The debate of technique vs strength is one we have all heard, and we most likely all fall slightly towards one side. Personally, after several years of training, I fall towards the strength side.
Kyle Pierce, creator of LSUS and coach of the strongest pound for pound American weightlifter of all time and 3 time Olympian Kendrick Farris, has a saying – Learn the lifts, and then get as strong as possible.
I have spent a lot of my weightlifting life trying to perfect the movements of the lifts, and for this I am pleased as it has left me with a decently high level of proficiency upon which to get strong. It was not for this reason however that I spent so much time working on my technique. As a beginner lifter, yet to have studied any Sport Science, listened to any podcasts, or read many articles, I thought that the best way to improve the snatch was to snatch. Now by improve I mean lift more weight, that being the sole goal of this sport. I thought that I could snatch and clean and jerk and eventually be a national champion. The issue here is I could barely squat 130kg at the time. I managed to up my snatch to 87.5kg, and by the time I had just about grinded out a 150kg back squat I managed my first 100kg snatch, possibly my happiest lift of all time. I’m not the best lifter in the world, I’ve not achieved anything significant yet in this sport, but I know that a 66.6% snatch to back squat efficiency is pretty decent, something I was proud of. But it took me about 15 months to get from my 87.5kg snatch to my 100kg snatch. My clean and jerk progress was even slower. During this time it went from 105kg to a 114kg. I could always clean over 90% of my front squat so I knew I was doing the right thing. Or at least I really thought I was.
I have a friend, well several friends who I train with, who are all stronger than me, at least in the squat, press, deadlift etc., but I could still always out lift them. They snatched around 50% of their squats and so I knew I was a more proficient lifter. Eventually they lifted slightly better, though still nowhere near as proficiently as me, but they began to out lift me and out Sinclair me. I kept telling myself I was better than them because I moved better and could ‘lift more for my strength’. I told them that if I was as strong as them I would absolutely smash them in the lifts. This may have been true, but it wasn’t reality
A unique opportunity came to me a year or so later. By this point I was still weak in the squat, with a 162.5kg max. I snatched 105 and clean and jerked 124. I injured my wrist and so couldn’tdo the lifts for about 3 months. In that time I did nothing but squat. Literally nothing. I woke up, went to the gym, squatted a max pause squat. Went to uni, did all my work for the day, came back to the gym in the evening, squatted to max again and did several back off sets. I slept well, ate a lot, and after 3 months I hit a 182.5 Back squat, 20 damn kilos more than I ever had done. One day my wrist felt a bit better, so I did what all weightlifters do when coming back from an injured wrist – I maxed out my clean! 130 went up for a PR. Then 135kg, and then 140kg. I couldn’t believe it, these were weights I hadn’t expected to reach for a while longer. Maybe that was part of it, my expectations were too low, and I certainly credit much of my squat progress in the preceding months to my increase in expectations. I demanded so much more from myself. I wanted to go from being the weakest but technically one of the best, to being the strongest! So I hit a 15kg pr in the clean after nothing but back squats.
Because I became a stronger human. My entire organism was just stronger! My legs and back had adapted to lifting heavier weights than I had ever lifted twice a day. Once my wrist was good enough to snatch I had hurt my ankle somewhat from the squats and so could only box squat. That said I very quickly hit a 115kg snatch, a 10kg pr. I’m convinced that had I been doing full depth squats this number would have reached 120kg. Either way, the point is that I was a much better lifter despite not doing any competition lifts for 12 weeks. Like Dr Kyle Pierce says, once you’ve learnt the lifts, then just get stronger. I didn’t forget the lifts. I am a weightlifter, 3 months off snatch and clean and jerk is never going to make me forget how to lift.
Since this time I have undergone a long series of injuries, and so have had no improvement in my training due to constant rehab and setbacks. During this time, I have been doing as many assistant exercise as possible, trying to strengthen my legs and my back in other ways, mainly through body building. I am not worried. When I have put in enough time and can lift again, my lifts will still be there. I will be able to move like I used to, and I will have a bigger base upon which to increase my numbers. I will certainly be spending less time on the lifts in the future and more time trying to be as strong as is humanly possible. I will squat, I will pull, a will row, I will press, and I will body build on my week parts, currently my hamstrings. My lifts will be there when I need them, they aren’t going anywhere.
If I was to compare my technique with that of an Olympian there would be obvious errors, but basically their technique would not allow me to lift many more kilos in the snatch and clean and jerk. And if it did, it would take years. My strength levels however do not compare to these goliaths. I squat perhaps 60% of the best weightlifters in the world. So why would I spend all of my time trying to perfect my technique when I could spend it trying to be as strong as them? I see people with really nice technique spend 2/3rds of their entire training session, if not more, doing triple after triple of the contest lifts at 70%. Why? Why do that? Why not hit a few doubles or heavy singles and then spend the majority of your time getting stronger.
Once you have solidified your technique, get as strong as hell. The strongest weightlifters in the world tend to be the best. Funny that. After all it is weightLIFTING…