Throughout the strength training community, there are a variety of methodologies in technique and routine. Two factions of this community which will be discussed are the olympic lifters and powerlifters. To keep it simple, olympic lifters tend to concern themselves with cleaning and snatching, while powerlifters hold on to benching, squatting, and deadlifting. However, it is fair to say that many encompass all these lifts and techniques. What does seem to trend out of these two camps is a difference in philosophy when it comes to squat technique. This is of course quite logical, because the individual who is focused on the clean lift require a completely different set of strengths than does an individual who is just squat focused.
An olympic style squat is set on increasing the max ability of a clean. To run through the technique of an olympic style squat as quickly as possible we can break it down into three stages: beginning decent, at the bottom, and accent.
When you begin the descent, first, the bar generally sits higher on the back and shoulders. Head is generally neutral, meaning the eyes look straight ahead. As movement to the ground begins, the back is set and straight. Knees tend to move forward, allowing the butt to drop in a straight path to floor.
At the bottom, the butt is deep nearing the ankles and floor. In this position, the hips and lower back have tucked, nearing a posterior position (facing a level to more upward plane). Weight is on the heels, but the body is completely centered. The back also remains quite vertical through the entirety of the lift.
The accent is nearly identical to the decent. Stress is greatest on the quad muscles, while the back continues to be vertical.
*Explaining is one thing, but seeing it is the only way to fully grasp this and the following technique.
The powerlifting squat has only one goal in mind, and that is to put up the most weight possible. This technique is often referred to as a box squat. We will again break down this lift into the same three stages:
When you begin descent, first, the bar generally sits a bit lower on the back and shoulders. Head is up, looking 30 or so degrees above neutral. The back is tight and slightly arched so the butt is out and hips display and anterior tilt. The back has a more angled tilt as well. As movement to the ground begins, the butt comes out while the knees remain in place. This most similarly looks like a sitting motion.
The bottom of this lift is at parallel, or slightly below, to the ground. The head is still up, and the butt and hips are still in an anterior tilt.
Accent is similar to the decent. Stress is greatest on the back, the glute muscles and hamstrings. The back has an angled tilt until the top of the lift is reached.
The Main Differences
The main differences of these techniques is the range of motion and position of the back. Compared to power squatting, olympic squatting has a much larger range of motion that accounts for many of the differences of the body’s position, especially at the bottom of the lift. However, what makes these two lifts so different is the position of the back throughout the lift. Maintaining the straight, but vertical, back position requires that the lifters knees move out and that at the bottom of the lift, the hips have a more posterior positioning. This also tucks the lower back under. The powerlifters position of the back and hips, however, create an anterior tilt that allows for the butt to release out and the knees to stay firmly in position.
Lifting Rhetoric and Controversy
Some who are more radically to one side of the olympic or powerlifting communities debate about the techniques. Some powerlifters claim that reaching as low as olympic lifters do, and the fact that the butt and lower back tuck can be dangerous. In return, some olympic lifters claim that the powerlifting technique puts too much stress on the lower back, thus increasing the potential for injury there. It’s hard to say whether these carry any real weight, and we should consider that these exercises have potential for injury no matter what technique or experience level a lifter might possess.
There is also some debate as to which is a more practical technique, especially in regards to athleticism. In this case, logically, the nod goes to the olympic technique because of the higher range of motion. However, if we consider which will likely lead to higher max’s in the squat, powerlifters have the advantage.
It’s difficult to really compare these two techniques because, after all, they have different goals in mind. A powerlifters squat technique will not be beneficial for cleaning and snatching, in fact, it is not possible to do olympic lifts with that positioning. It is also important to remember that cleans and snatches are the champions when it comes to athletic competition training. Though, powerlifting holds some benefits in athletics as well. Perhaps the ideal training regiment would include both types of techniques.
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