Monday, November 18, 2013

Lifting Techniques - David Webster (1986)

Yoshinobu Miyake

I would like to note that I have learned a great deal, first from Jim Mackintosh, Scotland's first Chief Coach, and now in charge of physical education at Kentucky University, and Al Murray who has already been mentioned in turn. I have always tried to pass on the results of my own research and film analysis, and although some of my findings were very controversial at the time, they have now become very widely accepted. The re-bending of the knees (second knee bend) during the pull is probably the best example of this and I am proud to have been the first to publicize this important lifting technique. The crucial factor in my research is the study of the best lifters in the world doing their maximum attempts in competitions. This eliminated the shortcomings of some otherwise interesting studies. The following sections will outline the most effective techniques and training methods and while I will delve deeply into the principles and key factors, I will try to avoid an academic approach and emphasize practical advice which will improve performances.

The width of the grip and the type of hold are important first considerations. the width of the grip is affected by several factors including the relative strength of the muscles in the pull and overhead, the mobility of of the shoulders and the lifter's physical characteristics such as the breadth of his shoulders. In the snatch the hands should be at least 'elbow wide' - by that I mean the distance between the elbows when the upper arms are held horizontally in line with the shoulders. This is approximately 750 cm. (30 in.) in a man of average physique. If the lifter lacks shoulder mobility of he has difficulty in keeping his trunk upright in the low position of the snatch, then the hands should take a wider grip. 

Click Pics to ENLARGE

In the clean and jerk the hands should normally be at approximately shoulder width, those having tight shoulders taking a slightly wider grasp. It should be remembered that there is a loss of pulling power with a wider grip so compromise or change in grip is necessary. In the old days when taking hold of the bar, lifters would often have their thumbs on the same side as their fingers, probably a hang-over from thick-shafted dumbbells. The 'thumbs around' grip became standard and t hen the 'hook grip' took over the clean and later on the snatch as records became heavier. It is this hook grip which is recommended here. The grip is one of the weakest links in the chain so special methods must be adopted and in the hook, the thumb is first placed around the bar and then the first, and sometimes the second finger, are positioned over the thumb to lock it on the bar.

Make sure you know the measurement of your grip on the bar and if you find yourself training or competing on a barbell to which you are unaccustomed use a tape for accuracy in measuring the correct hand spacing. On standard bars it is often customary to use your fingers to measure out the position of the hands.

The Starting Position

In Britain and Japan over the years there has been a marked tendency to start the lift with heels together but personally I have always advised a foot spacing equivalent to hip width. Most of the champions of the Soviet Union have used this technique, with obvious exceptions such as Alexeev. a narrow spacing would be with feet 6 to 10 inches (150 - 250 cm.) apart, medium 10 to 14 inches (250 - 350 cm.), and wide 14 to 18 inches (350 - 450 cm.), but obviously the size of the lifter's feet has a bearing on this matter.

The bar should be over the instep, not over the toes.

Back and Leg Positions

The back is kept flat (but not horizontal or vertical) and the legs are well bent, arms straight, knuckles to the front, and shoulders over the bar. My research shows that in the snatch most champions have their backs at an angle of between 16 and 25 degrees and most of these are in the lower end of the range.


 In the clean, however, the back was much steeper because of the narrower hand spacing which meant the shoulders rose higher. In both snatch and clean the thighs are above horizontal as the bar comes off the platform. 

Key Positions During the Lift

There are a number of key positions in a lift and faults will quickly be spotted if checked against correct placing of the body as it passes through these key areas. The widely accepted key positions are:

As the bar leaves the platform
As the bar passes the knees
The position of full extension of the body
The highest point of the pull before the bar starts to drop
The lowest position in the snatch or clean

In the jerk the key positions are:

The starting position, bar held at the chest
At the lowest point of the dip
At the highest point of the drive before the feet split
The lowest position in the split 

I would add one other position and that is during the second part of the pull where the knees should be pushed forward to this so-called second pull.

The First Pull, Taking the Bar to and Past the Knees

In the first part of the pull you must aim at raising the head and hips at the same rate. In modern lifting, largely because of the influence of the Bulgarians, there is an effort to lift the bar quickly and build up acceleration during this phase. In overcoming the inertia of the bar there is a danger of the hips coming up much faster than the head, which reduces angular momentum, i.e., there is a slowing down on the trunk rotating around the hip joint. You must therefore guard against the back rounding and the shoulders coming up slower than the hips, thus losing the starting angle of the back. The first fast thrust must come from the massive muscles of the thigh and the hip muscle action on the femur, and the starting angle of the back must be retained.   

