During the Covid-19 lockdown, Olympic weightlifting is surely a difficult skill to maintain when you don’t have access to proper equipment and facilities. That being said, athletes can still work on some aspects of their training in order to prevent complete de-conditioning as well as movement patterns until the end of the pandemic. Catalyst Athletics, for instance, provides an excellent at-home guide for athletes so that they can work on the maintenance of their hard-earned existing skillsets using only a broomstick or dowel, and bodyweight exercises. But, did you ever imagine that you can improve positions, activation, and muscular engagement in some areas of the Olympic lifts with only a towel?
Towel vs Dowel
The towel offers one key advantage to a dowel when practicing certain positions in the Olympic Lifts: it has no inherent stiffness, which forces the user to consciously apply tension in order to hold the appropriate positions. It gives the user instantaneous feedback, if they have not engaged the proper muscle groups, because the towel will become slack. For example, you can hold a dowel in an overhead squat position, but as long as your arms are raised overhead, the dowel will remain in place and allow the athlete to get away with the movement without having first found the proper engagement and tension in the position. Contrast this with a towel, if the user is not actively pushing the towel apart, the towel will become limp and slack, immediately, letting the user know that the appropriate levels of scapular engagement has not occurred. A towel will provide better feedback to the user and help build isometric strength, which is the tension required to support load in various positions.
But the towel have several disadvantages as well. The extent of its usefulness as a training aid for the Olympic lifts is pretty much limited in the snatch overhead positions. This is for two reasons: the first is that because it lacks the stiffness, the user couldn’t possibly hold it in a front rack position required to train the clean. For the same reason that many people have a harder time holding a dowel in the front rack, you actually want a little bit of resistance so that the body is pushed into the correct position for a front rack. Secondly, because the user can really only apply force on the towel in one direction to keep it stiff, you wouldn’t be able to use the towel to train the pulling positions. Imagine setting the towel up for your second pull, while you may try to stretch the towel out to keep it stiff, the moment you engage both lats to pull the towel in towards you, it will start to wrap around your body, nullifying any effectiveness.
All this being said, in the midst of a global pandemic and lockdown, we are trying to introduce as much variation and training stimulus as we can in order to remain motivated, sane, and derive whatever benefit we can with what we have to work with. So try introducing the towel into your at home Olympic weightlifting maintenance routine in order to achieve a different kind of training stimulus beyond just basic pattern work. Greg Everett, the founder of Catalyst Athletics, always stressed that position should always come before movement, and that’s because movement is but an infinite series of positions linked together. Applying tension on a towel, engaging the proper muscle groups, finding the appropriate activation in the overhead position will only serve you when the lockdown ends and normal training resumes.
Guide to towel overhead exercises:
Snatch Grip Strict Press
Snatch Grip Push Press
Pressing Snatch Balance
Heaving Snatch Balance
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