ON THE BENEFITS OF SUBORDINATE EXERCISES
BOTH IN REGARDS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BODY AS WELL AS THE WELL-BEING OF THE MIND
BY DONNY SHANKLE CPT
“Familiarity Breeds Contempt.” Anonymous
Snatch/Clean From High Blocks (above knee)
Picking up where we left off in snatch/clean from low blocks, the fourth and final reason blocks are used in training is to “set” the back tighter. No other exercise achieves this better than lifting from the high blocks. Let us recap all the reasons blocks are used in training. The first and foremost objective when going from the blocks is to get you moving faster under the bar. Secondly, they are used to alleviate the stress on your lower back keeping you healthy. Thirdly, they teach you to stay over the bar, and again the fourth and final objective is to train you to “set” your back tighter. Although acquiring speed under the bar is the main reason you train from the blocks setting the back tight comes in a close second. Keeping the back straight is a strength issue and now is a good time to remind you that strength triumphs all. The stronger you are the tighter you will be able to “set” your back. The tighter your back is set the more you will be able to focus on speed. The faster you are moving the better chance you have at lifting personal records. The more personal records you are consistently setting in training means you are on your way to becoming a champion in competition.
Lifting from a box which sets the bar right above the knee or low thigh will allow you to lift your chest very high and draw your shoulders back completely. Setting your shoulders directly over the bar helps to raise your chest as high as possible. As you continue to shape your spine this way from this height you will be able to set the back the same way over time at the low block and eventually from the floor. For this reason the high block is an essential exercise to incorporate in your training especially if you have difficulty keeping your back straight on your pull. The straighter you keep your back the less likely you will drop your chest during the “finish” and miss the lift in front. Training your pull from the high block, low block, and eventually floor in this order is the top down approach taught to me by coach Pendlay. (For a more detailed description on what the top down approach is refer to chapter 1).
Going back to the main reason why we use blocks in training, the bar from the high block is set very high up the leg, leaving you little room to pull. It is very hard to execute peak velocity on your pull from this height because you have very little space to accelerate. Think of it like this: when a rocket takes off from the ground it uses the majority of its fuel within the first few feet to break free from the earth's gravity. After it has broken free it continues to accelerate at an alarming rate quite easily. It is getting off the ground that is difficult. If you compare this to lifting from the high block, once you break free with a straight back and focus all your energy on moving under the bar quickly, you will notice you have sufficient velocity to lift slightly heavier weights than you are able to from the floor. You train this speed under the bar from the blocks and then carry it over to lifting from the floor eventually trying to lift the same weight. This goes to show you how important it is to get under the bar fast. You do not need a lot of pull on the bar (meaning you do not need to over pull) just enough to break free from gravity. What you need is a violent finish and the conviction to get under the bar at rock bottom with lightning speed.
To set up from the high blocks make sure the bar is at least right above the knee. From this height keep your focus only on setting your back tight and moving incredibly fast. Place your shoulders directly over the bar and before you pull rock back on your heels to raise your chest even higher. Keep you head up and eyes looking straight ahead. Initiate the pull with your legs and proceed to jump as powerfully as you can. Don't be a pussy here. Force yourself to move. Once the bar has broken free immediately “finish” as hard as you can pulling your shoulders slightly behind the bar and move under with a sense of purpose. If you notice your feet are not moving, your back is rounding in a clean, or your arms are not locking in a snatch, then you are not finishing violently enough and you are not committing yourself to move with authoritative speed. Either drop the weight and find this speed or man up.
Before I end my description on training from the blocks I want to mention one last thing you may find useful. I do not like to recommend the use of weightlifting straps with the exception of a few exercises. (To learn how to use straps refer to chapter 1). Lifting from the blocks while snatching is one of those exercises along with eccentric lowering and power snatches. (Although I am not a personal fan of the power snatch). When lifting from the blocks, I want all your attention to be on moving under the bar fast, once your back is “set.” Using straps will help you to do this because you are able to focus your power and pull on the bar harder. As you continue to perfect the exercise you will gradually begin to understand a fast transition under the bar is predetermined by how fast, controlled, and violently you pulled.
Reasons for lifting from blocks both low (below knee) and high (above knee):
1) Focus is on getting under the bar faster.
2) Reduces stress on the lower back.
3) Teaches you to stay over the bar. (especially from low-block)
4) Trains you to set your back tighter. (especially from high-block)
ADVANCED WAY: N/A
DURATION: 20-45 minutes
PLACEMENT IN TRAINING: At least once a week the exercise should be trained to maximum. In between maximum days the exercise can be trained lighter to reinforce setting the back tight during the pull. Weightlifters who have difficulty keeping a straight back will benefit incorporating the exercise multiple times a week.