Olympic Weightlifting Encyclopedia 37

Locking Body Parts

Locking Body Parts

A number of elements of technique are difficult to describe verbally. They are things that you can feel, but not easily explain. The concept of locking body parts while lifting is one such notion.

The need to lock or make rigid a given body part stems from the need to use that part of the body as a means of transmitting force (rather than its acting as a source of that force). One example is locking the back in the pull. When a lifter properly locks his or her back, or any other body part, only a part of that lock arises out of the actual position of the back or other body part. In the case of the back, it is difficult to hold it rigid if the back is in certain positions (e.g., rounded or greatly bent at the waist). It is easiest for most people to lock their backs when the back is in a fairly natural position, the kind of position the back is in when the lifter stands in a good posture. That is, the shoulders are slightly back, the chest out just a little so that the normal curve in the thoracic area of the spine is reduced (though not eliminated) and the normal curve in the lumbar area of the spine is maintained. The exact position will vary somewhat with the anatomy of the lifter. For example, some lifters will find that their normal curve in the thoracic region of the spine as well as a curve in the opposite direction in the lumbar spine are conducive to keeping the back rigid. Others will find that virtually eliminating the arch in the thoracic area of the spine helps them to solidly lock their backs. It is most important that the lifter find a position in which the rigidity of the back can be maintained, even under great stress.

Apart from the lifter’s assuming a strong position, the key to maintaining the back in a rigid position is increasing the level of tension in selected muscles of the torso to the point where the back has the feeling of being locked. The lifter will know he or she is in the correct position when it! feels as though the back simply cannot be moved from its locked position, no matter how large an external force is applied to it. The ideal position must be rigid and yet comfortable enough to be sustained as the lifter prepares to pull and during the pull itself. Maintaining the torso in a rigid position during the pull and jerk is easier when the lifter makes an effort to push the chest out by inflating and lifting the rib cage. The ultimate test of whether the back is in its proper position is its performance during the pull. If the back “gives” at any point (if the position of the curves in the spine changes or the muscles are felt to lose their tension), then the position needs further attention.

If the lifter is having difficulty achieving the locked position, there are several possible causes. The most likely is that the position chosen initially is not the ideal one for that lifter. A larger or smaller curvature in both areas of the spine can be tried, but any changes should be very gradual. For example, if the thoracic region of the spine experiences an increase in its curvature during the pull, it may be a result of the lifter’s assuming a position that has reduced the normal curvature so much that the lifter cannot sustain the position. On the other hand, the lifter may have allowed the starting curvature to be so great that it placed the back in a weakened mechanical position, and the lifter could not sustain that position when force was applied; the result was that the back gave even further. Once that standard back position has been tried, the lifter needs to experiment and to pay attention to his or her body in order to find the most secure position.

Another possible reason for the problem is that the lifter has inadequate flexibility in the hips or legs. A lack of flexibility can make it difficult for the lifter to assume a correct starting position or make that position so difficult to assume that the position is lost as soon as force is applied. An example of this kind of problem is when the hamstrings are so tight that the lifter cannot maintain an arch in the back during the pull. The obvious solution here is to improve flexibility so that the lifter is able to assume and maintain a proper position.

Still another possible cause of failure to lock the back is the lifter’s inability consciously (at the early stages of learning) and unconsciously (at the later stages of learning) to maintain proper tension in the muscles of the back. A tension that is too small will cause the back to lose its position when force is applied; an excess of tension will make it impossible for the lifter to execute the pull smoothly. A related problem is the failure to relax the muscles that pull the trunk forward. For example, if the lifter unnecessarily contracts the abdominal muscles during the pull, it can cause the spine to round out.

The final major cause of failure to lock the back is relative weakness in the back muscles; weak back muscles cannot withstand the force that is applied from the legs during the pull. The strength of the lagging back muscles can be improved through special exercises for the back, such as hyperextensions. Perhaps the best method to strengthen the back is to practice deadlifts with the back in perfect position. These assistance exercises are explained in detail in Chapter 5.

In general, the portions of the lift that call for rigidity in any body parts are those in which the greatest force is applied or received. These moments are: the second stage of the pull: reaching the bottom of the dip in the jerk; beginning the final explosion in the pull and jerk; catching the bar on the shoulders in the clean; and fixing the bar overhead in the snatch or the jerk.

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