One of the first questions I ever asked John Coffee was what lifter’s technique I should emulate. John said “Noone. Everyone is made a little differently, you lift the way you lift.” Anatomical variations dictate that the barbell will be negotiated from the ground to overhead in a different manner from person to person; a coach must be able to recognize that a slight deviation from what is taught in weightlifting videos, seminars, etc. is not necessarily a fault, but a product of this individual difference.
From the ’85 Weightlifting Symposium, Dr. Angel Spassov writes, “We suppose that highly qualified weightlifters have high individuality of technical mastership. This stipulates some deviations from the well-known laws, which can be quite significant, and sometimes can be qualified even as mistakes or errors in the readings.”
Anatomists have concluded that there is on average a 30% variance in anatomical structure between two random subjects, whether it be relative limb length, muscle and tendon origin and insertion points, etc. I’m certainly not trying to quantify an exact variation that is acceptable. I’m trying to say that we’re all different. Some will perceive any variation to a standardized technique as a fault. It is ultimately the coach’s prerogative as to how he distinguishes between faults and variations (if at all).
Let me address just a couple of individual tendencies that I believe are misattributed as faults:
Bent vs. Straight Rear Leg in the Split Jerk
Many coaches have made their own determinations on whether the rear leg in the jerk should be straight or bent. In the USWF Club Coach Manual, Lyn Jones writes
“A straight back leg causes the hips to be towed back resulting in a forward body lean and all sorts of problems.”
On the opposing end, in Weightlifting: Fitness for All Sports, Dr. Tamas Ajan writes
“If the weight is caught in front, the back leg gets bent and the pelvis will go forward.”
Each of these authors seem to consider what the other is advocating as a technical fault.
What do I believe?
Whatever is more comfortable for the lifter; if the lifter’s natural tendency is to have a straight (knee unlocked) back leg in the receiving position of the jerk, then perhaps it’s alright for them to continue receiving jerks this way. Likewise with a bent leg in the jerk. If the lifter has trouble making jerks or looks unstable, and other technical changes haven’t solved the problem, then it’d be worth experimenting from a straight to bent back leg, or vice versa. When I asked Tommy Kono his thoughts on this, he told me “it depends on the flexibility of the lifter, either is acceptable.” On the International level, both are seen equally.
Jumping Back in the Snatch or Clean
Jumping back when receiving the snatch or clean is a happening that has been accepted more in the past few decades, but I still read and hear of coaches that label this as a fault. In my opinion, jumping back is not something that you would intentionally coach a lifter to do. The bar must follow an efficient bar path overhead, and the jumping back must not be excessive. Angel Spassov attributes jumping back to two points:
“1. Aspiration, striving to use the bodyweight of the athlete also to take part in the power in the execution of the pull exercise.
2. Tendency to achieve the most correct position under the bar, which is raised to a certain height by efforts in the horizontal and vertical direction.”
What do I believe?
From a physics standpoint, a lifter can impart more force on the barbell with the inclusion of a horizontal component to a vertical bar path. It is alright so long as the centre of gravity does not go outside the area of support. The moment it does, the horizontal component creates an inefficiency. If the lifter jumps back a couple or few inches and the bar is still in the correct position to make the lift, then it’s alright to do so. As mentioned before, this is not something one would intentionally teach. If there’s a concern then track the bar path from the side to see that the pull has remained efficient (the bar path of a lifter who jumps back is very similar to one who doesn’t, it is simply rotated back a few degrees).
There are many great minds in this sport (that I have nothing but the up-most respect for) that may think differently, but that’s the beauty of the sport; each individual coach is to decide what technical principles they will abide by or discard, and will truly test his/her beliefs by applying it to their athletes and assessing their performance. “Proof is in the puddin’!”