Olympic Weightlifting and the Over Emphasis on Bar Path
Written by British Weightlifting Tutor Liam Pearson
For nearly 10 years now I’ve had the privileged of working at a University, but as great as that sounds, it comes with having to deal with some questionable athlete training history. More often than not you’re dealing with athletes with either very young training ages, or students who have had coaches/personal trainers with very questionable methods/philosophies.
One of the most common problems I encountered when it came to Olympic weightlifting, both from students who were competing in weightlifting, or athletes using some derivatives of Olympic lifts for their S&C programmes, is this overemphasis and sheer panic regarding their bar path. To the point where if the bar wasn’t completely vertical, they weren’t happy, which is a recipe for disaster as even the best in the world deviate from the midline.
I’ve also had many weightlifters come to me from different clubs for advice or the odd training session/catch up that have shown me some of their ‘tools’ either they or their coaches us to encourage a vertical bar path.
One that will be forever burnt into my memory is chalking up the whole bar and then performing a lift, and then observing how much chalk was on the lifters clothes at the end of the lift, with more chalk on the lifter = a “better” lift. I get what the coach was trying to do, encourage a tight position and keeping the bar close to you, but the execution could have been better to say the least. Why a coach would encourage an athlete to scrap the bar from shin to chest is beyond me.
For those wanting to dip their toe into Olympic weightlifting, or use some derivatives for S&C purposes… be patient! Don’t let the bar touch you until both you and it are in the correct position to JUMP… not hump!
Encouraging athlete to move themselves around the bar, as opposed to moving the bar around them (or scrap it up them), gives the lifter a great bio-mechanical advantage when it comes time to exert large amounts of force in the 2nd pull (the fastest and most powerful portion of any of the Olympic lifts).
For every millimetre the bar is touching your body, it’s slowing down the acceleration of the barbell and acting against all the hard work you’re putting in trying to lift the bar up and speed it up. It takes a lot of energy to overcome the initial resting inertia of a loaded barbell, don’t make it any harder by adding resistance from scraping it up your body! Your bar path will likely never be “perfect”, but as long as it’s going up more than it is forwards or backwards, you’re going in the right direction, pun intended!
Humping the bar
For the eagle-eyed you may have noticed I mentioned jumping & humping, this comes back to the overemphasis people put on their bar path, but then end up thrusting/hitting/”humping” the bar as hard as possible, which completely wrecks their bar path, resulting in the barbell shooting forward and either the lifter “chasing” the bar, or the lift being dropped.
So I always go back to the cue “Jump don’t hump! In Olympic weightlifting (including derivatives), you’re doing everything you can to accelerate that bar as fast as you can to either get it high enough for you to drop under, or high enough for you to catch it in a derivative such as a power clean. For that reason, “humping” the bar, i.e. smashing you hips into the bar, is only going to deviate the bar away from the mid-line, whereas jumping with the bar is going to assist in the continued acceleration of the barbell in a vertical trajectory. This assists your lift not only by having the bar in a higher position relative to your body, but it is now also closer to your body, meaning it is going to make your next move more manageable – whether that’s dropping into a full clean or catching a power clean.
Take home notes:
• Don’t stress too much about your bar path. • Don’t let the bar touch your body unless that contact is going to result in assisting its acceleration. i.e. Jump, don’t hump!
This article was written by Liam Pearson BSc(Hons) Applied Sport Science and current MRes student at Northumbria University.
About the author
Liam has 10 years coaching experience in S&C and Olympic Weightlifting (as a BWL qualified coach), as well as teaching in HE and FE. His interests lie in biomechanics of Olympic Weightlifting and velocity-based training.
Thanks to Liam for writing such an informative piece!