The sport of Weightlifting, like most sports can be made very simple by narrowing the focus to a few things. You may call these things rules or principles, but they are the things that make the complex seem understandable. Often times when we find that things are complex it is because we don’t understand them enough to know the root principles. Principles help us describe complex phenomena in a digestible way. The sport of Weightlifting can look very complex and scary from an outsider who has never practiced in the sport. Even for people just beginning it can seem like there is so much going on and that you have no idea what you are doing. Throwing things overhead in a fast manner seems like something very hard to do. I often hear people when watching someone Olympic lift say, “there’s no way I can ever do that.” But, often times they can. Olympic lifting seems complex, so let’s make it simple.
Principles of Weightlifting
1.) Maintaining Balance
One of the most crucial pieces of Olympic lifting is balance. What I mean by that is that it is crucial to maintain the balance between your center of mass and the center of mass of the barbell. You want these two things to be aligned with each other as much as possible. An example of maintain this relationship would be if you stood straight up and held a bar in your hands. Your center of mass and the barbell’s center of mass would be well balanced between each other. If you raised the bar straight out in front of you and held it there, that would drastically change this relationship. You would probably feel within seconds how hard it is to keep the bar way out in front of you. That is what we don’t want in Weightlifting. So, when snatching or clean and jerking, it is crucial to keep proper balance and weight distribution with the bar throughout the entire lift. To create this, it is important to keep the shoulders over the bar and feel the weight on your full foot throughout the entire lift. We often see the loss of this balance when a lifter is passing their knee with the barbell or when there are finishing the extensions of the legs. Often times, in these positions we see the weight of the bar move out away from the center of mass of the lifter and their shoulders/chest move back behind the bar. To dive deeper into this discussion would require and additional article, but this is a real-life example.
This may seem vague so let me explain. We covered proper balance and weight distribution, because in my opinion it is the most crucial aspect of Weightlifting. If you screw up that your chances of a successful lift go way down. Timing is very important after proper weight distribution is established and the legs have finished extending. If you have maintained proper balance through this point you have accomplished the hardest part of the lift and have a decreased your chance of missing the lift. Once the legs have finished extending to propel the bar upward it is important that we received the bar at its highest point. This is where timing is important. How high the bar is projected upwards is going to depend on the weight on the bar and how hard we extend the legs. For a successful lift it doesn’t matter entirely. What matters is that we received the bar on our shoulders (clean) or overhead (snatch/jerk) when the bar reaches its highest point right before it starts moving back down to Earth. With a maximum amount of weight on the bar this will require the lifter to receive it lower in a squat, and a bit higher with lighter amount of weigh on the bar. Receiving the bar at its highest point allows the lifter to get their weight under the bar with tension in the legs and upper back. This lets the lifter stand up with the weight successfully, assuming they have the strength necessary. If a lifter doesn’t receive the bar at its highest point they will either not receive it with tension in their legs making the bar crash and making it harder to stand up, or they will not have their mass centered under the bar because they did not receive the bar in time, which will be evident by the bar dropping to the ground right in front of them.
I thought for a long time about what would be a third principle, but that would be missing my own point with this article. This article was written to simplify the sport of Weightlifting down to as few components as possible. Trying to add an additional principle just for the sake of giving more information would not make it more digestible but would complicate it even further. There are of course, more things that go into the sport of Weightlifting. Prerequisite strength and power, keeping tension in the upper back through the lift, fully finishing the extension of the legs, smart programming, etc. However, these are not principles of the lifts. If you screw up your weight distribution with the bar and/or the timing with your receiving of the bar, I guarantee you nothing else matters. And, in doing so you probably messed up those additional things in the process. Once you learn more about a subject you realize it isn’t as complicated as you once thought. The same goes for Weightlifting. At Lift Lab we have worked with tons of newbie lifters and have a great process to get them out of this newbie stage. We don’t complicate the sport. We know the principles and master the basics. I truly believe anyone can become a Weightlifter if they believe it as well and give us the opportunity.