It is no secret that a great deal of Olympic Weightlifting involves the legs. In the both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk, an athlete has to stand up from a squat position. The most efficient way to stand up is to just stand up right? Sometimes this isn’t necessarily the case. It is common for athletes to have their knees cave or have their trunk/upper body collapse inward (usually referred to as “crashing down”). However, if we have addressed these issues, we don’t want to over correct it either. In a perfect world, we want an athlete to have their knees forward tracking over their toes with even pressure along their foot and have an upright torso angle. This requires a lot of mobility but there are some exercises (conveniently listed below) that Kingfield Barbell uses, to help an athlete develop more stability in their knees and core.
1. Banded Side Steps:
This is a good warm-up exercise to use to get your hips ready for training. The banded side step really works the gluteus medius (top side of your butt) which is a very useful muscle to use when standing up from a squat. When performing this exercise, it is also important to work on keeping your knees in line with your feet with every step. It will be a good reminder for your body when you go into your regular training. Use these as a warm-up before training by doing 2 sets of 20 steps per leg.
2. Squats to Parallel (back and front):
Squats, as an exercise, are always talked about in the strength world. What is the appropriate depth an athlete should reach? Where is the weight on the foot? Where should my knees go (out or in)? Squatting to parallel or slightly above is a very good tool to help athletes correct their movement. Sometimes, athletes like to use a “bounce” out of the bottom of a squat. This bounce can be useful for standing up from cleans but it is a skill. Squats are usually categorized as a strength exercise. When athletes try to use this bounce out of the bottom of the squat, they are actually losing tension when they try to stand up. That is usually when we see knees start to cave in and then shoot outwards to counteract. Instead, if we squat to parallel, we are actually keeping tension throughout the entire movement. We want our athletes to think about having control in the descend while keeping the knees tracking forward (more of an upright torso) and over the toes. These parallel squats can be done with regular tempo or a pause at parallel.
3. GHD Back Extensions:
If you don’t have a GHD, invest in one or find a gym that owns one. Aside from legs, a strong low back/trunk is a weightlifters second best friend. You can have the strongest legs in your gym but if you collapse every time on heavy attempts in the lifts/squats, what’s the point? Our trunk or midline, is where we can stay grounded and in control of our movements. We want to focus on going from flexion to extension within our low back while squeezing our butt. There are many different variations you can use with back extensions on the GHD.
You can set a number of reps and then pause for a certain amount of time in extension. You can use a band for resistance to start and then move to having a barbell on your back as well. We program these as accessory work at least 2-3 times a week. Sets are programmed 3-4 and reps will depend on the training session previous to performing the back extensions.
Weightlifters should be doing some sort of ab exercises everyday at the end of training. Not for the sake of having a sick 6-pack, but because if we have a strong midline, we can be much more stable in receiving weight and squatting. There are tons of ab exercises in the world so it can be a little daunting to choose which exercises are best for weightlifters. My suggestion, is to just keep it simple and have fun with them. They are not the sexiest exercises to do but they do go a very long way in improving structural integrity when lifting.
Spend about 10-15 minutes after training to do 3-4 rounds of 2-3 exercises each day. We have found a lot of success when using these exercises with our athletes. Sometimes it is more important to take a little step back and work on the basics instead of going big all the time.
Give these exercises a try if you are feeling unstable in squats or collapsing when trying to make a lift. Thanks for reading!