Can you relate at all with Olympic weight lifting?
Do you know anything about it? Do you perceive it as “boring”? I’m not here to change your interests and enjoyments in life.
BUT, I would like to bring something to your attention
Even though you may have less interest in Olympic lifting than a toddler has in eating vegetables, there are some invaluable benefits EVERYONE, yes, EVERYONE can get from Olympic lifting.
No I don’t mean you should start looking up an Olympic lifting coach and create ambitions of one day competing in the super heavyweight class………….Not at all!
A few weeks back, I was “channel-surfing” we’ve all done it. There’s just NOTHING worth watching on Televison. I myself only ever really look for a few key components in deciding whether or not I’ll watch certain T.V. shows………..they have to be either or all of the following:
- Be real (drama doesn’t do much for me personally) sport is an example of “real” television
- Have a degree of comedic value (we all know, or should! That laughter is a superb from of therapy. If you don’t, well you should start laughing a lot more)
But listen, of course I watch the odd bit of “junk” televison every now and then, who doesn’t?! Although let me point out, if I happen to end up watching “junk” televison then, it’s only because I’ve stumbled across it. I didn’t INTEND to watch it 🙂
So a few weeks back, I found myself with some time on my hands and I was channel surfing once again! Eurosport is one of my favourite channels (thumbs up for Eurosport!), I always resort there when I’m looking for some good sport to enjoy. So I went to “old faithful” and they were covering an Olympic weightlifting event. No, I can’t remember the exact weight class or location or who won or what the winning score was! (just in case any die-hard weightlifting fans read this!)
BUT, I did pay close attention to the movements performed!
I saw many ANCIENT Olympic moves such as:
- The snatch
- The clean and jerk
- Front squats (Olympic style)
The Snatch was the feature move on this occasion and this move is SERIOUSLY advanced! It demands a high standard of skeletal mobility, co-ordination and movement capacity.
I really got a deep appreciation for the structural mobility needed to perform these moves
I have a basic level of knowledge regarding strength training and therefore I’m familiar with many functional movement patterns.
You see, certain mobility ranges must be achieved and accessed in order to execute those movements. Some basic qualities are as follows:
- Thoracic extension (the ability to extend through your upper spine and maintain full and strong posture)
- Optimal flexibility through the wrist joints and elbows (If you don’t possess this flexibility, front squats will be a no go for you! Olympic grip front squats anyway.)
- Optimal Hip mobility and also full mobility through the ankle is required (deep squatting without these attributes is near impossible!)
The Snatch is without doubt the most technically challenging movement mentioned. It would also be an ideal “microscopic” assessment tool for your mobility range through certain regions mentioned above.
To simplify the breakdown of the movement, in the pictures below you will see:
The start position
As you can see, the arms are fully locked out. But, most importantly, the athlete is in thoracic extension! His lower back has a natural arch and his upper back is in extension. This is coupled with his chest remaining “up and out” Anybody with a Kyphotic posture; which is a rounding forward of the shoulders, will find it immensely challenging just to engage this position!
As you can see from the motion capture above, the movement is sparked by an explosive, full body, triple extension pull in which you drive with the hips, ankles and knees. Whilst you explosively pull the bar upwards (towards the ears) with your Traps. You then proceed to extend the bar overhead, whilst maintaining the Snatch (wide, arms locked out) grip position throughout. As the arms extend overhead, they stabilise once they become vertical with your head and ears. As the bar is driven up, the athlete drops under the bar into a FULL squat position. A full squat for information purposes, is when your Calves meet your Hamstrings. None of this parallel or above parallel nonsense!
Now you can undoubtedly see where the in-ability to squat deep will hinder your prospects of perfecting this advanced movement.
The Snatch concludes with the athlete rising up from the deep squat position with the arms remaining locked out. You will find yourself standing fully erect with the weight vertically extended overhead. Another way of viewing the final phase of the lift would be seeing it as the concentric/positive portion of another amazing Olympic lifting movement; the Overhead Squat!
The Overhead Squat is amazing because…….as many great strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin, Elliott Hulse and many other terrific strength and conditioning coaches state…….It is best applied as an assessor of a student or athlete’s posture, structural integrity, an insight to potential inbalances that may be lurking and a great indicator of excessively tight muscles. The value of Overhead squatting capacity is valued very personally, as not so long ago, I was COMPLETELY UNABLE to Overhead Squat!
