Skill, strength and balance are at the heart of weightlifting success, but it could well be flexibility that separates the champions from the contenders.
Stretching ahead of training and competition might be the most boring part of the day for many athletes, but it helps make the enjoyable bits possible.
A high level of flexibility means improved mobility, which is an important attribute in each part of a successful lift. Flexibility ensures that different parts of the body are working together for optimum performance. Good standards of flexibility should mean better lifts, and also make injuries less likely, with the body more able to cope with the stresses and strains of weightlifting – the most physically demanding of sports.
WHAT IS FLEXIBILITY?
When we speak of flexibility we refer to muscles and tendons, joint capsule efficiency and neural control of muscles. All should be warm and supple before we exert the kind of pressure on our body that comes with Olympic weightlifting.
A flexible body is one that can reach, turn, twist and generally move easily. If levels of flexibility are good we should not be constrained in minor movements such as touching our toes or twisting swiftly through a gate. However, champions need to achieve above and beyond this if they are to lift 160kg above their shoulders!
Many of us spend our days hunched in front of a computer in the office or behind the wheel of a car, which can lead to poor posture and rigidity. If this is you, attempts should be made to counter this with extensive static and dynamic stretching.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF POOR FLEXIBILITY?
Warming up means we avoid stretching cold muscles. Fibres that have not warmed up do not stretch as easily and attempting to lift heavy weights in this condition could very easily result in muscle and connective tissue injuries.
The reason it is difficult to stretch a cold muscle is due to a lack of oxygen. By warming up, we can increase heart rate, which delivers enough blood and oxygen to the muscles to ensure they are ready for lifting weights.
Having tight muscles can inhibit proper form and limit fitness, which means we are less likely to be able to lift those bigger weights successfully.
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY?
Research in recent years has suggested that dynamic stretching is more beneficial than static. Sets of squats, lunges, side lunges and jumping jacks should bring on a light sweat before you even touch a barbell.
When starting to work with lighter weights we can improve flexibility with full ranges of motion when learning new techniques. Going to full-depth on squats, for example, helps to build hip flexibility.
Flexibility can also be improved by methods normally associated with relaxation. Walking and light yoga are good for relieving stress of the mind and body. Massages add an extra advantage of helping to break up the knots in muscles and tissues that restrict optimum movement of the body. For the greatest benefit, the masseur should focus on the main muscles like the lats, calves, quads, iliotibial (IT) bands, and upper back.
As the clean and jerk and snatch use muscles from head to toe, flexibility in all parts of the body is vital if an athlete is to achieve the optimum lift.