Weightlifting Sport Science

Comparison of Warm Up Protocols of High Class Male and Female Weightlifters

Comparison of Warm Up Protocols of High Class Male and Female Weightlifters

Andrew Charniga, Jr.

Sportivny Press©

2010

 

“The warm up should not be fatiguing. On the contrary, it should invigorate the sportsman to perform the exercises” (A.N. Vorbeyev, 1988).

CAO-Lei-in-warmup-room

Olympic and World Champion CAO Lei (CHN) rests between warm up lifts at 2009 World Championships. Charniga photo

Over the years a number of papers have been devoted to the weightlifter’s warm up for competition. Some of this information is more than 50 years old. However, in the interim there have been a number of changes to the technical rules of weightlifting competitions.

For instance, there are now two competition exercises instead of three, two minutes instead of three to prepare if an athlete follows himself/herself for the next attempt on the platform, and one minute instead of two minutes to begin lifting the barbell on the platform after the athlete has been called.

However, without question, the most dramatic change to the weightlifting program over past 50 years has been the inclusion of women weightlifters. The question as to whether there are, or for that matter need be, different warm up protocols for women weightlifters has not received any attention.

Data collected at the 2008 Olympics provided the impetus to look into this question. The specific warm up loading of the four Chinese female gold medalists in Beijing represented a substantial departure for what is widely considered to be a reasonable competition warm up protocol for any sport!

The Weightlifter’s Warm Up for Competition

Most any formal definition of a warm up for athletic competition would go something like this: “to briefly exercise in preparation.” The key element of this broad definition is the brevity of exercise. This is probably the most widely accepted, reasonable definition of an athlete’s warm up. The idea is to prepare physically and psychologically to perform the upcoming work in the competition without becoming fatigued, i.e., to create an optimum state of readiness to perform in competition.

A.N. Vorobeyev, Olympic and world weightlifting champion, MD, and a preeminent weightlifting sport scientist defined the purpose of the warm up simply: “It should invigorate the sportsman to perform the exercises.”

The Soviet era Weightlifting Textbook (A.N. Vorbeyev, 1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.) outlined the parameters of the weightlifter’s competition warm up:

“The special warm up begins 15 to 20 minutes before being called to the competition platform. The exercises with the barbell are the final preparation of the body for the performance. Without rushing, sportsman should do 4 to 5 sets of lifts with rest intervals of 3 to 4 minutes between them. The first warm up sets are with 60 to 70% of the limit (taking into account the individual peculiarities of the athlete and the weight class). Five to ten kilos are added to the barbell with each succeeding attempt. Three lifts are done with the first two sets and the rest with 1 to 2 lifts.”

Vorobeyev goes on to recommend that the final warm up weight should be 10 to 15 kilos below the athlete’s first attempt in competition.

The basic parameters recommended by Khairullin (1993, 2002) are presented in the references section. However, the quantities of lifts and sets include partial lifts and good mornings to warm up the muscle groups individually. This procedure is inconsistent with our observations at the world championships and Olympic Games and is difficult to quantify for analysis.

Furthermore, regardless of the training system one employs, Russian, Bulgarian, Chinese, or various permutations thereof, the following fact is central to success in weightlifting competitions:

The fundamental parameters of lifts with 90% and above weights in the snatch and the clean and jerk are different than lifts with 80%, 70%, or less. Consequently, all other factors being equal, in theory, the more lifts a weightlifter is able to execute in the competition exercises with 90% and above weights, the better prepared the lifter is to be successful with near maximum and maximum weights.

Spasov and Tsarvulkov (1983) observed that 12 attempts on the competition platform required approximately 18 minutes. This rule of thumb is connected with the technical rules of 1979 where an athlete had two minutes from the time his name was called to begin the exercise and three minutes if he followed himself to the platform. The current rule stipulates one minute and two minutes respectively, which obviously makes this indicator invalid. In some cases, 12 platform attempts conceivably could require only 12 to 15 minutes.

According to Vorobeyev’s recommendations, the weightlifter should begin with about 60% of the anticipated maximum result which is approximately 12 to 13 attempts before being called to the platform; this is in accordance with the technical rules of the late 1980s.

A good practical example of the aforementioned warm up parameters was given in R.A. Roman’s book The Training of the Weightlifter some twenty years earlier (1968).

According to Robert Roman, (at that time the USSR national coach) Vladimir Belayev (USSR, 82.5 kg class) performed the following warm ups and competition attempts at the 1966 World weightlifting championships in East Berlin:

Snatch

90/2, 100/2, 110/2, 125/1 x 2: 1st attempt 135, (125/1) 2nd 145, 3rd 147.5 (a new world record).

There were a total of five preliminary warm up sets (the other lift with 125 kg was done because of the long wait between 1st and 2nd attempts) and a total of eight preliminary lifts. The first warm up weight was 61% of the competition maximum (147.5); the final warm up was 10 kg below the opening weight of 135 kg or approximately 93% of this weight.

It should be noted that this is occurred about 50 years ago; the lifter is a male and the athlete completed the press competition before proceeding to the snatch.

In the revised version of the same book, The Training of the Weightlifter (1974) Roman offered this warm up for the snatch:

50/3 x2, 70/2 x2, 90/1, 105/1, 115/1 x 2.

This sequence was to be followed by two snatch pulls with 127.5 kg which was to be the 1st attempt on the platform. The rationale to performing two pulls with the 1st attempt weight was to tune the athlete’s nervous system to reach the maximum height of lifting prior to the first attempt. Soviet research showed that two or three lifts with the same weight are necessary to enable a lifter to raise a given weight to the maximum height. Therefore, if the athlete stopped at 115 kg, in theory he may not be as well prepared to raise 127.5 kg high enough on the first attempt to complete the exercise. Please note that  this method to include pulls in the final approach is no longer employed at the international level.

