Many people interchange the usage of the RDL and the SLDL. Is this accurate? In a word, no. Let’s examine the lifts and their heritage. The RDL comes from Russia or Romania (depending on who you ask what the R stands for) and the SLDL comes from the bodybuilding world.
The RDL is meant to simulate the top of the second pull in the clean and the snatch. The RDL is a heavy version of the kettlebell swing. The RDL SHOULD be executed down to the top of the knees with a moderate tempo and up with a quick, explosive movement, much like the kettlebell swing. The feet stay on the ground as the hips drive the bar up to the high pocket position. Remember, it is a partial movement lift prescribed to assist the second pull in the clean and snatch.
The SLDL is designed to load the glutes and hams throughout the entire ROM of the backside chain. The knees MUST be UNLOCKED in order to load the muscles and tendons and NOT the ligaments and discs. Executed from the ground or on a small box depending on the flexibility of the hamstrings. Proper form is to shift the weight back loading the heels while hinging at the hip. The lumbar spine should NOT flex, the core should stay braced throughout the entire movement. The grip should be shoulder width and the tempo should be controlled.
So, in essence, the two lifts come from different heritages and are designed for two different reasons, impacting vastly different neural patterns. While using the same musculature, the ROM, loads and tempo of movement should be very different in execution.
If you want a nice butt and hams, do both lifts. If you want a bigger, faster, better clean or snatch, focus on the RDL.
NO NO NO – Legs too straight!! Single leg version of the SLDL Traditional Version of the SLDL
The clean should be taught from the top down. The human mind can only focus on one cue at a time when learning new skills. I prefer to keep it simple in order for the athlete to internalize the cues quickly and remember them easily. When teaching any ground based skill it is critical to teach the base of support/stance first.
The stance can be taught several ways. Have the athlete jump up 3 times and land in a quarter squat on the third jump. Have the athlete assume their high bar squat stance. Have the athlete place their heels under the hips and externally rotate the feet out at 7-15 degrees. External rotation of the feet is important any time the athlete has load through the spine. Being able to squat with the feet straight ahead is a function of hip external rotation mobility. Squatting with the feet straight ahead with load is an excellent way to cause back strain and injury. Back to teaching the clean stance. This stance is the basic athletic stance for jumping and landing.
The knees are flexed with the kneecaps even with the toes. The torso is upright at this time. The abs are braced, the shoulder blades are retracted and the wrists are turned straight down OR the elbows are turned out. Why are these the cues and why are they important? The knees are flexed so that they are in a position to jump, but will not move/flex in the slide of the bar down the legs. The abs are braced in order to protect the lumbar spine and transfer force. The shoulder blades are retracted in order to better transfer the power from the legs and hips through the shoulders to better move the load on the bar with speed. The wrists turned down/straight OR the elbows are turned out in order to create an upright row path of the bar in order to keep the bar close to the center of mass, a much stronger position to impart force.
When the athlete understands and can execute the stance and the posture, the hang clean techniques can be introduced. The first is to hinge at the hip and execute a bend over. The body weight should stay centered on the foot with the load being full footed but NEVER “on the toes”! The body weight can be SLIGHTLY forward on the forefoot (I will grab the athlete and let them feel their weight centered on the foot, back on the heel and forward on the forefoot by having them lock their body and rocking them back and forth so they can understand how slight the change is in their center that can change the entire movement). I have them bend over, bend over and then jump. We will execute this movement several times. Then the athlete will execute an upright row, putting the “hands in the armpits” with a grip so that the hands are outside the edge of the legs. The elbows will be high and wide. This can be done with body weight, a dowel rod or a bar. Next I will have them put it together so that they will say OUT LOUD “Feet”, “Knees”, “Chest”, “Wrist” in order to set up and then they ONLY NEED TO DO 2 MOVEMENTS – ONE AT A TIME! The movements are “Bend Over” and “Jump” and the jump should be HIGH! The bar should remain close, go to the mid-chest area and the elbows should be high and wide. The jump will cause the athlete to leave the ground, but the stance upon returning to the ground should be the normal clean stance, which is also the normal squat stance.
