Want a Bigger Clean? Talk to Me about Your Deadlift.

Dec 24th, 2011

Category: Fitness

Want a Bigger Clean? Talk to Me about Your Deadlift.

Ellie Deadlift

Ellie finishing a deadlift. Pictures from the CrossFit Total earlier this month will be available…in the near future.

The Olympic lifts represent an interesting confluence of strength, power, and technique. The two contested Olympic lifts include the snatch and the clean and jerk. Both of these movements involve explosively moving the barbell overhead either in one movement (the snatch), or two separate components (the clean and jerk).  Learning these lifts can take some time due to the complexity of the motor patterns required to jump with a barbell and to receive that barbell in a very specific position.

Initially the lifts will be limited by technique. The weights used will be light and the emphasis placed on moving the bar correctly and moving the body correctly. After a time, however, the fundamentals are established and the weights begin to climb. The more familiar a trainee becomes with the movements, the more confidence grows, and the more performance increases. Of course, this does not continue forever. Eventually other factors begin to limit increases. This is a mirror of the process for almost anything worth doing. Initially, performance is low, followed by a rapid period of improvement, then increases become harder to attain.

Today we’ll look at a big component of the Olympic lifts – power. Some terms need to be defined first. Strength is the ability to generate force against an external resistance. Power is the ability to display strength quickly. A deadlift requires strength, but not speed, and is not a lift requiring great power. A snatch, however, requires the barbell to move quickly and, at the heaviest weights, the lifter to move very quickly under the bar. Power production must be high in order to successfully complete a snatch. This simplification does not illustrate the relationship between strength and power very well, unfortunately. The next simplification does.

You cannot be powerful without first being strong.

We will look at two hypothetical trainees. The first can deadlift 225 pounds for a set of five. The second can deadlift 405 pounds for a set of five. The task before each of our lifters is a 200 pound clean. When the barbell first breaks from the ground, for whom will it feel lighter? Which trainee will feel more confident as the barbell clears the knee and the bar touches the thigh, indicating the need to violently accelerate the bar upwards? Who will have a better chance of successfully completing the lift? Obviously, a 405 pound deadlift confers a big advantage when it comes time to clean 200 pounds. Even if the stronger lifter is less explosive and less athletically gifted, those 200 pounds do not represent a heavy load. Even in the absence of good technique, the stronger lifter is still at an advantage. When it comes time to throw a barbell around, things will be much better if the weight feels light in the hands.

There are a lot of components to getting good at Olympic weightlifting. Being strong does not guarantee that you will have a bright future in the sport. However, not being strong guarantees that you will not progress very far with the fast lifts. If your Olymipc lifts are stalled and your technique is solid, the next questions to ask are, "Is my squat improving? How about my deadlift?" If the answers to those questions are not affirmative, then the path to a better clean just became a lot clearer.

Strength Saturday Schedule

As previously mentioned, Strength Saturday is on a Holiday Hiatus. I like alliteration.  There will be no Saturday class on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, or January 7th. The strength class will return on Sunday, January 15th before resuming its familiar Saturday slot in the subsequent weeks.

Happy Holidays, everyone.