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Olympic Weightlifting - Part 2a: Flexibility and Movement Requirements


Part 1 of this series briefly explored the history of Olympic weightlifting as well as the rationale for the first of two questions:

It also laid the foundation of human movement by detailing some important concepts in Human Movement Science. With this fundamental information having been addressed, let’s now focus more specifically on the joint motions involved in the Olympic lifts and what is mechanically necessary for each to optimally occur. This part of the series will explore the flexibility or range of motion (ROM) necessary and the stabilization requirement needed to allow for optimum motion at each joint in the kinetic chain.

Flexibility and Olympic Lifts

The proper execution of Olympic lifts will require high levels of flexibility throughout the entire body. This allows for optimum joint motion with a minimal risk of injury resulting from compensation. Flexibility can be defined as the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow a joint to move through a complete ROM under the control of the nervous system. 1,2

This means that all muscles must be able to dynamically shorten and lengthen (maintain optimal length-tension relationships) relative to one another at each joint in order to be efficiently recruited by the nervous system and produce optimum joint motion. If muscles become mechanically tight or shortened in their resting length, they will cause decreased ROM and weakness throughout the kinetic chain. This must be addressed through proper forms of flexibility training. Concurrently, strengthening the weaknesses created by muscle imbalance must occur through proper stabilization training (discussed in Part 2b of this article).

To allow for normal joint motion to occur and reduce abnormal stress that can lead to injury during the Olympic lifts, optimum flexibility will be required at the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow and wrist. As these movements occur predominantly in the sagittal plane, each of these joints will be explored relative to simple flexion and extension range of motion requirements. All of the following ROM are estimates based upon kinesiological observations, 3 clinical observation and experience. To date, no known data exists on specific joint range of motion requirements for the Olympic lifts. We will discuss possible muscle tightness that can alter the proper joint motions and then look at the weakened structures in the Stabilization section. All of the motions relevant to the Olympic lifts (as described by the National Strength and Conditioning Association - NSCA) discussed in this article, can be seen in the pictures below. 4

Clean and Jerk

Set-up 1 st Pull Scoop
2 nd Pull Catch Jerk

Snatch

Set-up 1 st Pull Scoop
2 nd Pull Catch Finish

Ankle

The foot and ankle complex is a very intricate web of joints and soft tissues that for the purpose of this article will be oversimplified into its primary movements relative to the Olympic lifts. This will mainly consist of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion.

The ankle will require approximately 15-20° of dorsiflexion for the set-up prior to the initial lift as well as during the catch position (squat) for each Olympic lift. It may also be required during the jerk portion of the clean and jerk, especially if the lifter is using a split-stance technique. Tight muscles that may affect proper dorsiflexion during the Olympic lifts include the Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Peroneals. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

The ankle will require approximately 20-50° of plantarflexion during the second pull. Tight muscles that may affect proper range of motion include the Anterior Tibialis, Extensor Hallucis Longus and Extensor Digitorum Longus. If proper range of motion is not attained it will cause a few things to occur:

Motions
ROM*
Tightness
Compensation
Dorsiflexion
  • Set-up in squat position
  • Catch position (squat)
  • Back foot in split stance
15-20° Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Peroneals
  • Feet externally rotate
  • Ankles over-pronate
  • Increased demand for hip flexion
  • Knees over-pronate
  • Hip and knees abduct
Plantarflexion: Second pull (full body extension) 20-50°
  • Anterior tibialis, Extensor hallucis longus
  • Extensor digitorum longus
  • Increased demand for hip & lumbar extension
  • Hyperextension of knees

* All Ranges of Motions (ROM) are approximate.

Knee

The knee will require approximately 90-120° of flexion during the set-up and catch position (squat) for each lift. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM during flexion include the Soleus, Rectus Femoris and Vastus Lateralis. Because the knee is “stuck” between the ankle and hips, the ROM at ankle and hip can drastically alter ROM in the knee during these lifts (See Ankle and Hip bullets). If proper ROM is not attained, it will cause:

The knee will require approximately 0 ° of extension during the second pull. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM during extension include the Gastrocnemius, Hamstring Complex and Gracilis. If proper ROM is not attained, it will cause:

Motions
ROM
Tightness
Compensation
Flexion
  • Set-up in squat position
  • Catch position (squat)
  • Back foot in split stance
90-120°
  • Soleus
  • Rectus femoris
  • Vastus lateralis
  • Increased demand for lumbar/thoracic extension
  • Increased demand for shoulder flexion
  • Increased internal rotation of the femur and lateral tracking of patella
Extension: Second pull (full body extension)
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Hamstring complex
  • Gracilis
Increased lumbar extension

Hip

The hip will require approximately 90-120 ° of flexion for the set-up prior to the initial lift as well as during the catch position (squat) for each lift. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM include the Biceps Femoris, Gluteus Maximus, Psoas, Adductors and Piriformis. If proper ROM is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

