Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Shut Up And Lift"

I wrote this for my english class, but I like the subject and I think it's a good essay, so what the hell.

Jacob Tsypkin
English 111
18 September 2006

“Shut Up And Lift”
Athletic Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting

“I’m so tired of hearing about how hard marathoners work, how heroic they are sprinting those last yards across the finish line. Take a bar, load it up with four or five hundred pounds, and put it over your head. That’s hard work.” Daniel John, a prominent lifting and throwing coach from Utah, wrote these words in his monthly newsletter “Get Up!” In recent years a taboo has been created around the practice of heavy weightlifting due to the negative marketing by companies who introduced “weightlifting” machines, change in popular physique, and injury due to bad form – as well as a unwillingness in many Americans to work hard when there are easier options, even if those options do not achieve results. Despite these primarily unfounded fears, Olympic, power and supplemental lifting continues to be an integral part of any serious athlete’s training program.

In its essence, Olympic lifting is the practice of taking a weight, usually a barbell, from the ground to overhead. This is done through either one or two powerful jumping movements combined with dropping one’s body under the weight. The two movement variation is the clean and jerk: the clean takes the bar from the ground and onto the lifter’s clavicle as he/she drops under the bar into a front squat – thus “cleaning” the floor of the bar – and then stands. The lifter then drives the bar overhead with the legs and arms and drops below it by splitting his legs into a lunge – the jerk. The one movement
variation is the snatch: the lifter takes a wide grip on the bar, and in one jump explodes upward and then downward, dropping fully under the bar into a overhead squat – “snatching” the bar off the floor. The full Olympic lifts have many benefits. Firstly, engagement of the posterior chain – hamstrings, gluteals and lower back – becomes natural through the Olympic lifts. The posterior chain is one of the most important muscle groups in the body. It is used for standing, walking, running, jumping, bending, straightening, and stabilizing. The athlete’s balance will improve. Finally, the Olympic lifts increase flexibility in the muscles of the posterior chain, the spine, hips, knees and ankles.

Once a lifter can satisfactorily perform the full Olympic lifts, he/she may learn the power lifts – the power clean, push press, and power snatch. Like the clean and jerk and the snatch, the power lifts take the bar from the ground to overhead in one or two motions. The lifter’s aim, however, is to bring the bar fully overhead, or to the clavicle, with as little downward motion as possible – he/she will not drop into a full squat. When performing the power clean, like the squat clean, the lifter cleans the bar off the ground, but drops only as low as necessary to allow it to rest on his/her clavicle. The push press has the lifter pushing the weight overhead by bending the knees and driving upward with the legs and arms – unlike the jerk, however, he/she does not dip below the bar after pushing it overhead. The power snatch, like the snatch, takes the bar from the ground to overhead in one jump – however, the lifter drops below the bar only enough to catch it, rather than dropping into a full squat. The power lifts bear more benefits for athletes than the Olympic lifts. The explosive power they cultivate will help an athlete’s ability to jump, sprint, pivot, check, tackle, kick, punch and throw – almost any athletic action depends on the explosive activation of the posterior chain. However, athletic actions generally do not require the athlete to drop low to the ground as in the full lifts. The power lifts are more applicable to athletics, but do not allow the lifter to move as much weight, because he/she must rely solely on his explosive upward force.

In order to increase his/her ability and strength in the Olympic and power lifts, a lifter will practice the supplemental lifts. Many lifts can be performed to supplement the Olympic and power lifts, but the three most relevant are the squat, deadlift and overhead press. These lifts are less explosive and involve less technique, therefore allowing the athlete to move more weight (with the exception of the overhead press – this movement has less strength than the push press or the jerk because there is no leg drive at all, but requires more stability in the lower body and aides strengthening the upward drive required for the Olympic and power lift variations). The three main variations of the
squat are the front squat, which is the bottom of a clean, the overhead squat, which is the bottom of a snatch, and the back squat. The back squat is not the bottom of an Olympic lift, but due to the positioning of the bar across the trapezoids, it allows the lifter to move heavier weight than the front or overhead squat. The strength gained from this additional weight carries over to the other variations. The deadlift is the first half of the clean and the snatch, in which the lifter pulls the weight from the ground and jumps. In the deadlift, however, the lifter does not jump, but pulls the weight off the ground by steadily standing up until he/she is standing erect. Since there is no jump involved, the lifter can move much more weight than he/she could in a clean or snatch. The deadlift is generally the lift which one can move the most weight with – most world class heavyweight Olympic lifters deadlift eight hundred pounds or more. In the overhead press, the athlete rests the weight on the clavicle and then presses it overhead as in a push press. Unlike a push press, however, there is no leg drive involved. Though the lifter will move less weight than in a jerk or push press (in reverse of the other supplemental lifts, which allow the athlete to lift more weight than the Olympic or power lifts) due to the lack of lower body muscle recruitment, the overhead press allows him/her to focus on the muscles of the upper body more than push press or jerk does. The supplemental lifts also stress the core muscles greatly, thus increasing the athlete’s stabilizing strength.

Due to a buildup of fear, heavy weightlifting has seen a steady decline in popularity in the United States. The American public prefers Jazzercise and Jane Fonda.
Low impact, light weight, high repetition workouts are supposedly safer and more productive. There are no results to show that this is true – these programs are simply easier, and that is what the public wants. The Olympic, power and supplemental lifts, performed properly and combined with sprinting, calisthenics and plyometrics, are the best way to increase mass, speed and strength. They are practiced by high school, collegiate and professional teams all over the world. They produce athletes who are bigger, faster and stronger, and bigger, faster stronger athletes are athletes who win.

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