Joe Zimmerman, holding the Cyr dumbell in his teeth and at that same time rolling Bob Hoffman's 217 lb. bell up his back. 1936.
Some Problems of Intensification of Weight Training
by Fima Feigin M.S. (1984)
Mr. Feigin is a native of the Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States in 1978. He received his training at the Institute of Physical Culture in Leningrad and received an Honors diploma. He holds a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy and title of Master of Sports in Foil Fencing in which he has had experience in coaching for 15 years, during which time he prepared fencers for Olympic competition. He is one of the organizers and trainers of the Soviet Bodybuilding Federation. He started his career in the United States as Director of European Sports at Bob Gajda’s Physical Institute in Glenn Ellyn, Illinois and is now a full time therapist at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and sports medicine division of Mount Sinai Medical Center. He has contributed to many publications over the years and aside from all this he’s a good ole boy and one helluva human being to boot.
The rapid development of the modern sport of weightlifting has brought about new methodological and pedagogical problems. Mostly it is a problem of intensifying the training process.
How can one achieve maximal results from a minimal period training?
How does one abbreviate the period of preparation of the international level athlete from five to seven, to three to four years?
How can this problem be solved, and what are its components?
It is possible to answer that question without deep analysis of all components of weightlifting training – physical, technical, psychological, tactical, and theoretical. The theoretical preparation today becomes more and more important.
What are the values of the above components in terms of significance? We can confirm that the decisive factor in weightlifting preparation is the total physical condition of the athlete and the degree of his motor quality development. There is also no doubt that it is the technical preparation, because technique in sport depends on the maximum realization of the physical possibilities of the athlete in competition. It is also a psychological preparation, because in the case of physical and technical equality of athletes, those athletes who are psychologically superior are the winners. The last factor is tactical preparation. The athlete may be a great tactician, but if he yields to his opponents in physical, technical, and psychological preparation, he does not have much of a chance of winning.
It is necessary to give an all-around analysis to each of those components and to find more rational methods of developing the insufficient qualities of the athlete.
Let’s take physical preparation, for example. It is very well known that it is composed of general and special aspects. There are no straight proportions between general physical condition and athletic results, but at the same time there is a clear and direct connection between special physical preparation and attained athletic level in competition. Because of that indisputable fact, the dominant role in the proper training of the qualified athlete belongs to special physical preparation. What qualities should be developed during the special physical preparation? They must be placed in the following sequence; Power, speed, flexibility, and endurance. At the present time, an analytical approach is necessary for a better understanding of the meaning of each and every quality. For instance, power is both static and dynamic. Dynamic power, in turn, is divided into eccentric, or overcoming power, concentric power, and ballistic power. Speed or velocity has its own characteristics: Speed or reaction, speed of single movement, ability to start the movement with maximum speed, etc.
In weightlifting we need dynamic power in its full display and manifestation, plus speed of single movement and power endurance. Power should be the product of special motor quality development of different muscle groups and body links, and primarily of leg and trunk extensors. This is especially important for the ability to perform the first and second pull. In the structure of any athletic movement there are so-called accentuated components, or parts and phases. Each one is very important for general performance of the whole classical exercise. In weightlifting exercises the leading role belongs to lifting the bar in a second pull, then to push off from the chest in the clean & jerk.
Selecting the best method and means of training from the large amount available is most important for intensifying the entire preparation of the athlete from his first step to an international level. It consists of the possibility to select all rational, real and necessary means and to avoid any extra or harmful efforts. Every exercise should be analyzed from the point of view that it corresponds to some individual peculiarity of the athlete.
Structural analysis sometimes brings absolutely unexpected clues to weaknesses, and promotes the manifestation of the still undiscovered possibilities for improving the training process. Not so long ago there was an opinion that in weightlifting training it was necessary to apply mostly heavy weights. This training guarantees power development, but at the same time constantly reduces the speed of movement, which can negatively inhibit coordination and technical improvement.
With tempo exercise, this point of view has now been revised and we have the big “growth” results in the snatch and clean & jerk.
One more example: During a long period of time there was the opinion that the perfect techniques in weightlifting had been developed and that all possibilities of improvement had already been explored. Now this opinion is revised, and the results have shown in the record books. The evolution of weightlifting consists of a large number of such examples.