The hip will require approximately 0- (-)10° of extension during the second pull and during the jerk portion of the clean and jerk (back leg), especially if the lifter is using a split-stance technique. Tight muscles that may affect proper range of motion include the Iliopsoas, Rectus Femoris and Adductors. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

Motions
ROM
Tightness
Compensation
Flexion
  • Set-up in squat position
  • Catch position (squat)
  • Back foot in split stance
90-120°
  • Biceps
  • Femoris
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Psoas
  • Adductors
  • Piriformis
Increased lumbar flexion
Extension Second pull (full body extension) 0-10°
  • Iliopsoas
  • Rectus femoris
  • Adductors
  • Increased lumbar extension
  • Hyperextension of knees

Shoulder

The shoulder is a very unique and complex structure comprised of multiple joints including the sternoclavicular (SC) joint, acromioclavicular (AC) joint, glenohumeral (shoulder) joint and the scapulothoracic (Scapula on the rib cage) joint. Each of these joints moves in all three planes of motion and must be working optimally to ensure proper shoulder motion. For the purposes of this article and relative to the Olympic lifts, we will discuss the shoulder in terms of flexion and external rotation as these two motions can be the primary limiting factors.

The shoulder will require approximately 90-180 ° of flexion and 70-90° of external rotation during the catch and the jerk phase of the clean and jerk and the overhead movement for the catch phase of the snatch. This is comprised of approximately 30-40° of elevation and 40-50° of posterior rotation in the SC joint, approximately 30° of upward rotation of the scapula at the AC and scapulothoracic joints and approximately 120 ° of motion at the glenohumeral joint all occurring simultaneously. Tight muscles that affect proper range of motion include the Sternocleidomastoid, Upper Trapezius, Levator Scapulae, Subscapularis, Pectoralis Major and Minor and the Latissimus Dorsi. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

Motions
ROM
Tightness
Compensation
Flexion
  • Catch position (Snatch)
  • Jerk phase (Clean and Jerk)
90-180°
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Upper trapezius
  • Levator scapulae
  • Subscapularis
  • Pectoralis major/minor
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Hyperextension of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • Excessive motion in glenohumeral joint
External Rotation
  • Catch position (Snatch)
  • Jerk phase (Clean and Jerk)
90°

Elbow

The elbow will require approximately 130-150° of flexion primarily for the catch phase of the clean and jerk. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM during the execution of this portion of this lift include the Triceps Brachii and flexor muscles of the wrist and fingers. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

The elbow will require approximately 0 ° of extension during the snatch and the jerk phase of the clean and jerk. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM during the execution of this portion of this lift include the Biceps Complex, Latissimus Dorsi and Pectoralis Major/Minor. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

Motions
ROM
Tightness
Compensation
Flexion: Catch position (Clean & Jerk) 130-150° Triceps Brachii & Flexors of the wrist and fingers Excessive wrist extension Hyperextension of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine Excessive motion in glenohumeral joint
Extension
  • Catch position (Snatch)
  • Jerk phase (Clean and Jerk)
Biceps complex, Latissimus dorsi, Pectoralis major/minor Hyperextension of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine Inability to maintain weight overhead (“lock-out”)

Wrist

The wrist will require approximately 70 ° of extension during the catch phase of the clean and jerk. Tight muscles that may affect proper ROM during the execution of this portion of this lift include the flexors of the wrist and fingers. If proper range of motion is not attained (which is very common) it will cause a few things to occur:

Motions
ROM
Tightness
Compensation
Extension: Catch position (Clean & Jerk) 70° Flexors of the wrist and fingers
  • Increased elbow and shoulder flexion
  • Increased lumbar, thoracic and cervical extension

To complete the application of this section, the noted tight (Tightness) muscles should be addressed with proper forms flexibility training that can be done by following National Academy of Sports Medicine guidelines for flexibility. For more information, please refer to the PTontheNET.com articles “ A Simple Guide to Stretching ” by Lenny Parracino and “ Self Myofascial Release Techniques ” by Alan Russell.

Part 2b of this article will address the stabilization (strengthening) component.

References

  1. Clark, MA. Integrated training for the new millennium. Thousand Oaks, CA: National Academy of Sports Medicine; 2001.
  2. Clark, MA, Corn RJ. Optimum performance training™ for the fitness professional. Thousand Oaks, CA: National Academy of Sports Medicine; 2001.
  3. Neumann, DA. Kinesiology of the musculoskeletal system. Foundations for physical rehabilitation. St. Louis, MI: Mosby, Inc.; 2002.
  4. Baechle, TR, Earle RW. Essential of strength training and conditioning. 2 nd edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2000.
  5. Nordin, M & Frankle VH. Biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system. 3 rd edition. Philedelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2001.
  6. Clark, MA & Russell, AM. NASM guide to goniometric assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: National Academy of Sports Medicine; 2001.