Olympic Weightlifting with Reactive Neuromuscular Training

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Maximize Olympic Lifting with Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT)

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D. 

I consistently implement Olympic lifts and variations thereof with my athletes to improve explosive power, speed, and strength. Unfortunately the force vectors produced from free weights don’t perfectly match up with how the hips and glute muscles function. In other words cleans and snatches are axial loaded movements with vertical force vectors however the hips, which happen to be the key muscles involved during Olympic lifts, function more in an anteroposterior hinging fashion (front to back).  

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is quite easy for athletes to perform Olympic lifts without emphasizing hip drive and triple extension resulting in very little activation from the posterior chain. Unfortunately this minimizes the benefits of Olympic lifts and may in fact predispose the individual to a number of compensation patterns and injuries. In fact, many research studies as well as anecdotal evidence from coaches and trainers now suggest that Olympic lifts are relatively ineffective (compared to other explosive training modalities) for improving speed and power.

However, these results are likely due to improper coaching and execution of the movements as properly performed Olympic lifts do in fact provide great value for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. The key is producing explosive power by aggressively and violently firing the posterior chain (as well as nearly every other muscle in the body). Fortunately, applying one of my favorite methods to Olympic lifts, namely reactive neuromuscular training (RNT), helps resolve this issue and also provides additional benefits. Simply anchor a band that provides posterior tension to the athlete's hips, and perform any Olympic lift as I demonstrate in the video along with several of my athletes Julian Williams, Leslie Petch, and Austin Meadows.

With that said here are 7 reasons why applying RNT to cleans and snatches is so effective.

1. Applying RNT horizontal band resistance to the hips produces tension in an anteroposterior fashion.  As a result the hips are required to extend forward not only to launch the load upward but also to resist the band tension. One way to think of this is that we’re combining Olympic lifts with elements similar to a cable pull through, kettlebell swing, and hip thruster. Athletes who have difficulty full extending the hips or cutting the hip extension phase short will benefit greatly from this.

2. Besides requiring the lifter to produce full extension, the RNT band resistance also produces greater glute and hamstring activation due to the direct loading of the posterior chain.  In other words the posterior chain is forced to be involved to the level it should be during Olympic lifts.

3. The direct posterior horizontal band loading provides a pulling sensation to the hips further emphasizing proper hip hinge mechanics as it literally pulls the lifter into a proper RDL or hip hinge position. This is one of the most critical aspects of Olympic lifting as ample hip flexion at the bottom of the hinge is paramount to stretching and engaging the posterior chain. If you struggle moving into a proper hang position with ample hip hinge mechanics during your Olympic lifts, the RNT method is a sure fix. 

4. A very common problem on Olympic lifts is that lifters rely on incomplete yet quick hip extension by producing a mini hop or jump to jolt the weight up into the catch position.   Instead of jumping using a partial hop, the lifter should be trying to drive into the floor for as long as possible in order to maximize hip extension forces.  Although many strength coaches erroneously advocate faulty mini-jump mechanics (using incomplete hip extension), which emphasizes knee and ankle extension rather than hip extension, the band resistance technique helps to eliminate this for two reasons. 

First the lifter is required to get their hips all the way through and fully extend in order to resist the tension produced from the band.  Second, attempting to jump while having a force pulling posteriorly on the hips will cause the lifter to lose his or her balance backward. To maintain one’s balance during the RNT method the lifter will be required to keep in contact with the floor throughout the lifts thereby further maximizing hip extension and force production.

5. The RNT method requires the lifter to have a slight forward torso lean at the top of the overhead snatch position which represents the ideal slot position for finishing any overhead Olympic lift.  If you have difficulty nailing the overhead position of your snatch, simply add the RNT method as you’ll be required to properly position your hips, torso, arms, and center of mass.

6. The RNT method is more joint and low back friendly than traditional variations.  That’s because it doesn’t require as heavy a barbell or dumbbell loading as traditional Olympic lifts since a portion of the resistance is now in the anteroposterior direction from the bands.  In other words the hips will be required to allocate a portion of the force production directly to the horizontal band tension.  Simply put you won’t be able to handle quite as heavy a direct loading on the barbell or dumbbells.  As a result the lifter can use slightly lighter loads yet still maximal effort hip drive and explosive power ultimately reducing stress to the spine and shoulders not to mention the rest of the joints.

7. Many lifters have a habit of becoming overly loose in the catch position during their Olympic lifts.  The RNT method forces the lifter to stay tight in the catch position as lack of full body tension will result in loss of balance in the posterior direction.  Not only does this teach the lifter how to absorb force more efficiently but it also improves strength and full body stability.

To read more about band assisted Olympic lifts click here.  For more on performing Olympic lifts with band resistance click here.

Power Shrugs and High Pulls

Similar to cleans and snatches, reactive neuromuscular training (RNT) can also be applied to power shrugs and high pulls as demonstrated by my awesome client Ben Lai. 

Besides providing force vectors that more appropriately match the function of the hips and hip hinge (in the anteroposterior direction), these are also excellent for improving power output and grooving proper hip mechanics for cleans and snatches.  If you have trouble aggressively extending your hips or engaging your posterior chain during Olympic lifts you’ll want to include these into your routine as they’re very effective for improving triple extension during cleans and snatches.