Unanticipated Consequences of a ‘Weaker Sex’
This article had been bundled with other essays into an ebook format. Upon reflection it was unsatisfactory and unnecessarily repetitive of a previous essay about the lady bar. So, it has been revised to introduce new material; pertinent to the issue and will be posted for an unspecified period.
Men are taller, heavier, have larger muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and ten times the serum testosterone levels of females. Consequently, it is a logical assumption males men are the stronger than women. A conclusion easy to reach because strength is usually defined in absolute terms: bigger muscles and more testosterone means greater strength.
The problem artificial stereotypes create, such as ‘weaker’ ‘stronger’ is the obvious tendency to pigeon hole people into roles, gender or otherwise, replete with arbitrarily limitations. The feats of today’s elite women weightlifters should dispel any and all myths of a ‘weaker sex’.
The female world record in the clean and jerk of the +82.5 kg (unlimited body weight) class was 137.5 kg by the year 1989. At the end of 1993 the world record had already grown to 155 kg. This 155 kg constituted approximately 124% of the body weight of the 125 kg female lifter who raised it.
At the present time the world record in the +75 kg (unlimited weight class) is 193 kg; set by 106.21 kg Tatiana Kashirina (RUS); a weight which is 182% of her bodyweight, i.e., 38 kg more weight lifted by an athlete with 21 kg less body mass than the record of 1993! The huge potentially hazardous, deflection of the barbell with 190 kg can be seen in figure 1. Consequently, elite females have already outgrown the lighter, smaller in diameter, shorter in length, “lady bar” , introduced in 1997; designed for the ‘weaker sex’.
A previous article dealt with the evolution of this trend; the specifics of the problem with the 15 kg bar; without objective data to corroborate research and observation (Charniga, 2016). This essay will focus on the potential hazards of excessive vibration/oscillation of the 15 kg bar with corroborative data.
Figure 3. Female lifter narrowly escapes serious injury after losing control with “only” 115 kg. The peculiar deflection (a lower frequency of oscillation) of the 15 kg lady bar, out of sync with her fast and abrupt movements; jarring her, such that she loses control of the barbell. Charniga photos
Elite females are able to compensate for less muscle mass, a predominance of “fat building” estrogen with inter-muscular coordination, greater overall mobility which translate into less resistance to movement for high speed change of direction and the innate ability to relax muscles while exerting maximum effort. These features allow today’s elite women to pick up weights only the strongest men of years past could surmount.
High speed, abrupt changes of direction, a characteristic of modern weightlifting technique; creates waves of vibration from the skeleton and the barbell; which are in turn transmitted throughout the lifter’s body at varying frequencies. This circumstance has given rise to a perplexing problem. The female 15 kg barbell oscillates excessively in response to the too strong, too fast, actions of the female weightlifter.
Accompanying the rise in the speed of the high class female lifter’s movements, the bigger weights raised by today’s female lifters; the out of sync physics between lady lifter and ‘lady bar’ can create a serious safety hazard.
The weightlifter’s feet are torn from and return to the weightlifting platform in the act of lifting in a fraction of second as the barbell is fixed overhead. The elastic properties of the steel bar, in turn, send shock waves of vibration into the lifter’s body when the feet are rapidly and abruptly returned to the platform. These waves of vibration have horizontal and vertical components; traveling in opposition to shock waves of the skeleton from the feet slamming back to the platform.
Figure 4. Rapid change of direction and abrupt movements are characteristic of modern weightlifting technique. The lady bar can become a hazard in the hands of the elite female. A ‘too strong’ and ‘too fast’ female lifter produces excessive out of sync vibration and recoil causing her to lose control of the barbell. Charniga photos.
Because the weights lifted today are bigger; in contrast to 1997 when the 15 kg bar was introduced; the faster the lifter moves, the greater the bend in the bar. The result is excessive deflection and vibration; a slower recoil of the bar. Rapid, abrupt movements can jar the barbell from the lifter’s grasp (see figures 3 & 4). A more serious result is a female lifter is injured; such as an elbow dislocation. A recent, sudden rise in the number of female elbow injuries; dislocations in the clean and jerk exercise in particular, leads to the inevitable conclusion the ‘lady bar’ can be hazardous in the hands of the elite female weightlifter.
Figure 5. Elite female lifter’s left elbow dislocating under the influence of vibrating 142 kg barbell; despite narrow hand spacing which produces less strain on wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Charniga photos
Although an elbow dislocation is somewhat common in weightlifting in the snatch exercise; because of the wide hand spacing employed; it is virtually unheard of in the jerk exercise where the hands are spaced closer together (see figure 5).
