“Olympic Weightlifting: Breaking It Down” by Diane Fu

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“Olympic Weightlifting: Breaking It Down”

      With all the information available on the internet today, it has become an age of easy access information for anyone wanting to learn just about anything. If you don’t believe me, go check out YouTube. There’s a “How To…” for just about everything you would want to learn how to do. This is great for some and very confusing for others. I realize there is a lot of contention with this seemingly endless flow of information amongst other coaches in the weightlifting realm, however, I really quite enjoy having my new athletes come to me much better prepared than they have ever been in the past. It used to be a situation where I’d have to grow them from scratch. And as if it weren’t enough to have to learn a new language of movement with the body, the technical terms alone can send someone’s mind into a tail spin for weeks.

To ensure the athlete and I are on the same page before we start any learning progressions, I take them through a mini “chalk talk” at the white board and cover basics like bar trajectories, any technical terminology they’ll hear as we go along, and phases of the weightlifter-barbell system. Going over these basics allows us to also consolidate any information that they might already be bringing to the table.

Since the idea is to provide you, the reader, with as much information as possible. I figured we could start with a simple primer to get you up to speed for some of the more technical pieces that will be coming down the pipeline in the future. One of the first things to remember about weightlifting is that as soon as the athlete attaches themselves onto the barbell, the combined unit of the weightlifter and the barbell become a system. So when we talk about positions, movement and/or different phases of the lift, we are referencing the system as a whole.

Before we dive in deep, let’s agree that the phases as we describe them are described using an athlete with ideal joint kinematics meaning no one’s body segment proportions are outside of that comfy middle zone of the bell curve. This will make the discussion more stream lined and less confusing. Lets follow the system as it makes its way from the start to the finish.

Olympic Weightlifting PhysicsThe First Pull

This first phase of movement takes the barbell from the floor to approximately the level of the mid-thigh. During this phase, the lifter uses primarily leg extension to try and maintain a constant back angle until the hamstrings run out of room. The action of driving or pushing the feet thru the platform initiates the force in the first pull. The first pull is critical because it generates acceleration on the barbell and positional maintenance until the second pull.

The Knee (Transition 1)

As the barbell passes the level of the knees, it marks a very important transitional point. The shins should become vertical to access the posterior chain, which in turn prepares the loading for a powerful second pull. Pulling the knees out of the way after entering the first pull is also imperative to allow a proper bar trajectory in towards the body.

The Second Pull

This second phase of movement takes the barbell from the level of the mid-thigh to full extension of the kinematic chain imparting a large amount of impulse onto the barbell. It is at this point that we can exhibit the almost magical “pop” of power that takes place as a second push from the hips comes through and a contact is created between the lifter and the barbell. To bang or not to bang? Well, that will be a topic for another conversation. A well executed second pull will be the difference in whether or not enough height is generated in order for the athlete to have enough room to pull under.

The Double Knee Bend aka Scoop (Transition 2)

There is a second hip and knee transition that happens as the system prepares to fully extend through the second pull. This phenomena is called the double knee bend or scoop which is in part driven by a stretch-reflex mechanism in the hamstrings that cross both the hip and the knee joint. As the hamstrings maximally load from the vicious extension at the hip and knee, this stretch-reflex occurs. As a result of this stretch-reflex, the body rotates around the barbell, and the knees push forward under the bar dropping the hips down for a more upright torso. This transition keeps the heels grounded and the lifter powerful while maintaining balance of the system over the base of support. However, the scoop should not be a part of the athlete’s conscious efforts to create. Any conscious effort to create a double knee bend or scoop will often result in the athlete making the transition early and reducing the potential of power being generated into the barbell. Remember, if you do this correctly, you end up grounded and powerful through your heels. If you don’t do this, you end up on your toes too early.

The Third Pull

This third phase of movement takes the lifter from being over the bar to dynamically driving down and under the barbell. The mechanics of the pull under is a combined effort of the hips closing rapidly (some like to think of it as jumping under the bar) and the arms further facilitating the speed and aggressiveness until the turnover and lockout. Beginners are often intimidated by this phase of movement so extra care and attention must be paid so that the first and second pull phase are not over developed relative to the third pull phase. It is imperative that this phase is the fastest of the three phases in order to get under limit loads.

The Fourth Push

There is a fourth and often under coached phase of movement which happens during the extension in the lockout of the snatch or the racking of a clean. As the lifter gets ready to receive the load that’s been delivered overhead or on the shoulders, the arms and shoulders must actively push up or to resist the depression that will occur as the bar settles in its final destination. Inattention to this detail will result in the bar either dismounting forward or backwards (in the snatch only) due to the lack of asserted upward force.

Understanding these details in its most basic essence allows the coach and athlete to have a common language — almost like a road map as they work from the first, second, third to fourth phase. These definitions paint a broad stroke in which more details, such as the mechanics that drive these phases of movement, can now be discussed. Now that we have established our basic language, we can begin the more interesting discussion, such as comparing the techniques from different world class coaches. And again, I find this part of the physical culture world to be fascinating in how there can be so many different solutions to solving the same set of problems. Like Bruce Lee would say, “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.”

Joe Petrusky

About Joe Petrusky

Creative Director / Co-owner of HellaLife
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One Response to “Olympic Weightlifting: Breaking It Down” by Diane Fu

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