Roman offered these warm up variations for the clean and jerk:

1st variant with Belayev USSR: 100/2+1, 130/2, 150/2, 160/1, 170/1: competition attempts with 185, 185, 190

2nd variant with Kurentsov USSR: 100/2+1, 120/1+2, 130/1, 140/1, 155/1: competition attempts with 167.5 (or 170), 175, 177.5.

3rd  variant with Kurentsov USSR: 130/2, 140/1, 155/1: competition attempts with 167.5, 175 and 177.5 kg.

In all three variants there were 3 to 5 sets, 4 to 9 total lifts.

Seven years after the publication of Roman’s book, Spasov and Tsarvulkov (1983) analyzed the warm up loading of the champions of the 1965, 1979, and 1982 World championships. They determined that the mean number of warm up sets and lifts increased and the rest period between sets decreased from 1965 to 1982. This was due, they believed, to the rise in absolute weights lifted in all weight classes which required more time and lifts to achieve the desired result.

Model warm up variants were established earlier by Spasov and Tsarvulkov (1979) based on analysis of top lifters at the world championships. This data appears in the table along with converted data from Roman’s recommendations.

Table 1. Comparison of Roman’s recommendations (1974) for snatch warm ups with Spasov and Tsarvulkov’s (1979) and some data from 2009 World Weightlifting Championships.

Athlete/wt.cl exercise #≥60-≤79% #≥80-≤89% #≥90% Total
Belayev/82.5 snatch 6 2 0 8
Roman/text snatch 2 2 2* 6*
Spasov/Ts./82.5 snatch 2 2 1 5
Lu Yong/2009 snatch 4 2 1 7

{≥60% and others designate the percentage of the maximum results achieved in competition on that day for data presented in all tables}

•        Two pulls, not snatches.

A comparison between Roman’s recommendations with the theoretical optimum of Spasov and the actual warm ups of 2008 Olympic and 2009 world champion Lu Yong (CHN), i.e., data from 30 to 50 years apart, show that the procedures are very similar. In all four cases there were only two lifts with weights in the ≥80 to ≤89% zone of intensity, 0 to 2 with #≥90% and an average of 7 total lifts from ≥60%.

Table 2. Comparison of Roman’s models (1974) for C & J warm ups with Spasov and Tsarvulkov’s (1979) and data from 2009 World Weightlifting Championships.

Athlete/wt.cl exercise #≥60-≤79% #≥80-≤89% #≥90% Total
Belayev/82.5 C & J 4 1 1 6
Roman variant 2 C & J 3 1 0 4
Kurentsov/75 C  & J 5 1 0 6
Spasov/Ts./82.5 C & J 2 1 1 4
Lu Yong/85 C & J 4 0 1 5

Similar to the snatch data presented in table 1, the warm up loading of the clean and jerk in table 2 over the 50 year interval is almost identical: an exact mean of 5 lifts (range 4-6) with ≥60; 0 – 1 with both #≥80-≤89 and ≥90%.  So, the textbook  recommended warm up loading for the male weightlifter, the theoretical and the practical, have remained relatively constant for almost 50 years.

Table 3. Comparison between warm ups of 1965 European Championships and 1979 World Weightlifting Championships {Alexander Tsarvulkov, Angel Spasov, Scientific Methodical Bulletin, 03:17-20:1980, International Weightlifting Federation}

Indicies Snatch 1965 C & J 1965 Snatch 1979 C & J 1979
# Sets (avg) 6.69 5.39 9.10 8.57
#lifts total 10.91 7.07 14.72 11.07
Rep/set 2.28 1.71 3 3
Time to 1st 2.11 2.11 3.03 3.25
Average rest/min. 2.24 2.36 2.20 2.32

The data presented in table 3, collected by Spasov and Tsarulkov, contrasts the mean warm up indices between 1965 and 1979. It is obvious that the lifters of 1979 performed more warm up lifts and more lifts with approximately the same rest period between warm up sets. This circumstance the authors attributed to the higher overall results of 1979 and the greater fitness of the athletes of this time because the training loading had increased substantially over that 14 year period.

However, the authors did not take into account the fact that there were three lifts in 1965. The possibility of the warm up loading for the  first exercise (the press) would reduce the overall warm up required for the snatch, which in turn would affect the third (C&J) was, apparently, not taken into account.

63 kg in blanket 3

COA LEI wih hood 1COA LEI wih hood 1CAO Lei with blanket

2008 Olympic champion CAO Lei (CHN) rests between warm up lifts at the Beijing Olympics. Charniga photo

COA LEI wih hood 1

Also, it should be noted that the aforementioned Bulgarian data counted weights less than 60% of maximum in the total, whereas we have counted only warm up lifts with ≥60% in tabulating the total number of lifts executed in warm ups.

Table 4. Mean number of warm up lifts in each intensity zone of female and male weightlifters at 2009 world weightlifting championships.

Snatch/wt.cl. athletes ≥60-79%  ≥80-89% ≥90% TotalLifts
48 – 63 kg 10 7.5 5.4 4.5 17.4
69 – +75 kg 11 5.4 3.1 2.8 11.3
C & J          
48 – 63 kg 10 4.0 3.1 1.3 8.4
69 – +75 kg 11 4.6 2.2 1.4 8.2
Males/Snatch          
56 – 77 kg 9 5.4 2.6 1.3 9.3
85 – +105 kg 16 4.1 2.7 1.4 8.2
C & J          
56 – 77 kg 9 3.2 1.6 1.8 6.6
85 – +105 kg 13 2.2 1.5 .92 4.6

The data in table 4 shows clearly that the mean number of lifts, tabulating from the ≥60% zone to the first attempt in competition for both exercises and both genders, exceed the theoretical optimum of Spasov and Tsarulkov established in 1979 and the model protocols of Roman established in 1968.

