As a masters lifter, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.
By definition, masters are lifters whose joints don’t bend as well. We’re not twenty anymore. Some of us aren’t even seventy anymore if you’ve ever seen any of the truly senior masters classes at Nationals.
That’s not to say that we all can’t get low and that after our 35th birthday we all need to default to split snatches and power cleans. But the kind of volume in a full squat that does somebody at the olympic training center just fine is a lot of stress for those of us with fully funded 401Ks.
There’s also the issue of learning the lifts as adults instead of as neurologically plastic children. We tend to be slower, more hesitant- maybe because we’re more cognizant of impending death from a barbell overhead in a deep squat. Maybe it’s not just fear, but neurologically more difficult to learn speed under the bar after a completed (not half assed) pull. And a lot of masters new to the sport are from Crossfit where I sense the power version of the lifts are taught more frequently, not least of which is because they’re easier to teach and learn.
So a lot of masters power the lifts. This is fully legal in competition and one could therefore make the argument that one never actually *needs* to do anything else. You’re red lighted for bent arms that straighten, not for catching it ramrod upright.
You also get a lot out of powering the lifts in practice. Because you’re not receiving the bar low, you – by definition- need to get it much higher to receive it at all. This fact of nature can help force one to really use hip drive. As John Broz once said, it’s called weightlifting not sneaking under the bar. Having to get the bar up-up-up makes you a stronger lifter.
However (and you knew there was a however coming), you can’t really ever hit your full potential if you never get low. You cannot get your true maxes as high off the floor as what you can raise high enough to power. So by always powering the lifts you’re leaving valuable kilos off the bar. If you never compete, this may be an irrelevant point and you will live out your days happily powering the lifts and gradually adding weight with very painless knees.
But if you get the urge to actually put on a singlet and get on a platform in public, then while you could power the lifts, in the long run you may not want to. You may be the competitive type who gets pissed when other people your size and age can lift more than you can. In that case, you’re going to want to get under the damn bar and receive it low. Not necessarily this low:
because if you’re reading this you are unlikely to be young and Chinese. But lower than above parallel. Maybe you only ever get to parallel and into something that would technically be called a power by somebody really picky. You’d still be ahead of the person who could only receive it with knees at 120 degrees.
So how do you do get better at doing this?
First, learn to pull with commitment and without fear. Tell yourself mentally at the beginning of your first pull that you WILL finish this lift, no hesitation.
Second, practice some of these drills. The first few are from Sean Waxman as published at All Things Gym here.
Personally, I think one of the best drills you can do is the No Hands, No Feet drill. I first learned it from the great Donny Shankle, but I’ve seen it reiterated elsewhere. It’s powerful to teach you to really “pull” by extending, not just jumping or bumping your hips forward. And it helps learn the timing between extension and reversing direction, because you don’t have the luxury of your feet moving.
You perform the drill by gripping the bar in a double overhand grip, no hookgrip. And then you snatch (or clean), but your feet don’t leave the floor. Maybe your heels come up a little, but they don’t slide laterally. You’ll be amazed at how close you have to keep the bar and you learn to feel when to start coming down.
Try it! And tell me what you think (or send videos and I’ll post’em).