Miyake of Japan during the first pull (above) and after the second knee bend (below), 
with arms still straight. A strong position.

As the bar is taken from the floor to pass the knees it should travel slightly backwards over the center of the foot. The legs straighten to allow the backward travel of the bar to take place.

The bar and body should be kept as close as possible throughout the pull.

The bar should deviate slightly from a straight line of travel: this trajectory will be described as we go on. Suffice it to say at this stage that if the shoulders go back too soon the bar will travel backwards. The shoulders should move forward, a characteristic apparent in all the great champions with the heavier weights having shoulders further forward than lighter men. The arms should incline from the vertical to an angle of approximately 20 inches. If the barbell is incorrectly taken backwards the shoulders will not move as far forward - the shoulders vertically over the position is usually a sign that the bar is being pulled slightly too far backwards.

I see many slight changes in technique and lifting fashions over the years and whereas it was common only a few years ago for the legs to be very nearly straight as the bar passed the knees, an angle of 170 to 180 degrees seems more common now.

The Second Knee Bend


 As the bar passes the knees the legs should be almost straight and shoulders still forward. Speed of bar and body acceleration will have built up and a significant change takes place. The knees are re-bent to put the knees under the bar and the thighs and bar as close together as possible. It is important that the knees go forward rather than the bar be pulled back to any great extent. Pushing the knees forward under the bar produces a re-bending of the knees, puts the hips forward and makes the hips drop slightly, but the benefits of the improved position more than compensate for this slight lowering of the pelvis. Lifters who have practiced this technique can get their knees 100-150 cm. (4-6 in.) further forward than those who do not make a conscious effort to get their knees under the bar. A number of good lifters unconsciously use this knee action, indicating that it comes naturally to those with good kinaesthetic sense. Placing the hamstring muscles on stretch as the bar passes the knees helps create a stretch reflex which will, if properly channeled, result in the knee position advocated.

The knees under the bar position described is a very strong one from which to pull hard to complete this all-important phase of the lift. Mechanical and anatomical factors are all very favorable for an explosive pull which will make the bar travel upwards as the lifter goes under it into a low position. The legs and back, working in their inner range, are capable of exerting great power in this position; the calves can add momentum to the bar as they cause the body to rise on the toes. there is a further muscle group which should be brought into action at the top of the pull and that is the muscles of the shoulder girdle, particularly the trapezius which, lifting the shoulders, can add further momentum and height to the bar.

The arm bend, left late in the pull, has the double effect of taking the bar higher and pulling the body under the bar at the same time. If the arms bend too much, too early, they do not help pull the body into a good position.

When in the knees under the bar position, the arms are almost vertical, with very little flexion. The forward and upward thrust of the hips should not be overlooked in bringing the body to extension, but I believe this has become a rather outdated technique and the second knee bend with powerful upward and slightly forward thrust is very much the modern style.

Finishing the Pull

 The last part of the pull is important not only because of the strength which can be utilized but also because it is the part of the lift which has the greatest effect on the direction and momentum of the bar at the most crucial stage, as the lift is completed.

At the top of the pull the bar should be traveling as nearly as possible straight upwards. The bar usually travels a little forward here but if it goes too far the lifter will have no chance of holding the weight in a low position. On the other hand, if the bar starts traveling backwards at this stage you have no chance of successfully completing the lift as there is a 'hook' putting even more backward movement on the bar as the lifter goes under the weight. If the shoulders move back too early or the hips go too far back then the bar will move back. 

The Full Extension

The arms do not play a major role until the body is almost fully extended. The arms should be kept straight as long as possible - beginners in particular tend to use the arms much too soon. The extensors of the hip are much more important in the final drive than the arms but they too must be correctly used, pushing the body into an upright position instead of leaning backwards. The angle of the legs greatly affects the direction in which the bar will travel. 

In getting to the position of full extension, it is important to apply maximum force for the maximum distance and time. That means pulling as fast as possible for as long as possible, and this also means pulling yourself under the bar. Incidentally, it is no use completely extending after the feet have left the floor - power comes from the ground.

