Many of us strive to have good technique. More importantly, we all want to have efficient and effective technique. It's no longer strength that gets you the furtherest but a combination of variables such as strength, coordination, mobility and awareness that gives you the ability to lift a decent amount of weight without excessive effort. Knowing that, we all know that there are so many different drills and exercises, tips and tricks, and methods to help you get better in terms of lifting technique. Different coaches with different training backgrounds teach almost the same things but use different names. The phrase "there are many ways to skin a cat" is definitely true in the case of teaching these drills and exercises. The end goal is to achieve a progression in technique and subsequently allow the lifter to be able to improve lifting technique and performance.
So here are some methods and techniques that I actually use to implement technical fixes:
1. Using singles.
This one was actually based on experimentation along with guidance from my coach. When I first started my research on the biomechanics of the snatch, I had to come up with a protocol for data collection. And like every researcher, you do a pilot on yourself before you get test subjects. To my surprise, my technique got better and I actually managed to increase my lifts on top of my on-going program with my coach. Then from then, my coach also concluded that someone like myself was more attuned to performing single repetitions and slowly my program had more singles.
How does that work? Like JP from FirstPull mentioned, weightlifting is a skill. Getting better technique in lifting is skill acquisition. Repetition after repetition. But not just mindless repetition but proper repetitions with the correct thought processes being utilized for each lift. If you want to get more accurate in performing a penalty kick, you make sure you do one kick at a time to be able to have the right mental focus for the kick. Physiologically, doing single repetitions ensures that you allow your energy supplies to be restored, you allow feedback to be registered, you allow your CNS to return to a level close to the state it started with before the lift.
2. A slow-to-fast approach.
This requires understanding the movement pattern of the lifts. How the joints are moving through their range of motion, how the body needs to be positioned at certain phases of the lifts. I have discussed both positions and phases in two different articles (Exploring the Key Positions in Weightlifting and Presenting the 5 Phases of the Snatch/Clean).
Starting slow ensures you get into the right positions for balance and leverage. Going slow also allows you to build up coordination patterns and sequencing of joint movements. It also allows you to be more aware of what is going on. For motor control reasons, slowing the speed of the movement down facilitates skill acquisition. Saying that, once the correct positions and sequencing are attained, velocity can be added to the equation. If proper position and sequencing cannot be achieved, there is really no point adding velocity. See it as stepping stones to achieving the demands of actual movement with movement accuracy.
On top of that, understand which drills and movements fall under which category. If position is the goal, doing something fast does not help improve position but might even throw the lifter out of position. Similarly, working to get speed under the bar means thinking of moving fast and not just pulling longer.
3. Make use of the warm-up.
I personally use the warm-up to fix up anything regarding technique. It is only in my warm-ups that you will see me using more of the technical exercises like movements from the hang, squats, drills etc. If you can't do it with the bar, you are not ensuring that firstly the bar is moving in the path you want it to. Secondly, you are missing the critical points of positioning and sequencing or when variables such as max velocity or peak joint extension occurs. For example, max velocity will occur at a higher point of your bar path because the mass is smaller. Getting it to occur at the same point as a max weight will ensure that the element of timing is met during the lift even with a bar.
Image from Catalyst Athletics.
And if you implement your technical fixes in your warm-up, you will ensure that when you start doing your actual lifts, you begin to have better proprioception during the actual movement. Also, you do not waste the reps in your warm-up because you are working on what you need to improve on for technique.
4. Incorporating into full lifts.
You need to make sure you are implementing your technical fixes during your full lifts. Why? If not then there is really no point working on technique because your full lifts would still have issues. Working from the hang definitely has good carry-over to the full lifts but being good at the hang doesn't mean you are able to incorporate what you learn of being fast under the bar or pulling longer into the full lift. At the end of the day, you need to be able to do the same thing when you lift off the floor.
This is more in the realm of motor control and the concept of degrees of freedom. Ever seen how a kid throws a ball? Stiff arm, early ball release etc. Why so? Because when acquiring a skill, we will limit the number of degrees of freedom till we are more acquired with the movement before we add more degrees of freedom in. Similarly, when we learnt the lifts, you follow a certain progression. This is to limit the degrees of freedom or in simple terms, make you think less. When you can do the full lifts, you would already have better control of more degrees of freedom because many things are happening at the same time. So if you only do partial movements, it means you have limited the degrees of freedom to improve control of that degree of freedom. But when you have to open up the degrees of freedom again (i.e. back to the full lifts), you may not be able to implement that same control. So rather than reestablishing that control all over again in a full lift, why not start improving the control with all the degrees of freedom being available? At the end of the day, you want to be better at the full lifts, not just hang snatches or cleans from the blocks.
Give these a try if you are thinking of improving your technique. There are many other ways of course but this is how I do it and this is how I get those who train with me to do it. Treat it as a skill and your approach to improving it needs to be one of improving any skill: consistency in movement accuracy.
Stay Skilled and Keep Improving,
The Training Geek