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From the Desk of Clarence Bass

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Keep That Spring

Explosive strength movements prevent loss of the proverbial step

"Do you do any jumping?" asked Dr. Terry Todd, Co-Editor (with wife Jan) of Iron Game History and keeper of the Todd-McLean physical culture collection at the University of Texas, Austin. Talking to Terry is always fun and informative; he's in touch with just about everybody connected with the weight sports. Terry - a big man who weighed over 300 pounds in his heyday as a champion lifter - regaled me with the story of how he used to win tavern bets by jumping flat-footed up on bar counters. Turning serious, he related that, approaching 60 years of age, he still includes jumping and fast lifting movements in his training. "You know," he explained, "people lose the spring in their legs when they get older; I've seen old people who literally cannot jump up on a curb." Obviously, Terry doesn't intend to let that happen to him.

More Disuse Than Age

Terry's colleague at the University of Texas, Dr. Waneen W. Spirduso, gives the latest research on this subject in her comprehensive text, Physical Dimensions of Aging (Human Kinetics, 1995). She confirms that losses of strength with age are typically greater in the lower body than in the upper extremities. However, she says the results posted by masters powerlifters suggest that the discrepancy may be due more to disuse than age. As measured by the best Deadlift and Bench Press performances of champion powerlifters between the ages of 40 and 75, there is little or no difference between upper- and lower-body strength losses until ages 70-75. Apparently most sedentary people simply use their arms more than their legs.

Supporting Todd's observation that many older people have no spring in their legs, Dr. Spirduso says that losses of strength with age are greater in fast - rather than slow - velocity movements. Unfortunately, this decline is found in older athletes, as well as their inactive peers. Performance in events that require explosive strength seem to be less well maintained.

For example, masters athletes show a greater decline in throwing events, such as the discus and shot put, than in endurance events, such as long distance running. Likewise, performance in complex jumping events, such as the high jump and triple jump, declines faster than simpler running events, such as the 100 meter dash. Again, however, there are exceptions: Al Oerter threw the discus until age 48, competing in four Olympics, with practically no decline at all.

Likewise in lifting, the brute strength required for Powerlifting (Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift) seems to be maintained better over the years than the strength in combination with speed, coordination and balance required by the Snatch and Clean & Jerk events performed in the Olympic Games.

For those not familiar with the Olympic lifts, The Snatch is a maneuver where the bar is lifted, using mostly leg and back strength, all the way from the floor overhead in one superfast motion. In the Clean & Jerk, the bar is first lifted to the shoulders in one quick motion, and then explosively powered overhead, again using the strength of the legs.

Performance Constantly Improving

The good news is that the performance of masters athletes in all events, fast and slow, is getting better with each passing year, suggesting that intelligent and persistent training can overcome much of the decline that inevitably comes with aging. In Dr. Spirduso's words: "Most of the decline seen in strength and muscular endurance, at least until 70, is due more to disuse of the neuromuscular system than to aging."

By the way, my answer to Terry's question is yes. From time to time, I do flat-footed jumps up the stairs in our house. (The stairs are well padded.) More importantly, however, I regularly include explosive strength movements, such as the Power Clean and Power Snatch, in my workouts. The difference between these lifts and the Olympic lifts is that you don't lower yourself under the bar to catch the weight. For example, in the Power Clean you bend the knees slightly to catch the weight at the shoulders, rather than going into a full squat as is done in the Clean & Jerk. This makes for a smoother movement and less jarring on the joints, while still maintaining the explosiveness of the lift. Similarly in the Power Snatch, the weight is caught overhead with only a slight dip of the knees.

As some readers know, for the first 20 or so years of my lifting career, I competed in the Olympic lifts. If you think about it, the Snatch and Clean & Jerk are essentially jumping movements with a heavy barbell - that's how Terry developed the ability to jump flat-footed up on a bar counter. While I did little formal jumping during this time, I know that the Snatch and Clean & Jerk put plenty of spring in my legs. I never tried jumping up on a bar, but I could easily do a flat-footed jump over the steel backed benches at the local swimming pool, and I also did a jump-reach of well over 30 inches when I was still in high school.

Quickness Returns

When I took up the Power Snatch and Power Clean a few years ago, after doing no explosive lifting for almost 20 years, I found that I had lost a good deal of my ability in the quick lifts. Happily, most of my quickness soon returned. Actually, I'd forgotten how exhilarating it is to power a weight from the floor to the shoulders or overhead in one quick movement. Like Terry Todd, I intend to keep the spring in my legs with these movements for a long time to come. (The following photos show my current form in both lifts.)


Power Clean


Power Snatch

(All photos taken at Carl and Sandra's Conditioning Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Joe Gutierrez)

If you are interested in building and maintaining explosive power with the quick lifts, I suggest that you check out Lift Your Way To Youthful Fitness by Jan and Terry Todd in your local library (it's now out of print), which contains excellent photos and learning instructions. In addition, you can rent ($15) or buy ($29) an excellent video presentation called "The Power Clean and Variations" from Bigger Faster Stronger, Inc., by calling 1-800-628-9737. Finally, to learn why athletic-type lifts, such as the snatch, clean and squat, are the best - and perhaps only - way to attain peak athletic performance in both strength and endurance sports, read Quantum Strength by Dr. Pat O'Shea. (For an article on this web site about O'Shea and his book Go Quantum or see our recommended book list.)

Take Terry Todd's advice and mine: KEEP THAT SPRING.

(To find out more about Dr. Spurduso's book go Spurduso)

(To subscribe to Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture, published quarterly, subscription rates: 4 issues $20.00 or 8 issues $35.00, send check payable to Iron Game History, to The Todd-McLean Collection, Department of Kinesiology, Room 107, Anna Hiss Gym, A2000, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712 [in US funds only], and include your name, street address, (apartment number if applicable), city, state, zip code and country. Canadian and Foreign subscriptions add $5.00 for 4 issues (total $25.00). Including a telephone number would be helpful.) Telephone 512-471-4890 or FAX 512-488-0114.


Artie Dreschler has produced an impressive new "Video Companion" to his highly acclaimed Weightlifting Encyclopedia (see our Products section). It's not a slick presentation, but it's very thorough and absolutely information packed. Three hours long, the video is divided into six major sections: Introduction, Elements of Technique, Technical Rules, Assistance Exercises, Teaching and Learning Techniques, and Using Equipment. Beginners will find the suggested sequences for learning the lifts especially helpful.

If you're interested in becoming an Olympic lifter, this video includes just about everything you need to know to get started on a solid footing. It's probably overkill if you only want to learn the power snatch and power clean, but you'll certainly get your money's worth and much more. Artie Dreschler doesn't do anything half way, and this video proves it again in spades. We highly recommend it. The price is $39.95 + $4.00 shipping.

For more information or to order go to his website (www.wlinfo.com).

Copyright ©1997 Clarence & Carol Bass. All rights reserved.

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