This is a series in which we will attempt to collect, reflect on, and make sense of the great information given to us by the growing number of coaches and athletes we have interviewed on the podcast. The podcast this article is based on is embedded at the bottom of this page. You can see the rest of the series here
Quinn Henoch is often praised for his ability to bridge the world of Strength and Conditioning with Physical Rehabilitation. Those fields are normally seen as separate, with therapists staying on their side and the strength coaches on the other. We are now realizing that those fields, in fact, are not mutually exclusive. Reducing an athlete’s risk of injury or returning them from a set-back frequently relies on managing training variables. Quinn has been producing content geared towards illustrating this and bringing awareness to strength athletes and physical therapists alike.
For those who are not aware of Quinn’s background, I will provide a short bio. Quinn played D1-AA football at Valparaiso University where he received his Bachelor’s degree. After graduation, he spent some time working as a strength coach, but recognized his shortcomings in dealing with injuries and decided to further his education, earning his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Indiana University. He currently works with athletes of all levels and has competed in weightlifting since 2010. Quinn also started Clinical Athlete, a network of health care providers, students and coaches who specialize in the management of athletes.
Now that you understand a bit more about his credentials, let’s get right into the Five Things I learned from Quinn Henoch.
1 – Is There a Perfect Squat? Kind of…
Nearly every person reading this article was at some point told that they must squat a particular way. Quinn describes this “perfect squat” as the typically touted toes forward, feet shoulder width apart, vertical torso, knees aggressively pushed out technique. Should we all strive to squat in this way? The answer is a big, resounding NO. Human movement is so variable and there are a number of inputs influencing the way a particular person squats. A few examples given during the discussion were:
- Femur length
- Tibia length
- Torso length
- The bony anatomy of the hip
- Angle of the femoral neck
- Orientation of the hip socket
- Depth of the hip socket
- Anteversion/retroversion of the femur
- Training history
- Injury history
That is just to name a few…
All of these variables play into the way an individual will squat, so a premeditated prescription will not cut it. There is obviously variability between people but there will even be variability within the same person! An individual’s squat stance may change training block to training block, lift to lift (front, back, overhead squat), and as the years go on. All of this tells us that there is not one particular way to squat for everyone, but each person can find the best squat for them. This means accommodating all of the variables listed above and not being dogmatic to any particular movement system.
“When we tell people that you need to strive for this one way to squat and their body simply won’t allow that to happen… what are we doing to them? We’re just setting them up to feel like they’re never going to quite get there.”
2 – It’s not the Movement, it’s the Weight
When a movement can be performed properly with the bar and lighter loads, but with more weight those positions cannot be achieved (or start to look rough) the wrong cause is often attributed. It should not be chalked up to joint limitations or “an intrinsic problem…with their anatomy”. Instead, the situation should be viewed as a lack of motor skill acquisition with a particular amount of stress. To illustrate this further Quinn gives an example:
“So if you can play the piano you can play certain songs, but then you get to a song that is a little bit too fast you start messing up… It’s not that you can’t play the piano. It’s not that you forgot where the keys are, it’s just currently that skill set is beyond your capacity.”
Practically, this means that the motor skill thresholds where movements break down should be found and exploited. Instead of fighting your way through
“Even though weightlifting is all about one rep max, I mean that is the sport ultimately, but it’s very beneficial… for all lifters to work at their thresholds and to work to raise their minimums to a large degree.”
3 – Use Internal and External Load Markers to Prescribe Training
There are two considerations when programming and carrying out training, those are the external and internal training load markers. External training load is
What does this look like in practice? An athlete walks into the gym with a percentage range, say 75-80%, for a particular number of sets, and then the subjective markers partially guide the workout from that point on. If an athlete works up and their technique threshold is lower on that day (technique is falling apart with lighter loads) then they may train on the lower end, but if they look good, feel good, and move well they may train on the higher end. I say “partially” because we have all had those days where we feel like a steaming pile of… junk, but still manage big lifts for the day. If the athlete is complaining to the coach about not feeling
“See the problem with using internal load markers like that, like rpe or load threshold… is that sometimes you’ll get people that don’t end up pushing hard enough over time… If you compete in the sport of weightlifting… and you don’t ever feel beat up during a point in your training cycle you’re likely not pushing thresholds enough to really, really maximize adaptation.”
