Attempts completed during major international weightlifting competitions represent maximum or near-maximum performances by the most-skilled performers of the weightlifting movements (the snatch, the clean, and the jerk), and these performances are instructive for the idealization of effective weightlifting technique. The general technique of the weightlifting movements is well established [1
]. However, it is also apparent that weightlifting technique can differ based on athlete characteristics. For example, differences in the relative frequencies of barbell trajectory types among lifters in A versus B sessions during international competitions have been observed [4
]. Several authors have also reported differences in lifter and barbell kinematics and kinetics based on skill level [6
]. Other investigations of competitive performances provide evidence that weightlifting technique may also be influenced by other factors such as anthropometry, weight category, and sex [4
]. Such findings may provide some guidance to individualize teaching and coaching to best suit each athlete.
Technique differences may also be suggestive of a need for different training objectives or emphases to address deficiencies that may influence weightlifting success or sport performance. For example, some authors have suggested that the ability to execute a stretch-shortening cycle during the transition phase may be improved by increasing knee flexor concentric strength [6
] and knee extensor eccentric strength [9
]. Additionally, coaches may employ physical training to increase an athlete’s speed of moving under the barbell after completing the second pull [7
The best performers may use techniques that are considered suboptimal [9
]. However, it is unclear whether top performers with suboptimal technique achieve success because of or despite their technique. Furthermore, the observed technique differences in many of the aforementioned studies are confounded by differences in weightlifting ability (i.e., absolute load lifted), and the technique an individual exhibits is partly dependent on her or his absolute and relative strength. Thus, strength is likely to be a primary determinant of weightlifting success [14
These technique and strength differences notwithstanding, analyses of performances during major international competitions are infrequent [4
] or limited to select rankings or weight categories [9
]. Thus, existing technical models may not accurately reflect current technique of top performers or be generalizable to athletes of different skill, size, sex, or ability. Accurate technical models are important for coaches to devise frameworks for teaching and coaching the weightlifting movements. Technical and biomechanical analyses can also provide rationale for coaches to implement the weightlifting movements in training on the basis of specificity [18
] and transference of training [21
Cross-sectional analyses contribute to the cumulative scientific knowledge on weightlifting technique with the potential to inform coaching practices. Analysis of elite performances is important to elucidate the characteristics of effective weightlifting technique at the highest levels of achievement. Additionally, observed technique differences indicate the need for serial investigations encompassing multiple subgroups of performers. Therefore, the purpose of this descriptive study was to update the scientific knowledge of snatch technique of top international weightlifters by examining barbell trajectory and kinematics of successful snatch attempts by lifters at the 2015 World Weightlifting Championship (WWC) and 2017 Pan-American Weightlifting Championship (PAWC).
The purpose of this descriptive study was to update the scientific knowledge of snatch technique of top international weightlifters. This study involved (1) descriptive analysis of barbell trajectory and kinematics of the snatch lift for A session lifters at two major international competitions and (2) comparative analysis of barbell kinematics between top-three performers in the snatch lift from each meet.
The relative frequencies of both type 2 and 3 trajectories for women pooled from WWC and PAWC were similar to those observed for women at the 1993 and 1994 World and European Weightlifting Championships [4
]. Pooled data show that women at WWC and PAWC exhibited the type 1 trajectory less frequently than the women included in the report by Hiskia (13% vs. 22%) [4
]. Antoniuk et al. observed from 137 women competing at several World and European Weightlifting Championships that the type 2 trajectory was most common [25
]. A subsequent report by this group presented data from a total of 304 attempts by 140 women presumably from the same competitions reported in their first study that the type 1 trajectory was most common with the remainder sharing an equal distribution of type 2 and 3 trajectories [15
]. Both studies reported a greater prevalence of the type 3 trajectory among the +75 category [15
]. Pooled data for men at WWC and PAWC show similar relative frequency of the type 1 trajectory, lower relative frequency for the type 2 trajectory (~14%), and higher relative frequency for the type 3 trajectory (~9%) compared to men at the 1993 and 1994 World and European Weightlifting Championships [4
]. To the authors’ knowledge, the present study is the first to quantify the prevalence of the type 4 trajectory at any competitive level since Hiskia [4
] first reported this trajectory type in 1997; it is thus unknown how reclassification of data from prior studies to include the type 4 trajectory would affect comparison to the results of the present study.
