How Is It Possible Weightlifters Are Stronger?

  How Is It Possible Weightlifters Are Stronger?

Andrew Charniga

www.sportivnypress.com

“The faster the speed of muscular contraction, the faster the relaxation, the higher muscles functional state.” A. N. Vorobeyev, 1977

Strength is inextricably associated with big muscles, lifting or otherwise moving heavy objects slowly; with emotional characteristics of aggressiveness, assertiveness, anger and the like. Be that as it may big muscles are envisioned to move big weights which typically means slow grinding movement from muscle shortening. Elastic energy accumulated and released from biological springs to generate more power than possible from mere muscle contraction; no matter how big the muscles; typically does not fit the picture of a strongman. 

A number of differences with very significant distinctions between static and dynamic strength training have been presented (Charniga, 2020). Generally static exercises involve smaller amplitudes of motion and are devoid rapid shifts of direction, rapid muscle relaxation, significantly less inter – muscular and intra – muscular coordination, ineffective deployment of biological springs (tendons, ligaments and fascia) to enhance power out put, and so forth. Those differences and distinctions demonstrate dynamic exercises are not just complex; substantially more complex that simple static exercises; or such isotonic contraction movements as a bench press, let alone weight machine exercises. 

Maximum effort in complex dynamic exercises such as the classic snatch and the clean and jerk in weightlifting, jumping, throwing in Track & Field and others; source all of the body’s potential to produce forces unattainable from simple muscle (isotonic, isometric, isokinetic) contraction; no matter how intensive the muscle effort. 

“...more force may be exerted during complex movements than during isotonic or isokinetic contractions.” Bobbert, M., et al 1986.

Expression of Power in Complex Exercises

Changing velocity of muscle shortening and force on tendons are features complex exercises have in common; but not present, for instance, in simple isotonic muscle contraction. Alterations of mechanical leverage in weightlifting exercises coincide with varying tension on tendons, re – introduction of already working muscles; coordinated release of elastic energy from tendons to produce more power than possible from isotonic or isometric contraction (Charniga, 2020).  

“It is not difficult to explain why during complex movements other combinations of force and shortening velocity of muscle may be found than during isotonic or isokinetic contractions. During isotonic contractions the force exerted on the tendons is constant.” Bobbert, M., et al 1986.

The potential of tendons, ligaments and fascia to generate power greater than muscle contraction alone; are manifest in the classic weightlifting exercises in rapid contraction and relaxation of muscles arising from the weightlifter shifting directions and likewise other efforts to alter mechanical advantage. The high speed shifting of the direction of the weightlifter’s  body and its individual links; combined with rapid contraction – relaxation of muscles; coincide with rapid shifts in force/tension on tendons, i.e, the biological springs. These alterations in tension on the ‘tendon springs’ enable the weightlifter to utilize the elastic energy of the stretching and recoiling tendons to enhance the mechanical energy generated by muscle contraction.  

Complexity Connected With Power From Sequencing Multiple Postures

“It is known that the successful execution of any sport exercise is connected with the athlete’s skill to fully utilize all of the motive forces, including the force of inertia”. (D.D. Donskoi, 1960; V.M. Dyachkov, 1967)

Dynamic sport exercises such as weightlifting, jumping, throwing and sprinting necessitate intricate control of complex movements from the athlete’s sensory – motor systems; which in turn, are part of the topography of the strength developed and expressed in these events. That is to say the sensory – motor system develops along with the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia to produce maximum effort coordinated from an amalgamation of sources: muscle contraction; force of inertia, release of strain energy, i.e., forces unattainable from muscle contraction alone.

For instance, the weightlifting exercises involve maximum effort generated from multiple postures within fractions of seconds: from crouching – standing – squatting – standing. Neural innervation varies with posture. The multiple dispositions of the body necessitates rapid sensory motor alterations to the muscles in the performance of the weightlifting exercises. Sprinters face analogous circumstances when they begin races from a crouched posture; initial strides have varying mechanics than those of the subsequent vertical posture of running. 

Many examples can be cited of more power produced in complex dynamic exercises than in relatively simple exercises of isotonic contraction. Muscles can behave differently than are measured in the laboratory where they are assessed with isotonic or isokinetic methods. For instance, foot strike, take – off and or release of implements in throwing events in Track and Field occur in fractions of a second, i.e., significantly more power is expressed than can be produced from mere muscular contraction.

