My thoughts and perspectives on health, science, and logic… Keep an open mind!


This post is a bit more geared toward fellow fitness professionals, and especially those in the NSCA (though all trainers and coaches can hopefully benefit from the points I’ll be making here).  It concerns the following:

An article was posted today on the NSCA Facebook page that I found a bit bothersome.  It is presented as a reasonable argument for the inclusion of a new exercise into the traditional strength and conditioning paradigm that most coaches are familiar with.  Well intentioned, no doubt, but the substance — at least in MY assessment — doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  While this is not an indictment of the Strength and Conditioning Journal as a whole, I think that someone should have been a little more vigilant before allowing this article to reach publication.

 

The National Strength and Conditioning Association --  Usually pretty sharp in their presentation of research and their endorsement of exercise professionals.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association — Usually pretty sharp in their presentation of research and their endorsement of exercise professionals.

 

Specifically, the article is entitled, The Benefits of Performing the Split Alternating Foot Snatch, by Allen Hedrick, MA, CSCS,  Hedrick is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Colorado State University in Pueblo and a FELLOW of the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association).  In a nutshell, the article argues for the inclusion of the aforementioned exercise in S&C programs and attempts to cite a few research papers in support of the claim.  My writing here focuses primarily on a single study that is used to support the notion that the “Split Alternating Foot Snatch” (referred to here as the SAFS or split snatch) is superior to a more commonly used movement such as the power clean for power development in an athlete.  Other claims are made regarding improved variation and “sport specificity” that I address briefly as well.  Before reading further, I encourage you to read the original article which I have linked above.

 

After reading the article, all I really see is a pile of assumptions and conjecture.  While they MAY be somewhat correct, there’s no direct research cited here to show the efficacy of such a movement.  Not so much as an EMG study to tell us anything about muscle activation patterns.  Before jumping to conclusions and declaring that we should definitely include this or any other exercise into a program, there needs to be something a little more solid to support the notion.  This is especially true in light of the fact that much of the article itself is based on an erroneous reading of the Garhammer study, which you can read for yourself HERE.  Let’s look at what really occurs in that study…

 

An example of a split snatch (SAFS) -- shamelessly taken from www.crossfit.com

An example of a split snatch (SAFS) — shamelessly taken from http://www.crossfit.com

 

First, a quick note on physics — while one can make an argument for a snatch as having a higher velocity than a clean, that all depends on the loads being used.  Lowering the mass of the implement being lifted during a power clean will allow for it to be accelerated more quickly.  That may or may not offset whatever speed “benefits” are seen from the snatch.  It is certainly NOT a given that a power clean cannot move as quickly as a snatch under certain circumstances.

 

It should also be noted that the Garhammer study that’s used to support Hedrick’s statement was EXTREMELY specific in its scope — it used 5 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNING lifters performing the snatch, power clean, and jerk.  That’s not exactly a large and all-inclusive sample size, and the study was performed with 16mm camera footage almost 30 years ago.  And here’s the kicker – the author of the post above talks about how increased bar velocity was noticed in the snatch when compared to the clean during this study.  That’s mostly true, based on the numbers.  But when you discuss power output (which is a major point of argument in Hedrick’s article), things become murkier.  During the first pull, the higher power value between the two lifts waffles back and forth.  In questions of greatest INSTANTANEOUS power, however, the power clean is usually greater.  So this blows a hole in the idea that the author tries to put forward that the snatch is the best option for training for power output.

 

Once again, we have arguments that the SAFS is beneficial because 1) it allows for greater power output (unsupported by the research cited), and 2) it allows for variability that MAY introduce a novel stimulus to the nervous system (not clear due to lack of evidence).  I’ll cede that the second point is true in principle.  But the question remains as to whether that novel stimulus will produce any actual benefit on the field.  Will adding a split motion to a power lift translate into better in-game performance for an athlete?  I have yet to see evidence of this.

 

The power clean that we all know -- taken from www.crossfitkrypton.com

The power clean that we all know — taken from http://www.crossfitkrypton.com

 

I balk at the idea that we should consider replacing, without any strong evidence, the power clean — a power movement that is relatively easy to learn and coach – with a split snatch.  The SAFS is a far more difficult movement to teach, as it contains a much higher degree of movement complexity.  Introducing something novel for a specific purpose is one thing.  But this seems to be veering off into the realm of unnecessary challenge that will not produce any appreciable benefits to the athlete, and due to the increased mechanical complexity of the movement, it will likely require significant reductions in the actual force that can be generated in a controlled manner.  If your goal is power, then compromising force output is NOT what you want.

 

Let me be clear here — I’m not trying to condemn anyone (including the author of the article in question) or point a finger of blame.  But it’s vital that we all, as professionals, do a better job of interpreting the research that is out there.  We must also be very careful not to make any claims that aren’t backed by the science or, if we do make such claims, make it perfectly clear that we are only speculating.  Always check the sources of your articles, friends.  Always question what is being fed to you.

In my opinion, Hedrick should have done a much better job of fact-checking his article.  Furthermore, the Strength and Conditioning Journal should have done a better job of vetting the sources and scrutinizing the paper before allowing for its publication.  But hey, I’m just a grad student.  So maybe there’s something I’m missing 😉

 

Cheers

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