A Little Old School Support

by coachdanbell

No, not monetary support. A lot of lifters and coaches in this sport could use that. But perhaps they need old school supports more.

Back in the old days, when many gyms had power racks, powerlifters and Olympic lifters did things called “supports.” They’d take a movement position that was weak, load up that part of it beyond their max, and simply hold–or support–the weight in that position. And it worked. They got stronger in that position. You see a form of supports in use now by some coaches and lifters as part of complexes, where lifter will pause at some point in the pull for a few seconds, then continue the pull, or come back down to just below the knees or just off the floor and freeze for a few seconds, then pull. But used as part of complexes or multi-rep sets, this pause is necessarily done with less than max weights.  The old-timers used to load up supports way behond 100%. While this can be difficult and even dangerous to do for a pull, it works very well overhead and in some other non-pulling positions.

A couple of my lifters–one qualified for nationals and one right on the cusp–have been having trouble with jerks. Both were uncomfortable with heavy weight on their chests, finding a good rack position difficult to achieve, and one very shaky overhead. So I decided to address the problem as one of weakness rather than technique and attack it as simply and directly as possible: we’d get in those positions over and over again with a metric-shit-ton of weight. (Yes, that is a precise measure I made up)

Though he can clean 160 easily, we’ve never pushed Jon Dawson beyond that, as he had jerked 150kg perhaps twice in his career, and even then he shook overhead like a Chihuahua shitting peach seeds. So we put him in a power rack in the split jerk position with a loaded bar on pins just below lockout.


From here he pushed up until the bar came off the pins and he had to support it in the split, then recover and stand, counting three to five seconds before he could lower the bar to the pins.



Over a couple weeks he worked up from 100% to about 120% in these Jerk Recoveries. Last week he clean and jerked 150 twice, 156 and 158, holding all overhead without a quiver, this despite footwork with which he still has some issues.

Kat Lee is a converted pole vaulter who is probably the most explosive athlete I’ve had since I lost Manu Rattan to med school a dozen years ago. But she can pull a lot more than she can hold on her chest for the jerk. So we put her in the jerk boxes and had her take 100%+ on her shoulders, then dip and stand three times.


She’s worked up to 25kg over her best clean. If you watch a lot of the Chinese videos, you may have seen some of their lifters doing this in a power rack with ridiculous weights. (The Chinese haven’t invented a single new thing in this sport, they’ve just decided to use all of what has worked in the past in a more organized fashion than most) Kat did these two or three times and suddenly she was blowing away jerks that two weeks earlier had seemed impossible.

My “science-y” coaching friends will say that the effect may be psychological or that the heavy weight pushes back the inhibitory response of the Golgi Tendon Organs or some such. It is interesting to speculate, and perhaps even enlightening to study. But in the gym, trying to get more weight over lifters’ heads, we just know that this works and it has worked for decades.

In an earlier post (Science!) I wrote about the proper role of science in coaching. Here is a great place to repeat that message: science works in SUPPORT of coaching. Helpful training concepts have almost always originated in the gym and been later explained by science. We already know that supports work. One day exercise scientists will be able to tell us exactly how, but we don’t need to know to benefit from them.