This is the third guest post on the blog, reaching out to some new resources. You'll see interviews, guest posts, and some more fun stuff over the coming months.
This blog post comes from my longest running client, and now Head Coach the East Coast gym location of Courage Performance, Andrew Whitener. "Whitey" had always been one of the hardest working athletes I ever had. His passion to improve his baseball game was infectious and it was always a joy to train him. When he expressed interest in getting into the training/coaching world, it was a pretty seamless transition. Now, as Head Coach at the East Coast branch, he has taken the responsibility of being the only employee of a portion of this company that I have spent 10 years building; needless to say he jumped right into the deep end, and has been doing a wonderful job! Here is his third post, of many to come!
The Importance Of The "Launch Position"
At Courage Performance, we’re always looking to apply or relate what we do in the weight room to what our athletes do in their respective sports. Understanding that moving with power, coordination, and efficiency in the gym directly translates to moving that way on the field is one of our biggest points of emphasis. We think this is what makes for better athletes, plain and simple.
On that note, I want to highlight one of the many parallels between lifting and playing sports – the importance of what I call the “launch position.” As a former baseball player, my mind usually jumps to baseball when I think about sport-specific applications of movements in the gym. Thus, what I’ll be comparing primarily is the clean/snatch and the baseball swing.
First, a quick note on our programming – all of our athletes do versions of the clean and the snatch (for a multitude of reasons left to another blog post). All of them learn the lifts from the hang position, and are first taught the power versions – catching the bar with the crease of the hip above the knee, instead of in a deeper squat. For beginners, this neutralizes a lot of variables that are difficult to control when pulling off the ground or trying to catch the bar deep, but still allows the athlete to get the athletic benefits of doing such an explosive, yet controlled, total body lift.
For most of our athletes that do hang power cleans and hang power snatches, I consider the launch position to be when the bar is right around the top of the knee (depending on arm/torso length), and the athlete’s next move is up, not down – he or she is loaded and about to begin to pull the bar up. For the baseball swing, the launch position is after the hitter has taken his stride and loaded his hands, so that his next move is aggressively down/forward toward the contact point.
How are these two launch positions similar? Firstly, they are a primer for the explosive movement the athlete is about to make, which is to say the athlete loads up in some way: the baseball player could shift some weight onto the back leg, push the hands a little farther back, and/or cock the wrists, and the weightlifter sits back on the heels, pushes the hips back (thereby allowing the posterior chain to counterbalance and support the weight load), engages the lats, and allows the shoulders to come forward over the bar or a little in front of it. Both athletes build potential energy in preparation of an explosive movement.
Secondly, the athlete is in more control of this launch position than of the explosive movement. I believe that executing a flawless baseball swing to meet a pitch, or performing a perfect clean pull and catch, is more difficult than getting yourself in a solid launch position. There are fewer moving parts, and the priming is less physically demanding than the explosion – it is easier to control.
This brings me to my third similarity – a good launch position sets an athlete up for success. The athlete MUST get the launch part down. One of the most common mistakes I see in novice (and even more advanced) weightlifters is that they rush their “load” when the weights get heavy, which usually causes them to either completely abbreviate or leak their weight forward on their pull, resulting in an inefficient lift. What’s more, I have been surprised, and very pleased, with the amount of improvement I’ve seen among my athletes with a little extra emphasis on getting to a good launch position. We’ve been trying out having everyone start by dropping into a clearly defined high-hang/pocket position (feeling the weight on the heels and establishing some hip and knee flexion), then pushing the hips back from there and allowing the bar to slide down the quads toward the knee. Getting into a properly loaded launch position works wonders! The right muscles are supporting the bar, causing the athlete to feel stronger and in more control, the bar stays close to the body, and thus the athlete is almost forced into executing a more efficient bar path. For the majority of my guys, fixing their launch position has helped far more than trying to adjust the pull or catch itself. Similarly, if an athlete doesn’t get into a good launch position, their chances of efficiently executing a clean or a baseball swing is almost 0! They would have to adjust while being explosive, which is incredibly difficult.
I used a baseball swing as my example, but this theory can be applied to many other sports – a golf swing, a defensive lineman’s pre-snap stance, a basketball player’s elbow and hand position on a jump shot, the list goes on and on. The tougher parts of those moves – the explosive or reactionary parts – won’t always be perfect, but I think it’s often a matter of focus to set yourself up for success. Control what you can control by focusing on your launch position, and I bet you’ll make improvements fast.
Head Coach at Courage Performance East Coast branch
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