4 – Why the Jerk is Such a Problem
Most people have the understanding that with the jerk, you either can do it well or you can’t. It is a somewhat deterministic way of viewing the movement, which can leave a good number of people embracing their shortcomings. While that may provide an answer, there are other, more empowering ways to reframe the problem.
“I think that we miss a lot of jerks, in America especially, and I don’t quite know why, but I think that people don’t practice it as much.”
If it is an issue of practice, there seems to be a solution. A simple restructuring of your program will allow for more, better quality practice. Jerk first instead of last. Jerk from the rack or blocks to focus on that movement alone. Pick the movement apart, emphasizing the dip, the drive, or the catch. With the snatch and clean, variation tends to be widely used and understood as helpful for improving the lift. Why not integrate that approach with the jerk?
“The footwork and the timing of the dip, the timing of the lockout and the feet, it’s a skill.”
Now, paired with deliberate practice and organizing training in a way to get the most out of the movement, getting stronger will pick up the slack. Using variations to overload the lockout will strengthen that position and get the shoulders stronger in their end range. This takes the form of jerk recoveries, heavy jerks, behind the neck jerks, and push press. Exercise selection is important, because transference is most limited the further away from the specific movement you get. So when you’re trying to get stronger at these variations you still need to be practicing the jerks at your technique threshold to ensure progress and assimilation of the newly developed qualities.
“There should be a period of time during every training day where you are truly training and deliberately practicing at that threshold. That’s where you’re really going to maximize both the less specific attributes that you’re developing from the accessory work and have it really carry into your actual movement.”
5 – Don’t Over Complicate Your Warm Up
A good place to begin is understanding what the warm-up is trying to achieve. Generally, a warm-up is used to initially increase breathing, core body temperature, and promote sweating. Then the next goal is to warm up the specific movements and speeds used during the first exercise, this can include drills and variations of the movement. For example, when starting the bar warm-up for the snatch you can use muscle snatches and overhead squats to prepare the muscles and joints involved in the lifts, but also to refine movement and teach arm action after the finish.
“In general, your warm-up should consist… of regressions or lower load variations of the thing that you are going to be doing. It should be as specific as possible.”
There isn’t much that can’t be achieved with just lifting the barbell. All of these ends are possible through bar work, so to go somewhere else like a lacrosse ball, elastic band, or foam roller for joint mobilization is at best a waste of time.
The question someone reading this may ask is: “what does a foam roller do?” Well, it seems to create a non-specific effect. Basically, you feel good and get an acute increase in
So does the warm up really matter? Yes. The warm up consumes time and assuming most of us are on a time crunch why would you wastefully spend it lying around on a ball or stretching muscles to create a small change, which won’t impact performance? Instead you can take the bar, practice the sport, and expedite your warm up and save that time for extra sets with 40, 60, or 80 kilos. If you feel a need for the foam roller or lacrosse ball just place it in between warm up sets. Take the bar, roll out, repeat until you feel ready to move on.
“It’s not like you do all that non-specific warm up stuff and then you’re ready to snatch your working sets. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve tacked on 30 minutes of non-specific things when you could have… put it directly into more bar work, lighter loads, finding your technique threshold.”
I know a lot of these concepts are tough to wrap your head around when you first hear them, but there is a lot of truth to what Quinn is communicating. Weightlifting is a sport and should be treated as such. To get better at the sport, you do the sport. What your positions look like will vary based on your build, bony anatomy, and strengths or weaknesses. If your squat depth is higher than someone else’s, there is nothing wrong with that. Most legitimate issues will be resolved by doing the movements using threshold weights.
Quinn’s book Weightlifting Movement Assessment & Optimization: Mobility & Stability for the Snatch and Clean & Jerk is available from Amazon.
If you enjoyed this article, you can see the rest of the series here