The reason for the disparity of injury incidence between snatch and clean and jerk is the moment force on the joints: wrist, elbow and shoulder rise with the width of the hand spacing. The wider the hand spacing, the closer the lifter’s arm to a horizontal disposition; the larger the stress on the wrist – elbow – shoulder joint link. Indeed, according to Soviet era data (Vorobeyev, 1988) shoulder injuries in weightlifters are second only to injury to the lumbar area.
Graphic 1. Calculations from comparative measurements of barbell deflection between 20 kg and 15 kg bars. R. Charniga, 2016
Unfortunately, the all but unheard of elbow dislocation in the jerk has become more common in females. All the more troubling, because it is counterintuitive. Female lifters as a group tend to be less susceptible to weightlifting injuries than males.
“Stronger Than Steel”
This troubling trend of elbow injuries in the jerk can be traced to the dimensions of the female bar which among other things, positions the discs disproportionately further (than for the male bar) from the center of the bar. However, today’s female lifters lift too much weight, are too coordinated and too fast, i.e., too strong for the amount of steel in the lady bar and the weights that can be raised.
Stress tests comparing the relative compliance, or bend/recoil properties of the male 20 kg bar with that of the female 15 kg bar in an accredited testing laboratory utilized by the automotive manufacturers established the 15 kg bar bends 57% more than the 20 kg bar loaded to the same weight (Charniga, R., 2016). This 57% difference has ramifications beyond the mere bending/recoil differences between the two bars. For instance, a potentially large deflection of the 15 kg bar (see figure 1) is an obvious issue that cannot be overlooked.
Graphics 2 & 3. The effect of moving the collars inward on the vibration characteristics of the 15 kg bar. The differences in deflection between the bars is depicted in the graph 1. In order to alter the deflection characteristics of the 15 kg bar to conform to that of the male 20 kg bar would be to move the collars inward by 120 mm. (R. Charniga, 2016)
The other perhaps more critical issue is excessive vibration/oscillation. Excessive vibration, not easily visible to the naked eye; yet it is very real to the lifter struggling with barbell oscillation. Oscillation of the 15 kg barbell is typically out of sinc with the athlete’s movements; due to disparate frequencies of oscillation between the slower bar and the faster moving athlete.
Initial efforts in this as yet unexplored area of sport science, confirms the obvious. Data obtained in a testing laboratory with a device recording with 12 accelerometers of only 64 kg; established bar vibration can become unjustifiable problem for a female lifter. Female lifters can experience 57% greater bar deflection with the 15 kg ‘lady bar’ than the same weight for a male 20 kg bar. The significance of this data should in and of itself suffice the necessity to alter the dimensions of the bar; but the more complex issue of excessive vibration/oscillation; virtually undetectable to the naked eye; is undoubtedly the more critical issue.
Recognizing Subtleties of Excessive barbell Vibration/Oscillation
“The Impact of the foot on the ground sets the skeleton vibrating”. Alexander, 1988
An obscure, one of a kind study, carried out on a human subject established the skeleton vibrates with movement. Waves of vibration from simply walking on a treadmill are propagated from the feet to the head at a rate of approximately 120 m s¹ losing speed as the waves are dampened by the body’s soft tissues (Light, McLellan & Klenerman, 1980; cited by Alexander, 1988).
The movements of an elite weightlifter are considerably faster; with the feet striking the hard surface of the weightlifting platform, far more percussive than mere walking on a treadmill. Consequently, the possibility of such waves of vibration compound the complexity of weightlifting technique; against the backdrop of an already oscillating barbell. For instance, examples elite female weightlifters struggling to cope with vibration/oscillation in the act of lifting can be seen in the videos:
In the first video a 58 kg world champion had to adjust the 141 kg weight on her chest repeatedly in in order to begin the jerk proper with the bar bending in her concert with her movements; and, not vice versa. The difficult to spot with the naked eye, confluence of vibration/oscillations, which the young woman experiences; are the cause of the prolonged effort to get ready to jerk the weight. However, subtle evidence of vibration perhaps between barbell and skeleton can be seen if you look closely woman’s pony tail. It is vibrating at the very end of the adjustments; even though her trunk, head and neck are stationary.
In the second video another world champion female successfully lifts the weight overhead only to lose control of the oscillating barbell; waves from which seem to travel down her arms into her torso; shaking the weight out of her hands. Her movements to control the barbell only make matters worse because each movement renews barbell oscillation.