GUO Xiyan (CHN 63 kg) rests between warm up lifts  and CHEN Xiao Ting (CHN 53) resting in warm up room between competition attempts at the 2009 World championships.  Charniga photos

For instance, the optimum number of lifts recommended by Spasov and Tsarulkov in the weight class range of 52 to 75 kg for the snatch was 6 to 8. The corresponding mean figure for the males in 2009 was 9.3 and between 11.3 to 17.4 for females (all females investigated).

This was essentially the same situation for the clean and jerk. The mean number of lifts recommended by the Bulgarians was 5.8 for the weight classes 52 to 75, whereas in 2009 the mean for 56 to 77 kg was found to be 6.6 for males and 8.3 for females (table 3).

The data collected shows today’s athletes are doing a few more warm ups in the higher intensity range and in less time. This is due in part by the fact that the ‘A’ sessions of World Championships and Olympic Games are restricted to 8 to 12 lifters. With the shorter times for the athlete to begin a lift (one minute) and if necessary follow him/herself to the platform, two minutes today, versus three minutes in 1979, the overall duration of a competition between the top 10 to 12 lifters is shorter, i.e., more intense in the current era.

Today’s lifters do more work in less time than those of 1965 and even the lifters of 1979. This indicates today’s athletes possess a high specific work capacity, but it is also an indication the loading (both training and competition) has continued to evolve following the end of the three lift era.

The three lift era of 1965 was not a purely speed strength era as is the two lift era of today. Athletes and coaches believed more recovery time was required (table A). For instance, even as late as 1988 in his weightlifting textbook Vorobeyev recommended warm up sets be spaced 3 to 4 minutes apart, i.e., to prevent fatigue.

However, today some females sequence warm up sets in less than half this time.

World Weightlifting Champion and world record holder Wang Mingjuan (CHN) wrapped in blanket between warm up lifts at 2009 World Weightlifting Championships; World champion Podobedova rests between warm ups at 2009 World Championships. Charniga photos

Gender Differences in the Weightlifter’s Warm Up

A closer look at the warm up lifts of today’s high class female lifters revealed that there is not a big difference between male and female (excluding the Chinese women) warm up protocols.

From the data presented in tables 4 to 6 it is obvious that today there are essentially two warm up protocols for today’s high class weightlifter: the traditional (both genders) and the Chinese warm up (females only).

For instance, in table 4 the mean number of snatch lifts from ≥60% to the first platform attempt is 17.4 for females in the lighter weight classes (48 to 63 kg) and only 9.3 for males (56 to 77 kg). This would appear to indicate that females require significantly more warm up loading than males. However, the data in table 5 reveals that the actual difference between today’s female lifters, exclusive of the Chinese, and the males (inclusive of Chinese men) is for the most part insignificant, i.e., 10.0 vs. 9.3.

The data for the clean and jerk is similar. The mean number of lifts for the females (collectively) in the lighter weight classes (table 3) was 8.4 versus 6.6 for the men (56 to 77 kg). But, when the loading of the Chinese females is excluded, the picture is radically different: 4.7 lifts for non-Chinese women from ≥60% versus 6.6 lifts for males and 5.0 for the heavier women versus 4.6 for the heavier men.

Table 5. Mean number of  warm up lifts in each intensity zone of female weightlifters at 2009 world weightlifting championships, excluding Chinese female lifters:

Snatch/wt.cl. athletes ≥60-79% ≥80-89% ≥90% Total Lifts
48 – 63 kg 6 4.7 3.0 2.3 10.0
69 – +75 kg 7 3.3 2.1 1.1 6.5
C & J          
48 – 63 kg 7 2.0 1.4 1.3 4.7
69 – +75 kg 8 2.9 1.5 .63 5.0

Table 6. Mean number of warm up lifts in each intensity zone of Chinese female lifters weightlifters at 2009 World Weightlifting Championships and 2008 Olympics:

Snatch/wt.cl. athletes ≥60-79% ≥80-89% ≥90% Total Lifts
48 – 63 kg 6 11.2 7.7 8.0 26.9
69 – +75 kg 4 11.0 6.0 5.5 22.5
C & J          
48 – 63 kg 6 5.3 7.0 6.7 19.0
69 – +75 kg 4 4.8 4.3 2.3 11.4

Table 7. Comparison of mean number of warm up lifts in each intensity zone of female and male weightlifters at 2009 World Weightlifting Championships, excluding data of Chinese female lifters:

Snatch/wt.cl. athletes ≥60-79% ≥80-89% ≥90% Total Lifts
48 – 63 kg 6 4.7 3.0 2.3 10.0
56 – 77kg 9 5.4 2.6 1.3 9.3
69 – +75 kg 7 3.3 2.1 1.1 6.5
85 – +105 kg 16 4.1 2.7 1.4 8.2
C & J          
48 – 63 kg 7 2.0 1.4 1.3 4.7
56 – 77 kg 9 3.2 1.6 1.8 6.6
69 – +75 kg 8 2.9 1.5 .63 5.0
85 – +105 kg 13 2.2 1.5 .92 4.6

The Chinese Warm Up

A comparison of the data in tables 6 and 7 reveals there is huge qualitative and quantitative disparity between the Chinese warm up and the rest of the world, regardless of gender. It may be easier to envision this disparity by placing the actual loading of the four categories of warm up discussed side by side: Chinese female, 2009 world champion female, 2009 world champion male, and the theoretical optimum of Spasov and Tsarvulkov.

