An All Too Common Problem
The premature bending of the elbows prior to the hip and knee extension of the pull has been a technique problem as long as I’ve been involved in the sport.
It was very common for athletes new to lifting would involve the use of the arms before the point at which they would provide maximum benefit. In sound technique the muscles must be used at the time and in the order where they would do the most to impart speed to the barbell. For the relatively small muscles of the arms this point takes place after the larger muscles of the thighs and hips have generated the majority of speed for the pull.
Why Is It A Problem?
There are two issues that are presented by premature arm bend.
· A premature arm bend is inevitably accompanied by a partial contraction of the trapezius. This inhibits a full contraction of the trapezius which is important later in the pull to add speed to the bar.
· The arms link the lifter’s body to the bar and as such transfer the forces generated by the hips and legs to the bar. An arm bend can absorb some of those forces and thus cause a damping effect.
The Common Myth Regarding a Solution
The first coaching cue to deal with the problem came from well-known New York City coach, Morris Weissbrot. Somewhere around 1966 Morris’ cue of “keep your arms loose like ropes” was published in Strength & Health magazine. I even heard some coaches at competitions cue their lifters by directing “ropes” before liftoff.
What actually takes place is that this cue causes athletes to neurologically detach from their arms. In that situation, athletes who are used to solving problems by bending their arms will reflexively bend the arms. They are not actively firing to the arms and hence reflexes take over.
For those who are new to the sport, both athletes and coaches, the end goal of mastering technique is to be aware of what every muscle involved is doing during the course of the lift. The highly trained weightlifter is a wonderful combination of muscle awareness and muscle stimulation or not. Most athletes must learn each neuromotor pattern separately until all of them are learned and executed in the proper sequence with the proper timing. .
With this concept in mind, the action of the arms during the pre-hip/knee extension is to remain rigid. The triceps must be stimulated enough to keep them from bending during the pull. Furthermore the pecs are activated to keep the elbows rotated to the sides, and the lats will fire to keep the shoulders ahead of the bar.
I don’t think that many beginners coming into the sport realize the mastery they will have to develop over their nervous systems. Perhaps it’s best that they don’t as it can be a daunting task for all but the most athletically gifted. This concept, however, should be understood by coaches as this mastery is a goal for which they need to strive.