To make big gains in weightlifting, stop continually playing to your strengths.
Attacking your weaknesses is where the big gains lie.
David Rigert is shown above doing a snap-snatch with 308-pounds. He doesn’t move his feet.
When men gather together repeatedly, over time nicknames will emerge based on traits and performance. Our training group has a core of a dozen or so lifters all inspiring to make big gains through weightlifting. We gather every Sunday and train. Over the years, traits and unique aspects of personality or physique lend themselves to the assignment of nicknames.
One of our lifters (when lifting) always appears to be in slow motion. Be the weight on the barbell 135 or 435, the power bar speed is always the same, slow. I have talked till I am blue in the face about the need for some explosiveness on the concentric phase of a lift. He hears, he groks, he is unable. His nickname is "Slow Twitch".
This is a smart guy so I can hit him with logic. After watching him grind a warm-up set of 5-reps in the deadlift with 225 as if it were 800, I appealed to his intellect. “Look, that set was slow as hell. Should a man not be able to move 225 twice as fast as 450?” He was a 450 deadlifter. He ponders everything, after pondering he said,
He is not highly excitable and uses words as if he had a finite amount and it cost him money every time, he used one. His next set was 315 for 3. Before he commenced, I yelled at him, “315 is 70% of 450. Coil, load the eccentric, EXPLODE the concentric!”
He nodded and proceeded to pull 315 like it weighed 700. There was dead silence in the room as he set the final rep down. I shook my head and looked perplexed. This guy could, no doubt in my mind – could deadlift 315 for 15 reps – but why on God’s green earth must each rep look like another step in the Bataan Death March!? (Google it up dummies)
He set the barbell down stood up and announced non-plussed, “That felt a lot faster.”
“Oh my God!” one of the lifters said under his breath. I was past chastising him. The other eight lifters confirmed my impression. They were all stifling giggles and cutting wise cracks.
I concluded that our boy was hardwired to grind. He was a human dump truck, all torque and low-end push power. No horsepower to speak of, no one was going to confuse him with a 650-horsepower, 200-mile an hour Ferrari 488. Still, dump trucks and road-graders are unbeatable within their designated tasks.
He was unable to move even light weights fast on the concentric, loaded phase of a rep. He could not make his muscles move faster. I explained to him what was going on.
“You are letting your subconscious drive the car and call the shots.” I poked his chest “You have got to seize back control of the steering wheel. The body cannot be allowed to govern itself. The Mind must be the Boss. The psychological must rule the physiological.”
Now he looked perplexed. I continued. “The human body, left to its own devices, will choose the path of least resistance. Whatever is easier, the body will pick. This is a DNA survival gene: conserve energy, exert the minimum amount of effort to complete the task at hand.”
I tapped my temple. “The conscious Mind must stay online throughout the set. The instant the lifter “spaces out” or loses concentrative focus, the body, the physiological reptile mind will take over and revert to old minimal expenditure habits and patterns. The reptile slow-mind can be overcome by overriding it.”
I decided this was a good time to introduce Mr. Dump Truck Reptile Mind to “snap cleans,” a simplified version of the foot-slapping power clean. This exercise forces explosiveness. After a slow and precise pull from the floor to just above the knee, slow precision instantly morphs into explosiveness, the explosion is generated by moving the body in a short, precise, explosive fashion.
To commence a snap-clean, the hips are set high, the spine arched, the shoulders thrust forward, purposefully in front of the barbell. Once the barbell passes the knees, the hips snap forward, causing the thighs to forcibly impact the barbell, creating a violent upward pull.
A mere 95-pounds proved insurmountable for Slow-twitch: his technique was robotic. His version was an upright row followed by an awkward reverse curl. A collective suppressed giggle went around the room as he finished the set. I just shook my head. We dropped the weight to 65-pounds, and it was a repeat performance. He was incapable of rapid movements.
The remedial protocol? He could get acceptable velocity using an empty 45-pound bar. I upped it to 50-pounds. Until he can generate genuine velocity with 50-pounds, there will be no poundage added. When there is, no more than 5-pounds increases. This sounds snail like until you realize that in ten sessions, he will be handling fifty more pounds, now with the requisite explosiveness.
A clean or snatch must have velocity, or it isn’t a quick lift. A slow clean is no clean at all. There is no earthly reason that a man with a 450-pound deadlift cannot power clean 225-pounds, 50% of their deadlift max. The 450-deadlifter has the requisite strength: they lack the skill to capitalize and amplify.
An inability to handle poundage explosively betrays a problem in the body’s electrical circuity. Slow twitch used his muscles quite effectively when bulling around heavy poundage for short distances, with no regard for speed or velocity. His CNS was not used to explosiveness, moving quickly is part genetic and part learned. He had neither the genetics nor the practiced skills.
Our remedial protocol was to concentrate on explosive doubles in the snap-clean. I work with some really good Olympic lifting coaches and the cutting-edge thinking is that single and double reps are ideal for optimizing explosiveness.
The technique is simple. Establish a ‘bowed’ spinal column. Place the shoulders in front of the barbell. Pull with precision and control until the barbell rises to just above the knee. The hips are shoved forward, simultaneously the torso straightens. The thighs hit the rising barbell with such an impact that the bar leaps upward.
Everything happens at once; the result is the barbell is catapulted upward. Velocity is attained. Sets of 2 reps, done every day, takes all of 15-minutes. The trick is attaining velocity with light weight, then not losing that velocity as the poundage is crept upward over time. If you lose velocity, reduce the payload; retrench, and reestablish.
The good news is weak points come up quick. Sets of 2 reps in the snap clean are used as a warm-up for the deadlift. The weights are light, recovery is not an issue. Rule of thumb: a man should be able to snap clean his bodyweight. Obviously, this is a goal to be worked towards.
Stay engaged mentally: every fiber of our being wants to pull cleans slowly. This can be overcome by consciously retaining mental control. Before and during the set, concentrate! Think SPEED! at that exact instant when the barbell clears the knees and it is time to drive the hips forward.
Add snap cleans to your training regimen and your traps, lower lats and erectors will explode with growth. The combination of deadlifts and cleans are the ultimate exercise pairing for big gains. Any time you are performing an explosive lift, do the explosive stuff first in the workout, when the central nervous system is fresh and firing on all eight cylinders.
Ignore the weight on the bar: is the barbell moving explosively or are you muscling it up? If you are bulling up the weights, take the ego hit, drop the weight way down and reestablish velocity. We’ll keep you apprised of Slow-twitch and his power clean journey. I have flat told him that getting a 75% of bodyweight power clean (a 150 double) would add mounds of muscle to his traps, lats and spinal erectors – and it would help him attain the 500-pound deadlift he has his sights set on. To lift bigger weights, you need bigger muscles.
We shall see if he can overcome his natural aversion to quickness and rapidity. If he gets traction with the quick lifts, it would be a classic example of a man that stopped playing to his strengths and attacked his weaknesses for big gains. I am hopeful that he takes on the challenge: I would be hard pressed to come up with an individual that had a worse deadlift-to-power clean ratio. Can Slow-twitch rewire his central nervous system hardwiring and become fast-twitch? Or at least medium-twitch?? Time will tell.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.