The ABC's of Weightlifting, Part 14
by Tommy Kono (1972)
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Pulling Technique Fundamentals, Part One
With the 2oth Olympiad in Munich just a couple of months away as this is being written and the FHI quadri-annual Congress meeting scheduled, it is with all probability that the controversial Press lift will be voted out of future competition. Should this take place all future competitions will be based on your ability on the other two lifts. This would mean that your pulling power combined with your leg strength will become all-important. However, even having the combined strength of the legs and back won't necessarily spell success unless they are employed with good technique.
During the past six weeks I've witnessed close to 400 lifters in competition having observed the Northern German, German Nationals, European Championships, and the U.S. Senior Nationals. The most common and obvious mistakes I've seen made by relatively poor lifters and even by many of the better lifters are on two distinct points pertaining specifically to the Snatch lift. Although these two points also apply to the Cleans they are more pronounced in the Snatch where the weight handled is lighter (in relation to the Clean) and the distance of the pull is longer.
The two most serious points of error made in pulling for the quick lifts are:
1.) The start of the pull from the platform is too fast.
2.) The bar is too far away from the body once the bar is in motion during the pull.
Too many of us tgend to rip the weight off the floor. This is especially true when the weight is close to our personal record. The inexperienced lifters always try yanking the bar off the floor with the idea of imparting a terrific momentary turn at the beginning of the pull to carry it through to the required height. All this always leads to some part of the body "giving in" instead of the weight leaving the platform quicker. The back either bows, the hips rise too fast, and the head and/or body "jarring", or the grip gives, or any combination of these things result which throws the body out of the correct position to continue the pull strongly.
Without going into many technical details I think it is essential for a lifter to go back to some of the basic mechanics involved in lifting to have a clear idea of what he is trying to achieve with his body to get the maximum efficiency for weightlifting.
Sometimes being too close to a problem we can't find a solution or see clearly unless it is pointed out in some other unrelated way and we see the problem with a detached view. Thus, let me explain what I see in boxing and shot-putting that can be applied to weightlifting.
The Boxers & Shot-Putters
Ever see a boxer throw jabs and then follow with a devastating punch with the opposite hand? Of have you sat in the stands in a stadium with your eyes glued on a shot-putter going through his motion across the circle? Or, even a baseball pitcher wind-up and unleash a sizzling fastball?
Now, I'm not an expert on these sports but I have some interest in all sports and I do enjoy watching boxing and all types of individual athletic events. I've also noted that there are certain basic "laws" the athletes must follow if they intend to develop maximum power in their delivery or throw as the case may be and this law also applies to weightlifting.
A boxer cannot deliver a hard or knockout punch if he is just jabbing with the power of his arm (unless the opponent steps right into the punch), but if the boxer throws his shoulder (body) into it he can certainly deliver a stronger punch.
The arms are built for fast delivery but the POWER COMES FROM THE BODY. The power generated from the body is transmitted through the coordinated movement of the arms to deliver the power in the punch.
The shot-putting movement is a very good movement to analyze for a weightlifter. Without going into many details, the basic idea behind this event is to have the longest contact with the shot in the shortest possible time while staying in the prescribed circle. Breaking the movement down the first thing the shot-putter does is to go into a crouch on one end of the circle, facing directly opposite of the direction he is going to throw the shot. He travels his HIPS from the back of the circle toward the front. After he does this smoothly he continues the forward movement of the shot by pivoting his hips to continue the momentum generated toward the front, coming out from the low crouch position, shifting his bodyweight from one leg to the other momentarily. His shoulder twists into action and he extends his body, right leg and right arm and finally the iron ball leaves the finger tips.
Now, let's get down to the essence of this article.
The boxer nor the shot-putter never started to throw a punch or the shot with the arm. The throw was INITIATED FROM THE BODY or more accurately from the center of the body (or from the hips). The other body parts followed through to transmit the power to the hand. The arms added quickness to the movement at the VERY END of the throw. This is the basic law that governs action in every sport where strength is involved in throwing, striking or pulling with the arms. Yet, why do so many weightlifters attempt to use only the power of their arms and shoulders to start the pull?
Big arms are no indication of pulling power or the ability to Snatch of Clean heavy weights. Our national record holders in the quick lifts like Rick Holbrook and Rawluck, just to name a few, certainly do not possess large arms nor do Baszanowski, Rigert and Pervushin who hold world records in the Snatch. I might even go on record to state that large and/or strong arms are actually a hindrance for record Snatches and Cleans simply because the possessor will almost automatically rely on the RELATIVELY stronger muscle group of his body (in this case, the arms) to lift (pull) when the weights become heavy in training and consequently in competition.
I've stated previously that the seat of power, figuratively and literally speaking, comes from the powerful hips and buttock muscles. From here the power radiates outward and the muscle groups become weaker in proportion to the distance away from the center of the body.
In the accompanying drawing (see Figure 1) you'll note the outstretched figure with the arms raised overhead has concentric circles radiating outwards from the hips. This is more or less how the strength in our body diminishes with the greatest concentration of strength in the hips and buttocks area.