“The stiffer the spring, the shorter the contact time the higher the peak vertical force.” McMahon, T.A., 1990

Common elements in dynamic sports where the power generated is not possible from mere muscular contraction (note: the shorter the support time the greater the power):

/ Ground support time of world class sprinter: less than 100 msec. {the fastest time ever recorded for Florence Griffith Joyner 0.071 sec};

/ Average support time in the high jump: 120 – 150 msec.;

/ Average support time in throwing events such as hammer: 180 msec;

/ Average support time of long jump: 110 msec; 

/ A world class jumper generates a ground support reaction of 400 kg and more;

/ An elite triple jumper can generate 450 kg of ground support on the 2nd take off, i.e., with one foot;

/ Elite sprinters such as Usain Bolt generate an estimated 470 kg of ground support per foot strike;

Associated elements in weightlifting:

/ Time of explosion phase of weightlifting (re- bending of knees until full extension): 330 msec.

/ Elite weightlifters exceed the acceleration of a free falling body (9.8 m/sec²) dropping to receive the barbell, which in turn creates a lifting force on the barbell;

“When the athlete’s body exceeds the acceleration of a free falling body during the entry into the squat, the force of inertia which is created from the athlete interacting with the barbell, contributes to lifting it.” L. N. Sokolov, 1971

/ Energy expenditure connected with large amplitude of movement in weightlifting exercises greatly exceeds simple strength exercises:

“Calculations of the energy expenditure of a man 165 cm in height for two movements revealed the snatch required 3.5 times more energy than the bench press. N.N. Saxonv, 1967;

/ Oscillating barbell alternatively intensifies and lessons tension on working muscles as well as strain energy in tendons and ligaments, further stimulating the nervous system;

/ A pause of 60 – 80 msec at the bottom of the half squat (see position depicted in figure 1) for the jerk is considered a ‘plateau’. V.I. Frolov, 1978

/ Elite weightlifters effectively coordinate elastic energy from deformation of the elastic properties of the barbell with release of strain energy from elastic tissues which greatly exceeds power from muscle contraction:

“In the absence of resonance between the athlete’s movements and the barbell an “improbable” force of 1,832 kg would be required to reach an acceleration of 6.5 m/sec² for a weight of 210 kg.” V. Myakushko, 2002.

A salient feature distinguishing weightlifting from other complex power events is the utilization of the elastic properties of the barbell; coordinated skillfully with the strain energy from elastic deformation of tendons. The energy necessary for the jerk portion of the clean and jerk exercise (quoted above from calculations of V. Myakushko, 2002) can only result from a combination muscle contraction, strain energy released from the bending/recoiling barbell and the elastic energy from athlete’s tendons. In his example, the 210 kg world record jerk of A. Varbanov, 75 kg (BUL) was executed with a barbell acceleration of 6.5 m/sec²; impossible to achieve from simply violent bending and straightening of legs and pushing with arms!

Figure 1. Twice Olympic champion jerking 155 kg illustrates how the human body can produce an “improbable” lifting force as determined by the calculations of V. Myakushko, 2002. Charniga photo.   

The young woman performing a clean and jerk in figure 1 illustrates how an weightlifter is able to produce an “improbable” acceleration as described by V. Myakushko, 2002 to jerk the barbell to arms length overhead. The potential energy of the bending barbell will be summed with the forces of the contracting muscles and elastic recoil of stretching tendons; most notably, the body’s largest strongest spring, the Achilles tendon. The sum of energy is greater than can be produced from muscle contraction alone.

Another factor given little consideration in the clean and jerk exercise is effect on the nervous system the bending and recoil of the barbell resting on the athlete’s chest. The barbell at rest, for instance depicted in figure 1, with a slight bend in the static starting position of the jerk; is a weight of 155 kg. The weight is 155 kg resting on the athlete’s shoulders. When the young woman begins bending her legs, this weight briefly becomes less than 155 kg as the bar straightens; the discs, in effect move up as she begins bending the legs.

Subsequently, the barbell reaches a maximum bow; approximately when she stops and begins to straighten her legs from the half squat; at approximately the position depicted in figure 1, i.e., the weight is now greater than 155 kg due to inertia.

The weightlifting literature generally ignores the effect on the nervous system of oscillating tension on the athlete’s muscles; instead the focus is on the bar bend and recoil. However, in addition to a lower, then a growing tension on the tendons; the athlete’s muscles are subjected to a variable tension in the space of a brief period of time with the bending and straightening of the lower extremities (I.P. Zhekov, 1969). So, what seems like a simple movement of bending followed by straightening the legs is a far more complex action inculcating accumulation and release of strain energy in tendons and variable muscle tension: the muscles alternatively experience tension of a weight less than; then greater than the actual weight of the barbell.    