Table 8. Comparison of snatch warm up loading and competition attempts between two females and one male: CAO Lei (75 kg CHN 2008 Olympics) Svetlana Podobedova (75 kg KAZ) and LU Xiaojun (77 kg CHN) both at 2009 World Championships compared with theoretical optimum (T.O.) of Spasov and Tsarulkov (1979):

  CAO Lei   Podobedova   LU Xiaojun   T.O.
Set Weight % Weight % Weight %  
1st 15            
2nd 15            
3rd 35/2            
4th 35/2            
5th 45/2 35%          
6th 45/2 35%          
7th 65/1 51%          
8th 75/2 60%          
9th 75/2 60%     20    
10th 85/2 66%     20    
11th 85/2 66% 15   20    
12th 95/2 74% 15   60/3    
13th 95/2 74% 45/2 34% 60/2    
14th 100/2 78% 65/2 49% 60/1    
15th 105/2 82% 80/1 61% 90/2    
16th 110/2 86% 90/1 68% 110/2 63% 34%/3
17th 110/2 86% 90/1 68% 110/2 63% 47%/3
18th 115/1 90% 100/1 80% 120/2 69% 61%/2
19th 115/1 90% 110/1 83% 130/2 75% 74%/1
20th 120/1 94% 115/1 87% 140/2 80% 81%/1
21st 120/1 94% 120/1 91% 150/1 86% 88%/1
22nd 120/1 94% 115/1 87% 160/1 92% 95%/1
1st 120   125   165    
2nd 125   130   170    
3rd 128 100% 132 100% 174 100%  

The warm up of CAO Lei presented in table 8 is more than twice the volume of 2009 female world champion Podobedova’s with five times more lifts in the ≥90% zone of intensity. CAO’s warm up is almost three times volume of the theoretical optimum with five times more lifts in the  ≥90% zone and likewise has five times more  ≥90% lifts than 2009 male world champion LU.

LIU Chunhong (CHN 69 kg) rests between warm up lifts at 2009 Wrold championships. Charniga photo

Table 9. Comparison of clean and jerk warm up loading and competition attempts between two females and one male: CAO Lei (75 kg CHN 2008 Olympics) Svetlana Podobedova (75 kg KAZ) and LU Xiaojun (77 kg CHN) both at 2009 World Championships; compared with theoretical optimum (T.O.) of Spasov and Tsarulkov (1979):

  CAO Lei   Podobedova, Svetlana   LU Xi   T.O.
Set Weight % Weight % Weight %  
1st 15            
2nd 15            
3rd 45/2+2*            
4th 45/1+2            
5th 65/1+2            
6th 65/1+2            
7th 85/1+2            
8th 85/1+1       60/2+2    
9th 105/1+1 68%     60/1+1    
10th 105/1+1 68% 15   60/1+1    
11th 115/1+1 75% 55/2+2   100/1+1   28/3
12th 115/1+1 75% 75/1+2   100/1+1   39/3
13th 125/1+1 81% 95/1+1 59% 130/1+1   50/2
14th 125/1+1 81% 95/1+1 59% 130/1+1   62/1
15th 135/1+1 88% 115/1+1 72% 150/1+1   73/1
16th 140/1+1 91% 130/1+1 81% 170/1+1   84/1
17th 145/1+1 91% 130/1+1 81% 180/1+1   90/1
18th 145/1+1 94% 140/1+1 87.5% 190/1+1   95/1
1st 147   150   200    
2nd 154 100% 155   204 100%  
3rd 159**   160 100% 211**    

* 2+ 2 signifys two cleans and two jerks

** signifys the attempt in competition failed

The data in table 9 of the clean and jerk is similar to that of table 8. CAO’s warm up volume and intensity are significantly larger than the other two athletes and the theoretical optimum.

The warm up data presented in table 8 and 9 of the loading of two females and one male (all world champions) compared with a theoretical optimum determined in 1979 for male lifters of that era illustrates three peculiarities of the modern warm up.

First, today’s athletes of both genders do more lifts with higher intensity weights, in less time, than the male lifters of thirty to fifty years ago.

Second, the warm up protocols of today’s female lifters (excluding the Chinese) are very similar to those of today’s male weightlifters.

Third, the warm up protocol of the Chinese women is substantially larger of any male or female, of any era, especially the number of lifts in the higher intensity zones.

For instance, the Chinese women lifters in the 48 to 63 kg classes performed 15.7 lifts of ≥80% range versus 5.3 for the other high class females of the same weight classes and only 3.9 for high class males of 56 to 77 kg classes (tables 6,7), i.e., 3 to 4 times the intensity of “normal” high class lifters of both genders.

The data in table 9 vividly illustrates another peculiarity of the Chinese warm up. All athletes reduce the absolute number of warm up lifts, especially in the ≥80% range for the clean and jerk exercise, but less so for the Chinese females.

The obvious reason for limiting the number of clean and jerk warm ups is that with generally fewer lifters in a session competing with less time to perform the exercises, there is a relatively shorter break between the snatch and clean and jerk exercises; i.e., the athlete’s muscles are still warm from the snatch competition.

However, the Chinese lifter CAO Lei not only did a significantly larger number of high intensity lifts 10 versus 6 and 4 (table 9) for the other female and male respectively, but a total of 18 sets of clean and jerk warm ups versus 9 and 11 for the other female and male respectively.

CAO performed this relatively large volume and intensity despite the relatively short break between exercises and the small number of lifters in the session, i.e., the shorter, overall duration of the competition. She began the warm up for the clean and jerk, from the very beginning with 15 kg, even though it was preceded by a huge warm up and the actual competition in the snatch.

