EP.34 | Using Blocks by Danny Carmargo

Using Blocks

by Daniel Camargo

For those of you that aren't familiar with Daniel Camargo, I'll start with a brief introduction.  Daniel is a 27 year veteran of the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, establishing his own Weightlifting Club back in 1999.  He has represented the United States on the International stage both as an athlete and coach, and continues to build Team Oly Concepts every day.  

Read More on Daniel HERE

Daniel is going to talk about the subject of Blocks in weightlifting.  What are they used for?  What kind of blocks should I use?  Should I use blocks?  He gives us awesome insight into using these training tools... You don't want to miss this!

Enter Daniel:

Every piece of gym equipment associated with Olympic Weightlifting is important, such as the barbell, plates, and end-clips. These are necessary, naturally, along with Squat Racks. However, some equipment isn’t mandatory but are highly recommended and have become quite desired in our community. One such item are “Blocks.” There are two kinds, Jerk Blocks and Technique Blocks. Though there are similar reasons for their usage, they both serve a different purpose. Both can be very useful but there are some safety concerns that should be considered. 

Let’s start with the more popular “Jerk blocks”, which are often referred to as just “blocks”. The primary purpose of Jerk blocks is to work on all overhead movements without the added stress of lowering the barbell back to the shoulders between repetitions (eccentric). Historically, this piece of equipment is made of wood however there are more and more companies designing them out of metal. The most popular blocks are those that are adjustable to various heights to accommodate different body types.

The ability to drop the bar on an elevated platform alleviates extra work on the athlete. When practicing any overhead movement the athlete will….

  1. Approach the loaded barbell, which should rest slightly below chest height

  2. Lift the barbell

  3. Perform the desired overhead movement

  4. Recover their feet, if necessary

  5. Drop the weight back on the elevated blocks

Blocks can be used for several overhead lifts, such as Power Jerk, Push Jerks, Push Press, Behind the Neck Jerks, and Strict Press. I’ve actually seen athletes who use blocks to simply elevate the barbell for other movements like Overhead Squats. There are some safety concerns however for the use of blocks. The width at which columns are placed is a major precaution that must be taken. If the blocks are too close to each other, it leaves little room for the athlete to maneuver between them during reps especially if the weight is heavy. However, if they’re placed too far apart dropping the weight in the correct spot can be jeopardized. That’s a greater disaster. I recommend spacing the columns somewhere between 3.5ft.-4ft. apart. This allows plenty of space for most body types while providing sufficient surface area for the drops.

Having described the proper use and options for Jerk blocks, I can tell you there is an argument against using them at all. Not every coach agrees with using blocks. These voices argue that lowering the barbell has its advantages, such as strengthening the shoulders. The eccentric (aka negative) movement adds to overall strength and power. Further, the stability it takes to lower weight back to the shoulders, especially at heavier loads, will develop the athlete’s control and awareness of their bodies in space. There’s no wrong or right. It is up to the discretion of the coach but I will tell you that from experience, lowering the barbell for each rep, especially behind the neck, can trouble many athletes. The main argument for the use of Jerk blocks is that the athlete can focus more on the task itself rather than any additional stress of completing it.

 

It’s important that Jerk blocks aren’t confused with “Technique blocks”, which are different though have similar purpose. The purpose of Technique blocks, which can also just be referred to as “blocks”, is to work on all pulling movements and often include the “catch” of the Snatch or Clean. As such, Technique blocks are adjusted to a much lower height.

When using Technique blocks the athlete will….

  1. Approach the loaded barbell, which should rest anywhere below waist line

  2. Enter a start position according to the height the blocks were adjusted

  3. Lift the barbell and perform the specific pulling exercise, the Snatch, the Clean, or their variations

Unlike Jerk blocks, the varying heights of Technique blocks aren’t only for accommodating an athlete’s height. They are placed at specific heights to achieve desired segments of pulling movements of the Snatch or Clean. Examples can be purposely adjusting the blocks so that the loaded barbell rests below the knees, above the knees, or higher near the hips. Beginning movements from these heights serve different purposes. For instance, the lower the bar is on the body the more mechanics needed to successfully lift it. The higher the bar is set the more power development becomes the focus. The uses for Technique blocks are:

  • Practice of proper technique and form

  • Development of strength power

Often times, athletes learning the Olympic Weightlifting movements need to focus on one part of the Lifts. Blocks offer a chance for athletes to segment their Snatch or Clean without the added stress of performing “hang” movements. Hang movements, which can be highly beneficial, may exhaust the athlete who’s using them for technique and mechanical training. By resting the barbell at the desired height, the athlete can focus on a specific task without burning out from holding the bar for so long.

The other use for Technique blocks is improving strength but more specifically power. With a heavily loaded barbell, an athlete can perform lifts at heights that minimize mechanics. For example, the higher the bar is on the body the less mechanics needed to lift it. Therefore, the athlete can focus on power output with minimal angles and body leverages. This type of isolation can be extremely helpful in getting athletes to become more explosive.

Just like Jerk blocks, there are some safety concerns for the use of Technique blocks. Advanced lifters may sometimes use Technique blocks for 1RMs. It is advised not to allow beginners or intermediate lifters to do so. The reason is because in the case of a failed attempt, the barbell may not strike the blocks at the safest location. Should the barbell drop in the wrong place it will ricochet, putting the athlete at risk of injury. Advanced lifters who “max out” using Technique blocks have such control of their movements, and the barbell for that matter, they bail out properly and will actually control where the bar lands. Beginners and intermediate lifters may not have this skill. Similar to Jerk blocks the distance between both columns is important. Too close and the athlete’s movement will be restricted.  Too far and the barbell may not strike the blocks appropriately.

The use of blocks overall is not a mandatory part of Olympic Weightlifting but certainly has its benefits. They can even be used to minimize strain on athletes who are suffering from mild injuries, aches or pains. I recommend everyone find the chance to use them from time to time if they’re not already located in their respective gyms. They can be great tools whether working on overhead movements, in the case of Jerk Blocks, for technique work or power development as in the case of Technique Blocks. When using these pieces of equipment coaches and athletes must be aware of the safety concerns associated with them. Doing so will ensure the athlete can focus on the task at hand without any additional stressors. 

We'd like to thank Daniel for this article and for his years of coaching and competing in the weightlifting community!

Where to Find Daniel:

@camargo_oly
@olyconcepts