The present results corroborate the findings of Akkuş [9
], who observed that female world champions at the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship exhibited a variety of trajectory types. Musser et al. [12
] found that no women snatch medalists at the 2009 Pan-American Weightlifting Championship exhibited the type 1 trajectory. However, the results of the present study demonstrate that top-three women at the Pan-American championship level can also likely exhibit a variety of trajectory types including the type 1 trajectory. The differences in relative frequencies of trajectory types between this study and previous reports [4
] are likely due to different athlete pools, and it is unclear whether the success of certain trajectory types are exclusive to or more likely to occur in particular weight categories. However, it is likely from these differences that the relative frequencies of trajectory types observed among women at different major international competitions do vary and that high placement is not exclusive to any existing trajectory type. Although, some trajectory types may potentially be more common among the top performers in some weight categories partly due to anthropometry [10
] or other factors.
Although Baumann et al. [6
] did not report counts or relative frequencies of barbell trajectory type, they did indicate that ‘nearly all’ men in a sample of A session lifters at the 1985 World Weightlifting Championship exhibited the type 2 trajectory, with the remainder presumably exhibiting the type 1 trajectory since the authors did not report any occurrences of the type 3 trajectory. Limited data from Garhammer [26
] do indicate the presence of the type 3 trajectory for the snatch and the clean among women and men world and Olympic champions during the 1980s. However, the type 3 trajectory does not appear to have been common among the top international lifters during that period [6
]. In fact, based on serial observations, Garhammer [26
] suggested that technique assessed by barbell trajectory had not changed from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s. Subsequently, Hiskia [4
] found the type 3 trajectory to be the most common among both women and men in the A sessions of the 1993 and 1994 World and European Weightlifting Championships. Data from Akkuş [9
] of all women snatch gold medalists and Harbili [11
] of women and men in the A session of their respective 69 kg categories at the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship indicate increased prevalence of the type 3 trajectory among top international weightlifters at that competition. Collectively, these data seem to indicate that the relative frequencies of barbell trajectory types likely vary between and within international competitions. The available evidence indicates a likely shift in technique based on barbell trajectory among international weightlifters since as early as the late-1980s. Inclusion of the type 4 trajectory in future analyses may also help to reveal any changes in the prevalence of the type 4 trajectory over time.
The observed differences in the prevalence of trajectory types among the top international weightlifters may reflect changes in coaching philosophy, teaching methods, and/or training methods to accommodate what have previously been considered ‘suboptimal’ technique (i.e., type 2 and 3 trajectories) [5
]. Furthermore, the differences observed between women in this study and women in previous investigations may partially be due to the selective pressure of elite competition. Given the longer history of men’s weightlifting, such selective pressure is less likely to be a current factor for men. Kinematic differences due to body size and anthropometry [4
] may also partly explain observed differences for both sexes due to periodic changes in weight categories. Serial investigations can help to delineate any apparent trends across extant and future analyses. Furthermore, continued study of the relative frequency of trajectory types over a range of competitive levels and subgroups among them can help to identify which trajectory type(s), if any, is most characteristic of a given group.