The next point links the fully extended position and the following stage. I have stressed that arms should be kept fairly straight during the pull - just out of the locked position is fine. I have also pointed out that many lifters bend their arms too much and too soon. This brings the bar much higher than it need be to allow the lifter to get under it. The coach who trains his lifters to pull the bar high is doing them a disservice. He should be channeling their energies into acquiring the ability to get under the bar, pulled only to a low position. 

At first sight, it may seem a strange assertion, so we must examine it in detail. First, you should be aware that, because of the different widths of hands spacing, the pull for the snatch will be higher than it is for the clean. You can check this by standing in the upright position with a shoulder width grip and then moving your hands to a wide snatch width grip; you will see that the bar height is raised.

In my cine-analysis I have been struck by the fact that many of the most athletic record holders, particularly in the lighter classes, can get under the weight successfully although they do not pull very high. Other much stronger and heavier man find it necessary to pull the bar higher to get under it before it drops. In my earlier book "The Development of the Clean and Jerk"

I compiled tables of those who pulled the bar to above standing belt height, i.e., the height of the lifting belt while the lifter was in the upright position, and I pointed out that if the heavies could employ the same techniques as the lighter men then the record would be much higher. The heavies sometimes pull as much as 15% higher and that to me seems a lot of wasted potential. Just imagine how much heavier weights they could lift to crotch height instead of belt height.

Cultivate the speed, power and body positions to get under the bar, fast and low, although it has not been pulled to standing belt height. People tended to scoff when I said that the 250kg. clean was not far away if a super heavy could use this technique and I was proved right. Research has shown that the splitters for the snatch and the clean invariably pull the bar higher than squatters before they begin to go under the weight; yet another reason why the squat style is more effective for most people.

While on this point let me say that some of the so-called assistance exercises for the pull actually aggravate the bent are fault rather than cure it. All assistance work should be aimed at improving the good points of technique, not perfecting mistakes, as is so often the case.

To turn to the anatomical aspects of the movement, the order in which muscles are brought into play is of prime importance. To overcome the inertia of the bar in the starting position the big, strong, heavy muscles are brought into play. These are situated near your center of gravity with the hips as the center point and the back and thighs on either side. As the movement progresses momentum is gained. The somewhat weaker, lighter but faster muscles are added on and it will be observed that the sequence of muscle action is one which flows from the center of the body outwards. After the hips, thighs and  back come the trapezius, deltoids, arm flexors and wrist extensors in that order; in the lower body the ankle extensors are the last to be brought into play. In this way the muscles are utilized to produce maximum efficiency with acceleration, which will give you the correct timing for the lift.

It goes without saying that there is a slight overlapping of muscle action otherwise the input of one group would be expended before the next took over. This overlap gives the smooth but fast acceleration which the hallmark of the expert.

The 'second pull', as some people call the next part of the action, is really a misnomer. There is no sign of this producing any further acceleration of the bar and rather than teach lifters this arm pull, I prefer to teach the proper sequence of movement with the arm action delayed until the lifter is ready to go under the bar, when it can be coordinated with the maximum effort of the legs and back.

Over the years I have advised a forward and upward hip thrust as the legs are extended and here I will describe the positions which I hope will be achieved by this type of hip thrust. The aim, of course, is the full extension of the body, and a vigorous hip thrust will make this possible. However, the body can be fully extended - even hyper-extended - and still be in a bad position.

You can best appreciate this by looking at the illustrations of the 'line of thrust'.

 Click Pics to ENLARGE

This is a line drawn from the hip joint to the center of the base when in the position of maximum extension during any given lift. This shows the direction of the thrust being applied by the lifter in that lift. For example, if the hips are back and the body not fully extended, the lifter will almost certainly move back as he goes under the bar. If the lifter extends fully but has not used the forward and upward hip thrust his hips will still be behind the base and therefore he will again move backwards. Another fairly common fault is to put the hips forward but use a faster more dynamic head and shoulder action which rotates the upper body backwards. Again, because the overall tendency of the extension is backwards, the lifter is likely to jump back. The best position will show the body fully extended and hips well forward over the feet. The more upright the legs, the more this will direct the bar upwards and the better the chance of getting directly under the weight. The full extension of the body including the trunk is extremely important and a small amount of backward lean (approximately 7 to 14 degrees) can be expected at the end of the pull.





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