The warm up of the Chinese female weightlifter may be the largest in volume and intensity in all of sport

Another comparison of warm up protocols between two females and the theoretical optimum is of interest. The data in table 10 of the gold medalist LI (CHN) and the silver medalist Novikava (BLR), both 58 kg class lifters and the theoretical optimum established for 56 kg males in 1979, is an example of this.

The bodyweights of the female athletes and theoretical optimum are very close. The Belarus female performed a higher volume and intensity warm up than theoretical optimum established for a male of 1979.

However, LI’s warm up of 29 sets was the largest of all athletes investigated. She performed each set approximately 1.5 minutes apart, i.e., half the optimum rest period recommended by Vorobeyev in 1988.

Table 10. Snatch warm up weights of 2009 Chinese National Games and World Champion Li Xueying (CHN) and silver medalist Anastasia Novikava (BLR), both 58 kg, at 2009 World Weightlifting Championships and theoretical optimum for 56 kg male.

  Li Xueying   Anastasia Novikava   T.O.
Set weight % weight % (56 kg %)
1st 15        
2nd 35/4        
3rd 35/3+2*        
4th 35/4+1        
5th 35/3        
6th 45/3        
7th 45/3        
8th 45/3        
9th 55/2        
10th 55/2        
11th 55/2        
12th 55/2        
13th 65/2 61%      
14th 65/2 61%      
15th 75/2 70%      
16th 80/2 75%      
17th 85/2 80% 15    
18th 85/2 80% 15    
19th 85/2 80% 45/2    
20th 90/2 84% 45/2    
21st 90/2 84% 65/2 65%  
22nd 95/1 89% 65/2 65%  
23rd 95/1 89% 65/2 65% 45%/3
24th 95/1 89% 75/2 75% 54%/3
25th 95/1 89% 80/1 80% 64%/3
26th 98/1 91% 85/1 85% 72%/3
27th 98/1 91% 85/1 85% 82%/3
28th 100/1 93% 80/1 80% 91%/1
29th 100/1 93% 90/1 90% 96%/1
1st 100   95    
2nd 105   100 100%  
3rd 107 100% 106**    

•        35/3+2* denotes three squat snatch lifts followed by two over head squat lifts.

** signifys attempt was missed

The warm up of Li Xueying (CHN) presented in table 10 is the single largest, longest warm up of any athlete studied. It is significantly larger than both the silver medalist Novikova and the theoretical optimum of Spasov and Tsarulkov for a high class male lifter of the era dating back to 1979.

Over the course of 29 warm up sets, LI never sat down. For the most part she never rested long enough between sets to catch her breath. During the short break between the snatch and the clean and jerk competition, LI put on a heavy winter coat while sitting for a period of less than 8 to 10 minutes. It really can not be classified a warm up in the traditional meaning of the term; it was more a unique application of physiology and physics.

Li Xueying (CHN) rests between warmups at 2009 World championships. Charniga photo.

LI Xueying (CHN) wearing heavy winter coat before beginning to warm up for clean and jerk at the World Weightlifting Championships. Room temperature was about 20 to 21°C; Slivenko (RUS) rests between warm ups at 2009 World championships. Charniga photos.

To briefly sum up the data collected, today’s top weightlifters, both male and female, excluding the Chinese women, perform a very similar warm up protocol to the athletes of 30 to 50 years ago. Today’s males and females do a few more lifts in the ≥60% intensity zones in less time than the athletes (male only) of 30 to 50 years ago, stipulated in part by the changes in the technical rules which permit less time to prepare for the first attempt on the platform, fewer athletes in a competition session, and less time for an athlete to follow him/herself to the platform, with generally larger weights lifted today.

Generally this indicates today’s athletes possess a higher level of psychological and physical preparedness.

However, since we have identified what in all probability is a unique warm up protocol in all of sport, apparently taken to the precipice of fatigue, it is necessary to examine this phenomenon more closely.

After comparing the data in table 6 to all of the other data presented, some going back 50 years, two questions about the Chinese warm up come to mind. Given the universal belief that the warm up for competition in any sport is to prepare and not fatigue the athlete, the two questions are why and how.

Why would these women do so many warm ups when today’s high class lifters of both genders do so much less?

How do you perform so many warm up lifts and not become fatigued or at least compromise your potential in the competition, i.e., how can it work?

Why and How

“The strength and speed of movement can be enhanced by the utilization of elastic forces; the economy of movement can be enhanced by recuperation of the mechanical energy while diminishing the loss through dissipation” (V.M. Zatsiorsky, 1981)

Consider our analysis of the warm up loading of the four Chinese gold medalists at the 2008 Olympics presented in table 11.

Table 11. Warm up lifts of the four Chinese female gold medalists at 2008 Olympics

Athlete/wt ≥60-79% ≥80-89% ≥90% Total Lifts Fin/1rst  kg %Fin  of 1st Successful lifts
Snatch              
CHEN Xiexia/48 14 2 9 25 90/90 100% 3
CHEN Yanqing/58 6 8 8 22 100/100 100% 3
LIU Chunhong/69 14 8 6 28 120/120 100% 3
CAO Lei/75 14 6 5 25 120/120 100% 3
C & J              
CHEN Xiexia/48 3 3 5 11 110/113 97% 3
CHEN Yanqing/58 7 3 4 14 125/130 96% 3
LIU Chunhong/69 8 5 1 14 145/145 100% 3
CAO Lei/75 4 3 3 10 145/147 99% 2

Notations: The percentages for the various zones (60 to 79% for instance) are based on the maximum weight achieved on that day. Fin/1st – the final warm up weight over the first attempt weight on the platform; %Fin of 1st – ratio of final warm up weight to first attempt on the competition platform; success – number of successful lifts in the competition for that exercise.