The observations in this and recent studies [9
] of high placing individuals at the World championship level who exhibit the type 3 trajectory is noteworthy. The type 1 trajectory was initially considered to be most favorable [5
]. Some authors have more recently suggested the type 2 trajectory to be advantageous [17
]. However, the type 3 trajectory is generally regarded to be non-beneficial and potentially detrimental [5
] based on several biomechanical and theoretical bases. Garhammer and Taylor [28
] found that anterior barbell displacement at lift-off, such as occurs with the type 3 trajectory, results in a forward shift of the lifter’s center of pressure, or balance point. Such barbell displacement also increases moment arm length between the barbell center of mass and joint centers, thereby increasing joint moments and muscular forces required to lift the barbell [6
]. Furthermore, anterior displacement during the first pull can increase mechanical work and decrease lift efficiency [29
]. Thus, the prevalence of the type 3 trajectory among the top-three finishers—especially among the men’s 105 and +105 categories, who lifted the heaviest loads—at both WWC and PAWC emphasize the importance of high levels of absolute strength, possibly to overcome apparent technical deficiencies [17
]. Greater lower limb length may also partly explain the increased prevalence of the type 3 trajectory among heavier categories [12
], and anthropometric variables may partly explain differences in the prevalence of trajectory types more generally [12
]. Nonetheless, numerous observations of the gamut of trajectory types among A session and top-three international weightlifters somewhat challenges the notion that barbell trajectory type is a useful criterion of effective weightlifting technique at this level.
Few statistical effects were observed in this study. The observed main effect of competition for Ymax
among the top-three women in this study could be due to differences in stature [2
], skill [7
], or load lifted [32
]. However, the lack of accompanying statistical or clear effect size differences for Ydrop
, which has also been suggested to depend on skill [7
], and observations of weightlifters who lifted heavier loads to greater absolute and relative vertical displacements compared to lower caliber athletes in the same weight category [8
] suggest stature to be a more likely explanation of Ymax
differences observed in this study. Top-three men at WWC, who lifted the heaviest loads of any group in this study, exhibited greater X2
and less Xnet
than top-three men at PAWC. It is unlikely that greater X2
itself is beneficial for performance, as greater X2
would increase the overall work and energy required to complete the lift [6
] and may increase instability during the catch [6
]. These effects could be compounded by a potential subsequent increase in Xloop
, which is likely to be less during successful attempts [17
]. Greater X2
among individuals of greater weightlifting ability may be consequent to the larger forces and accelerations associated with lifting heavier loads [3
]. As such, it is not recommended that individuals attempt to deliberately increase X2
such as by ‘hipping’ or swinging the bar away during the second pull [17
]. The reduced Xloop
among the top-three men at WWC likely indicate that they jumped backward less than top-three men at PAWC. These results support the findings of Stone et al. that, while net rearward displacement is generally not detrimental or disadvantageous, smaller relative Xloop
are likely associated with greater weightlifting success and ability [17
]. Several authors have suggested that the direction of force application is important especially during the second pull [17
]. The observations of reduced Xloop
among stronger weightlifters possibly reflect these individuals’ ability to produce greater vertical force and acceleration [3
]. Stronger individuals are also more likely to produce faster rates of force development [40
], which may improve their ability to counteract greater X2
through a more immediate reversal of anterior horizontal barbell acceleration during the second pull and turnover phase thereby reducing Xloop
]. One plausible explanation incorporating these results is that greater strength may improve energy flow, force application, and vertical acceleration to favorably influence horizontal barbell kinematics that affect weightlifting performance and ability.
