Is This Rocket Science?

Is This Rocket Science?
by Splitter

Recently, I read an opinion on weightlifting technique nomenclature. Here is the truncated position – “the terms first pull, second pull, pocket and triple extension – these terms do not exist in the scientific communities of weightlifting. These are simply pop culture terms of people trying to dumb down weightlifting to the masses”. The author continues by stating that weightlifting is apportioned in phases due to the pull being a continuous motion with no pause, then offers to discuss phases of the pull. At the article’s conclusion is this statement – “weightlifting is all parasympathetic nervous system and fast twitch fibers”. Typically, comments such as this are the author’s attempt to validate themselves by using big words which will undoubtedly be taken as fact by most of the target audience whose expertise lie elsewhere.

At initial glance, the contrasting statements on pull technique seem to be a minor grammatical or semantic error – first pull and second pull do not exist yet phases and periods of the pull do exist. Simple deductive reasoning brings us to the conclusion of a first phase of the pull and a second phase of the pull. I assume the overwhelming majority of true olympic lifting coaches (not the self-aggrandizing internet strength coach) would agree with the previously quoted statement “there is no pause in the pull, it is one continuous motion”. Any pause, no matter how brief, during a competition lift would be counterproductive, not to mention against the rules. We all comprehend the continuous motion of the pull – mention of this point is stating the obvious.

Do terminologies which classify the pull into teaching and training segments exist in scientific weightlifting communities? Absolutely. To argue otherwise exhibits a lack of knowledge or at the very least, a lack of simple research. Alexsei Medvedyev, author of A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting writes “the first period – the pull – consists of 2 phases”. In Managing the Training of Weightlifters, Laputin and Oleshko segment the snatch into 6 phases. The Training of the Weightlifter by Roman utilizes phrases such as “first phase of the pull” and “second phase of the pull”. Tamás Fehér’s Olympic Weightlifting text categorizes the pull into “pull phase I – first pull and over pull” followed by “pull phase II – explosion and maintenance of power”. I assume agreement on the synonymy of “first pull” and “first phase of the pull”.

Now that we have established the use of pull segment terminologies amongst the scientific communities of weightlifting, we will examine the veracity of such practices in other sports.

A previous strength and speed coach whose career stints included an MLB team as well as an SEC football program, explained the segmented mechanics of a sprint – the start which comprises 2-7 steps (most sprinters cover 10m in 7 steps, Usain Bolt covers 10m in 6 steps), the transition which is characterized by a gradually elevating torso and finally the top end.

A former European Cup and American Cup bobsled athlete discussed the various phases of the sled push which can be categorized as a loaded sprint. The bobsled start is the “hit” phase during which contact is made with the sled bars. Alterations in mechanics exist based on position on the sled – brakes vs side. Following the start is the transition and top end.

Not only are movement patterns segmented for teaching and training within weightlifting, they are also segmented for teaching and training in many other sports. A complex movement pattern can be taught by utilizing both the complete range of motion as well as various segmented ranges of motion. One of my graduate school texts, Motor Control and Learning by Schmidt and Lee, validates this concept – “A very common technique for teaching motor skills is to break them down into smaller parts. This would seem to be an effective procedure when the task is very complex and cannot be grasped as a whole.” Examples of such include the separate practice of arm and leg strokes in swimming or performance of specific stunts in gymnastics that will later become part of a more complex segment. Both examples utilize partial movement pattern practice which will eventually become integrated into a more complex movement pattern.

Given the requirement of specific strength in weightlifting performance, the concept of strength gain within the component parts of snatch and clean and jerk is evaluated along with the aforementioned requirement of movement pattern proficiency. A deficit in strength when lifting a static barbell from the floor will render a suboptimal performance even within a highly proficient clean movement pattern. The same suboptimal performance will apply to an individual with an inefficient clean movement pattern who displays superfluous strength in lifting a static barbell from the floor. When faced with the former example (strength deficit), some coaches may prescribe strengthening movements intended to increase the performance when lifting a static barbell from the floor. Transfer to the clean of these strengthening movements will directly correlate with the specificity of joint angles, speed of movement and lifter-barbell center of gravity. Conversely in the latter example, building proficiency within the clean movement pattern may include training segmented portions of the clean in order to optimize the same 3 variables – joint angles, speed of movement and lifter-barbell center of gravity.

In regards to the comment on parasympathetic dominance during weightlifting (which can be easily invalidated via the Google), we will refer to my medical school text Gray’s Anatomy by Drake, Vogl and Mitchell – “the sympathetic system innervates structures in the peripheral regions of the body and viscera, the parasympathetic system is more restricted to innervation of the viscera only”. Interpretation – the sympathetic system promotes blood flow to skeletal muscle as well as secretion of adrenaline which increases heart rate. Conversely, the parasympathetic system promotes blood flow to the abdominal viscera and decreases heart rate. Draw your own conclusion as to which nervous system is dominant during weightlifting – the one which promotes digestion or the one which promotes skeletal muscle activity and adrenaline secretion.