Strength & Velocity

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While studying various and numerous lifters, both elite and novice, I arrived at certain relationships concerning mass and the time in motion of that mass. These relationships can be applied towards the training methodology and programming related to a specific time in motion (t) to be achieved for the purpose of maintaining equilibrium between the squats and pulls and the competition lifts.

The difference between velocity (top speed) and time in motion can be explained with two examples outside the sport of weightlifting. 1) The great sprinter Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters in 9.5. His top speed might be 27 mph and he might reach that top speed at the 60 meter mark. His overall time in motion was 9.5 seconds. Velocity is the change in acceleration from 0 to 27 mph. 2) A drag racer does the quarter mile in 4.9 seconds at a top speed of 320 mph. In both illustrations the time in motion is used to determine the winner rather than the top speed reached during those races. While the top speed or changes in acceleration are interesting to know for academic purposes, it’s the time in motion that is essential for training purposes. Many coaches, besides track coaches, carry around a stop watch to time their athletes during different phases of their skill sets. Track runners, competitive swimmers and speed skaters all use time in motion as the primary method of recording data. I believe the stop watch (or video) should also be used in weightlifting as a way to verify the lifter is maintaining the correct times in motion during their training sessions or at least some consistency in those times is being achieved.

In some circles of influence, it is believed that training the squats and pulls to absolute efforts, without regard for the velocity of those motions, is the correct way for the weightlifter to develop "strength" in order to progress the competition lifts to their full potential. While this approach can be beneficial in the short term, I believe it will lead to stagnation well before the lifter has reached full potential. Short term gains are achievable because the slow twitch fibers are being developed to sustain that progress, but over time a neglect of the fast twitch muscle fiber's development will begin to cause progress to slow and eventually stagnate or even decline. The lifter becomes frustrated because they are unable to reconcile those increases in the squats and pulls to the stagnation or decline in the competition lifts, and thus they believe and are told they need more absolute leg strength, which could very well perpetuate the problem.

Absolute effort is achieving a squat or pull regardless of how long it takes to achieve the lift, i.e., taking 4 seconds to stand up with a maximum effort PR squat (sometimes referred to as grinding).

There are specific time indexes which should be adhered to during training, when executing the competition lifts and the pulls and squats. These time indexes will insure that the competition lifts and assistance lifts will stay in equilibrium with one another throughout the lifter's career in the sport. These time indexes will also help reduce the chance of DOMS from setting in and/or the overloading of the muscular system and joints, thus allowing for smoother transitions from one workout to another, and help to monitor fatigue from overtraining or overloading.

Strength, as it relates to the sport of weightlifting, should be defined as a constant velocity regardless of the mass. This means that for strength to be quantifiable it must contain that measure of velocity which makes it meaningful for the purpose of progressing the squats and pulls and not solely by increasing that mass without any regard for that velocity. Since velocity is accumulative from a zero starting point to the end point, velocity can be measured in terms of time in motion (t), and not time over distance (t/d) which is used for measuring power, Hp, watts, etc. Simply put: track runners and competitive swimmers use a stop watch to measure their actual time in motion over a specific distance. Weightlifters rarely, if ever, measure their time in motion during a snatch or clean to full extension, a squat recovery or pull to full extension. This should be considered part of the weightlifter's training in order to assure them that those times in motion are being achieved at the right velocity for the competition lifts, from session to session, and also to keep the squats and pulls in equilibrium with those competition lifts.

The correct velocity for any particular lifter can easily be determined by measuring a PR snatch and clean from the platform to full extension (just before pulling under the weight) in terms of time in motion. For most elite lifters that particular time in motion is approximately 0.67 seconds or 20/30th of a second if using a 30 fps camera. Since t/d is not being used, then it does not matter how short or tall the lifter is with regard to the 0.67 seconds. A taller lifter must move faster than a shorter lifter in order to produce that same 0.67 seconds, and since we are not measuring power only the time in motion is needed. 0.67 is an approximation, since each individual will have to measure their own index.

The photo to the left, shows Ruslan Nurudinov at full extension which was timed at 0.67 seconds from the platform.

Absolute force is based on the individual's ability to produce a particular time in motion. Some might only be able to pull to full extension in 0.73 seconds, possibly even slower, and some very gifted lifters might even move faster than 0.67 seconds. Once the lifter knows what their time index is, be it 0.63 seconds or 0.73 seconds, then those times can be indexed to the squats and pulls. Obviously lighter weights during the incremental changes can be moved at faster times, and they should, but they should not be used as an index over the time required for those lifts near maximal efforts (normally anything over 85% would be sufficient).

Referring back to Ruslan Nurudinov, in order for him to snatch more than the 193k, as in the photo above, he has to maintain that same 0.67 seconds to full extension regardless of how much weight he puts on the bar. If he puts too much weight on the bar, such as 195k, that additional mass could slow his timed index down to the point where he is unable to achieve the lift successfully. Therefore, by using weights in the squats and pulls that result in a slower timed index (1 second overall), the lifter is training their muscles to move slower than is needed to achieve a successful lift. If Ruslan could eventually pull 200k in 0.67 seconds (without straps) to full extension, then that would give him the possibility of actually snatching 200k, as long as his squats increased proportionally at the same timed index and his bodyweight was the same.