The RackThe rack is a rack – NOT A CATCH! Many times people will “catch” the bar, and it will land on them with a thud on the shoulder, which is very uncomfortable for young athletes or very lean athletes, both of which have very little muscle mass on the upper shoulders. The key to the rack is to keep pressure on the bar at all times. The pull converts to a push as the bar passes the upright row phase into the rack onto the shoulders. This in turn allows the athlete to rack the bar at a position in which the load is absorbed at the highest level of the front squat. If the rack is smooth, the load will be absorbed by the legs and hips; with the torso being stabilized and braced for protection. When the load is heavy, the rack will be accomplished with a low front squat where if the load is light, the rack will be in a high front squat position. In other words, the load will determine the depth of the squat on the catch.
Flaws, Problems and Corrections –
Weight misplaced in the base of support – Too far forward and the athlete will have to jump to the bar, lean back on the rack or reverse curl the load up to the rack position. Too far back and the bar will hit the belt or belly on the way up or there will be no power transferred into the bar.
No Shrug – The shrug is a key component of the high pull and the last bit of force imparted to the bar on the upward path before the pull force changes to the push force of the rack.
Lazy Elbows – The elbow quite often gets lazy and the bar will begin to drift away from the center or torso, requiring the athlete to again reverse curl the bar or lean back on the rack.
Rounded upper back or lazy shoulder blade retraction – This results in a portion of the power generated in the hips and legs being lost in the upper back as the torso flexes and the taps stretch, absorbing force that should be transferred into the bar. If the flex continues down the torso into the lumbar spine, injury can occur and could be quite serious.
Soft Core – Many times a beginner will not maintain a braced core, and the body will look as if it is flexing through the torso as the lift is executed. This flex is wave like in appearance and is due to the abs not being braced. While not too dangerous in terms of injury (unless it is excessive or the load is great), the resultant lack of transfer of force will seriously limit the ability of the athlete to generate force into the bar and move the weight with speed.
Landing in a wide stance after the pull/jump – this denotes a lack of leg strength in the ability of the athlete to squat with load. This is remedied by prescribing more squatting activities.
Teaching Drills –
Slide, Slide and Shrug, Slide and Hang Clean – This drill is just like it sounds. First, slide the bar down to the hang and then up; Second, slide the bar down to the hang and then up with a shrug; Third, Slide the bar down to a hang and then clean it.
Hang Clean and Front Squat – Again, Just like is sounds. Do a normal hang clean and follow it up with a squat – or multiples of both the squat and/or the clean. If they are weak in the squat, do 1-2 Hang Cleans and 2-5 Front Squats.
Slide, Pause and Hang Clean – This is for starting strength. A normal hang clean is elastic (think rubber band/ball – elastic). Do a normal slide and then hold the hang position for up to 5 seconds before executing the hang clean. This will train the athlete to have excellent form, great back side chain strength in the hang position and good explosion out of the hang or athletic position.
Bar – the traditional implement for use in the hang clean.
Dumbbells – ok to use but will change the elbow position and foster a lazy elbow, which is a common error.
Kettlebells – a somewhat “new” implement for hang cleans and this does mimic the general hang clean pattern that a bar requires for optimal execution.
Ground based trainers – such as a bar type implement that is anchored on one end (think land mine set-up). This is ok in general, but can restrict the ability of the bar to move naturally in the “S” shape if the anchor point does not rotate in a 360 degree ROM but it does enforce good mechanics.
Summary – The hang clean is the usual starting place for learning the clean from the floor, blocks and with other implements. Once the hang clean is mastered, it is relatively easy to introduce the clean from below the knees and then the clean from the floor. The hang snatch is super easy to learn when the hang clean becomes natural as the hang snatch is really even easier to learn.
Olympic lifting is a sport consisting of the Clean and Jerk as well as the Snatch. The clean is two movements, pulling the bar from the floor and catching it in a front squat position and recovering to a standing position followed by the Jerk. At this point a consolidation of the grip is allowed as part of the recovery. The Jerk is a short dip and drive accomplished by flexing the knees and driving the bar overhead to a locked out press position. The catch in the Jerk is usually a split squat stance in which the athlete pushes back from the front leg before moving the rear leg in the recovery. The Snatch is a wider grip lift (so the bar does not have to be pulled as high) with essentially the same mechanics as the clean, the difference is that the bar is racked or caught overhead in a wide grip, fully locked out press position in a deep squat. Recovery is accomplished by standing up out of the squat and moving the feet into a comfortable standing position. Some of the key technique cues are to pull the bar by pushing the feet through the floor, not pulling or jerking the bar as this generally disrupts the flat back, pillar core needed to execute the lift safely. Always maintain pressure on the bar by either pulling or pushing. In heavy loads the breath must be large and locked and held in order to support the spine as the loads are on the shoulders and transferred through the spine to the legs, feet and floor. The arms do little other than hold the weight. For novices, it is easy to cue them that they are jumping with weight and speed and technique are the keys, not strength.
