Originally from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Tim Suchomel graduated from East Tennessee State University’s Sport Physiology and Performance PhD program. Before coming to ETSU, he received his bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and his master’s degree in Human Performance from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Suchomel is currently teaching and performing research at Carroll University. His research interests include postactivation potentiation, sports biomechanics, power development, athletic performance enhancement, plyometrics, and athlete monitoring for improved performance.
Freelap USA: Catching the bar in the weightlifting movements is controversial, as some coaches have dumped the idea of catching. Being a leader in the research, what do you believe the takeaway is with receiving the barbell in the clean and snatch?
Tim Suchomel: The weightlifting research that I, Paul Comfort, and Kristof Kipp completed has compared catching and pulling derivatives. No acute or longitudinal differences have been shown between the two in some studies1-3, but other studies displayed greater performance potential with weightlifting pulling derivatives4-9. However, it should be noted that none of our research has stated that coaches should stop having their athletes catch the barbell. This is a common misinterpretation and may be due to a couple of reasons.None of our research has stated that coaches should stop having their athletes catch the barbell. This is a common misinterpretation, says @DrTSuchomel. Click To Tweet
First, individuals may only read the abstracts and/or view the results (tables and figures) of a study instead of reading the entire paper. If this is a common practice, they may miss out on key information. The second cause may not be so much the interpretation of the information, but the resistance to information that challenges a practitioner’s philosophy. Many would agree that the incorporation of traditional weightlifting movements and their derivatives within resistance training programs is a polarizing topic.
Furthermore, a number of weightlifting traditionalists may view variations of weightlifting movements (e.g., catching or pulling derivatives) as inferior lifts because they do not incorporate the full Olympic movement. It should be noted that the purpose of the current research on weightlifting catching and pulling derivatives is not to replace or remove exercises from our coaching toolbox. Instead, its purpose is to expand our coaching toolbox. There are advantages and disadvantages to every weightlifting movement, whether it is the full lift or a partial movement. However, practitioners should keep an open mind and know that both catching and pulling derivatives may be incorporated into resistance training programs to improve performance.
Freelap USA: Building on the earlier question, what is the value of the catch at specific depths, specifically the power clean? Similar to squat depth, coaches will be interested in the topic as it’s very theoretical but also scant on research.
Tim Suchomel: There may be value to catching the bar at various depths at different times throughout the training year. However, this should be based on the training status of the athlete (e.g., technique competency, injury status, etc.), as well as the goals of each individual training phase.
There are several benefits to incorporating the catch. First, by continuing to incorporate a catch, an individual will be able to maintain movement competency when transitioning from triple extension to triple flexion and turning over the bar. From a technique standpoint, this would be advantageous and may be revisited using different catching variations (e.g., mid-thigh power clean, hang power snatch, clean from the knee, etc.)
Second, athletes may benefit from receiving a rapid eccentric stimulus in a front rack (e.g., clean) or overhead position (e.g., snatch). This may allow athletes to improve the eccentric rate of force development qualities and their ability to “accept” or “absorb” a load in specific positions. In fact, Moolyk et al.10 indicated that clean variations may provide an effective training stimulus for load absorption during jump landings. Thus, based on the training goals of the phase(s), athletes may benefit from performing catching variations during low- to moderate-volume strength phases.
Finally, catching the bar may help train an individual’s work capacity. When an athlete performs multiple repetitions with a clean or snatch variation, they can both drop the bar and pick it up again or they can lower it down to their hips from the catch position by absorbing the load. When performing the latter, athletes may increase the amount of work they are completing and, thus, increase their force absorption capabilities. However, it should be noted that performing repetitions in this manner can be very fatiguing and lead to alterations in technique if the exercise is performed with loads that are too heavy.
Freelap USA: What’s your response to those who say catching the bar best affects the core? We have some information about bracing and squatting, but we really don’t have much information on how the torso responds to barbell catching—be it above the head or below.
Tim Suchomel: There is little doubt that catching a barbell during a clean or snatch requires a unique sequence of muscle activation that may train the core musculature. During catching variations, an athlete must produce and maintain a rigid core to effectively “stop” or “absorb” the external load. Due to the rapid acceptance of a load, the rate of force development within the core musculature must be high. Thus, catching the bar may provide an effective training stimulus for the core. However, little is known about how this compares to traditional resistance training movements such as squatting variations, lowering the bar from an overhead position to a front rack position, or weightlifting pulling derivatives. Based on the type of squat, the load (potentially supramaximal during accentuated eccentric training), and the technique used, an athlete can receive a significant stimulus within their core musculature.There is little doubt that catching a barbell during a clean or snatch requires a unique sequence of muscle activation that may train the core musculature, says @DrTSuchomel. Click To Tweet
Previous research has displayed large magnitudes of muscle activation during back squats11. When an athlete performs the push press exercise for multiple repetitions, they must lower the barbell in a controlled manner; however, performing this motion slowly requires a lot of effort and increases time under tension. Thus, some athletes adopt a strategy where they control the load, but essentially “catch” the load in a front rack position.
