Why “God Does Not Build in Straight Lines”*
“According to the doctrine of Confucius femininity is Yin and masculinity Yang. Which in turn mean “femininity is negative, soft, dark and weak, masculinity is positive, hard, bright and strong” (FAN Hong, 1997)
Beginning in 1987 with the first world championships for women weightlifters, the ancient sport of weightlifting transformed into a endeavor not only of strong men; but, of strong women as well.
Well then, considering the Confucianisms of femininity quoted above; how can some negative, soft, dark and weak ‘Yin’ fare in an ultra masculine sport like weightlifting? At onset, questions begging for answers: How does one train the female weightlifter? Should women lift the barbell like men, i.e., are the mechanics and physiology needed to effectively raise a maximum weight applicable for both sexes? What about the psychological approach? Must females approach weightlifting like males; expressing masculinity’s three ‘A’s of strength: anger, aggressiveness, assertiveness? (Charniga, 2016)
Figure 1. Contrasting ‘expressions’ of strength: somnambulate female Olympic champion on left raising a world record; aggressive male on right raising a non – record weight. Charniga photos.
Strength is typically defined in terms of body mass, size of muscles, relative composition of muscle fiber types, serum levels of the hormone testosterone and with it the associated large muscle mass, force of muscle contraction; the psychological traits of aggressiveness, and so forth. If human strength is defined exclusively in these terms there is no denying men have an insurmountable advantage over women.
Be that as it may, if strength is the critical quality of the weightlifter; speed of movement is likewise indispensable. Weightlifters must move the whole body and the individual links (trunk, thighs, shins) as fast as possible to lift the biggest weights. Inter-muscle coordination is the underpinning of a weightlifter’s speed of movement.
A high degree of inter of muscular coordination and with it speed of movement is not possible in the absence of the ability to relax muscles extremely fast coupled with enhanced suppleness to minimize internal resistance.
A rational definition of human strength, specifically as it is expressed in weightlifting, must be in terms of mechanical efficiency. Therefore, the most effective expression of strength in the weightlifting exercises is the force of muscular contraction less the internal resistance of antagonist muscles and the resistance of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia to movement, i.e., degree of suppleness.
The less internal resistance from excess tension of antagonist muscles, the more pliable the soft tissues; the more effective the force of muscle contraction. Well then, in theory, an athlete, i.e., a ‘Yin’, with less muscle mass, less serum testosterone, can perform the weightlifting exercises effectively with more efficient force of muscles by means of low internal resistance.
Modern parallels to the Yin, Yang precepts of Confucius abound in western societies.
Figure 2. An Asian pull is a reaction, a reflexive shift to deploy the leg springs while shifting the stress of lifting away from the trunk to the feet. The elite female in the figures begins raising heel with trunk still tilted away from the vertical, inculcating four levers into the act of lifting: feet, ankle, thigh and trunk. The trunk is then quickly shifted away from the vertical (reducing the strain on the back) so that the final extension occurs with simultaneous raising of heels and straightening of the knees. This reflexive reaction shifts the strain away from the lumbar spine to the more efficient leg spring accentuated by ankle muscles and elastic recoil of tendons and ligaments. No evidence of a ‘quad’ dependency here. Charniga photos.
Contrast for a moment western academia’s terribly flawed science of a female ‘quad’ dependency to straighten lower extremities. This idea is a myth which stipulates the quadriceps muscles are the only muscles which straighten knee joints; and, that females rely excessively on the these muscles. The role of ankle muscles in straightening the lower extremities in this theory is non existent. Were the myth of female quad dependency true we would see this play out in weightlifting. After all weightlifters straighten lower extremities violently to lift the biggest weights.
In point of fact, ankle muscles, especially the soleus, can and should be heavily involved in straightening the lower extremities. So, contrary to the female quadriceps dependency myth omnipresent in the American literature; in weightlifting, many elite females reflexively shift the effort of lifting to the entire leg spring, the ankle muscles in particular. (figure 2). This effectiveness of this reflexive shift from flat footed to the toes is confirmed from analysis of vertical jump height:
“By gastrocnemius muscle activation, a rapid extension of the foot is produced. This extension has a greater effect on the vertical velocity than the extension of the almost straightened knee. The energy is more effectively translated into vertical velocity and a greater height of the jump is achieved.” (Schenau, 1989).
The classic Russian version of raising the barbell restricts the weightlifter’s movements within a narrow band so that the barbell will likewise move within a near linear path. An Asian version, most suited to the female body involves more movement of the body’s links (trunk, thigh, shin, foot) and less linearity – straightening the lower extremities against a rising heel and bowing of the trunk away from the vertical (figure 2).
“The process of muscular relaxation is more active for female athletes than for men, which allows us to suggest that women perform muscular work more economically than men (V. L. Federov, I. M. Yankuskas, 1972).
The female weightlifter generally possesses a greater ability to relax muscles. This feature comes into play at the most critical juncture for the weightlifter: switching directions from lifting to dropping down and receiving the barbell in the squat. Less resistance from rapid relaxation of antagonist muscles translates into enhanced efficiency of movement.
The speed of switching directions, i.e., the speed of dropping under the barbell, is the single most important technical skill for the weightlifter. The female weightlifter’s ability to relax muscles is an innate feature of the female body; a significant advantage for the single most important technical skill requisite for raising the heaviest barbells.