Weight lifters in the lighter weight classes generate some of the greatest power outputs measured in sport.
Why Include Olympic Lifting as a Part of the Training Process
In Olympic lifting, the athlete is jumping with weight. In other words, Olympic lifting can be viewed as loaded, in-place plyometrics. In athletics, rate of force development (RFD) is the key to power. Jumping is the key for lower body RFD. What is sprinting other than jumping from foot to foot? The greater the variety of drills imposed on the athlete that optimizes the RFD at varying loads, speeds, angles and directions, with consistent dosage, will increase the athletes ability to be explosive, quick, fast and powerful. Olympic lifting is one tool that can be used to increase vertical plane RFD in the extensors of the lower body and in creating “triple extension” at the hip, knee and ankle in a parallel stance. Single leg power is generally developed by agilities and plyometric drills. In order to measure actual power output abilities and adjust the prescription for an athlete for any given workout the use of the Tendo unit is currently the only practical device that can be utilized to quickly determine an athletes’ ability to generate force at that moment.
The clean is a pull from the floor, a re-bending of the knees (or scoop) for the explosive second pull to lift the bar above the hips as the body is pulled under for the catch or rack. During the second pull, great hip extension will result in the bar brushing the mid to upper thigh. Pressure is kept on the bar at all times by either pulling or pushing. The depth of the squat during the rack is determined by the load. The lighter the load, the higher the squat during the catch phase as the bar is pulled higher. Cleans can be classified in a number of different ways. Olympic clean is usually executed by going deep in the hole (deep squat) to catch the rack, a power clean is usually caught higher as the athlete lacks the squat skills to go low, a hang clean is executed above the scoop from just above the knees/mid-thigh and a muscle clean is executed by using more back and upper body than legs. The snatch is essentially the same with the exception that the grip is wider, there is more flexion at the hip, the weight is lighter, the amplitude of movement is greater and the speed of the bar is faster. For athletic development, the snatch is rarely if ever loaded above 70 – 75% of max as speed is essential in the snatch. Remember, it is being prescribed to enhance RFD.
Teaching Olympic Lifting
Olympic Lifting is taught backwards or from the top down. The athlete is generally taught with a dowel rod before moving to a bar. Many times the snatch is taught before the clean as it is the more technical of the lifts. The general techniques are to teach, in order the following cues:
Stance Feet 7-15 degrees external rotation
Legs Knees Knees bent to kneecaps even with toes
Posture Chest Pull shoulder blades back or lift chest up
Grip Wrist Turn wrists down/flex forearms for wide elbow pull
Now the athlete has two techniques to execute one at a time, a slight to moderate RDL followed by a jump. The arms at this point do not bend at the elbow as posture and jumping are the keys. After this is mastered, the athlete will be allowed to repeat (with verbal feedback of each cue from the athlete to you) and add a shrug to the jump. After this is mastered a standing, medium grip upright row is executed followed by a standing medium grip upright row with an elbow whip to a front squat position, holding the bar on the front shoulders for the clean. In the snatch, the techniques are the same but the bar is pulled with a wider grip upright row, the whip occurs to move the elbows under the bar and it is pressed overhead as the body is pushed under the bar for an elbow extended, overhead catch.
Problem Coaching Cue
Using too much upper body Use more legs, jump
Hit belly or belt with 2nd pull Too much back, too little leg, use more legs
Elbows too low in rack Either lazy elbow/forearms too long
Hitting knees in pull Trying to clean from floor, pull from floor, clean from the hang position
Jerking from floor Push feet through the floor – do not pull from the floor
Loss of posture/pillar core Lock in breath, retract shoulder blades, big chest
Lack of power Cover bar with shoulders until 2nd pull, then cover bar with hips by great triple extension. (FASTER!)
