Four olympic bars on the stand screwed on the grunge wall prepared for bodybuilding weightlifting sport in the gym

Strength, speed and skill.  If you crave a fitness challenge and want to explore a departure from conventional gym lifting, the two ballistic movements that comprise Olympic weightlifting may be just for you.  Since ancient days, the clean and jerk and the snatch movements have been arguably the most athletic in all of sports, explosively recruiting full-body muscle participation. That in mind, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the science behind Olympic weightlifting in this issue.

Ever taken a gander at Olympic weightlifting and made the observation that quite often it’s not just the big huge behemoths who are incredibly strong at hoisting barbells overhead?  Very often, it’s the relatively “small” guys and girls who just astonish you by lifting three times their own bodyweight above them.  These athletes represent the epitome of fitness, in that despite their smaller, leaner statures, they possess jaw-dropping power and the most efficient functional application of muscle in sports.  How does this “magical” phenomenon come to be?  The answer lies within strategic training protocols and the incredibly precise application of technique.

If you took a stab at the snatch, for example, you’d probably use a weight based on what you perceive your strength level to be. We’re here, however, to advise you of a serious caveat – you’re in for a rude awakening if you don’t employ scientifically developed biomechanical technique when performing the lift.  Balance, agility, co-ordination, flexibility and mental acuity all come into play significantly; it’s by no means all about brute strength and these elements can definitely make or break you.  To help you develop all these traits and thereby improve your performance, it’s beneficial to understand the science behind Olympic weightlifting, so let’s have at it:

RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT (RFD)

This measurement is important to both explosive Olympic weightlifting and sports performance.  RFD is a measurement of how quickly contractile elements of an athlete’s muscle can develop force.  It’s calculated by the change in force divided by the change in time.  To illustrate the importance of the peak segment of the clean exercise action, the RFD of an isometric mid-thigh clean pull is approximately 22,000 Ns(-1) or Newtons per second.  By contrast, the deadlift exercise was measured to require “only” 6,400 Ns(-1) and the squat 5,000 Ns(-1) respectively.

MOMENTUM AND POSITION

After you’ve initiated the action of an Olympic pull, it’s crucial to the success of the lift to have sustained momentum until a climactic thrust overhead is accomplished.  Scientists have observed that the second pull phases during the clean and snatch, as well as the drive phase during the jerk, each have kinetic and kinematic similarities to jumping.  The researcher Gourgoulis observed that a successful snatch was predicated by the acceleration force vector applied to the barbell.  As we already know, the second pull phases produce the greatest levels of force; therefore, getting yourself into an excellent second pull position is vital to applying the largest forces to the barbell and in the optimal vector direction.

THE TRIPLE EXTENSION

Mastering the triple extension is another vital element of Olympic lifting.  It refers to the explosive action which results from the simultaneous extension of your hips, knees and ankles.  During this time, the speed of the barbell continues to increase until the second phase of the pull is completed.  What’s more, the subsequent rapid transition from triple extension to triple flexion during the drop-under phase is critical to the final overhead push; depending on the weight employed, this is required to transpire within just 110 to 340 milliseconds, an extremely short time.  Once again, excellent technique is the reason relatively small athletes can lift such extraordinary weights overhead.