Progressions in Exercise Selection Based on Technical Proficiency

TAGS: technical proficiency, progression, snatch, push press, exercise selection, Ashley Jones, olympic movements, olympic lifting

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This morning, I was in my local fitness center training and witnessed an instructor taking a person through a workout that included the push press and the hang power clean as part of a circuit. I realized that more instructors in gyms around the world are turning to the modified Olympic movements as mainstays in their exercise selection and programming.

Technically, though, the instructor had basically no idea and the resultant performance of the trainee was, at worst, potentially injurious and, at best, a distant similarity to what was supposed to be performed.


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I used to run a three-hour clinic on the use of strength and power exercises techniques and programming. Download the basic outline with notes included here.

I firmly believe you have to start at the simplest movement that you can master correctly and then over time progress from the simple to the more complex movements, if warranted, for what you require in your training plan.

The process is one of progressive skill acquisition and in the 1980s and 1990s the NSCA published exercise checklists in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning and a number of other publications that assisted people in preparation for their CSCS certification:

  • The NSCA's Basics of Strength and Conditioning Manual
  • Exercise Technique Manual for Resistance Training
  • The Essentials of Strength and Conditioning

Each of these texts provided checklists in detail for everything to look for when teaching/coaching each of the major exercises used in the majority of programming situations.

With these checklists, you can either use them completely or take out five of the most important points and use them as your progression in loading a checklist, for example, the squat:

  1. Chest up at all times
  2. Break at the hips first then the knees
  3. Keep knees aligned and tracking the toes
  4. Squat down to a position where the thighs are parallel to the floor
  5. Keep the weight towards the heels at all times

Obviously, this is a very short checklist. For a more complete and in-depth analysis, check out NSCA's back squat assessment or get a copy of Dave Tate’s Free Squat Manual.

If a person can do all these exercises to your satisfaction, you can load weight onto the bar, but in the next session, if they can not complete all five, then reduce the weight and try again to achieve a 5/5 score and then increase the load slower.

If you are progressing in learning the power snatch, consider following this progression from my course:

  • Overhead Squat
  • Pressing Snatch Balance
  • Snatch Balance
  • Snatch Press in Squat/Split
  • Push Press Behind Neck

Then progress through the following as well:

  • Snatch Grip Dead Lift
  • Snatch Grip Shrugs
  • Snatch Grip Dead Lift + Shrug
  • Snatch High Pull
  • Muscle Snatch/Cuban Press
  • Power Snatch
  • Olympic Snatch, in Squat, in Split

These progressions will allow you to systematically develop the technique and the neural–muscle link to perform these movements, as each movement is, in fact, an exercise in and of itself.

You can progress at your own rate and only move up to a more complex exercise when you are technically proficient at the lower-level movement.

In some situations, you may have to halt a person’s progress up the levels of complexity because they have an injury that does not allow them to catch correctly or similar situations. In May 2015, I wrote an article titled, “Progression and Regression System for Exercise Selection,” which dealt with this exact scenario in sports programming.

Recently, the NSCA released its most up-to-date new course—Foundations of Coaching the Lifts—and I would urge all instructors/trainers to attend one of these courses in order to get a solid basic knowledge of the techniques and progressions of training with the major lifts. The NSCA website has all the details about these courses and where they are around the country and the world.

It is great to see people lifting in gyms using principles and ideas from powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and strongman rather than just blindly following bodybuilding programs.

The rise of Athletic NOT Aesthetic programming needs competent well-trained trainers and instructors to ensure that the movement prospers and gathers momentum so that more people train their movements and not just muscles.

Key points to remember:

  1. Simplicity to complexity over time
  2. Weight training is a skill, and perfect practice makes perfect technique
  3. Hasten slowly, as you are in this for the long haul
  4. Less is often more, as you are performing multi-joint lifts, often two or three lifts in a workout are all you need.

I have often written and talked about using a minimum number of lifts rather than trying to do everything. Below is a four-week fully programmed example of this for you to trial. Feel free to use the exercises that you feel most confident using and, if you are not familiar with the Olympic movements, then take them out and insert upper body pulling movements.


Simplicity Programming

Monday                                                           

 Wednesday

 Friday

  • Pull – Push – Squat
  • Power Snatch
  • Push Press
  • Sprinter’s Squat

Priority Set and Rep Schedule

Exercise 1 – 6 sets

  • Week 1: 6 x 6 @ 75% (INOL = 1.44)
  • Week 2: 6 x 4 @ 85% (INOL = 1.6)
  • Week 3: 6 x 5 @ 80% (INOL = 1.5)
  • Week 4: 6 x 3 @ 90% (INOL = 1.8)

OR

  • Week 1: 6 x 6 @ 75% (INOL = 1.44)
  • Week 2: 2 x (6/5/4) @ (75%/80%, 85%) INOL = 1.44
  • Week 3: 2 x (5/4/3) @ (80%/85%/90%) INOL = 1.63
  • Week 4: 2 x (4/3/2) @ (85%/90%/95%) INOL = 1.93

Exercise 2 – 5 sets

  • Week 1: 5 x 5 @ 80% (INOL = 1.25)
  • Week 2: 2 x 5 @ 80%, 85%, 3 x 3 @ 90% (INOL = 1.48)
  • Week 3: 5 x 3 @ 90% (INOL = 1.50)
  • Week 4: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 @ 80%, 85%, 90%, 95%, 100+% (INOL = 1.95)

OR

  • 5 progressively heavier singles starting at 95%

Exercise 3 – 4 sets

  • Week 1: 4 x 6 @ 75% (INOL = 0.96)
  • Week 2: 4 x 4 @ 90% (INOL = 1.60)
  • Week 3: 4 x 8 @ 75% (INOL = 1.28)
  • Week 4: 4 x 2 @ 95% (INOL = 1.60)

OR

  • Week 1: 4 x 3/3 @ 85% (INOL = 1.60)
  • Week 2: 4 x 2/2/2 @ 90% (INOL = 2.4)
  • Week 3: 4 x 3/2/1 @ 85%, 90%, 95% (INOL = 3.6)
  • Week 4: 4 x 1/1/1/1/1/1 @ 95%+ (INOL = 4.8)

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