I've given this a lot of thought, and gone through more than a few drafts. The result is certainly lengthy, generally coherent, and hopefully of some value to the ongoing discussion. If you find that I'm saying the same thing that's been said before (and probably better) by Greg, Arien and others, but it helps me sometimes to put things in my own words. If this reads like a re-hash of other people's observations, therefore, my apologies in advance.
If you find a kernel of original thought in the following, well, hey! ... even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns.
Originally Posted by Greg Everett
In my opinion, the simple answer is that the weightlifter has to do it all. He has to rely on good ol' strength training basics like heavy squatting, DLing, pressing etc.; and he has to get in a lot of HEAVY snatching and clean & jerking - not just technique work. The differences between snatching 85% and 100% are HUGE. If you're not handling heavy, heavy weights in the classic lifts a good portion of your training career, you're simply not going to be as successful as you could be.
Whether you intended it or not, Greg, I think you just articulated the olympic weightlifter’s version of Crossfit's “World Class Fitness in 100 Words.”
I suppose that really is the bottom line. The concepts underlying Practical Programming may not apply directly to weightlifting, but they definitely apply to the generation of the strength base necessary to pull, stand up with and support heavy weights. Joe Mills 20/20 drilling may not generate the excesses of absolute strength that PP does, but it provides the endless repetition with medium to heavy weights necessary to hone the lifts into the realm of the subconscious. A Bulgarian-like focus on a very few, very heavy singles won’t ingrain proper technique, but it quickly exposes fearlessness (and technical deficiencies) under the bar. Each is necessary; none is sufficient.
Therein lies the real challenge – like Greg notes, as weightlifters we have to strike that balance between each of the foregoing. We have to focus on each in its turn, but not to the exclusion of the others lest we completely lose what progress has been made in the past. (This is, of course, by way of confessional as much as observation. I've been very guilty of this in the past). Like the CA WOD, an athlete can focus on the strength base for 4 weeks while still maintaining technique through the light technique sessions and Saturday totals, then turn to the lifts for four weeks and handle some heavier weights in the snatch and clean while maintaining the strength gains from the prior cycle. In the past, focusing on four to six 20/20 workouts in the last few weeks leading up to a meet has been very effective for me in sharpening my technique and building some "meet endurance" to the point where the competition feels like only a fraction of the workload of grueling session of 20 snatches and 20 cleans.
One question I have, though, is about the notion of "cycles" of training in weightlifting -- at least, as they are traditionally thought of. Traditional programming starts from a high volume, low intensity base (sets of 10) and slowly increases intensity as the volume decreases over time. Great for powerlifting; totally impractical for competitive weightlifting (anybody who's completed Crossfit's Grace or Isabel will understand this for sure).
Practical Programming came at it from a different perspective. Start with a more functional level of volume (say, 5x5) and increase intensity. Rapidly. Weekly, if possible. Back off only if/when you stall. Great for strength training but, again, not terribly applicable directly to the snatch and clean. For me, perhaps the single most thought-provoking theme of Practical Programming is the fundamental concept of beginner/intermediate/advanced being defined as a function of recovery ability. Put another way, that training should never be more complicated than is absolutely necessary, and the athlete should always defer to the simplest, fastest method that produces gains. From that, for example, Rippetoe posits that if an athlete can add 2.5 kg to the bar every workout, the athlete should do it.
In the context of improving the snatch and clean, however, gains are much more so a dual function of improvements in either (i) strength, given sufficient technique, or (ii) technique, given sufficient strength.
So what's the fastest way for me to improve my snatch or clean? Unless you're a rank beginner or national caliber and above, I think the answer lies in the serial identification and elimination of weaknesses. Using myself as an example, my #1-current-most-consistent weakness is a failure to finish the second pull - especially in the snatch. From the perspective of pulling weight-to-height, I've got the pull for 100/130 or better, yet I'm currently at about 92/124. Why? At lighter weights, my technical flaw is masked by the fact that I can pull the weight sky-high, such that it still drops into the right position regardless. As I approach 1RM, however, the weight doesn't find the right "catch" position (although I still pull it plenty high enough) unless I finish that second pull. My second biggest weakness right now would be "stand up" strength -- I need more squatting, plain and simple (but then again, who doesn't?).
Given these weaknesses, right now pulls are waste of time for me. More pulling strength right now isn't going to improve my lifts, and it runs the risk that if they don't mirror the lifts exactly, I'll be ingraining bad technique. Same for power cleans and power snatches. NB: If I fix my second pull and my lifts start improving, I will
need more pulling strength to turn 100/130 into 107/140, but first thing's first.
I could focus on lifts from the high or low hang, but those haven't proven especially effective for me either. Again, there's the challenge of ensuring that the bar path is matched precisely to that of the full lift. What works best for me right now is singles. Lots of them. With the sole mental cue of achieving "verticality" at the top of the second pull. Sound familar? It's 20/20 drilling.
Of course, doing a jillion perfect snatches and cleans isn't going to do much for my absolute squatting strength, so I need some squatting in there, too. Pick a set-rep scheme (5x5, 3x5, 3x10, 2x6, whatever), pick a starting weight, and add 2.5kg to the bar every time you think you can. If it's it's every squat workout, great. If it's every second or third, groovy. Sound familiar? It's Practical Programming - beginner or intermediate, just keep adding weight to the bar every chance you get.
Now, if I have to work late and my wife is pissed at me for not cleaning up the garage, maybe I only drill 15/15 that day, or I subtract 15kg from the squats and plan for a better workout next time. Sound familiar? It's the "Bulgarian" notion of a daily max -- the notion that you lift to your ability that day, and some days you'll lift better than others.
Now, eventually I'm (finally!) going to become master of the second pull. It might take 3 weeks, or it might take 13 (although I'm sincerely hoping for the former). At that point, with 100/130 squarely under my belt, more squatting and pulling strength will be in order to correct my new "weakness" -- insufficient pulling strength. So, I'll give my joints a much needed rest from the 20/20 drilling and put more of my energy into squats, deadlifts and pulls. Or perhaps I'll find that I can clean anything I look at, but can't jerk it to save my life. Taking a page from Coach Burgener's playbook, more rack jerks or behind-the-neck jerks may be in order.
From this perspective, isn't "cycling" really just changes in stimulus over time? High volume to low volume. Drilling singles to squatting 5x5. Strength phase to peaking phase. At the end of this rather lengthy detour of self-discovery, I guess my point is that cycling -- for weightlifters -- seems to be more about cycling through weaknesses. Over time, and as we (hopefully) improve, our weaknesses will change. By shifting focus from one weakness to the next, perhaps
In looking back through my logs, it seems that I've never progressed so much as when I took one thing -- one goal -- and kept to it long enough to make a difference. Adding a healthy dose of the intuitive sense that Greg alludes to above, I posit that the real "Theory of Everything", for you quantum physicists out there, is to identify your current weakness, find the 20% of effort that maintains 80% of your general ability <<insert obligatory nod to Pareto here>> and turn the remaining 80% of your training energy to eliminating that weakness.
It might not get me to the Olympics, but I'll betcha it gets me to that 100/130 by Christmas.