those crucial positions give better verbal cues. Finally, the added time-under-tension involved with pausing the Olympic lifts at certain positions can add strength and hypertrophy for most lifters.

Olympic Lifting Books

Explosive Lifting for Sports

Olympic Weightlifting:  A Complete Guide

Olympic Weightlifting for Sports

Weightlifting Programming:  A Winning Coach's Guide

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A Response to Olympic Lifting: Why Do We Suck?


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