The first thing I am realizing about all Olympic weightlifting is that the most important thing is a seamless transfer of energy. I tend to think logically and scientifically about these processes, at the same time trying to hone in on my metacognition skills (see how I use teacher words). I’m trying to find patterns, similarities, and differences, I’m trying to evaluate which parts don’t make sense to me, I’m writing down a bunch of questions I have, and I’m trying to find ways to explain it to myself so that it makes more sense. Here is what I came up with:
All the readings I have gone through indicate that most important thing when lifting from the ground is keeping the item you are lifting (a barbell in this case) very close to body. Everything about the way you lift the barbell is for the purpose of keeping it close to the body, while avoiding injury of course. I understand that that concept must be true, but in order to understand it deeper I find myself asking why and how. Why is it that the movement requires the bar to stay close to the body? How did we come to determine that is the best way to lift? What is it about the movement that necessitates that?
My conclusion comes from what mediocre knowledge I have of physics, all the way back from the college years. When you move your body around, that requires energy. Our bodies are constantly in a hurry to produce more energy so that we can contract muscles and continue to move around. When our bodies move in a way that contradicts the forces of gravity, such as picking something off of the ground, it requires force in an opposite direction of the force of gravity. The force of gravity pulls us or an item straight down to the ground in a straight line. One way to oppose this force is to pull yourself or an item in a straight line away from the ground, as straight as possible to oppose that force. The problem is that human bodies don’t maintain a straight line position all the time. If we are doing these Olympic lifts, or any other kind of lift from the floor, in order for us to reach the object on the floor from a standing position, we have to bend over. Bending over requires the knees, butt, and shoulders to move out of alignment with the body. This can be done in many ways, some of which may cause us to be more prone to injury and others will be much safer ways of doing so. The good thing is that when we are bent down, it is not a resting position, we are like a coiled spring waiting to be released. When we are bent down, some of our muscles must contract and use energy to create this position. This causes the body to have energy stored in the muscles in the form of potential energy.
So there you are, bent down over an item to pick up with all this stored up potential energy. You can’t stay that way, so what do you do. Well, if the item is heavy, you have a natural instinct to move in a way that helps you transfer some of that stored energy into item in order to create movement. If it’s an inanimate object like a barbell, it doesn’t have its own energy to create motion like you do. So you have to transfer some of your energy to the object in order to make it move. You do this with forces.
The forces start in your feet, your heels to be more specific, as you begin to stand up. Your hamstrings fire, your glutes fire, the quads and calves fire, all to release that potential energy to kinetic energy. And that barbell is essentially strapped to you by your arms. The arms should be loose and not contracted, as at this point in the movement, they are not creating or transferring energy, they are the straps between your body and the object. As you start to stand more upright, the energy in your body is transferred from heels to knees to hips to shoulders, and finally you bend the arms and transfer the energy to the barbell. The arms need to be directly under the shoulders at this point in order for the transfer of energy to occur efficiently. If the arms are not vertically under the shoulders, when the energy reaches my shoulders, it has nowhere else to go. Unless my arms are directly under my shoulders, then I can shrug my shoulder upwards, which moves my arms upwards transferring that kinetic energy to the arms. At this point, the bending of the arms transfers that energy directly to the barbell moving the barbell upwards. Then you just have to finish the move by catching the weight of the barbell for whichever move you are doing.
The force is not rotational, it is not broad. It is a very narrow (no bigger than the frame of the base/feet) line of force, directly vertical, so the object needs to be within that vertical line (frame of the base) in order for the force to act upon it. The closer it is, the more efficient that movement is, and that’s just physics.