Coordination of Muscles Working Together Outside Textbook Defined Limitations

An example of power generated in complex movements differently than described in textbooks is way the gastro – soleus muscles work in complex movements; to produce forces simple laboratory measurements would not be able to anticipate from isokinetic or isotonic testing. For instance, when the strength of gastrocnemius muscle is measured under isokinetic conditions the knee angle does not change; the foot moves.

Yet in jumping, weightlifting and other complex movements (figure 2) knee angle changes as the foot moves, i.e., thigh muscles and gastro – soleus work together forming a leg spring from toe to hip; to produce forces the individual muscles would otherwise be incapable.

This concept is illustrated in figure 2. According to the Soviet literature a pre – mature raising of the heels as depicted in the figure would be considered a mistake. However, just as in jumping; straightening lower extremities against a rising heel (plantar flexion of the foot) is more effective because the athlete not only uses ankle muscles to straighten the legs; additional energy is added from stretching/recoiling of Achilles tendons:

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)

What is considered optimum weightlifting technique, dating back to Soviet times, stipulated the lifter wait until knees are all but straight before raising the heels to further raise the barbell. This idea is to be considered an ‘active’ technique; that is to say a volitional action.

On the contrary, what is perceived to be a “pre – mature” (see figure 2) raising of the heels to deploy ankle muscles and tendons to straighten the leg spring is more effective; if for no other reason, than this action is ‘reactive’. The basis for the ‘active’ technique consist of assumptions of its effectiveness, i.e., it is man made. Whereas, the effectiveness of a ‘reactive’ technique is rooted in millennia of evolution.

Figure 2. Example of how muscles perform differently in complex movements. In photo on right the gastrocnemius muscle exerts torque on knee and ankle simultaneously: plantar flexing the foot and straightening knee; coupled with a variable tension on Achilles tendons. Charniga photos.   

How is one the world’s strongest?

It is very impressive to witness a huge man with huge muscles either pulling a bus, lifting huge stones, deadlifting or squatting in excess of 800 lbs (365 kgs). One is left with an indelible image of strength: an athlete with large muscles moving large objects, albeit a short distance and/or slowly.

However, those displays of strength involve forces less than a single extremely brief foot strike of a world class sprinter; or an”improbable” barbell acceleration of 6.5 m/sec² for a 75 kg weightlifter to jerk a world record of 210 kg.

Three principle factors are connected with less power expressed by large muscles moving large objects slowly: 1/ less possibility to utilize elastic recoil of tendons: “force exerted on tendons” (Bobbertt, 1986) tends to be constant; 2/ large, prolonged muscular tension is connected with excessive tension in muscle antagonists i.e., internal resistance to movement; 3/ rapid relaxation of muscles is all but absent.

“An increase in muscle mass is accompanied by an increase in muscular strength only in certain cases where the required movement is connected with overcoming a large resistance or moving it with a low velocity.”   Y.V. Verkhoshansky, 1977

Weightlifters in the unlimited weight category; currently the +109 kg class; garner all the attention. Their size, some weigh in excess of 150 kgs; and the fact they lift the biggest weights creates a spectacle of strength. However, according these athletes the title of the world’s strongest man or woman is not justified. True they lift the heaviest weights but these weights are both bigger and smaller.

For example, OM Yun Chol (PRK) lifted a total of 294 kg  with a 129 snatch and a clean and jerk of 166 kg at the 2019 world weightlifting championships. In the +109 kg class at the same championships, Talakhadze Lasha (GEO) did 220 and 264 kg respectively, for a total of 484 kg. Talakhadze is the reigning world’s strongest man from his victory at the 2016 Olympics. His total weight lifted of 484 kg is 287% of his 169 kg body weight. Whereas, OM’s total weight lifted of 294 kg is 534% of his 55 kg body weight, i.e., almost twice that of the world’s strongest man. In fact his clean and jerk of 166 kg alone is 302% of his body weight; 5% more than the 484 kg sum of two lifts!

Besides the obvious gross disparity between the two athletes in terms of mass of barbell overcome with significantly less body mass; two distinctions relative to the performance of the lifting the biggest weights in the clean and jerk manifest: speed of switching/relaxation and balance.

Muscle relaxation enhances power output in complex movements as the tension on tendons is rapid and variable; enhancing recoil of elastic energy. Furthermore, rapid relaxation of muscles allow the athlete to switch directions of movement instantaneously; to utilize inertia and shift mechanical advantage of the lifter’s body.