Soft rack/catch Put force into the floor – stomp your feet on the catch
Can’t get low Move feet wider after pull for rack/catch
Assist lift for the Olympic Lifts
The assist lifts for Olympic lifting include pulls from the floor and boxes or plinths; various deadlifts, various squats, various presses and jerks as well as a bendover back side chain movements.
Pulls – Pulls are prescribed for loading more than the athlete can catch or to train triple extension without the catch in order to save the athlete from getting beat up by catching rep after rep. However, the eccentric ability of the legs to absorb the force of the clean is paramount for translation to generating force at the tendon in plyometric, change of direction, sprinting type activities. In pulls, the technique is the same as in a clean from the floor, box or plinth but the bar is guided back down with no attempt at a rack.
Deadlifts – Deadlifts are executed from the normal squat stance, wide sumo stance, off of boxes/plinths or from the top down in the RDL (Russian or Romanian deadlift). The grip is either an overhand grip or an over/under alternate style grip. Usually the former grip is assigned. Deadlifts are utilized to stress the back, glutes and hamstrings of the back side chain. Reverse hypers and glute ham raises are other examples of this type of bendover exercise.
Squats – Squats are used to increase the ability of the athlete to catch or rack the load in a low position. Power squats are done with the bar low on the back and usually a wide stance. Power squats involve the back to a great degree. Olympic squats are executed with the bar high on the shoulders and the stance is usually somewhat narrow, thus putting less stress on the lower back. Front squats are executed with the bar in front of the neck with the bar supported on the shoulders and high elbows and is least stressful on the lower back. This squat may be difficult for long forearmed athletes. Overhead squats are executed with the bar extended overhead in a locked out position. Overhead squats put the greatest stress on the functional mobility of the shoulders, hips and ankles as well as the core to support this squat. The Safety Bar squat is used to stress the thoracic spine more than the lower back. It allows the athlete to use greater loads on the hips and legs than normal squats, put less stress on the lower back, spot themselves for a great degree of safety with the handles and are generally a great addition to Olympic lifting. Single leg squats (Bulgarian squats) are executed with one foot elevated to the rear without rotation at the hips, so the load is supported on the front leg only. This puts greater stress on the loaded leg and much less stress on the low back. The Soviet Bloc coaches tended to prescribe many more single leg exercises to their lifters once they were able to back squat 500 pounds (225 kilos) in order to save their backs for the lifts and pulls.
Jerks – Jerks are overhead presses in which the bar is driven up by flexing (dip) at the knees and using the legs to drive the load overhead while assisting with the shoulders and arms. The feet will rapidly split forward and backward in order to lower the center of mass for the catch in a lunge or split squat stance. The push jerk is an overhead press in which the legs assist the press, the feet even leave the floor, but there is no split. The push press is executed the same with out foot movement off of the floor. The press is executed by just using the upper body, no legs.
Combination and Complex Lifts
Combination lifts are exercise in which two or more techniques or lifts are combined in order to create a series of exercises. For example, 3 hang snatches + 3 overhead lunges + 3 good morning to a press could be prescribed. This would include speed pulling, core stability, push back lunges for recovery and bendovers with speed to a wide grip overhead press. A complex lift is similar with the exception that each technique is executed in a row 3 times. For example, 1 hang snatch + 1 overhead lunge on each leg + 1 good morning to a press x 3 repetitions. The complex lift is more demanding on the strength fitness of the athlete. Combination and complex lifts are excellent for stressing technical aspects of the lifts, fitness of the athlete, build up sets, as well as increasing time under tension at light to moderate loads. In order to increase time under tension (TUT), prescribe a hold for a certain time at each change of direction, from eccentric to concentric, in the lift. Usually it is best to prescribe a three second hold as the athlete will count too fast. Three seconds is usually about 1 – 1.5 good seconds. Combination and complex lifts are excellent ways to prescribe corrective exercise for athletes that are time challenged and need/want results in measurables and are not as interested in screens, assessments and injury prevention.
Why assign or prescribe Olympic Weightlifting exercises as a part of the workout or training program?
In a word – POWER.
In addition, postural strength, work capacity and mobility/stability are all byproducts of good weightlifting exercises as a part of the training program.