Although no research has examined the muscle activation of the core during this motion, there is a larger displacement during this action compared to the catch phase of a clean. Thus, more force absorption may be required based on the external load and technique used. Finally, previous research that has compared the load absorption phases of both catching and pulling derivatives has indicated that the amount of work performed either was no different12 or favored pulling derivatives12-14.
It should be noted that the previous studies did not compare core musculature activation. However, the primary issue with performing this type of research is that the barbell path during an efficient catching or pulling derivative requires the barbell to remain close to the body. An obvious issue with this is that the barbell may make contact with the electrodes that would be used to record muscle activation within the core. Therefore, while catching derivatives may provide a training stimulus for the core musculature, further research is needed to examine its effectiveness compared to other training methods.
Practitioners who use clean and/or snatch for core musculature should also note that the absorption stimulus is primarily based on two things: load and technique. Regarding the latter, it should be noted that the absorption stimulus may actually decrease as technique improves. Specifically, the distance between peak bar displacement and where an athlete catches the bar decreases, thus creating less of a stimulus.
Freelap USA: Since catching the bar is limited in “surfing” the force-velocity curve, wouldn’t pulling variations be king in that area? What are your thoughts on pulling variations and athlete development?
Tim Suchomel: From a theoretical standpoint, weightlifting pulling derivatives expand the original force-velocity curve that is present when using only catching derivatives. On the force side, a catching variation is limited to using a 1RM, whereas weightlifting pulling derivatives may use loads in excess of the catching 1RM due to the elimination of the catch. This is supported by previous studies from Haff et al.15 and Comfort et al.16-17 that used 120% and up to 140% of a catching 1RM when utilizing the clean pull from the floor and mid-thigh pull, respectively.
On the opposite end of the curve, catching derivatives are limited in their capacity to produce a velocity stimulus due to the deceleration of the body that must take place in order to perform an efficient catch. While lighter loads may be used to increase the velocity of the movement, it should be noted that athletes tend to use the minimum amount of effort needed to elevate the barbell to a position that allows them to perform the catch phase. If maximal effort were to be used with lighter loads, this may result in a poorly performed catch phase due to the likely larger displacement of the barbell.Catching derivatives are limited in their capacity to produce a velocity stimulus due to the deceleration of the body that must take place to perform an efficient catch, says @DrTSuchomel. Click To Tweet
In contrast to catching derivatives, weightlifting pulling derivatives may allow athletes to accelerate throughout the entire second pull (i.e., triple extension movement), ultimately leading to a larger velocity. For example, the jump shrug requires an individual to jump as high as possible while using the same countermovement and transition mechanics as a hang power clean18. As a result, greater velocities are achieved due to a larger acceleration period during the jump shrug compared to weightlifting catching derivatives8,9.
From a practical standpoint, there is also unpublished data from our lab that suggests programming weightlifting pulling derivatives with or without force- and velocity-specific loads may produce greater training effects (e.g., 1RM strength, isometric mid-thigh pull strength, sprint, change of direction, squat jump, and countermovement jump) compared to weightlifting catching derivatives5. Therefore, it would appear that, from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, weightlifting pulling derivatives are advantageous when attempting to “surf” or train the force-velocity curve compared to catching derivatives alone. However, it should be noted that much of these adaptations may be dependent on the loading of the exercises19 and that both catching and pulling derivatives may produce similar adaptations.Both theoretically and practically, weightlifting pulling derivatives are helpful when attempting to “surf” or train the F-V curve compared to catching derivatives alone, says @DrTSuchomel. Click To Tweet
This idea is supported by Comfort et al.3, whose study showed no differences in strength, squat jump, or countermovement jump adaptations following eight weeks of training with weightlifting catching or pulling derivatives that used the same relative loads. Thus, it would appear that while weightlifting catching derivatives are limited in their capacity to train the force-velocity curve, the implementation of weightlifting pulling derivatives with catching derivatives may also provide an effective force-velocity stimulus.
Freelap USA: Recently, you were part of a study discussing the rate of force development (RFD) in weightlifting. Coaches want to know how to use RFD with athletes, but understand some limitations exist with teasing out this measurement data with exercises. Can you share an appropriate way to look at RFD with training adaptations and monitoring explosiveness?
Tim Suchomel: Rate of force development (RFD) can be a tricky measurement when it comes to monitoring athletes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial to look at. RFD can be a great indicator of rapid force production characteristics, especially when measured over several early time intervals (e.g., 0-50, 0-100, 0-150, 0-200 ms). By monitoring RFD across these time intervals, practitioners may be able to see how quickly an athlete is able to produce large magnitudes of force during time periods that relate to other sporting movements (e.g., 50 ms—striking, 90-100 ms—sprint ground contact time, 200-250 ms—net impulse length during a countermovement jump).
