The Difference Between Absolute and Specific -

With Respect to the Speed of the Squats - Continued

Lifters frequently ask each other “how much can you squat”. The question of how much is predicated on an absolute amount of weight regardless of how long it takes to stand-up with that weight. The stand-up time could be 1 second or 5 seconds, and, in most cases, as far as the person asking the question is concerned, the time makes no difference. It’s assumed the amount of weight a lifter can squat is correlated to how much they can clean & jerk, regardless of the time it takes to stand-up. Any squat can be correlated to determine how much can be clean & jerked, but that ratio between the squat and clean & jerk must be a constant and it must reflect the purpose of the squat, i.e., strength or speed or force production vs. accelerated velocity. As the weight increases in the squat the stand up time will increase, and vise versa. The lifter can only move more weight if the stand-up time increases, to a point where the stand-up time becomes infinitely slow to failure. The question arises as to which type of squat is better for the clean & jerk or for the snatch and clean & jerk in particular. 

In the formula F=ma (force equals mass times accelerated velocity), as the weight increases in the squat the accelerated velocity must decrease, but what happens to the force when comparing a squat achieved in one second with 200 kg to one achieved in 2 seconds with 250 kg. Since there is a trade-off between the amount of weight (m) and accelerated velocity (a), the amount of force generally remains the same. 

The difference between a one second squat and 2 second squat would be reflected in the make-up of the muscle fibers (type 1, type 2, and type 2a) the slow twitch, fast twitch and in-between slow and fast twitch fibers. Since it takes more oxygen to perform slower squats with heavier weights, the slow twitch fibers are exercised more than the fast twitch. If the lifter does more slow squats (1.5 seconds or slower) instead of fast squats (under 1.5 seconds) then they will work their slow twitch more and it will be reflected in the times associated with the clean & jerk, particularly with the clean stand up time. Slower squats might allow more weight to be cleaned but the jerk will be hampered due a lack of drive velocity for the jerk, the increase of absolute strength can also reduce the proficiency in the snatch, as well.

There needs to be a balance struck between the development of fast twitch and slow twitch fibers, in order for the snatch, clean, and jerk to remain in equilibrium with each other. As a general rule, if the lifter needs someone to spot them during a squat, they are doing too much weight, or if they need to dawn a belt, when for most squats they don’t, they are doing too much weight. Nothing against spotters or belts, but these things can and usually do mean slower times are in the offing, slower times that normally produce little if any lasting results that can be transferred to the snatch or clean & jerk. Sometimes more is not better, and slow grinding movements can produce diminishing returns if this becomes the rule, or habit, rather than the exception. A massive slow back squat will allow the lifter to clean a lot more than they can jerk and the snatch will be estimated at 80% of what they can clean & jerk not just clean. The excess amount between the clean and the clean & jerk can be detrimental to the overall performance of both the snatch and clean & jerk. 

There are a few problems with a, so called, strength cycle. When emphasizing the squats for a month or two, the snatch and clean & jerk will be neglected, in the belief that increasing the squat will automatically increase the snatch and clean & jerk. For a beginning lifter this could be the case, but for the intermediate or elite lifters this approach may result in big gains in the squat, but when the lifter returns to the snatch and clean & jerk those gains may not be realized, and the gains made in the squat will decrease once the snatch and clean & jerk training is resumed. The only importance of an absolute squat is its correlation to a one second squat. For example; a squat of 200kg with a stand-up time of two seconds is equivalent to 150kg with a stand-up time of one second. The standard ratio of squat to clean & jerk is 80%, but 80% of 200kg is 160kg clean & jerk, and 150kg back squat in one second is equal to (150kg x .86) 129kg clean & jerk. The lifter might be able to clean 160kg but will be unable to jerk that much since his drive velocity is predicated on the one second squat or equivalent.

The 80% of 1RM back squat to clean & jerk has been the industry standard ratio for decades, but is only accurate if that back squat was achieved with a time of 1.5 seconds or faster. The 86% of a one second back squat is more accurate, at least for junior and senior lifters. Master lifters will have to figure out their ratio by determining their current one second back squat and divide their current best clean & jerk by that amount. As the lifter ages their ratio will decline. Mine was 86% as an open lifter but 48 years later it has dwindled to 56%. The formula for determining an equivalent one second squat can be found on my website: 

The next issue would be to determine how to train the squats with the idea of maximizing proficiency into the snatch and clean & jerk. Since a strength cycle is not actually a thing a lifter can hang their ball cap on, let’s focus on functionality of the back squat and front squat. Let’s take the front squat first. The main function of the front squat is for standing up after the clean and for the dip and drive for the jerk. This should be obvious since the barbell is cleaned to the shoulders and jerked from the same place. The number of rep regime should be between 1 and 5. There is no particular reason to do high reps in the front squat since its purpose is very specific. The back squat is a bit different since it is used for overloading the front squat, the pull off the platform, and standing-up from a snatch. 

