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Introduction to Weightlifting with Coach Jono

For the seasoned trainee, perhaps no other tool symbolises weight-room progression like the barbell. The most honest, and easy to measure assessment of technical competency across loaded tasks. But for those who have a relatively broad training history, and are already able to display a 'decent' level of strength potential (force expression) across the classic barbell lifts (deadlift, squat, bench), there is a whole new, valuable world of barbell mastery to be explored with the introduction of ‘weightlifting’ movements / or variations of....

The question we often ponder in the pursuit of strength and power adaptations is “how strong is strong enough?” and therefore, when might be a good opportunity to explore variation and alternative movement challenges when it comes to expressing force in the weight-room. For the seasoned, already suitably ‘strong’ trainee who is already adept and competent at lifting high loads relative to bodyweight throughout classic barbell tasks, then maybe there is opportunity to have a strong return on investment (ROI) when it comes to becoming more powerful with the introduction of weightlifting movements. These weightlifting movements require us to express force and accelerate the bar, and produce force across shorter time frames, which help develop the production of large amounts of force quickly.

This benefit is certainly what drew me in. As someone who had a relatively high training age, and had developed the ability to display a decent amount of strength (remembering strength is task specific) in the classically viewed barbell movements, I probably said to myself “how hard can this be?

Well it turns out, significantly so.

In truth, it can be a pretty humbling experience to take a tool (the barbell) that you’ve developed a decent amount of skill and experience with, and then be thrown into a sea of incoordination and frustration. My reality at this time, however, is the same as what every single other person will likely experience when they first introduce and play around with weightlifting based tasks. That is just the norm when you have a lack of ‘skill’.

How do we develop skill?

Pretty simple, firstly we might need to check our experienced lifter ego. We need to leave this “I’ll pick this up no problem” mentality at the door. Secondly, we need continued, graded exposure to the task, alongside some form of user learning that allows the individual to better understand, comprehend and express the movement in question. A journey that takes movement execution from a place of disjointedness and awkwardness with high variability, towards building a movement that is expressive and flows with high levels of unconscious efficiency.

This is why now, having gone through this process and journey myself, alongside having taken the time to become a weightlifting coach through British Weightlifting (national governing body) and other education platforms, I believe in the value of having a coach/coaching exposure to help navigate the journey of skill development in weightlifting tasks, particularly for the complete novice, or inexperienced. It’s just a smoother, feedback led journey towards building greater physical competency and literacy.

At this point, if you’re still a little clueless and unsure as to what the sport of weightlifting involves, it’s probably now useful to delve a little deeper into it.

So what is weightlifting?

A registered, Olympic Sport in its own right, weightlifting is comprised of two independent lifts, the Snatch & the Clean and Jerk. Both lifts require the lifter to lift the bar overhead in an explosive manner. For those who maybe have never seen or heard of weightlifting, at the absolute elite level of competition, we’re talking about loads equivalent to 1.6 - 2 x bodyweight in the Snatch and 2.2 - 2.8 x bodyweight in the Clean & Jerk, being lifted from floor to overhead faster than you have time to say, “holy s**t”.

It’s an incredibly unique display, not only in terms of the size and rate of force being expressed, but also in terms of movement accuracy, timing and execution in this dance between barbell and lifter. Because of their unique physical and movement characteristics, weightlifting movements (or variations of) have been, and continue to be, highly regarded and widely used across the strength & conditioning community, largely born from two primary justifications:

- As spoken about above, their use to address, develop and improve power production.

- The similarity of positions and postures seen in weightlifting tasks, and those commonly seen in other sporting actions (base positions & jumping stances).

- The development of general qualities, for example, improved joint mobility. If you have ever seen a skilled weightlifter move, the range of motion they can display with load is beyond impressive.

Now, as with almost everything in life, there are always compelling reasons for and against the inclusion of something. Weightlifting is no different in a training programme.

Many opponents for its inclusion as part of an athletic development programme will say “it’s too time consuming and difficult to coach to inexperienced lifters and trainees”, there is some truth in this depending on context. Full lifts, from the floor to overhead (one motion for the snatch and two for the clean & jerk) mean the barbell is travelling over a greater distance, with a greater demand for mobility, in very challenging positions and postures. This means we can lose some of the training stimulus with less ‘skilled’ or experienced lifters, and perhaps time can be better spent with something more simple, like a loaded trap bar jump for example.

But there are solutions, and the benefits as listed above, may be worth the while. Just as you would with anything else you’re learning for the first time (or are a relative novice at), simplify the task to where the individual engages, understands and is able to execute the desired movement outcome on a more consistent basis is vital. This is at the crux of ‘skill’ development, a knowledgeable coach knows and understands this, and can help map and navigate the journey towards greater levels of skill acquisition. A journey from ‘unskilled’, uncoordinated movement towards ‘skilled’, effortless movement expression.

That’s why I firmly believe of the inclusion weightlifting derivatives are a must. Introductions to variations of the classic weightlifting movements in help developing the whole skill is perfect to get bang for your buck and also start you on the appropriate path. It means there’s a mechanism of introducing and exposing anybody to learning how to move the barbell in an aggressive, explosive manner, and gaining an exposure to weightlifting type movements. With this in mind, I'm excited to release the ‘intro to weightlifting’ course in the very near future, providing each individual with a bespoke framework and pathway towards understanding and building competency in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.

So stay tuned for whats coming up and see you on the platform!

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