The importance of mobility in Olympic Weightlifting
Why mobility is important for Olympic lifting?
We know how amazingly the olympic lifts transfer over to our given sports and the benefits we see from performing these well. They train you to jump and move a load vertically and explosively. This may have a direct correlation with our vertical jump height or how hard we hit someone in a tackle.
The movements are fast, technical and explosive. The predominant flaw in the human system, which may effect how well we lift, is poor mobility. This is what we see as the limiting factor day in, day out in the gym.
Whilst learning the movements is complicated, time with the bar learning the new motor patterns under the guidance of a good coach will allow steady progress.
However, what happens if we cant get in the positions required by the lifts?
INCREASED CHANCES OF INJURY
The ideal positions we get in under the bar allow for us to be as efficient as possible and to put our body in safe positions. If we cannot achieve these positions then we allow for excessive forces to be put through specific joints, which may result in an overload. This can lead to a joint sprain, muscular strain etc.
What movements do the Olympic lifts require?
- A good upright squat
- Good overhead movement
- The ability to dissociate our shoulder flexion into elevation and keeping our ribs down
- Good range of motion especially through our ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders.
THE LIKELY CULPRITS
If ankle mobility is lacking it is likely to be dorsiflexion. This is the ability to take our ankle upwards (think taking your foot to the ceiling). Having good dorsiflexion allows us to take our vertical shin when standing closer to our toes (see image below) when going into the squat.
If there is poor range of motion in the ankle, our shins will remain vertical when squatting. At some point we will then feel as if we are going to fall backwards. The body will adjust and lean forward through the torso to maintain balance. This will then defeat the objective of staying upright in the squat.
If we were then to catch a clean in this position, the weight is further away from our centre of mass, increasing our chances of missing the lift.
Like any other joints, if stiffness is the only limiting factor to poor range of motion, then this should be worked on as well as stability of the joint. Poor range throughout the hip will reduce the distance we can sink into the squat. This directly influences the catch position of either the snatch or clean and jerk and it will force us to catch the weight in a higher position. If we catch in a higher position it therefore means we have to pull the weight higher which will likely result in reduced weight that is lifted. If we can get deep into the squat then it will allow us to catch that weight lower.
THORACIC SPINE MOBILITY (Tx)
Tx mobility is likely to be reduced in extension (think about stretching out your chest and being the opposite to slumping forward) because of the daily positions we find ourselves in. Our ribs directly attach to our tx. In the overhead position when we catch the snatch or jerk it requires a vast amount range of motion above head. As well as shoulder range, extension of the tx is needed to get the full movement. If there is stiffness in extension of the tx, we will unlikely be able to reach a full overhead position and combined with a squat, our arms are likely to come forward shown in the right hand image below. It is then likely we will lose the weight in the front.
Therefore to compensate, we will extend through out lower back (middle image below) potentially overloading our lower back.
If we can extend through the thoracic and achieve full range of motion through the shoulder it will allow us to keep our lower back in neutral and our ribs down (left image below). This is the ideal position and thus reducing our chance of injury.
Compensations of the body will occur if there is inadequate range of motion. Compensation will then likely overload particular areas in the body increasing our chances of sustaining an injury. That’s why at Liftoff we diligently amend technique and positions to avoid this and where possible we make amendments.
We may reduce the requirements of the movement so you can still achieve the same workload but ask the body to achieve less range. A simple example of this would be to change the full snatch, to the power snatch.
Working on your mobility is important. It takes time and effort but the results will be worthwhile. Think of it as an ongoing monthly project, set aside 10-15 minutes each time you come into the gym and when you can at home and you will see the progressions.