Overloading: The Problems and Benefits

Written by Jim Napier

In this discussion, I will attempt to explain the concept of overloading. The way I define overloading is as follows;

Overloading occurs when the amount of weight lifted in the snatch and/or clean & jerk is greater than the lifter’s current equivalent clean & jerk from the 1.0 second back squat.

For example: A lifter has a clean & jerk PR, currently established, of 150k. 

The equivalent back squat in 1.0 second can be calculated;

150k / .86 =  174k

If the above lifter has achieved both the 150k clean & jerk and the 174k back squat in 1.0 second, we can determine certain parameters with respect to working weights. Since the majority of training outside of the peaking phase (usually 2 months) is achieved with 80% of PR, the intensity will be ;

150k x 80% = 120k for singles and should be reduced accordingly for doubles or triples. If the lifter does more than the 120k for singles during the training phase, then any amount over that 120k would be considered overloading. 

Conversely, any squat that exceeds the 174k in 1.0 second would also be considered overloading. Even if the lifter does the 174k again, but is only able to move at 1.5 seconds. This additional 0.5 seconds would constitute 0.5 x 50 = 25k of overloading.

Overloading the muscular system is often considered necessary in order to produce hypertrophy or larger muscles. This is primarily true in bodybuilding and in some cases powerlifting, but these two athletes are not dealing with the fast twitch fibers for the purpose of achieving a result based on maximizing the force from a particular velocity. The powerlifter is only bound by how much weight they can move regardless of the time it takes to move that weight, per the rules. Bodybuilders have no boundaries on velocity or even volume. The weightlifter has to balance out all of those factors to increase the lifting ability of the muscles, size for instance, and the reaction-time. Overloading the muscular system will do three things;

1. Cause overtraining

2. Make the muscles less supple and therefore less responsive to quick reactions

3. Cause minor aches and even injury, when overloading is taken to extremes

Extreme overloading has more to do with those who continuously go to the gym and attempt PRs in every lift and exercise and as often as they can.  They might even create new exercises where PRs can be set. These are usually not serious athletes and this discussion is not geared toward those types of individuals.

In my opinion, any auxiliary exercise or variation of the snatch and clean & jerk should be held to under 80% of maximal effort and for many exercises even less. Only the snatch and clean & jerk should be executed with weights in excess of 80% and then only depending on the phase of training, such as conditioning, training or peaking. However, the squats can be pushed as much as possible, as long as the time in motion of 1.0 second is maintained regardless of the reps or sets of reps. Pushing the squats to absolute limits without regard for the time in motion or non-decelerated actions could be considered extreme overloading, but in reality the lifter is attempting to train the squat as a powerlifting event, which begins to cause mediocrity between the squats and the competition lifts.

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The same lifter with the 150k clean & jerk PR does a 200k back squat in 1.8 seconds;

1.8 - 1.0 = 0.8 x 50 = 40k, and 200k - 40k = 160k in 1.0 seconds

The 160k in 1.0 seconds is 14k less than the 174k in 1 second. The amount of overloading would be;

200k - 160k = 40k of overloading for this session

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If the above lifter decided to base the clean & jerk off the 200k back squat in 1.8 seconds using the standard of 80% of back squat;

200k x .80 = 160k, therefore the lifter would be overloading on every working weight where a percentage of the 160k was executed. This means that both the snatch and clean & jerk and the squats would contain weights that produce overloading and eventually stagnation, overtraining or even injury.

Athletes who have trouble doing a back squat in 1.0 second with 116% of clean & jerk will probably have more slow twitch than fast twitch fibers and will not have the reaction time necessary to make such a lift. In which case, it could be beneficial to raise the time limitation to 1.5 seconds instead of 1.0 second. This should be equivalent to the clean & jerk and still be fast enough not to cause unnecessary overloading. Squatting slow with heavy weights will make the lifter strong, but it will also make them slower during the all important changes in direction between the 1st and 2nd pull, the 2nd and 3rd pull and standing up with the weight, as well as, the change between the dip and drive of the jerk. Ideally the lifter should be able to front squat 100% of clean & jerk in 0.67 seconds and back squat about 125% more in 0.67 seconds. These numbers would give the lifter the leg drive for the jerk and the quick reaction time for the changes in direction.

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