Figure 3. Elite female weightlifter switches from straightening lower extremities to instantaneously flexing lower extremities,i.e., from maximum contraction to relaxation of leg muscles.  Charniga photo

“The faster the switch from one movement to another the more force the athlete’s muscles are able to generate in each individual movement”, L.N. Sokolov, 1973

When OM Yun Chol (PRK) lifts three times bodyweight; he switches from bending to straightening his lower extremities extremely fast (see example in figure 3). This skill is an integral part of the strength needed to lift triple one’s bodyweight. Conversely, the world’s strongest man Talakhadze, has lifted the biggest weight in weightlifting with a clean and jerk of 264 kg. However, it is also the lightest of the world records comprising only 156% of his bodyweight. The movement of his body is much slower than Om’s as he is able to lift the weight with less speed of movement and skill, i.e., without drawing on all the free forces (N.A. Bernstein) of inertia, elastic energy and so forth.  

That being said, the lift of 264 kg is no where near as difficult because the complexity of the strengths needed is significantly less than is necessary to both raise and achieve equilibrium/balance with the 166 kg jerk of OM.

Figure 4. OM Yun Chol (PRK) misses jerk with 172 kg {307% of bodyweight} unable to control the pull of the weight forward. More than sufficient power was generated to raise the weight but the complicacy of equilibrium/balance of such a high general center of mass against a backdrop of a vibrating barbell was too much. Charniga photos.

The world’s strongest man OM Yun Chol (PRK) depicted in figure 4 failed to jerk the 307% of bodyweight 172 kg.  Difficulty in overcoming the ‘horizontal gravity’ inherent to a system with such a high center of mass was the reason as the weight was lifted to arms length easily. Such a huge weight weight exerts a pulling force (forward) on the athlete due to the high center of mass of the barbell – athlete system. Establishing equilibrium/balance with a ‘lightest biggest’ weight of triple bodyweight; greatly exceeds the difficulty experienced by a 169 kg athlete lifting the ‘smallest of the biggest’ weights of 156% of bodyweight.

Regardless the size of the stone lifted, weight deadlifted, or, bus pulled; the amalgamation of strengths displayed in a 300% of bodyweight clean and jerk is well beyond the capacity of brute strength, no matter how big the weight, or large the muscles.

Conclusions

/ Weightlifters are stronger because all of body’s possibilities are called upon in performing complex exercises with maximum effort;

/ Increasing complexity in exercises such as the clean and jerk necessitates greater complexity of effort such as high speed relaxation of muscles; to produce power unattainable from muscle contraction, i.e., to get more power from muscle contraction in simple isotonic movements, more muscle mass; a stronger contraction, is needed; whereas in complex exercise considerably more is required to produce the forces to overcome the complexity of the exercise.

/ The weightlifter’s power is not hindered by “coordination enslavement” (Sokolov, 1971) {unnecessary tension in antagonists, i.e, the  incomplete relaxation of muscles after contraction; or, a slow switch to the state of relaxation;

/ Tension on tendons varies with complex exercises facilitating release of strain energy;

/ Muscles act in different ways in complex exercises, i.e., in concert with each other to produce more power than is possible in simple isotonic tension or strength potential measured in laboratory of individual muscles;

/ Sensory motor stimulation from the elastic barbell may further facilitate the weightlifter’s power.

References

/ Charniga, A., “Distinctions Between Static (Powerlifting/Bodybuilding) and Dynamic (weightlifting/ballistic) Expressions of Strength in Resistance Exercises, www.sportivnypress.com 2020

/ Charniga, A.,”Muscles of the Shank, Movement of the Shin & Susceptibility to Lower Extremity Injury in American Sport”, www.sportivnypress.com

/ Charniga, A., “Expression of Strength in Weightlifting”, www.sportivnypress.com 2018

/ Bobbert, M., Huijing, P., Van Ingen Schenau, G., “A model of the human triceps surae muscle- tendon complex applied to jumping; ” J. Biomechnaics vol. 19: 11: 887-898:1986

/ Sokolov, L. N.,“The Significance of Speed in Weightlifting and Methods to Develop It”, Tyazhelaya Atletika. Sbornik Statei. Fizkultura i Sport, Moscow, Publishers, 1971: 111 – 118, Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ McMahon, T.A., “Spring – like properties of muscles and reflexes in running: multiple muscle systems”, Biomech Movement Org 37:578 – 90, 1990

 

 

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