The volume of warm up lifts presented in table 11 is unusually large to say the least. However, the most atypical figures are the large number of lifts in the ≥90% zones in both exercises. None of the other elite athletes investigated, male or female, were even close to this volume of high intensity lifts.

Whether in spite of, or because of, the Chinese method of preparation for the 2008 Olympic competition was extraordinarily successful, i.e., the four Chinese females made 23 of 24 attempts in the competition.

Even the lone missed attempt was more than accessible. When asked afterwards why she missed her final weight of 159 kg in the clean and jerk (the gold medal was already assured), CAO Lei said thoughts of her recently departed mother distracted her concentration.

From our analysis of all 15 weight classes at the 2009 World Weightlifting Championships we found that ratio of the final warm up to the first attempt was primarily between 94 to 96% for the women (excluding the Chinese) and 94 to 97% for all males with 95% being the most frequent final warm up for the females and 96% for the males.

In the clean and jerk the largest proportion of final attempts were with 95 to 96% for the females and 92 to 97% for the men. The most frequent occurring final warm up for the females was with 96% whereas it was 92%, 95%, and 97% evenly for the men.

Compare these ranges for all the high class athletes male and female, exclusive of Chinese females, with those in table 11. The mean final warm up in the snatch was 100% of the first attempt, whereas the rest of the “normal” elite weightlifters investigated performed at most one lift with heaviest warm up weight.

“The last warm up weights in the snatch should be 7.5 to 12.5 kg below 1st attempt and 10 to 20 kg for C&J” (A.N. Vorobeyev, 1988).

The Chinese lifted an atypical 100% of the first attempt. Furthermore,  each Chinese lifter performed 2 to 3 lifts with 100% of the first attempt in snatch warm ups. The mean final warm up of the Chinese females for the clean and jerk was 98%.

In both exercises the Chinese warm up far exceeded not only the volume, but especially the intensity of the rest of the world’s high class lifters, regardless of gender.

The Chinese warm up with final warm up lifts of very high intensity in comparison with that of elite males and non-Chinese elite female weightlifters is followed by moderate incremental weight increases for the competition attempts.

This is in conformity with the theoretical conclusions of P.A Dobrev (“Retrospective Analysis of the Practical Preparation of the Weightlifter,” (Budapest, International Weightlifting Federation Coaching medical seminar in Varna, Bulgaria 1983, pp. 102-125.): “The realization of three good lifts in the snatch and the clean and jerk with minimal increases of the weight is an objective criterion of the high level of the physical and technical preparation and for a comparatively high psychological stability.”

The Chinese women gold medalists at the Beijing Olympics realized an extraordinarily high level of psychological stability. They performed three lifts with 100% of their opening weights on the competition platform in the snatch to be followed successfully by three successful lifts with weights of near maximum and maximum weights.

The relatively massive intensity of the snatch warm up was followed by a slightly lesser but, nonetheless, atypically high intensive warm up for the clean and jerk.

Theoretical Considerations with Regards to the Chinese Warm Up

In all probability the Chinese warm up method reduces the likelihood the athlete will alter the optimum coordination structure to perform the exercises with near maximum and maximum weights.

In our experience (after many years as a competitive weightlifter and  first hand observations of numerous international competitions) the most common manner a male weightlifter prepares for a maximum effort is to proceed with a pyramiding aggressive approach, through a biological chain the first link of which is testosterone, i.e., testosterone + aggression (anger) + adrenaline = stronger muscular contraction.

However, with this aggressive, androcentric approach, the athlete risks disrupting the optimum coordination structure of the exercise from unnecessary co-activation of muscle antagonists and inappropriate rhythm. For example, the weightlifter’s muscles have to switch from contraction to relaxation in a fraction of a second. This is hard to do effectively if you are in a psychologically aggressive “lather.”

A viable alternative to this “biological chain of aggressiveness” may very well be the Chinese warm up.  Here prolonged, multiple repetition of exercises, even with high intensity weights, facilitates the movement of the body to perform the exercises with maximum weights without an aggressive approach.

In our opinion, the facilitating mechanism is heat which is  built up over the course of the warm up and preserved close to the point of discomfort, to the precipice of fatigue.

Our theory is that heat facilitates the retention of some stored strain energy in the viscero–elastic tissues. This arises from the prolonged elevation of body temperature accumulated after many warm up lifts. In its turn, this facilitates economy of movement in performance of the exercises, i.e., through more effective storage and release of strain energy from the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Consequently, the Chinese female lifters following this warm up procedure place less emphasis on pyramiding levels of muscular effort, i.e., where the athlete tries to become more aggressive with each incremental increase in the weight of the barbell.

In sport, the unusual peculiarities of weightlifting make creation of the optimum movement coordination difficult. A.N. Vorobeyev, 1988, noted in addressing this issue:

“The increasing weight of the barbell which is one of the fundamental ‘peculiarities’ of weightlifting training forces the lifter to alter the entire system of muscular tension and even the movement rhythm; thereby, it complicates the coordination structure of the exercise.

“The lifting of a limit weight is a complex matter: a) the athlete has to constantly change the weight of the barbell, which forces him to alter the coordination of muscular tension; b) the athlete is unable to perform the snatch and the clean and jerk with the competition weight repeatedly because of the limit loading” {A.N. Vorbeyev, Tiiazhelaya Atletika, 1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.).

So, the increasing weight of the barbell, the varying of muscular tension to perform the exercises commensurate with the altering weight of the barbell, and the difficulty of performing (practicing) the competition weights in the snatch and the clean and jerk with near maximum and maximum weights defines the extraordinary complexity of weightlifting.

Consequently, the high class weightlifter has achieved a high level of inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination under difficult conditions.