It should be noted, however, that peak RFD may not be as beneficial to a coach rather than average RFD over the course of a phase of movement due to the measure providing a tiny snapshot (1/1000 of a second if measuring at 1000 Hz) of the overall movement. Therefore, it is suggested that the practitioner determine the phase of the movement that is of interest. For example, it is pretty easy to measure RFD during an isometric mid-thigh pull (IMTP), assuming that an appropriate and consistent starting threshold that accounts for signal noise is used (see Dos’Santos et al., 2017 for recommendations)—given that the first large increase in force is the phase of interest. Measuring RFD during a countermovement jump (CMJ), however, may be more challenging due to the number of phases of the movement (e.g., unweighting, braking, propulsion, etc.) (McMahon et al., 2018). For example, some coaches are interested in propulsion RFD during a jump. While this metric may sound beneficial, it is possible that the average RFD during the propulsion phase may be close to zero depending on the duration in which RFD is measured. This situation may occur if there is a notable drop in force production following peak braking force.
A more effective measurement may be average RFD during the braking (eccentric) phase that starts when force production returns to body mass following the unweighting phase and ends with peak braking (eccentric) force. From a practical standpoint, this may provide valuable information about an individual’s ability to decelerate their body mass, which may be important when it comes to injury prevention as well as change of direction tasks. One of the primary issues with measuring RFD is the consistency (reliability) of the measurement, given how sensitive changes in force over short time intervals may be. However, if properly assessed using consistent and strict standards (thresholds and phase identification), RFD measurements may provide practitioners with valuable information about an athlete’s rapid force production characteristics, which may provide some insight into their central nervous system fatigue.
Note: Thanks to Bob Alejo for the lead on the questions as they were instrumental to this week’s Friday Five.
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1. Comfort P, Allen M, and Graham-Smith P. “Comparisons of peak ground reaction force and rate of force development during variations of the power clean.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2011;25(5):1235-1239.
2. Comfort P, Allen M, and Graham-Smith P. “Kinetic comparisons during variations of the power clean.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2011;25(12):3269-3273.
3. Comfort P, Dos’Santos T, Thomas C, McMahon JJ, and Suchomel TJ. “An investigation into the effects of excluding the catch phase of the power clean on force-time characteristics during isometric and dynamic tasks: An intervention study.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2018;32(8):2116-2129.
4. Kipp K, Malloy PJ, Smith J, Giordanelli MD, Kiely MT, Geiser CF, and Suchomel TJ. “Mechanical demands of the hang power clean and jump shrug: A joint-level perspective.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2018;32(2):466-474.
5. Suchomel TJ. “Surfing the force-velocity curve with weightlifting derivatives: Real-world application.” Presented at 2019 Australian Strength and Conditioning Association International Conference on Applied Strength and Conditioning, Sydney, Australia, 2018.
6. Suchomel TJ and Sole CJ. “Force-time curve comparison between weightlifting derivatives.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2017;12(4):431-439.
7. Suchomel TJ and Sole CJ. “Power-time curve comparison between weightlifting derivatives.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2017;16(3):407-413.
8. Suchomel TJ, Wright GA, Kernozek TW, and Kline DE. “Kinetic comparison of the power development between power clean variations.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2017;28(2):350-360.
9. Suchomel TJ, Wright GA, and Lottig J. “Lower extremity joint velocity comparisons during the hang power clean and jump shrug at various loads.” Presented at XXXIInd International Conference of Biomechanics in Sports, Johnson City, TN, USA, 2014.
10. Moolyk AN, Carey JP, and Chiu LZF. “Characteristics of lower extremity work during the impact phase of jumping and weightlifting.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2013;27(12):3225-3232.
11. Hamlyn N, Behm DG, and Young WB. “Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2007;21(4):1108-1112.
12. Comfort P, Williams R, Suchomel TJ, and Lake JP. “A comparison of catch phase force-time characteristics during clean derivatives from the knee.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2017;31(7):1911-1918.
13. Suchomel TJ, Giordanelli MD, Geiser CF, and Kipp K. “Comparison of joint work during load absorption between weightlifting derivatives.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. In press, 2018.
14. Suchomel TJ, Lake JP, and Comfort P. “Load absorption force-time characteristics following the second pull of weightlifting derivatives.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2017;31(6):1644-1652.
15. Haff GG, Whitley A, McCoy LB, O’Bryant HS, Kilgore JL, Haff EE, Pierce K, and Stone MH. “Effects of different set configurations on barbell velocity and displacement during a clean pull.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2003;17(1):95-103.
16. Comfort P, Jones PA, and Udall R. “The effect of load and sex on kinematic and kinetic variables during the mid-thigh clean pull.” Sports Biomechanics. 2015;14(2):139-156.
17. Comfort P, Udall R, and Jones PA. “The effect of loading on kinematic and kinetic variables during the midthigh clean pull.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2012;26(5):1208-1214.
18. Suchomel TJ, DeWeese BH, Beckham GK, Serrano AJ, and Sole CJ. “The jump shrug: A progressive exercise into weightlifting derivatives.” Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2014;36:43-47.
19. Suchomel TJ, Comfort P, and Lake JP. “Enhancing the force-velocity profile of athletes using weightlifting derivatives.” Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2017;39(1):10-20.