Ask Greg: Issue 144
Greg Everett

Juli Asks: I never properly learned how to receive an overhead bar to the back (for example: overhead squats out of the rack and re-racking for multiple sets.) I tried it once last year (working up in weight) but my body felt like it had been in a car wreck and it took weeks to recover. At 49, is this something I should just avoid or is there a way for me to do these correctly and adapt over time to the stress?
Greg Says: It’s definitely something you should be able to do at any age, but it’s not something you should need to adapt to—it’s something you need to learn how to do properly so it’s not a traumatic experience. The reason lifters are able to lower heavy weights from overhead is that they do it in a way that minimizes the downward force of the bar and allows them to absorb the remaining force with their legs. By no means should you be just guiding a free-falling barbell onto your back or shoulders—that’s a great way to get hurt.
Basically, the bar should be lowered partway under the control of the arms—fairly slowly—to the point at which the arms would no longer be strong enough to control it down. How far that is will vary among lifters, but it will at least be a few to several inches. As the bar approaches that level, pop up onto your toes and continue lowering the bar under as much control as you can manage with the arms—this action closes the distance between the bar and the shoulders/back to bring them together more smoothly, but popping up on the toes also sets the lifter up to better absorb the weight with the legs.
As the bar nears the shoulders/back, return to flat feet and bend the knees to absorb the weight with your legs as it connects with the body. Be sure to remain fairly upright with your trunk and maintain pressurization and tight abs to ensure your back is protected.
The effectiveness of this movement is dependent on proper timing, so it will require practice. Practice every day with an empty bar until it starts feeling smooth and consistent, and then begin doing it with more and more weight incrementally as your comfort allows.
Having said all of that, in certain cases, lowering the bar is ill-advised. For example, if there is an existing problem with the shoulders, elbows or upper back, no matter how well the bar is lowered, these problems may be exacerbated or aggravated. In that case, use jerk blocks if possible, or you may have to stick with single reps at heavier weights.
Check out this video and accompanying article to learn exactly how to do it.
Mira Asks: Would you elaborate on how valuable deficit cleans and snatches are? And when would be appropriate to integrate them into a lifters training program? Thank you in advance.
Greg Says: Honestly I don’t find them to be particularly valuable. They can provide variety if it’s really needed, but variety can be obtained in the competition lifts in a number of different ways that I think are more often more beneficial for more lifters. This is not to say there’s never a time when they can be useful, but I would typically go to many other options before deficit snatches and cleans.
Having said that, I do believe pull and deadlift variations from deficits are extremely valuable and I use them regularly with my own lifters. The purpose is to emphasize strength in the pull from the floor, and develop the leg and postural strength in particular to be able to separate and begin moving the bar properly for the snatch and clean. These can be loaded much more heavily than a snatch or clean from a deficit and consequently be more effective at developing that strength. Performing the actual competition lifts from a deficit will be less effective at developing that strength due to the lower intensities. They’ll still help, of course, but again, I find there are usually more effective lift variations most of the time, especially if you’re using deficit pull or deadlift variations already.
In either case—competition lifts or pulls—they would be used earlier in a training cycle during the preparatory phase(s) and removed as the lifter approached a competition as training becomes increasingly specific to the competition lifts. This is true for any strength-oriented exercises, which will be more prevalent earlier in a cycle when strength and more basic qualities are being emphasized, and then reduced as that newly developed strength is then applied to the competition lifts.

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