The squats are a bit trickier than the pulls. The equivalent of a full squat in 1.0 second to a squat just above parallel is 0.67 seconds and this also depends on how deep the lifter is able to squat below parallel. Generally, if a lifter can do a full squat with 200k in 1.0 second they can do 233k in .67 seconds from just above parallel. Squats executed just above parallel are for the drive velocity for the jerk and the pull off the platform for the clean. Thus the same 0.67 seconds or stand up velocity during the pull will also be the same drive velocity for the jerk, as it must be. And again, if a lifter with a 233k squat just above parallel in 0.67 seconds wants to increase their clean & jerk they must increase the weight by maintaining the 0.67 seconds. Any full squat achieved slower than 1.0 or 0.67 seconds from just above parallel, would be considered overloading and non beneficial toward the requirements of the competition lifts. Also the squat just above parallel is functional for the pull since most pulls are lifted off the platform in this position. Again this is why the full squat should be 1.0 second and the just above parallel 0.67 seconds. 

Just above parallel means the top of the thighs are just a few degrees above parallel, i.e., no more than 5 degrees.

How a lifter programs their training to achieve progress in the squats and pulls by using a consistent velocity is not well defined, since most lifters find it easier to train the squats and pulls using absolute mass rather than absolute velocity.

A weightlifter who does not know their specific times in motion of their 1RM squat is only fooling themselves the next time they increase that 1RM. All they can actually say is that they did more weight, but without knowing the times in motion of the recovery of both of those squats, they don't actually know if it was a PR or not, at least a PR that adds value towards the progress of the competition lifts. The squats and pulls must be indexed toward a specific time in motion and not an absolute amount of weight using slow grinding actions or deceleration during the pull or when standing up with the weight during a squat or clean. 

The professional weightlifter knows when they are starting to decelerate during the squats and pulls and they will quickly end the routine at that point so as not to overload their muscular system any more than is necessary. I suggest timing the squat recoveries and the pulls to full extension until the lifter has ingrained those times which are not prone to deceleration, so they will know when to stop adding more weight to the bar. By setting limitations based on non deceleration the lifter can be more assured of not overloading their systems (muscular and adrenaline). 

When measuring the pull to full extension from a maximal snatch or clean, the lift should be timed just as the bumper plates leave the platform to the point where the top of the head reaches the highest point or top of the apex. Any float time should be attributed to the pull under the weight. The pull under the weight is generally half the time of the pull to full extension. Therefore, if the pull to full extension is 0.67 seconds the pull under the weight will be 0.33 seconds. This 2:1 ratio is basically locked into the complete motion sans the recovery of the lift. These two times when added together equal 1 second, which is the time in motion of the snatch or clean from the platform to receiving the weight. This is why the full squats should be executed in 1 second when standing up. The lifter must time their lifts so they will know exactly what those times are and so they can ingrain those times in order to know when they are moving too slow, as well as apply those times to the pulls and squats so all the primary lifts will stay in equilibrium. Primary lifts being the competition lifts and pulls and squats.

The photo on the left, shows Nurudinov after receiving the weight from full extension, which was timed in 0.33 seconds from full extension and maintaining the 2:1 ratio between the pull to full extension and pulling under the weight.

It is important to realize the difference between actually measuring the time in motion of a lift and just trying to move fast. If, for example, a track coach trained his sprinters without timing them, it would be impossible to know how fast they were running. In fact, that type of training would have no meaning at all to the coach or the athlete. They would be hard pressed to know how they would stack up against their competition in a track meet. By the same token, a weightlifter not knowing their times in motion would be in a similar situation from a training, and possibly even a competitive standpoint.

Equivalent force occurs when two different masses create the same force due to the change in acceleration being different. For example, squatting 200k in 2.0 seconds is equal to squatting 150k in 1.0 second. There is no positive benefit to squatting 200k in 2.0 seconds over 150k in 1.0 second. In reality there is a deficit of both overloading (50k) and the wear and tear on the joints from that overloading without any benefit toward the progression of the lifter's competition lifts. The main reason powerlifters are able to squat huge weights is due to the lifter being able to slow down their time in motion in order to accommodate the additional stresses from that increase in mass. To claim a weightlifter is strong because they can squat a lot of weight slow, such as 250k in 4.0 seconds, is a misrepresentation of the facts. The lifter is not strong they are slow, and are using the oxygenation of the slow twitch to achieve such lifts at such slow times in motion. In other words powerlifters define strength different from what weightlifters define it as, or as it should be defined. Powerlifters also use power formulas more than weightlifters. The weightlifter should primarily be concerned with the force formulas and those times in motion related to all the primary lifts.

By not training the fast twitch primarily, the weightlifter will over time lose the ability to move at the right velocity during the pull and recovery of the snatch and clean, thus becoming stagnant sooner. Using specific times in motion during training will leave room for the lifter to progress towards their full potential.

What does the 0.67 seconds in the pull to full extension have to do with the training of the squats and pulls? These timed indexes for the pull to full extension are benchmarks for the squats and pulls. They assure the lifter that when these times in motion are slower than their own index, they are not training the fast twitch fibers as much as they are the slow twitch. They are at that point out of equilibrium with the velocity/time in motion of their competition lifts. Progress in the squats and pulls should be categorized by the absolute amount the lifter can lift, yet stay at or under 1.0 seconds during the ascension. All reps and sets of reps should also adhere to this philosophy.