However, there are many aspects of training still waiting their turn to be revised. One interesting problem is the connection between physical preparation and technical improvement of the athlete. In individual phases of classical exercise the muscles of the athlete are working in different developmental areas: dynamically, statically, ballistically, etc. To that phase and character of muscle work should be added similar assistance exercises and a training regime of different components of the movements, and a good understanding of the biodynamic structure of the whole motion. In everyday training practice these methods are very often neglected.
For example, jumping out of a half squat in the snatch position, many athletes perform from a position that is radically different than the position that precedes the second pull. Based on a physiological principal of transferring pattern, that exposes a glaring mistake – declination of the trunk in the final phase of the second pull. We have to notice that it is a very common mistake, that considerably decreases the athlete’s results. It is very important in weightlifting to develop different muscle groups according to their degree of effort in a whole classical competitive lift. Much research was done in search of proportions between legs, trunk, arms, and shoulder girdle extensors. The strength of the arms and shoulders relative to the total leg power should be in the proportion of 40%. It is obvious that after deleting the press from Olympic weightlifting, the amount and regularity of pressing exercises has to be reduced, but that index of proportionate strength should stay the same – somewhere between 40-41%. The optimal proportion between different muscle groups in terms of strength must be the special target of the lifter’s training process.
If the power growth in a leg extensor gradually starts to outdistance the power development of the trunk extensors, it immediately starts to show in the lifter’s technique. The athlete starts to lift with an accent on the more powerful muscles of the legs. The trunk extensors, in that case, prematurely stop working because of back declination. In the final phase of the second pull they are not working to full capacity. This mistake considerably decreases the scope of movement. To correct that defect as soon as possible, it is necessary to develop not only powerful leg extensors, but trunk extensors also, using a wide deadlift with straight legs and back hyperextensions with the weights behind the neck.
Some research shows that the increase of amplitude during the basic phases of the movement could increase the total result some 7-10 kg. Some combinations of old and new methods could bring a positive effect. In the first stage of training when proper pattern formation is so important, it could be very useful to use an isokinetic regime of basic phase performance. The slow speed of the bar during the whole range of motion allows the athlete to concentrate on his voluntary efforts through the distance and amplitude of the movement. It promotes simultaneous involvement of a large amount of motor units, reinforcement of the muscle tension to maximum and better quality motor skill development. It allows one to extend the pulling motion and prolong its time, which is very important for the snatch, where the barbell has to be lifted a considerable height. In close connection to other methods and exercises, the isokinetic regime could be used for power development of athletes of different qualifications, and most importantly, could be focused on increasing power potency in those phases of classical movements where the inertia of the barbell sharply decreases. Isokinetic efforts have to be performed after classical exercises and exercises for speed. Research has shown that novices are successful in developing POWER by working with different weights, both light and heavy. Moreover, during the first stages of training, PROPER TECHIQUES are mastered sooner when a specific, pre-selected weight is used. This also applies to highly qualified athletes.
In the first stage of training there is nothing wrong with using slightly static loads, because they promote faster adaptation and perfection of technique. Novices are usually unable to lift heavy weights, not due to lack of power, but due to the fact that the proper motor patterns have not been ingrained. These motor patterns can be better developed in the first stages of training by working with relatively light weights (60% of maximum). Production of the maximum effort needed while performing a heavy lift demands a lot of coordination. This is a very difficult task for a novice, since he often uses muscle groups in addition to those which participate directly in a lift. So the application of an adequate, relatively static load in the early training stage is proper because the athlete is not ready to channel his power in the specific directions required.
In each stage of weightlifting, preparation is very important to reach the highest result in the shortest period of time with the help of different methods, spending less time and less energy in each workout. This might be obtained by proper selection of rational forms of training.
Some exercises which structurally and biodynamically are close to the clean & jerk or snatch, like a pull (differing from narrow to wide grip) from starting position with straight legs, slow elevation of the bar along the body, and a very fast drop to a low squat, should be practiced diligently.
For strengthening the wrist and finger grip, we recommend performing all heavy lifts without straps, belts, etc. – with alterations of different types and widths of grip. As I have noticed, American athletes like to use assistive devices in workout out, constantly decreasing their efficiency in competition.
Special attention should be paid to strengthening knee and ankle joints by implementing plyometric methods and including such activities as jumping exercises – such as jumping down from a box or Swedish wall (from from 135-200 cm. height). First onto a soft, and then onto a hard surface, with more resistance in landing.
Some optional proportions also have to be developed: first of all, the power and speed of muscle contraction. Many athletes include speed exercises in the last part of a program and perform them when their body is already fatigued, although it is well known that such exercises should be performed at the very beginning of a workout, after a good warmup.
