Technique Problems: What to Fix First?

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Lifters and coaches: When a lifter has multiple problems with their technique, how do you approach fixing them? Which problems do you attack first and why?

If you don’t have one already, we recommend you develop a framework for fixing problems rather than winging it.

For us, diagnosing and fixing technique using a consistent and repeatable framework offers the best chance of developing consistent and repeatable results. It also enables any lifter to work with multiple coaches in our organization without conflicting feedback and confusion. This latter feature is a modern-day necessity if your gym, like ours, has members who work with multiple coaches.

With that in mind, here’s our framework for categorizing, diagnosing, prioritizing, and fixing errors in the snatch and clean & jerk:

1. Position and Balance
When evaluating a lifter’s technique, we look first at position and balance issues. These issues pertain to the angle(s) of your joints and position(s) of your body segments. They include the alignment and balance of your body in relation to the bar. We also consider where the pressure is centered on your feet.

Some examples of position and balance issues include:

In the set-up, are your hips at the right height and your torso at an acceptable angle? As you move the bar past your knees, do your shoulders remain over the bar with your balance centered mid-foot? When you receive the bar, are your feet wide enough and is your chest adequately upright?

All these issues can be evaluated without observing motion. Think of these as issues you can readily evaluate if you pause a lifting video or capture a still-frame. Position/balance issues are unique in this regard. The other categories below require motion to evaluate.

We like to address position and balance issues first since:

a) they often emerge among the earliest and most obvious issues to fix;
b) if all the positions are right, the rest of the execution will be easier; and
c) all the technique advice in the world won’t help you improve if you simply can’t get into adequate position to take advantage of that technique.

2. Energy Production
Energy production is our next concern after position and balance. Energy production results from the coordinated action of your ankles, legs, hips, torso, shoulders, and arms. When we consider your energy production, we are concerned with two elements: magnitude and direction.

Magnitude is concerned with how much force you produce (e.g. Are you driving your legs hard enough into the ground?). Direction considers where you aim that force (e.g. Are you exploding upward, not “humping” the bar away from you?).

Unlike position/balance, energy production issues must be evaluated while the lifter is in motion. Energy production issues are not only affected by poor position/balance (see above) but also by improper coordination (see below).

3. Coordination
Though also vitally important, coordination tends to be the final category we evaluate and fix after we’ve considered position/balance and energy production. This is primarily due to its complexity and the likelihood that it may take some time to permanently pattern (or repattern) proper coordination.

When we refer to coordination, we are concerned with the timing and relationship of all the moving parts of the lift. Coordination is responsible for the sequence, rhythm, and tempo of your lifts. It is the result of selective and properly timed tension and relaxation (e.g. which parts of your body are firing, which parts are relaxed, and when). The importance of proper coordination is summed-up in one of our mantra: Good timing is good technique.

Some examples of coordination issues include:

Are you exploding or bending your arms to soon? Are you extending your legs, hips, and ankles in the proper sequence? Are you diving under the bar before you fully extend? Are you slow (or failing) to change direction after you explode?

Just like energy production, coordination issues should be evaluated in motion. Improper coordination will likely have a negative influence on energy production.

In addition to our priorities above, we have two other guidelines for diagnosing and fixing.

First, it’s generally best to start with the error that occurs earliest in the lift (and closest to the ground). Early problems in the lifts have the greatest potential to mushroom into bigger problems later in the lifts. This is why we typically start by evaluating position and balance in the setup.

Second, when diagnosing problems, we encourage coaches to separate symptoms from causes…and to focus rigorously on identifying and fixing the causes.

For example, a bar that swings away from you in a wide arc is merely a symptom. Did it happen because:

a) you didn’t engage your lats to keep the bar close?
b) you “humped” the bar away?
c) your hip height and balance were wrong in the setup, causing a cascade of events that ended with the bar swinging away?

If you’re only identifying symptoms, you may have trouble diagnosing and fixing properly. That’s why we emphasize looking for the cause every time.

Using this framework and these guidelines, we find we’re consistently able to help lifters of all skill levels develop good technique. While there are surely other ways to prioritize, we think it’s important to have some type of framework so you can develop a repeatable process (Note: This doesn’t mean that coaches should be unreasonably rigid in their approach. The art of coaching requires developing a repeatable process…and recognizing when it may be wise to depart from that process.). If you don’t have a framework or a process of your own, please consider using ours.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our coaching certification course, Waxman’s Weightlifting Method, where you can learn to apply the exact methods we use.

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