This picture has nothing to do with programming.  It is just cool.

So we really hit on a lot of issues revolving around intensity and volume the past several articles.  I probably gave you the impression that these are the most important variables in programming...  but that is not entirely true.  If you are a powerlifter who doesn't squat you probably wont get better at the squat.  Variables like exercise selection, exercise order, tempo of movement, and rest periods are also kind of important.  

The OTHER Training Variables...

Exercise selection is important.  This is kind of a no-brainer, but is often overlooked.  The exercises you do will lead to adaptations that are specific to those exercises.  THEREFORE it is important to use exercises that will help you improve in the sport you play in. 

If your problem is an inability to keep the bar close during the second pull, you need to work on exercises that will help that problem.  BUT first you have to figure out if the issue is that you have a general strength problem, a positional strength problem, a technical problem, or maybe a mobility problem.  Each of these may demand a different set of exercises. 

  • Perhaps we need to strengthen the lats... general strength problem.   
  • Perhaps we lose our position at the knee.  General strengthening of the lats would help to a degree, but pauses at that position and more time under tension in that position would help more. 
  • Perhaps we bang the bar away from us with our hips.  We could work on no contact snatches, or isolate the second pull with block work. 
  • Perhaps our elbows fall backwards when we are trying to keep the bar close and we loop the bar on a turn over.  This could be an issue of mobility.  We may not be able to keep the elbows high and outside during the pull.  We could work on various stretches and mobility work before our workouts to address the deficiency. 

It is important that you are working on exercises that will target and eliminate weaknesses in your game. If you just work on exercises that you are good at, and avoid addressing your weaknesses you will stagnate. 

There is a proper order that must be respected! 

In general, you want to work on more explosive and complex movement patterns first.  It is important to not be in a fatigued state performing these movements IF YOUR GOAL is intermuscular coordination and/or speed.  Sloppy, tired, and slow snatches get you better at sloppy, tired, and slow snatches.   

However, you should also make sure you work your weaknesses first. What you work on first will see the greatest improvements.  Movements done last will not receive the same attention, nor will they cause the same level of adaptation as those you do first.

This can create a paradox.  Many of us weightlifters know we often put the squat at the end of our workout.  We perform the snatch or the clean or the jerk before it.  BUT that means it will adapt slower than if we put it first.  GENERALLY, if an athlete has great intermuscular coordination in the snatch or clean and jerk, we can put the squat first.  This is more common for more advanced weightlifters during a strength phase.


The speed of muscle contraction will train your muscles differently and give you different benefits.  BUT FIRST let's make sure we all understand the three types of muscle 'contractions':

  1. Concentric contraction - shortening of a muscle
  2. Eccentric contraction - lengthening of a muscle
  3. Isometric contraction - no change

Cool!  So, now we know!  Now we also know...

  1. Many human movements combine an eccentric contraction with a concentric contraction.  The descent phase of the squat followed by the ascent phase.  The deadlift does not.  It is just a concentric contraction. 
  2. Eccentric contractions are capable of producing the greatest amount of force. 
  3. Eccentric contractions cause the greatest amount of muscle damage.
  4. We know that time under tension and muscle damage (not too much!) are linked to muscle hypertrophy.
  5. We know that eccentric muscle contractions at a greater level than our concentric contractions (100%+) can have positive impact on our strength gains for concentric contractions.
  6. We know that slow eccentric muscle contractions at light weights (60% - 80%) can have positive impact on ligament and tendon health and strength.
  7. We know that isometric pauses can increase strength at the site of the static hold.

These facts lead us to program certain things for certain benefits.  If we know that an athlete has had problems with their joints in the past, and we worry about it when volume is stepped up later in their program, we may prescribe slow eccentric contractions to increase the blood flow and help with those tendons and ligaments.  The training benefit will be they can handle more volume later, but also more stability in their movement patterns for their concentric phase. 

We COULD really load up that eccentric and have them do loads of 100%+, BUT these are usually hard to set up and hard on the body.  Just imagine loading up 120% of your back squat and doing the descent as slow as possible... you are going to get one rep and have to unload it and set it up again... not practical.

If we know that an athlete lacks strength in certain positions that are costing them lifts, we could add pauses.  We could pause at a sticking point in the squat, or pause at a sticking point in the deadlift.  This will help with building strength so they can pull or squat right through that point.

Often tempo reps are written in the seconds desired under tension for each phase of the movement.  For example: 52X0 stands for a 5 second eccentric, 2 second isometric, followed by a fast as possible concentric, and finally a 0 second isometric before starting the eccentric again. 


How long you rest (or don't) between your sets will lead to different training outcomes.  However, we also need to take into consideration the volume and intensity that we are resting for.  A single rep at 50% and a 4 rep max at 88% will impact how we want to rest.  For the purpose of strength training, rest is usually for the purpose of replenishing our phosphagen energy system. This is our primary energy system for lifting weights.  After 2 minutes we will have 90% restoration after 5 minutes we are usually fully restored.  This means that if we want to be fresh and successful for our sets, we should rest between 2 minutes and 5 minutes for our heavy sets.  3 minutes is a good middle ground.

For the purpose of lighter weights the need for long rest is diminished.  We actually want our muscles to be stimulated from the previous contractions when we begin our next set.  We also did not deplete our energy from the last set.  Therefore, when the % are light and intermuscular coordination is key, keeping rest under 2 minutes is important.  For the snatch rest should almost always be kept under 2 minutes (some exceptions for VERY heavy snatches).

One important note, if our goal is metabolic stress, like typical hypertrophy training, we should keep that rest at 90 seconds to 2 minutes.  This is because we are trying to keep the weights heavy, but also stress our phosphagen system to produce energy.  Stressing both these things can help with growing bigger muscles.

NEXT week we will actually start talking about how to put together all these variables in a program!! Stay tuned next Tuesday!

Kurt Roderick, CSCS, USAW-ASPC L2, CF-L3, AOLC