Coordination is connected first and foremost with the ability to relax muscles. An aggressive approach to lifting maximum weights in weightlifting, where the creation of high muscular tension at high speed must be disciplined, unlike power lifting for instance, is not necessarily conducive to establishing and maintaining the most efficient motor coordination; which must be performed against a backdrop of muscle relaxation, very similar to that achieved by high class sprinters in track and field.

Therefore, according to our theory, the extra body heat facilitates the elastic recoil of strain energy from tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This extra heat accumulated as a result of the Chinese warm up can facilitate preservation of the optimum coordination structure of the exercises while providing the source of the extra force necessary to lift the increasing weight of the barbell.

The risk of disrupting motor coordination can be minimized with this “prolonged elevation of body heat” warm up because the athlete dispenses with a heightened state of psychological agitation and performs the exercise in a more relaxed state, i.e., the extra heat facilitates the extra effort required to lift bigger weights.

MENG Suping (CHN +75 kg) rests between warm ups at 2009 World championships

The reduction of blood and muscle viscosity athletes experience from what is considered a normal, relatively brief warm up of low to moderate intensity probably cannot stimulate the physiological enhancements which accompany a warm up protocol atypically large in volume and intensity.

The primary purpose of the warm up for any sport is to prepare the athlete physically and psychologically for optimum performance in the competition, which of course precludes exercising to the point of fatigue, or even close to it. However, the Chinese warm up, especially the final high intensity lifts which precede the maximum attempts on the platform, on the surface, would appear to be the antithesis of this notion.

The Chinese females perform each exercise so many times heat has to be the mechanism which facilitates elastic recoil of strain energy from the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, i.e., each preceding lift of pyramiding weights facilitates a retention of strain energy to perform more economically, the heavier weights which follow.

Consequently, the physical and psychological toll of all the work performed in the warm up is less than conventional logic would dictate. The lifter can approach the forthcoming maximum weight with the same relatively relaxed effort with weights for the final warm up; the accumulated heat is to the female weightlifter what aggressiveness is to the male in his approach to lifting maximum weights with an absence of actual aggressiveness.

We believe the female weightlifter who has performed this prolonged warm up has tapped into heretofore unrecognized, special biological reserves which facilitate the lifting of maximum weights, even though the athlete may still be winded and have accumulated an atypically high body heat as she approaches the near maximum and maximum weights on the competition platform.

The primary purpose of the warm up for any sport is to prepare the athlete physically and psychologically for optimum performance in the competition, which of course precludes exercising to the point of fatigue, or even close to it. However, the Chinese warm up, especially the final high intensity lifts which precede the maximum attempts on the platform, on the surface, would appear to be the antithesis of this notion.

The Chinese females perform each exercise so many times heat has to be the mechanism which facilitates elastic recoil of strain energy from the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, i.e., each preceding lift of pyramiding weights facilitates a retention of strain energy to perform more economically, the heavier weights which follow.

Consequently, the physical and psychological toll of all the work performed in the warm up is less than conventional logic would dictate. The lifter can approach the forthcoming maximum weight with the same relatively relaxed effort with weights for the final warm up; the accumulated heat is to the female weightlifter what aggressiveness is to the male in his approach to lifting maximum weights with an absence of actual aggressiveness.

We believe the female weightlifter who has performed this prolonged warm up has tapped into heretofore unrecognized, special biological reserves which facilitate the lifting of maximum weights, even though the athlete may still be winded and have accumulated an atypically high body heat as she approaches the near maximum and maximum weights on the competition platform.

Heat

“… aggression in men is natural … in women it is unnatural … or if not unnatural, prohibited. Aggression is part and parcel of what distinguishes male from female”  (Colette Dowling, 2000).

Consider for a moment the effort required to start a lawnmower   (a two stroke engine) by pulling on a cord which provides the mechanical energy to start the engine. When the engine is cold, it may take several pulls with much effort to get the engine to turn over. However, if after the mower has been running for some minutes, it stops suddenly; then, if you try to restart it immediately in the usual manner, a single pull with minimal effort is all the mechanical energy needed to get it running.

This phenomenon can not only be attributed simply to a lower viscosity of the oil from running the engine. The heat of the engine accumulated, not totally dissipated, from running the machine has to have contributed to the less mechanical energy needed to restart it.

We believe this analogy explains why what would seem to be a large, ostensibly fatiguing war up would allow a weightlifter to perform a maximum lift without maximum psychological excitation, i.e., without recruiting more mechanical energy from volitional muscular contraction.

The accumulated heat may contribute to a more effective release of strain energy accumulated in the viscera–elastic tissues, already an integral part of the performance of the weightlifting exercises but, nonetheless, facilitating further the volitional muscular effort required to lift the barbell.

So, based on this theory, an athlete who executes less warm up lifts needs more mechanical energy (more tugs of the cord on the lawn mower) and a more aggressive approach because there is less un – dissipated heat energy available.

It is known that the mechanical efficiency of modern internal combustion engines is only about 25%. Approximately 60% of the energy generated from combustion of gasoline is lost through heat. About half from the exhaust and half from the engine (Ben Knight, (Scientific American 2:52:2010). So, 60% of the energy produced in the form of heat is lost.

The Chinese females go to unusual lengths to generate what would seem an unnecessarily high body heat through a large warm up loading.  And, likewise, their atypical measures to preserve it under normal room temperature conditions lends practical credence to our theory that creation and retention of heat energy plays an assistant role in performing the weightlifting exercises with maximum weights.

We believe the Chinese warm up is more applicable to females. Pyramiding levels of aggressiveness accompany the rising weight of the barbell are typical of male weightlifters. This is usually absent with the female weightlifter. Our observations of many international level athletes, over the course of many years, has convinced us that more often than not females exert maximum effort in the absence of overt aggression, i.e., in a more relaxed state.

