Friday, 20 December 2013

Snow day, technical recap of the hang clean

                SNOW DAY!!! I had a few cancellations this morning and thought I would do a quick recap of something cool we did last week.  I think I should note something that I am quite proud of and is a key point carrying forward for this rant.  About 5 years ago I had a discectomy of my L2, L3, L4, L5 and S1.  I pretty much had all my discs removed from my lower back.  The 5 or 6 years leading up to surgery I lived in severe pain.  I got out of bed every morning looking like a bear humping a football and couldn’t straighten up until I had a hot shower.  I tried every treatment under the sun, but I think the nature of my work, past sporting endeavors and my size played a role in a difficult recovery.  I was also a stubborn idiot which didn’t help.   There is nothing more demoralizing than being strong as hell and not being able to move. As a coach, I had always relied on demonstrating movements but when getting out of bed is difficult, teaching an Olympic lift or squatting pattern is out of the question.  But something great ended up happening amidst the pain and misery (outside of my clients I became a negative prick and was not the person I was before this happened or the person I am now).  I learned how to coach.  When you take away a powerful tool in your toolbox you are forced to use other tools to get the job done.  I learned to break down and correct movements in a way I would have never even considered before.  I don’t wish injury upon any of my fellow coaches, but I hope you get where I am coming from when it comes to coaching technique.  All of this leads up to this little diddy…..

Last week I did a technical session on what I deem one of the most important movements for athletic performance.   Over the years I have seen therapists have some of their athletes demonstrate specific movement patterns for their sport or lifting techniques such as: squatting, deadlifting or Olympic lifting technique to see if their bodies are moving correctly and if they may be ready to return to loading and or sport.  I never really thought of this until recently, but how much does your therapist know about these specific movements? I am not knocking therapists; I am asking a question that needs asking (to be fair, I am doubtful of many coaches that are teaching these movements as well).  I am not implying that a therapist needs to know these movements as in depth as the strength and conditioning coaches that they will be working with to help get these athletes back to play, but surely some base level of knowledge is useful right?

                So I invited our therapy staff, all of our trainers and strength coaches and a few of our elite athletes that train with us here to do a practical session on the pocket or quick hang clean.  The intent was to have everyone have a basic understanding as to the why, when, and how we would use this movement in our programming and which athletes may qualify for the movement.  I invited a few of our athletes because I see benefit in them understanding the movement on a more intimate level and to educate them as if they were learning to be a coach.   On a side note, I demonstrated more hang cleans in this session then I have in the last ten years and my back feels amazing! 


·         To learn how to create tension in your body prior to executing a violent movement

·         To teach a violent and synergistic movement that combines a rapid acceleration with a rapid deceleration

·         To teach the importance of understanding how important change of elevation is in sport (specifically multi-directional) and how to manipulate it based off of load

·         To create a connection between the earth and your hips/torso

·         Because 90% of athletes cannot do traditional Olympic lifts correctly due to past injuries, mobility or technical issues or time constraints.  Keep in mind, in the private industry many of our athletes are forced to work on their own and we have to triage movements for safety reasons. Many coaches are sold on forcing the movement from the floor and following the traditional styles of Olympic lifting.  My argument is this; we are building better athletes not better weight lifters and until your athletes qualify to do such a movement get bent

·         To both reinforce the hip hinge pattern and to disguise repetition of said pattern

·         To teach athletes to be explosive with a load.  Traditionally Olympic lifts are thought to be used only for power.  Obviously power is an important attribute for all athletes, but I mention this last because if you don’t understand all of the above points I wouldn’t worry about the power benefits just yet


·         When the athlete can show they can create and hold tension in their spine. As a simple guideline, if the athlete cannot competently execute a Romanian deadlift for the start phase, a simple jump for the drive phase or a front squat for the catch phase you need to back your programming up a bit.  Having said this, there are always exceptions to the rule but I think this is a pretty sound guideline

·         When the athlete is free of injuries and has qualified to do the movement based off the therapists recommendations and you are comfortable with them progressing the movement.

·         I use this movement year round and add or take away from it dependent on my goals for the athletes

·         If there was a movement that was so beneficial that it was worth risking injury or poor motor patterning, I have a feeling we all would be doing it


·         If you are learning how to lift via the internet we have problems

·         I am not against talking technique in blog posts, you tube etc. But there is way too much to cover in a short period of time.  If it is your goal to be a therapist or you are a therapist it will probably help you have a clearer picture of what we are trying to achieve as strength coaches. If you are a coach on the other hand, we are in trouble if this is your main source of information

·         I am close to 15 years in my career and I still learn something every day and there is just too much info


I would like to wrap up by clearing something that pisses me off about the industry.  There seems to be this movement from ex or current athletes turned coach (specifically power lifters, Olympic lifters and guys that don’t look like they ever played a sport in their lives) how getting stronger is the only answer to performance and if I wrote this ten years ago I would have said the same.  But as someone that was an athlete in 3 different contact sports I can tell you this needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  There are a lot of factors in contact sports and if you are programming these movements and ignoring the loads put on your athletes bodies outside the weight room you should be slapped.  I also need to be clear; I load the shit out of my athletes as should you but only after careful scrutiny of the given situation. 

The fact is simple, if you watch an elite power or Olympic lifter train leading up to heavy loads their form is usually flawless.  And as loads increase technique decreases.  The same can be said for any sport and just substitute load with fatigue. I get that, but what we can’t lose sight of is the fact that no Olympic lifter or power lifter in the history of the world (this is an assumption actually) has ever been blindsided while under extreme load by another athlete in the snow or rain.  Their ultimate goal has no variability in it. There is no contact, extreme cold or heat it is just linear in fashion.  And do not get me wrong, I am a huge fan of both sports (I was devastated when Powerlifting USA stopped production!), but they are their own sports.  We should use and modify their lifts according to the population we are working with.  Draw from them, use their knowledge as the strongest and most powerful people in the world but only use what is applicable to your athletes!

As always, please feel free to email me with your questions or complaints.

Yours in Strength,

Joe McCullum


 “Pain is not my enemy, it is my call to greatness”  -Henry Rollins

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