In the third video you can see a female weightlifter experiencing a similar difficulty of controlling an oscillating barbell. Like the two previous examples; the struggle with oscillation is clearly visible as this woman’s body shakes with the weight over head; especially her head and neck. She was lucky to get the weight under control despite the struggle of lifting, balancing and becoming reasonably motionless.
In all three examples, unlike the obvious excessive bend depicted in figure 1; the subtlety of the vibration/oscillations are not readily apparent to inexperienced eyes; but nonetheless, very pervasive.
More examples, including injury can be presented; are unnecessary because these three have several things in common linked to the root problem. All have trouble in the jerk exercise; all have small discs loaded on the outside of the collars; all three experience vibration of the body; in addition to the jarring caused by the flexing barbell. The act raising a maximum weight overhead is sufficiently difficult in and of itself; excessive vibration/oscillation is an unjustified distraction.
Problems with the Snatch
An unusual incidence of elbow injuries in the jerk from the chest (figure 5) with a relatively narrow hand spacing is a clear indication something is wrong somewhere. They should not occur with a close to shoulder – width – hand – spacing. Elbow injuries, especially dislocations, are associated with the snatch; due to the wide hand spacing. The moment on the elbow is larger the wider the grasp, the closer the arm is to the horizontal when a weight is fixed overhead. Consequently, connecting excessive vibration/oscillation to a somewhat common problem with the snatch exercise isn’t as clear cut as it is with the same injury with the jerk. However, the the same factors are at work in the snatch as in the jerk with excessive vibration/oscillation of the 15 kg bar.
Figure 6. A world champion female lifter grasping the 15 kg bar with a snatch hand spacing. The distance between the hands and the point where discs are loaded on the barbell is disproportionately further from the edge of the discs, relative to the male bar. This disproportionate dimensions of the 15 kg bar; a confluence of other factors; not the least of which are today’s too strong, too fast females, can be hazardous. The extra space makes the lady bar more likely to vibrate excessively relative to the demands of this exercise; than would anticipated of a male weightlifter under the same conditions. Charniga photos.
Consider the video of the young woman lifting a near world record in the snatch; the same athlete whose hand spacing for the snatch is depicted in figure 6.
She has difficulty balancing the weight in the low squat; exhibiting strain well above and beyond raising the weight. The jarring effect of the oscillating barbell is obvious as she shakes to get it under control. This obvious difficulty; in addition to the problems already enumerated is exacerbated because of her size. She grasps the bar with a normal for the snatch hand spacing. However, her hands are well inside the snatch markings on the bar (figure 6). This means the hands are disproportionately further from the discs because of the length of her arms; relative to the placement of the inside collars of the bar.
The extra distance the hands are placed from the discs translates into more vibration and of course difficulty above and beyond the act of lifting the weight. The upshot of this circumstance is the dimensions of the bar designed to accommodate the smaller athlete is in fact not facilitating her movements; instead making them more difficult.
Reasonable alterations to the 15 kg bar
An obvious solution to the problem of excessive vibration/oscillation is to make structural alterations to reduce the compliance of the 15 kg bar to match that of the 20 kg male bar. Various changes to the 15 kg bar to reduce excessive vibration/oscillation so that this lady barbell will bend and recoil in approximately the same physics as the male can be envisioned.
/ move the inside collars in 120 mm (R. Charniga, 2016);
/ scrap the 30 mm specification for the inside collars on the female bar;
/ return to the 13 mm wide inside collars designed (Eleiko) for the bars in 1997; then, move these 13 mm inside collars in 82 mm (R. Charniga, 2016);
Figure 7. Original design of the Eleiko lady bar introduced in 1997 with inside collars 13 mm in width. The standard for all 15 kg bars is now the same as the men with a 30 mm wide inside collars. Charniga photo.
/ return to the 13 mm wide inside collars designed (Eleiko) for the bars in 1997; then, move these 13 mm inside collars in 55 mm with a new 26 mm diameter bar (R. Charniga, 2016);
/ employ various combinations of the enumerated alterations by introducing the approved for use but never used in competitions 30 kg discs.
We can’t ask the elite female weightlifter to slow down; to become weaker. Neither step backward is a viable option. The design of the bar has to change in conformity with today’s circumstances or injuries will continue and a really serious injury occurs.
/ Alexander, R. McN., Elastic Energy in Animal Movement, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988
/ Charniga, A., “How the Female Weightlifter Out – Grew the Lady Bar”, www.sportivnypress.com