The Scottish National Coach, David Webster, explained it beautifully in another way during one of the weightlifting clinics that we conducted together. Like a pebble dropped in a pond, the waves created are strongest at the beginning but as the waves (rings) drift farther away from this point, they diminish in height and strength until completely dissipated.
Let us state a few simple facts before tying things together:
1.) The bigger the muscle group, the stronger it is.
2.) Generally speaking, the hips, buttocks, thighs, and lower back muscles are the thickest and strongest muscle groups in the body.
3.) The hips, thighs, and lower back are not made for speed of movement but rather for strength.
4.) The arm muscles are comparatively weak in relation to other body parts.
5.) The arms and fingers (hands) are made for more delicate (refined) and accurate, quick movements.
Applying the Law to Lifting
The start of the pull from the platform should be a deliberate, controlled pull because we are acting on an inert mass and we must get the bar moving. The strong buttocks, hips, and thigh muscles must initiate the movement without any attempt to flex the arms. This means that when the lift commences the ANGLE OF THE BACK in relation to the floor REMAINS FIXED until the bar reaches at least knee height. Study Figure 2 to see how the legs have ALMOST straightened out from the flexed position of the start while the angle of the back in relation to the floor has still remained unchanged.
Sometimes the experienced lifters who have either learned or fallen into the habit of using the arms to start the pull will find it extremely difficult to start the pull in the correct manner. To relearn something is extremely difficult because of the pattern we had set from numerous repetitions performed in the incorrect way. In this case it is better to channel our concentration in another way, in a method we had never thought before, so that we have no chance of falling back into the old pattern.
Push the Floor Down
When we start our pull, whether we think about it or not, the idea behind it is to create distance between the bar and the floor (or platform). This can be accomplished by either thinking of lifting the bar away from the floor (which is the way we ordinarily think) of just the opposite - THINK OF PUSHING THE FLOOR DOWN AND AWAY FROM THE BAR. Now, we all know that it is physically impossible to push the floor of the platform downward or punch holes in the floor with our feet by exerting pressure downwards; but, we can imagine it while holding tightly to the bar.
If you can get your body into the proper starting stance (i.e., arms straight, back flat or arched in and hips relatively low) and hold this fixed position and think in terms of pushing the floor directly downward you'll have no problem getting the right start for your pulls.
A point I want to interject here is that I am explaining the proper starting position for the Olympic lifts and not for Powerlifting movements. The powerlifters in performing the Deadlift will have altogether another position of the body for their goal is not that of accelerating the bar but to get the body in the strongest position to keep the bar moving.
Keep The Bar "In"
Once the bar reaches knee height in the Snatch most lifters have a tendency of swinging the bar away from the body rather than making an effort to keep the bar traveling close to the body. Perhaps I should state this a little differently so that you have a clearer idea of what you should attempt to do once the bar reaches knee height. Keep the BAR AND THE BODY as close as possible in relation to each other while the bar is traveling upwards. The moment the body separates from the bar or the bar from the body the less leverage you will have at the time of the finish of the pull.
I've included four photos to help illustrate this point. First study the photo of East German heavyweight Grutzner in the pull of 363 lbs. in the Snatch which he made at the world championships in Lima, Peru. Notice that the bar is so close to his body that it is actually digging into his thighs. How much closer can you get to the bar? The next photo of Grutzner is with 352 lbs. and he is in the process of going under the bar for the Snatch. The bar travels slightly farther back and the shoulders and head move under and to the front of the bar at the same time to make this a good lift. Many lifters fail to make the lift because at this stage either the bar is too far in front (as a result of swinging it out and trying to bring it back in line) or the head, shoulders and hips are too far behind the bar to counteract the swinging effect of the bar from the body.
In the 3rd photo is Russia's midheavy Kolotov in the act of snatching 319 lbs. Note how close the bar is to the body as it passes the hip-waist region. From here the bar travels close to the chest so that there would be very little forward movement of the bar which would cause the bar to get away from the body. This also means that the arms cannot be straight at this phase but there should be a "break" in the elbows outwards to the SIDES so the result would be that the bar is close to the chest.
The 4th photo that of Russia's second best heavyweight Batishev performing Wide Grip High Pulls (Snatch grip) off of boxes with 330 lbs. Note how the elbows are well out to the side which keeps the bar in close to the body. He attempts to keep the bar close to the body and LIFTS HIS ELBOWS UP HIGH.
Incidentally, nearly all good technicians on the Snatch do not wear lifting belts when performing the lift as they have a tendency to get in the path of the bar because it is pulled so close to the body.
In your next training session when you perform the Snatch, Cleans or any type of pulls (other than the Power Snatch and Power Cleans) start the pull by pushing the platform down then follow through by keeping the bar close to your body and see how much more efficiently you will pull it.
If you concentrate enough on these two points you may forget what weight is loaded on the bar and it won't make any difference whether it is 135 lbs. or 255 lbs. for you'll acquire a good feel for the pull and you'll be using good technique.
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