Balance is critical in Olympic lifting.
Not balance as in being able to stabilize yourself on one leg, but balance as in being a well-rounded athlete who’s capable of being strong in a variety of positions. Because of the high demands Olympic lifts place on our body, lifters must possess an optimal blend of mobility, stability and motor control to safely complete advanced lifts such as the Snatch.
What we commonly see are lifters who are strong from the first and second pulls, but who are then unable to finish the lift because of mobility deficits in the receiving positions. It’s not enough to be strong with Olympic lifts—if you’re uncomfortable in the position where you’re receiving the load, you won’t be able to achieve the lift and reap the full benefits of the exercise.
Athletes with limited mobility cannot safely train through a full range of motion. Therefore, if they can’t train certain positions, they cannot be strong in said positions. They then become more likely to be injured when their bodies need to get into those positions during training, practice or competition.
This is where it becomes evident that without a balance of strength and mobility throughout the body, not only will our performance suffer, but we’ll be increasing our likelihood for suffering an injury, as well. When we place load on positions of dysfunction (such as in the bottom of a Squat for someone with limited hip/ankle mobility) we increase our risk for injury. On the other end of the spectrum, having the requisite mobility means nothing if we crumble under the weight of a loaded barbell.
Assessing for imbalances doesn’t require being an expert with a PhD in bio-mechanics. With a little knowledge, pinpointing some common imbalances can be accomplished by anyone who coaches or works with athletes.
For example, here’s a test we like to use for assessing “pushing vs pulling” strength in our athletes (originally seen used by our friends at ActiveLifeRx).
- Perform maximum repetitions of Pull-Ups with strict form.
- Take 35% of your body weight and do maximum repetitions of Single-Arm High Pulls with that weight with both your right and left hand.
- Take 35% of your body weight and do maximum repetitions of Single-Arm Strict Press overhead with both your left and right hand.
The amount of repetitions completed for each test should roughly be the same. For tests 2 and 3, the amount of repetitions completed on each side of the body should be roughly the same.
This test is just one of many that allows us to identify imbalances within our athletes. Differences between these numbers provide us insight into imbalances between not only pulling and pushing strength, but also right-sided vs left-sided strength.
For the athletes who are only using Olympic lifting as a supplementary training tool, we must remember that the Olympic lifts are merely another tool. Therefore we shouldn’t fall into the trap of becoming “sagittal-plane” dominant, which is where all Olympic lifts take place.
Balance between training different planes of motion is just as important as mobility and strength. Again, we want our athletes to possess a sense of movement variability; not too rigid so that they’re fighting their own bodies, but also not too hyper-mobile that their lifting patterns are loose and inconsistent in nature. Wet noodles tend to fare poorly when under heavy load.
Achieving and maintaining balance between these different aspects can be difficult but is often made easier when we begin to prioritize the athlete’s goals, sport and health. Imbalances may seem minuscule when only looking at the global and macro levels of strength and conditioning. However, it’s usually in the minor details where we often find the factors that will either lead to breakthroughs in high performance or result in devastating injuries, depending on whether or not they’re addressed appropriately.