Figure 3. Relaxed expression, a reflection of the process of relaxing muscles of the super elite female lifter belies the effort to make such a fast switching from standing to squatting; the most important skill for the weightlifter. Charniga photo
That being said, if females are to best utilize the body’s potential in weightlifting exercises i.e., elasticity/suppleness, spring mechanisms (tendons and ligaments), and not rely solely on force of muscle contraction, optimum creation and preservation of body heat is essential. Optimum body heat helps the female weightlifter to utilize most effectively what Soviet era Biologist Nicolai Bernstein called the “free forces”, i.e., strain energy from tendons and ligaments, force of inertia, less internal resistance to movements.
The elite women waiting between competition attempts covered in blankets (figure 4) illustrates this idea well. Elevated body heat increases the elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments; which in turn raises the mechanical efficiency of movements and muscle work because the heat facilitates the storage and utilization of elastic energy fr those tissues.
Figure 4. Elite female lifters waiting between lifts in competition covered in blankets to preserve heat; which in turn enhances the elastic potential of the body’s spring mechanisms: tendons and ligaments. Charniga photo (bottom)
Figure 5. Olympic champion on the left lifting with a bowing of knees (varus) considered a injury facilitator in USA academia. Bulging ankle muscles, even though the athlete is still flatfooted, shows these muscles are active throughout extension of legs. A good illustration females are not ‘quad’ dependent; on the contrary they use all the muscles of the lower extremities in synergy. Indeed the varus movement involves ankle muscles more than a linear movement of the legs, i.e, a curvature and or bowing movement of the legs is more effective for lifting than moving in a straight line. Note: relatively huge calf to thigh musculature of the lifter’s legs in the photo on the right. Charniga photo
In addition to the Darwinian enhancements to movement efficiency afforded the woman weightlifter by greater, than males, ability to relax muscles and natural suppleness; this ability comes in handy in the event of unanticipated errors or what might be called ‘black swan’ events. The innate ability to relax muscles comes with an enhanced ability to reflexively relax muscles, called ‘reflexive release’ (Charniga, A.,“Shouldn’t Female Weightlifters be Injury Prone?”, www.sportivnypress.com).
Female weightlifters have been found to have very low injury rates; especially knee. One important aspect comes from an enhanced ability for reflexive release of muscle tension as illustrated in figure where the young woman slips with a barbell twisting hips, knees and ankles. The forces of this slip (fall) are dissipated or otherwise re- distributed as muscles from hip to ankle release tension (figure 6). Knee ligaments don’t break; they are elastic; part of the overall compliance of the human body’s safety mechanism.
Figure 6. Female lifter collapses to the platform attempting to snatch 97 kg or 176% of her bodyweight; severely twisting knees and ankles with the weight of the barbell. Thanks to her reflexive ability to relax muscles to dissipate the energy of falling; uninjured, she continued the competition in the second exercise. Charniga photo.
Learning To Strain Without Straining
“…. women have many morpho – functional parameters which are peculiar only to them”. (A.S. Medvedyev, 1999)
Figure 7. Super elite female seemingly asleep in the midst of straining ‘without strain’ to lift a world record weight. Charniga photo.
How does one strain without straining? The super elite female in figure 7 is straining to lift a world record weight. The relaxed expression of her face; even with eyes closed; comes at a crucial juncture in the exercise. The knee angle is approximately 90° which is mechanically the most difficult segment; even referred to as the ‘sticking point. One would normally expect a grimace (especially from a male lifter) to reflect the magnitude of effort. But, a grimace would mean superfluous muscle tension. The relaxed, somnambulate expression is a reflexive shut down of unnecessary muscle tension so woman’s lifting muscles will perform the work with greater efficiency.
So, why doesn’t god build in straight lines?
Tasked with passing on life; logic dictates females are the more complex and resilient of the sexes. A straight line means just that, a simple, uni-dimensional path from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Contrary to the logic of physics the shortest distance between two points may not necessarily fall in a straight line. The female athlete has the potential to react reflexively to varying conditions outside of what would seem to be the logical; to move and more importantly react with special mechanical efficiency, and the like. These are not defects; but some of the gifts nature has bestowed; and:
“… nature never breaks her own laws”. Leonardo Da Vinci.
Gifts which can come in handy in the realm of elite sport.
** Spaihts, J., Lindelhof, D., Quote from the movie Prometheus.
/ Charniga, A., A De – masculinization of Strength, Sportivnypress, Livonia, Michigan,
/ Charniga, A.,“Comparison of Warm up Protocols of High Class Male and Female Weightlifters”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Oleshko, V.,“Characteristics of the Movement of the Athlete/Barbell System for Athletes of Different Sex”, Olimp,
/ Charniga, A.,“Aesthetics of Strength”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A.,“Shouldn’t Female Weightlifters be Injury Prone?”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A., “Unanticipated Consequences of a Weaker Sex”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A.,“Expression of Strength in Weightlifting”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A.,“How the Female Weightlifter Out – Grew the Lady Bar”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A.,“Equilibrium in Weightlifting”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Charniga, A.,“Variations of the Jump Under the Barbell in the Snatch and the clean”, www.sportivnypress.com
/ Hong, F., Footbinding, Feminism and Freedom, Portland, Oregon. Frank Cass publishers. 1997.