Okay, a little personal information is necessary to write this post. I have to talk about myself so I can transition into talking about you. For those of you who don’t know, I had a major knee surgery back in June 2011. It was ACL reconstruction, which is the big kahuna. My surgeon told me that I would be able to expect the following recovery progression after the operation:
- Six weeks post-surgery- box squats above parallel
- Ten-twelve weeks post-surgery- parallel squats without a box
- Sixteen weeks post-surgery- Olympic lifts (power snatch and power clean only, start with extremely light weights and make small increases every week), gradually work to lower depth on the squats
- Gradually transition back into full snatches and cleans over time, keeping in mind that an ACL repair requires a nine-twelve month period for full recovery
This is the schedule I was told I needed to go by, and it turned out to be right on the money. At sixteen weeks post-surgery (four months), I was able to back squat 315x3 to slightly-below-parallel depth, power snatch 50 kilos (110 lbs) and power clean and jerk 65 kilos (143 lbs). I basically wanted to just test the movements and make sure everything felt stable and problem-free. Now, it’s been seven months since the surgery and I’ve just continued making small increases each week. I’m doing full snatches now, working around the 110 kilo range (242 lbs). I’m still doing power clean and jerks only, haven’t transitioned into full cleans yet, usually going around 130 kilos (286 lbs). I’ll probably start testing out full squat cleans in another month or so. Squat workouts have been around 405 lbs for sets of three reps.
Before the surgery, I was snatching 138 kilos (304 lbs) and clean and jerking 165 kilos (363 lbs), usually squatting around 500 pounds in workouts. So the lifts I’m working with now are still drastically lower than where I was. But I’m deliberately taking the recovery at a slow pace. I’m turning forty in a few months and I work around sixty hours a week at my job now, so caution and restraint are my major guidelines. I want to keep doing this for a long time and I’m willing to hold myself back if it’ll keep me healthy.
Anyway, the reason I’m discussing all of this is because the biggest thing I’ve realized throughout this whole process is how important it is to be able to sit into a perfect bottom position when snatching and cleaning. My flexibility in the bottom position was always one of my best assets as a lifter, and this surgery has obviously changed that. Now, I’m in the process of trying to work back down to that perfect bottom position as the swelling and scar tissue around my knee gradually dissipate. My workouts in recent months have reminded me of just how difficult it is to do the Olympic lifts when you can’t sit down into a deep position like the one in the photo you see here.
Many of you have taught others how to do the Olympic lifts. When you’ve done this teaching, you probably had at least a few lifters who could sit right down to a good flexible bottom position the first time they tried it. They look comfortable in the bottom, with the knees pushed forward, the hamstrings sitting on the calves, and the torso still straight up and down. These people have a huge immediate advantage over the other types. You know who I’m talking about when I say, “the other types.” These are the poor suckers who try to sit down into the bottom position, and they wind up looking like a giraffe standing on a telephone pole in a high wind. It’s awkward, they teeter all over, their butts stick out behind them like they’re taking a crap off the side of a boat, and you silently ask yourself, “How the hell is this guy gonna do a full snatch with a bar over his head?” Yeah, good question.
It’s ten times harder to do the Olympic lifts if you have problems with your bottom position, and it should be your top priority to fix it if you need to. All the pulling power in the world won’t matter if you can’t secure the bar overhead because of flexibility restrictions. There’s nothing scientific about developing a better bottom position; it’s mainly just a matter of a really disciplined stretching program. Every aspect of your lower body needs to get more flexible, especially your ankles, calves, and groin. This is what I’m concentrating on now, for the first time in my career. I’ve never had to think about the bottom position before because it was always natural for me. Now, I have to work for it like those “other types” we mentioned above. I tried doing Greg’s Russian Baby Maker stretch, and I’m not sure if it’s working yet. Maybe I should try it with my pants on next time.
Almost all of the technique discussion I see on the internet is focused on the pulling movement. But let's never forget that the pull is only one part of the Olympic lifts. Receiving the bar in the bottom of a full snatch or clean is just as essential as effective pulling technique, and it should be given the attention it needs.