In a strength and conditioning facility, the weightlifting movements (i.e., cleans, jerks, snatches) and their associated training exercises are typically used to enhance muscular power. Research has shown that during the second pull of both the clean and snatch, male athletes generate as much as 52 watts per kilogram of bodyweight (3). In contrast, only 12 watts per kilogram are produced when performing bench press, squats, or deadlifts. Indeed, it has been suggested that weightlifters are one of the best examples of athletic power (5).
Although not commonly used, the weightlifting movements, and their associated training exercises, can also have a positive effect on muscular endurance when used in combination. Muscle endurance can be defined as the ability of a muscle or groups of muscles to exert submaximal force for extended periods (2).
When training for muscular endurance, a typical manipulation of the training variables is to increase the repetitions performed, typically in the range of 8–20 repetitions or more (1). By increasing the number of repetitions, the time under tension for the working muscle(s) is increased. The same increase in time under tension occurs when performing the weightlifting movements in combination for the simple reason that it takes longer to perform, for example, a power clean, front squat, and power jerk sequence than performing any of these same movements individually. Thus, the positive effect on muscular endurance occurs when performing these combination exercises because of the extended period of time the musculature is active as compared with performing single movements, such as a clean or a snatch.
For many athletes, enhancing both power and muscular endurance is important to optimal performance. For example, the average play in football lasts about 6 seconds, so the need for developing power capabilities becomes obvious, because typically, each play is an all-out effort of about 6 seconds in duration. What may be less obvious is that muscular endurance also becomes important because there may be offensive drives lasting 15 plays or more. This represents 15 efforts of maximal intensity of about 6 seconds in duration, followed by brief rest periods for both offensive and defensive players. These brief rest periods are compounded when using a no-huddle, high-speed offense. Although football is used as an example of a sport that has a muscular endurance component, certainly other sports (i.e., hockey, basketball, long distance running, and swimming) also have an endurance component to them.
When performing the weightlifting movements with dumbbells, the athletes are required to explosively control 2 separate implements rather than a single implement (e.g., bar), which is what occurs when performing the weightlifting movements with a barbell (4).
One aspect that needs to be considered when introducing complex lifts into the training program is to start with a lower volume of training because of the need to focus on technique when performing the weightlifting movements. Excessive fatigue, to the point of a loss of good technique, must be avoided. So, for example, combination training could be introduced with 2 exercises combined together (e.g., dumbbell front squat to power jerk) performed for 4 sets of 2 repetitions before advancing to a more challenging exercise and set and repetition combination (i.e., dumbbell power clean, front squat, power jerk) for 5 sets of 3 repetitions.
As mentioned, the number of combination exercises is limitless. For brevity, this article discusses only the dumbbell power clean, front squat, and power jerk combination exercise.
EXERCISE DESCRIPTION FOR THE DUMBBELL POWER CLEAN, FRONT SQUAT, AND POWER JERK
Dumbbell power clean start position
- Establish a standing position with the feet about shoulder width apart.
- Grasp a pair of dumbbells at a weight that allows correct technique and hold them front to back at the sides of the legs.
- Sit back at the hips, keep the back arched and the head up, and lower the dumbbells until the handles of the dumbbells are positioned at the midline of the shins.
- The shoulders should be slightly forward of the dumbbells.
- If the shoulders are not forward of the knees, the knee joints need to be extended until this position is achieved (Figure 1).
Initiating the movement
- Start the movement by forcefully pushing against the ground, causing hip, knee, and ankle extension.
- When full extension has been achieved, aggressively shrug the shoulders, causing the dumbbells to elevate slightly.
- Once the shrug is complete, begin pulling with the arms, attempting to pull the dumbbells along the rib cage to the lower portion of the arm pit (Figure 2).
- When this top position has been achieved, pull the body under the dumbbells by flexing at the hips and aggressively bring the elbows around to rack the back half of the dumbbells on the shoulders.
- In this racked position, the head should be up, the back should be arched, the elbows should be high, and the knees should be behind the toes (Figure 3).
- Once the dumbbells have been racked on the shoulders, extend the knees and hips to a fully upright position and prepare to initiate the dumbbell front squat.
Front squat start position
- On catching the dumbbells in the front squat keep, the back arched and the head up while maintaining a shoulder width stance (Figure 4).
Initiate the movement
- Start the movement by simultaneously sitting back at the hips while the knees flex forward.
- Continue to sit back until at least a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
- The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending on what is most comfortable to the athlete (Figure 5).
Return to the start position
- Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up. Prepare to initiate the power jerk.
Power jerk start position
- Maintain the feet in a shoulder width position with the dumbbells resting on the shoulders (Figure 6).
Initiate the movement
- Initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips to a vertical jump depth while keeping the heels on the floor (Figure 7).
- At the bottom of the jump action, quickly change directions and transfer the momentum generated by pushing against the ground through the lower body and core to the upper body.
- The force generated in the lower body and transferred through the core to the upper body should result in the dumbbells quickly lifting off of the shoulders.
- The arms are used basically to steer the dumbbells up to the correct position, very little pressing action should be involved (Figure 8).
- The arms are brought to full extension over the shoulders. Pause in this position for a second and then lower the dumbbells back to the shoulders and then to the shins before initiating the next power clean (Figure 9).
The weightlifting movements can effectively be used to enhance muscular power. However, as shown, when performed in combination, the weightlifting movements can also be used to enhance muscular endurance. Performing these exercises in combination with dumbbells can provide additional benefits to athletes training to enhance performance.
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3. Garhammer J. A review of power output studies of Olympic and powerlifting: Methodology, performance prediction, and evaluation tests. J Strength Cond Res 7: 76–89, 1993.
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