An Uncommon Foot Position for the Pull: The Frog-Leg Style
From the 1960’s through the mid 1970’s seven Japanese lifters set a total of 30 world snatch records. Two of those lifters, Yoshinobu Miyake and Masashi Ohuchi, astounded the weightlifting world with their prowess in the snatch: Miyake with eleven world records and Ohuchi by snatching a world record in the 82.5 kg. class weighing only a little above the 75 kg. class limit! The Japanese lifters of this era used the “frog” style in the pullthe most distinctive characteristic of which is a starting position with the lifter’s heels together and the toes and knees at an angle of approximately 75 degrees or more in relation to one another. In this position the hips are closer to the bar at the start of the pull than in the conventional style. Figure 12 illustrates the frog leg position in the snatch (the angle of the feet is normally greater in the snatch) than the clean).
Most of the frog style lifters (Miyake in particular) started their pulls with their hips lower than was typical in their day. (Miyake’s habit of sitting with his hips in a low position in preparation for the pull and then raising them as he applied force to lift the bar from the platform made the starting position of his hips appear to be even lower than it really was.) In addition, they held their torsos at a greater angle to the platform (i.e., in a more upright position) than did their contemporaries, who used a conventional pulling style. It was from this unusual starting position, which has some resemblance to the position in which a frog sits, that the style probably got its name.
From their starting position, most of the frog stylists drop their hips momentarily and then, while rebounding slightly from this low position, begin their pull (many froggers pull as hard as possible from the start, although there are some who pull more slowly). The combined weight of the bar and lifter is felt on the middle of the foot or even slightly forward of the middle. The Japanese frog stylists suggest that the angle of the back should remain the same during the pull from the floor to the knees and that the hips should move upward and not back. Once the bar has passed the knees, the hips are driven forward toward the bar. Advocates of the frog style generally recommend beginning the final explosion of the pull with the bar at or above the height of the middle of the thigh. They recognize that the foot position assumed during the first stage of the pull inhibits the forward drive of the hips during the final explosion but feel that there is an offsetting advantage in that the hips move more directly upward, yielding a straighter final pull. In addition, the froggers feel that because they begin their final explosions in the pull later than most lifters, the chance of “swing” (a horizontal as well as vertical movement of the bar) is reduced.
The Soviets studied the style during the 1970s and concluded that: a) it was suited for the peculiarities of the “oriental physique” more than the occidental; and b) the turned-out feet meant that the anterior/posterior balance point on the foot was smaller than in the conventional style, making the pull less stable and reducing the athlete’s ability to use the back muscles properly during the pull. By the time this analysis was made, the Japanese lifters and their defenders had faded from the international scene, and the long dominance of the Eastern Europeans had begun. Just as the frog may have received too much attention when Miyake, Ohuchi and other Japanese were breaking records, it may have been too quickly dismissed once they departed the competitive platform.
Two criticisms of the Soviet analysis are apparent today. First, the analysis was primitive by today’s standards. Therefore, any conclusions reached at that time bear some re-examination in more modern era. After all, it was during this sa period that many Soviet theorists predicted the “modern” (post-press) lifter would be leaner and more athletic in appearance than the lifters of earlier years. The days of the stocky little man were over, they said. (Fortunately, the great World and Olympic Champion, Naim Suleymanoglu, was either unaware of or unwilling to accept such a hypothesis). The linking of an “oriental” body type to the frog was a crude explanation even then. Any observer could have seen that Miyake’s and Ohuchi’s body types were quite different (as were the bodies of other Japanese lifters). Consequently the effectiveness of the style was not related to one body “type,” at least as defined by the analysts who made the claim.
Second, the arguments that the frog style is more precarious than the conventional style because of the athlete’s foot position or that the back muscles can be used less while employing the frog style are a classic case of oversimplification. Such oversimplification arises out of the focus on one or two aspects of technique to the exclusion of all others. It is true that the athlete has a smaller base of support when pulling with the frog style, but the frog has advantages that tend to offset that disadvantage. Since the knees are spread wider in the frog style than in the conventional style, partly due to the foot position that is used in the frog style, the bar can pass the knees with less need for the knees to move backward and then forward. The result is that less fore-aft instability is produced during the pull, and the length of the transitional phase of the pull can be shortened. Hence the body is able to balance in a smaller area. In addition, since the back works differently in the frog than in the conventional style, the need for strength in the muscles that straighten the torso is diminished in the frog style.
The success of the Japanese lifters with the frog does not necessarily prove the efficacy of that style. Champion lifters can certainly be wrong about technique, and they often are. However, the frog style does have some special things to recommend it. First is the outstanding ability of the Japanese who mastered it. Beyond the famous ones, there are several reports of even more remarkable feats performed with the frog-leg style by less well known lifters, including cases of Japanese lifters who improved dramatically when they converted to the frog style from the conventional style.
There have been many success stories from American lifters who have tried the frog style as well. Eight-time United States national champion Mike Karchut had significant success with the style, as did Chuck Nootens, a former American record holder in the snatch. Former World Champion Joe Dube, who for many years struggled with a relatively poor snatch, became a multi-time American record holder and world class snatcher when he switched to the frog. On a more personal note, while hardly known as a great snatcher, I used both the frog and various more conventional styles during my career and was more consistent with the frog. Even if I abandoned the frog style for years at a time (which I did several times during my career), I was always able to snatch as much or more with the frog as with the conventional style on my first try (not a wise practice, but it did prove a point to me).
None of this is to say that everyone, or even anyone, should go out and master the frog tomorrow. Today’s conventional style is well proven, likely to be better coached and probably better suited for most lifters. Instead, the evidence regarding the frog style suggests that the style may have been inappropriately dismissed and that at least some new research focusing on more aspects of the lift than the balance on the feet) should be conducted. It is a style that clearly has value for at least some lifters. In addition, the story of the frog style offers us all a valuable lesson about style. All that can be known about style has not yet been learned, and some of what we have learned along the way may have been forgotten as fashions changed. Alternative techniques that are superior to anything that is used today may still be out there. Neither the coach nor the athlete should assume there is no need to think about or to experiment with new techniques. The science of weightlifting is still young.
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