WHEN AND WHY TO USE PRIMER LIFTS
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Me: “So you want me to set my feet wide in a receiving position, pull the bar all the way up to my chest pulling my elbows as high as possible, make no contact of the bar against my body but keep it very close, move slower from the time I pull the bar from the ground to chest height, and then snap very fast under the bar receiving it with a halting stop in a rock solid stable position without any movement in a position where my legs/hips are parallel with the floor and no lower?”
I proceed to do the complete opposite of every piece of instruction… for like two months. The conversation went something like that the first time Yasha had me perform a muscle snatch to parallel well over a year ago. I think… I’m not sure I have some trauma associated with this.
The muscle snatch to parallel is a snatch variation used to teach the lifter what it feels like to actually finish the pull and finish the pull with the muscle of the upper-body rather than just using the momentum from the first pull and the propulsion of the bar against the body to elevate the bar to an adequate height where the lifter can drop under to receive. It’s been hands down the most helpful variation to my personally in teaching me how to control the placement of the bar overhead. Rather than incessantly cueing a lifter to pull higher, which is often times wasted breath, Yasha uses this variation, which he borrowed from some of the best coaches in the world, to make lifters feel the quality of movement he’s trying to teach. Because once you feel it, you can’t unfeel it, and then you truly learn it.
“WHOOPTYDOO, BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN BASIL?”
The first time I asked Yasha to send me general training cycle, he e-mailed me a Russian weightlifting structured template. As I read through it like a book, the first thing that stood out was the use of primer lifts and exercises, for lack of a better term. If the focus for the day was the snatch, the program would first call for an exercise such as muscle snatch + Overhead squat or muscle snatch to parallel. The program was purposely designed in this fashion to teach or reinforce correct mechanics or technique. These qualities could then be immediately integrated into the technique of the classic lift that followed, thereby making solid technique improvements and allowing the practice of the snatch to be that much more productive.
Yasha has taken this method and used it in much of his own programming. The program Yasha currently has me on has both days where the exercises selected are designed to set you up to have a more productive training session the following day and exercises first thing in the training session designed to elicit a technique, speed quality, or stability response for the main classic lift of the day.
In my own coaching and programming, I’ve used certain drills and simple exercises to improve the training for the day but never to the detail and specificity of which I’ve done in the programs from Yasha.
When organizing these lifts, every day can have one to two variations that shore up specific weaknesses or gaps in technical efficiency. A few examples would be doing a muscle clean or muscle snatch to parallel like I’ve stated before to feel the pull and finish of the lift.
FIGURE OUT THE UTILITY
Use your discernment as to what you or your lifters need. Not all primer lifts have to do with learning to pull or bar path. Lifts like snatch balance can help you learn how to push under a bar, sure, but it can also be used to teach stability in the receiving position. There are certain exercises that can universally help almost every lifter, but when personalizing programs for groups of lifters or individual people, focus on the greatest deficiency first and find the exercise that helps explain the movement through practice if words are not enough.