Competition shows that many athletes do not have stability. As a rule, their attempts to lift maximum weight at the start often bring them to the zero mark in competitions. The main reason here is their failure to build up muscle efforts with adequate weights. It depends on very specific qualities of the athlete – proprioceptive sense, muscle-joint proprioception. However, very few coaches pay enough attention to the development of that quality.
The technical-tactical preparation of the athlete consists of increasing his ability to distinguish the starting competitive weights and to perform all three attempts successfully and with the highest possible results in final attempts. This ability depends on the degree of development of the basic biodynamic patterns or technique, on the degree of stability and reliability, and on some physiological qualities – such as muscular sensation. Under that term (stability) we include all mental and physical possibilities of athletes in any competitive condition under any psychological tension and pressure to concentrate on correct movement and to perform classical weightlifting exercises under full control with full power.
In this article I would like to underline some aspects of that training – such as increasing kinesio-proprioception, and muscle control, which are very important for understanding and determining the degree of physical effort focused on a bar loaded to a particular weight.
It is impossible to improve technique in such a sports as weightlifting without development of the ability to analyze and estimate one’s own movement. While performing classical exercise with weights, the athlete can not use his visual control. He does not see the barbell or his own bodyparts; the leading role belongs to a motor analyzer.
Technical improvement is possible only with the parallel development of delicate muscle-joint sensation and the ability to understand the information given about body movement from one’s own proprioception. If the athlete and his coach neglect this part of training, the athlete will probably never fully control his body, even after many years of training.
What methods of muscle-joint sensation development are simple and available to help the athlete in his everyday workout? First of all, the concept of trajectory of the bar. With a piece of chalk attached to the end of a barbell, a diagram is drawn on a chalk board as the athlete lifts the barbell. The trajectory will show mistakes in the lifting technique. For example, it can show if the bar was lifted high enough or not; how far the bar was from the lifter’s body; or how close to it, in the first pull phase/ if the quantity of approximation of the bar to the lifter’s body in the second pull was correct or not, etc.
Then the coach and athlete together analyze the movements and determine areas for improvement. Before starting the next lift, the coach should give the athlete a concrete order, a concrete motor task – for example, to approach the bar in a first pull at 4 inches, etc. The athlete performing an exercise on the basis of his sensation (without looking at the result and diagram on the slate board) has to estimate the movements and then express the trajectory of the bar in objective quantities (inches, centimeters or even millimeters). Repeatedly performed exercises will help to make the correction.
It is well known that the structure of the body is asymmetrical. Due to this fact, during a lift, the athlete has the tendency to turn the bar slightly to one side. This should be taken into consideration in a process of motor skill formation. It is also important to write the trajectory from one side of the barbell several times, then from the other; and on the basis of difference find out the real trajectory, the trajectory of the center. It might be considerably different in comparison to the previous diagrams. After correction, the right trajectory of the bar should then be drawn on the board several times.
A method that can give good results in that type of training is exercising with closed eyes, with the lifter’s attention focused on internal perception. After that, the lifter should describe his perceptions and appraise them.
Some research shows that exercises performed with a bandage over the eyes of an athlete were executed more accurately and sharply, with less faults. With eyes closed, it is easier for the athlete to concentrate on his body signals and to remember degrees of tension in working muscles and range of joint movements. The sensations in this kind of training become more refined. Very good results might be obtained by performing exercises in complete darkness, with the eyes open. As the lifter assumes the starting position, the lights should be turned out. Simply closing the eyes is not that desirable, since the tension on the eye muscles disturbs concentration on muscle-joint sensation. A blindfold made of soft black fabric should be used instead when possible. The solo lifter will have to assume the starting position of the chosen lift before lowering the blindfold.
Some visible muscle information, like biofeedback, could be a great deal of help. An athlete can compare his subjective muscular perception with the objective registration of his movements. The training process should also include some modern electronic techniques like video, dynamographics, and trajectory acceleration of the barbell.
And lastly, or possibly firstly, a requirement of the whole training process is the necessity to pay more attention to the cultural aspects of working out – the atmosphere of the gym; the absence of noise, and common discipline.
So, the proper plan of training could consist of careful analysis by all means, and careful selection of the type of exercises and their schedules, applied to each individual.
All the methods described above will give lifters new possibilities and methods for reaching higher levels, cutting down the length of time needed to learn the fundamentals, and learning how to avoid wrong and useless movements.