[This is a guest post by Antonio Squillante. Antonio Squillante is the Director of Sports Performance and Training at Velocity Sports Performance, Los Angeles, California. He graduated summa cum laude from the University San Raffaele – Rome, Italy – with a Doctorate Degree in Exercise Science. Antonio has an unlimited interest in the field of sports biomechanics and long-term athletic development conducting academic research and presenting at national and international events as a member the International Society of Sports Biomechanics (ISBS) and the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS) and a member of the NSCA Advisory Board for the State of Pennsylvania and California. He is currently the Weightlifting Head Coach at California State University of Northridge (CSUN).]
Olympic-style weightlifting exercises have long been considered to be one of the most valuable asset in the training of elite throwers. Snatch, clean and jerk represent a fundamental aspect in the development of young and adolescent athletes. They, also, provide the unique opportunity for elite level athletes to develop power, a critical aspect in throwing mechanics.
Weighted pulls – snatch and clean pulls and high pulls – can teach young athletes how to overcome inertia with speed as they develop proper mechanics in the triple extension. Some of the unique aspects of competitive weightlifting can improve general athleticism, creating the foundation for throwers to develop the necessary skills and physical attributes to compete in sport. Throwing in track and field is nothing but an “upgrade” of fundamental motor patterns that normally consolidate during the first decade of life. At a very young age, athletes know how to throw like they know how to walk, run, and jump. However, for them to be able to throw more than 25 meters in the javelin or more than 10 meters in the shot put, speed of release needs to increase.
Increasing speed in throwing mechanics is the very last step in a progression that goes from basic overarm throwing drills mostly oriented toward skill development and accuracy (age 4-6) to more advance bilateral and unilateral drills where distance, and therefore power, comes into play (age 6-8). Between the age of 9 and 11 years old, speed – linear speed – and rate of force development significantly improve: before the onset of puberty, young throwers need to learn how to handle ground reaction force greater than their body weight in order for them to increase the speed of release, as they progressively move from basic to more complex, sport-specific throwing drills. Olympic-style weightlifting derivatives, also known as weighted pulls, can provide the opportunity to master this skill while developing stronger and more powerful athletes.
Lifting and throwing mechanics, at such a young age, share important similarities. Weighted pulls and basic overarm throwing drills are nothing but the entry level in the development of more advanced “body transport, object manipulation” skills – according to Gentile’s taxonomy of motor learning – involving a higher degree of “in-motion regulatory conditions and intertrial variability”. Because of their similarities in terms of “invariant features”, a term that according to Schmidt’s original general motor pattern (GMP) theory describes the permanent traits among variations of similar motor patterns such as relative timing, relative force and movement sequence, pulls and high pulls provide the opportunity to increase positive transfer of learning between general and sport specific skills.
As young athletes learn the basics in Olympic-style weightlifting they also learn how to exert vertical force against the ground and transfer it to the implement (the bar) in the effort to increase its momentum: this “summation” of force via the triple extension of ankle, knees and hips also provides represent the necessary prerequisite to learn how to convert linear speed into speed of release in some of the basic throwing event. Pulls and high pulls have shown to be as effective, if not more effective, then full lifts in developing power and peak vertical velocity. It is important, however, to teach young athletes both variations of these exercises (snatch and clean pulls and high pulls) as well as introducing the catch, the most difficult aspect in Olympic weightlifting. Snatch, clean and jerk do represent the “core” exercises in the training of elite level throwers: by learning the skill necessary to perform these lifts, young and adolescent athletes have better chances to improve their performance in high school and college.
Olympic-style weightlifting – snatch, clean and jerk from the floor and/or from mid-tight (hang) as well as power snatch, clean and jerk – are a valuable asset in developing explosive strength, the most important physical attribute among elite level throwers. According to dr. Dr. Bogdan Poprawski who wrote the masterpiece “Track and Field: Aspects of Strength, Power and Speed in Shot Put Training (1987), when compared to other forms of traditional, heavy strength training, snatch.clean and jerk develop “speed over sheer brute strength” by achieving vertical peak bar velocity up to 2.3 m/sec. Strength – absolute strength- is, with no reasonable doubt, of paramount importance in throwing events. However, in the effort to increase speed of release, elite athletes should strive to improve vertical bar velocity as they manage to move submaximal weight at maximal speed.
“Numerous studies and review articles have reported evidence and logical arguments for the use of explosive exercises for throwers” explains Dr. Lawrence Judge from Ball State University (Indiana). Wighted pulls – snatch and clean pulls and high pulls – provide the opportunity for young and adolescent athletes age 11 to 14 years old to improve some of the most fundamental aspect in throwing mechanics while developing strength, speed and power. Learning the basics in Olympic weightlifting begins at a very young age and it represents a fundamental milestone in the training of elite level throwers.