The lifters in this study generally lifted heavier loads compared to lifters in the same or similar weight categories in previous studies [6
] while exhibiting no clear differences in technique, suggesting that other factors may help to explain differences in weightlifting ability. Studies that have identified kinematic and kinetic differences based on skill or sex have consistently identified factors that partly depend on strength [8
]. For example, greater strength improves the ability to perform stretch-shortening cycle tasks [41
], such as occurs during the transition phase of the weightlifting pull. Several studies have also made direct comparisons between different groups of weightlifters (e.g., women vs. men [44
], adolescent vs. adult [36
], district vs. national/international [14
]) and found overall similarity in kinematic and kinetic structure. However, when considering differences in weightlifting ability, there are notable differences in kinetic variables such as maximum ground reaction force [3
], rate of force development [14
], and absolute and relative joint and whole body power [30
], which are all dependent on maximum strength. Indeed, while direct causal evidence is sparse, there exists strong relationships between measures of maximum strength and weightlifting ability among weightlifters of a variety of competitive levels. For example, Lucero et al. reported Pearson’s r = 0.91 to 0.94 for the relationships between self-reported back and front squat one-repetition maximums (1RMs) and snatch and clean 1RMs among male competitive weightlifters in the United States [50
]. Stone et al. reported Pearson’s r = 0.79 to 0.95 for the relationships between back squat 1RM and snatch and clean 1RMs and Pearson’s r = 0.83 to 0.84 for the relationships between isometric mid-thigh pull peak force and snatch and clean 1RMs in national and international level junior and senior weightlifters from the United States [51
]. Joffe and Tallant similarly observed Pearson’s r = 0.83 for the relationship between isometric mid-thigh pull peak force and the snatch among British international women weightlifters [52
]. Collectively, these data provide some evidence toward the notion that strength is an important determinant of weightlifting ability.
The observed variety of barbell trajectory types and overall lack of pattern among individual or clusters of kinematic variables in this study suggest no standard ‘technique profile’ is requisite for high achievement in weightlifting. In fact, several investigations have had limited success differentiating kinematic profiles of successful versus unsuccessful weightlifting attempts [37
]. However, such findings should not be interpreted to suggest that technique is not an important determinant of weightlifting success at any level. Rather, these findings more likely reflect the fact that the weightlifting movements are influenced by multiple degrees of freedom [17
], and the varied results of this study may reflect individualized solutions to the degrees of freedom problem in weightlifting. The results of this study thus suggest the possibility of a variety of effective individualized technique profiles for weightlifting performance and ability.
It is purported that individual weightlifting technique stabilizes after only a few months of training [1
]. However, the amount of intra-individual variation of lifter or barbell kinematics and kinetics during maximal attempts under competition conditions is not well defined. The results presented in two studies by Antoniuk et al., which analyzed different sets of snatch attempts from the same pool of athletes and competitions, substantiate that an individual can exhibit different barbell trajectories between attempts [15
]. Five athletes in the present study competed in both WWC and PAWC. Incidentally, each athlete exhibited the same barbell trajectory for their respective lifts analyzed in this study. Nonetheless, the reliability of individual technique profiles remains unclear. These uncertainties notwithstanding, individual technique profiles consisting of any or some technical or biomechanical parameters may potentially be useful for evaluating, monitoring, or predicting weightlifting performance and ability.
There are a variety of laboratory- and field-based technologies available to conduct weightlifting technique analysis, and both researchers and coaches should explore the development of individual technique profiles. The methods of this study provide support for the implementation of video analysis for determining barbell kinematics and developing technique profiles. The total time to analyze a single video file including calibration during this study was less than two minutes. Use of Kinovea’s native graphics and analysis functions could reduce this time to 15 to 30 s.
Additionally, Carson et al. reported a case study that demonstrates the use of long-term monitoring of lifter kinematics during an intervention intended to change weightlifting technique [57
]. This case study and the anecdotal experiences of athletes and coaches highlight the complexity and difficulty of instilling changes to technique that are robust enough to persist during attempts at high relative intensities [57
]. Thus, the relatively short latency of weightlifting technique stabilization and the associated challenges of technique correction underscore the importance of establishing sound technique during the earliest stages of a weightlifter’s career and highlight the practical importance of strength development in the long-term improvement of weightlifting performance.
Instructional and coaching methods should generally be guided by principles and tenets from the fields of biomechanics, motor learning, and physiology. While the available evidence has not identified universal optimal technique, which is unlikely to exist, there are general guidelines for basic weightlifting technique apparent from the extensive body of scientific literature [2
]. However, coaches should consider and make appropriate accommodations for individual differences that may manifest nuances or peculiarities in technique.