Lifting or otherwise exerting maximum force in a relaxed state offers distinct advantages.

The technically proficient weightlifter’s muscles are used repeatedly over the course of raising a barbell from the floor to arms length overhead. These same muscles must switch at high speed back and forth from contraction to relaxation, while at the same time the muscles which are relaxing maintain some optimum tension; the weightlifter must instantaneously reverse direction of movement from up to down.

It is to the lifter’s advantage to perform these actions against an overall backdrop of muscle relaxation so that unnecessary muscle tension will not impede speed of movement. This being the case, elevated body heat can theoretically play an assistant role.

Another Why Question

Another why question which has to be raised after all of this analysis is: why bother? Why would a weightlifter select to perform so much work in warm ups when the standard loading, modified upwards slightly by today’s weightlifters of the past 50 years and more, can suffice? Weightlifters of both genders performed successfully at the 2009 World Weightlifting Championships warming up with the same or similar protocol employed by Vladimir Belayev (USSR) at the 1966 World Weightlifting Championships in East Berlin.

Part of the answer to this question should be obvious. The Chinese women perform their atypical, in all of sport, warm up for weightlifting because they believe it works and has proven to be effective for reaching high results at competitions. The other part of the answer to this question may not be so obvious: should the rest of us in the weightlifting world abandon the old warm up protocols and adopt the Chinese exercise to the precipice of fatigue, high heat method?

References

1.        Polyakov, V.A., “Individual – psychological features of top weightlifters at the Moscow Olympics”, Weightlifting Yearbook, 68-72:1983, Livonia, Michigan, Sportivny Press. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.

2.        Polyakov, V.A., “Reliability of the Weightlifter’s Performance in Competition”, Moscow, Tiazhelaya Atletika 67-70:1977; Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

3. Genov, F. “The Length of the Weightlifter’s Psychological Preparedness on the Platform Depending on the Increasing Weight of the Barbell”, Moscow, Tribuna Masterov, 118 – 126:1969. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

4. Roman, R.A., The Training of the Weightlifter, Moscow, FIS, 1968. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

5. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tiiazhalaya Atletika Moscow, FIS, 72-74:1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

6. Vorobeyev, A.N., Tiiazhalaya Atletika Moscow, FIS, 1977. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

7. Khairullin, R., “Rational Structure of the Warm Up”, Moscow, Olymp 17: 1993. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

8. Khairullin, R., “The Championships unrealized potential”, Moscow, Olymp 3-4:34-37:2002. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©

The parameters of the warm up for the snatch:

•        The general warm up begins 17 – 33 minutes before the athlete is called to the competition platform;

•        The duration of the general warm up is two minutes;

•        The special warm up begins 11 – 32 minutes before the athlete is called to the platform;

•        The number of warm up sets for the snatch is 7 – 14;

•        The number of warm up lifts with the barbell is 8 – 22;

•        The rest period before the first attempt on the platform is 2 – 5 minutes;

•        The difference in weight between the final warm up lift and the first attempt is 7.5 – 25 kg;

The parameters of the warm up for the clean and jerk:

•        The beginning of the special warm up for the clean and jerk begins 12 – 30 minutes before the athlete is called to the platform;

•        The number of warm up sets is 5 – 10;

•        The number of warm up lifts is 5 – 13;

•        The rest period before the first attempt on the platform is 2 – 5 minutes;

•        The difference in weight between the final warm up and the first attempt is 7.5 – 30 kg (in one case it was 42.5 – 50 kg).

9. Spasov, A. Tsarvulkov, A., “On some problems concerning the structural buildup of warming up for highly classified weightlifters”, Budapest, International Weightlifting Federation Coaching medical seminar in Varna, 1983; 126-134.

10. Spasov, A. Tsarvulkov, A., “Pre – Start Warm up – an essential factor for high performance”, Budapest, Scientific Methodological Bulletin, International Weightlifting Federation, publishers; 3:17-20:1980. Comparison between warm-ups of 1965 European Chps. And 1979 {Alexander Zarvulkov, Angel SPasov, Scientific Methodical Bulletin, 03:17-20:1980, International Weightlifting Federation}

11. Dobrev, P.A., “Retrospective analysis of the tactical preparation of the weightlifter”; Budapest, International Weightlifting Federation Coaching medical seminar in Varna, 1983; 102-125. “The realization of three good lifts in the snatch and the clean and jerk with minimal increases of the weight is an objective criterion of the high level of the physical and technical preparation and for a comparatively high psychological stability”.         “the last warmup weights in the snatch should be 7.5 – 12.5 kg below 1st attempt and 10 – 20 kg for c&J

12. Medvedyev, A.S., “Training load and its intensity and structure of volume with female lifters of Russia, PRC and Bulgaria at the Preparatory and Competition periods”, Proceedings of the Weightlifting Symposium, Olympia, Greece; 69 -81:1993 International Weightlifting Federation, Budapest, Hungary, publishers

 

 

 

13. Verkhoshansky, Y.V., Fundamentals of the Special Physical Preparation of Ahtletes, Moscow: Fizkultura I Sport, 16:1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr., Sportivny Press©

 

 

14. Suggs, T. “Behind the scenes”, Strength and Health, 09:71:1968.

 

 

15. CAO, Wenyuan, “Training difference between males and Females

Proceedings of the Weightlifting Symposium, Olympia, Greece; 97-101:1993 International Weightlifting Federation, Budapest, Hungary, publishers

 

 

 

ZHANG Shaoling (MAC) walks to the competition platform after final warm up at 2009 World championships. Charniga photo

 

 

 

 

 

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