Reps should be organized as follows;

 For slow twitch fibers: Reps should be programmed for the purpose of developing hypertrophy and conditioning to handle more weight using less reps. Reps can be between 6 and 20, 20 being mostly for pre-conditioning. The stand-up time should be consistent and be one second or faster. 

For example: A lifter has a 150kg back squat in one second wanting to program 20 reps all in one second would require them to use 150 - 95 = 55. To do 10 reps all in one second would require the amount to be 150 - 45 = 95. To do 6 reps would require the amount to be 150 - 25 = 125, and so on till the 150 x 1 in one second is reached. 

The following chart shows the amount of weight that should be programmed based off the 1RM (second column). This chart should hold true for any lifter regardless of age.

In the chart above it can be seen how much the drop-off is between a one rep max in one second and 20 reps all in one second, and how little drop off there is between 1, 3, or 4 reps. It takes more stamina to sustain one second for 10, 15 or 20 reps. This creates hypertrophy and conditions the muscles for heavier loads of fewer reps. The one second stand-up times put less stress on the joints and ligaments, and recovery time is quicker. Grinding out 20 reps where each rep is slower than the preceding rep can place undue stress on the muscles, joints and ligaments as well as cause DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). This usually occurs 24 to 48 hours after training. Some soreness cannot be avoided, but the painful crippling type can be mitigated if the faster squats are implemented for high reps.

When should high reps be programmed. These can be incorporated anytime except a month before a competition. Varying the speed of the squats through both the number of reps and amount of weight is beneficial for fully developing the slow twitch muscle fibers for maximum performance. Alternating low reps (1 to 5) with medium reps (6 to 10), and high reps (over 10) is a good way to maximize performance in the snatch and clean & jerk while improving the performance of the squats by developing the fast twitch muscle fibers. More emphasis can be placed on higher reps (6 to 20) if the next major competition is far away. The greatest emphasis should be on the low reps (1 to 5) when preparing for competition.

Alternating the front and back squat is also beneficial, and care should be taken to handle weights that will allow the lifter to perform squats almost every workout. If too many grinding difficult squats are programmed too often, this can cause an involuntary reduction in intensity for subsequent workouts. Another factor is the lifter’s ability to adapt and handle grinding type squats more than other lifters. The coach should be aware of how squat workouts effect each athlete.

Instead of using a percentage of a 1RM back or front squat for programming, the amount should be based solely on what the lifter can achieve when each rep is the same velocity. There should be only small increases in stand-up times from the first to the last rep. If 10 reps are programmed and the lifter has a 200kg back squat in one second, then the most he could do for 10 reps is 155kg; however, it would be difficult to maintain one second for each rep and more like impossible. In reality, a percentage of 155kg would need to be determined and that percentage would be 80% or (.80 x 155) around 125kg x 10. The 80% should be enough to allow for each rep to be very close to the same stand-up time or velocity, and in this instance one second.

To track progress in the squats, the coach or athlete should maintain records of the top end sets of each squat workout and the average stand-up time for those sets. It should also be noted if the squat was the first or last exercise of that training session. There should be a myriad of personal bests (PBs) to challenge over the course of a training cycle (between competitions), and not just the amount of weight achieved when doing a 1RM, 2RM, 3RM, etc., but also the average stand-up time should be included.

For example: A 5RM squat of 170kg achieved with an average stand-up time of 1.3 seconds would not be as proficient as a 180 x 5 @ 1.7 seconds. The 170 x 5 @ 1.3 seconds would be equivalent to 175kg @ 1 second, and the 180 x 5 @ 1.7 seconds would be equivalent to 165kg. Both are beneficial, but the 170 x 10 @ 1.3 benefits the fast twitch fibers and the 180 x 5 benefits the slow twitch or possibly the secondary fast twitch fibers. 

If the stand-up times determine which muscle fibers are being developed, and all the lifter cares about is a big back squat, regardless of those times, then the slow twitch fibers will not be developed for their primary purpose, which is to support the snatch and clean & jerk. Faster stand-up times should be more strictly adhered to when doing the front squat than when doing back squats, because, there can be more leeway in the back squat, since one of its purposes is overloading; however, some care should be exercised even in the back squat so the stand-up times never exceed 2 seconds, or be noted as to that fact.

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