Let me clarify, fortunately my squat ability has always been very much up to par. I can squat “ass to grass” as they say. But a few months back whilst performing a warm up routine that included just simple, unweighted Overhead Squats with just your hands above your head, I was alerted to the fact that I couldn’t descend into full squat territory without my arms sliding forward to around 45 degrees! I’m somewhat a perfectionist and I was disgusted with my in-ability to maintain extended arms. So from that humbling moment on, I took up the challenge of tackling the Overhead Squat!
Perseverance is CRITICAL
Ask anybody who has achieved any perceived “success” in any field how they reached the peak of the mountain, and generally, they’ll reinforce the often forgotten component of CONSISTENCY. I stayed true to the concept of consistency throughout my Overhead Squat quest. Armed with a trusty old Broomstick, I always did upwards of ten Overhead Squats with my good old Broomstick as part of my warm up every time I worked out. Low and behold, gradually, I could get lower and lower whilst keeping my arms at full extension. The takeaway point is, if you want to progress you must persist and be patient! There is no substitute for genuine practice!
I can now Overhead Squat with added weight!
It’s ironic how often people overcome their weakness and it starts flourishing into their strengths, this rings true with me. I actually thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to Overhead Squat! I have formed quite a connection with the “loosening” effect it entails. Also, it has notably improved my general posture!
Can you overhead Squat? Even with merely a Broomstick?!
Go and give it a try!
This is the position you’re striving for…………….
It looks rather easy. But be assured it isn’t. However if you can’t perform it optimally, DON’T be dis-heartened. Use my mini story as inspiration, you CAN master the technique! Start slowly, and ease into the descent. A good tip is to have someone watch your technique and look for the following points to be in place:
- Your Knees remain vertical! They shouldn’t “cave in” pointing your feet outward slightly should help refrain from the “caving in” tendancy.
- The bar or Broomstick should always be roughly in line with your ears in the bottom position. It shouldn’t be grossly flared forwards or backwards.
- Keep a neutral head position and a natural “arch” in the lower back
An extra tip I could offer is one I exploited to my full advantage: Push the Armpits forward as you descend!
Why are you unable to overhead squat?
Tight Ankles are the most common issue for those who cannot engage a full squat position. If the overhead portion of the lift is your “achilles heel” the most common reason for this is, having overly tight Lats. Latissimus Dorsi to give them they’re correct name. Or it could be a combination of both. Once you can identify what department of the movement is letting you down, you can address the tight muscle groups behind your in-ability.
Stretch Stretch and STRETCH!
The only way you’re going to free the tightness of those areas is by dedicating yourself to a series of stretches designed to target the specific area. For instance, for tight Lats you would spend a decent amount of time stretching them. If the Ankles are tight and immobile then variations of deep squatting will be best suited. Even embarking on a Yoga routine for 6-8 weeks with progression would be a great idea! Be consistent and DO NOT lose sight of the goal, I promise you’ll get there!
Why do I need to Overhead Squat? I’m happy as I am
Sure, you may not be able to envisage the value this movement pattern offers you. You may think “I’ve no interest in that whatsover!” Before you write it off, try it with a broomstick. Can you do it? If you cannot, it is telling you something important about your muscular and skeletal system at present! It tells you that your very foundation isn’t sound………..far from it! It may not pose a problem right now, but as you age and ignore your tightness and imbalances, guess what?!………..THEY’RE GOING NOWHERE! They’re only going to worsen, get tighter and the affect will seriously hinder your posture. Your posture is critical, the better your posture, the LESS PAIN as you age. Joints work as they should, muscles function as they should and you feel as a human being should.
Structural integrity is paramount!
So use this article as a form of ignition to start paying more attention to tight muscles and posture immobility, it’s something I’m starting to really awaken to in recent times.
Bad foundations = bad everything
Just like a house, if you build the most stunning, head-turning house, fill it with the most glorious of contents, lace it in the very best decor but build it on bad ground (foundations) sure enough, it will start to gradually crumble. The human body is NO exception! How can you be the very best you can be without being the best internally? You cannot.
Don’t let your body resemble this house!
You would be concerned if your house looked like that right? So by the same token, you should harbour equal concern if your body started to follow suit. Remember, every inch is progress!
Get stretching, get squatting, get into thoracic extension, get functional, improve your posture. But whatever you do, don’t forget to stay tuned for my breakdown of Front Squats and what they can do for you and your………………….I’ll tell you very soon, you may be surprised just how effective Front Squats are for this certain muscle group!
Till next time, stay strong.