The ‘Derivatives’ Myth

Andrew Charniga

www.sportivnypress.com

“There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.” Friedrich Nietzsche

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word fad: “a practice or interest followed for time with exaggerated zeal: a craze”. Bear in mind the “exaggerated zeal” of fads are “followed for a time”. For a time translates into figuratively/literally until the next one comes along.

The fad nature of exercise techniques and methods, do not take a back seat to fads in other endeavors, like so many new dance steps or clothes.

Isometrics were the logical choice when NASA was seeking means for the astronauts to exercise in the early days of space travel. Isometrics were not just the obvious as much the only choice due to the confined quarters of space capsules and the positive effects on strength to be gained from very brief periods of exercise.

In the wake of the isometric exercise craze little, if any, thought was given to the effects of isometrics on muscle tendon elasticity; even though one can expect to become as stiff as a board if one did enough isometric tension exercises.  Nonetheless, isometrics became all the rage in the late 50s and into the 1960s due in no small measure to the research findings of German researchers Hettinger and Muller; and, likewise the notoriety accorded static tension by NASA’s astronauts. In fact, thanks to NASA, even chemicalized orange juice (Tang®) made it its way to the breakfast table.

A series of essays “There is no system” (Charniga, www.sportivnypress) traced the evolution of isometrics into the mainstream of strength and conditioning training for athletes; spawning the York power rack to become a predominant mainstay of America’s weight rooms. The negative effects of this type of training; especially the idea of curtailing the range of motion in strength exercises; was traced to the decline of American weightlifting from an international power at the beginning of the 1950s to its precipitous descent by the end of the decade.

The “exaggerated zeal” of the ‘static straining all in one place’ craze wore thin; only to be displaced by a dizzying array of ‘new and improved’ methods of strength training such as isokinetics, weight machines, pulley machines, air resistance, kettlebells, functional training, core training, ad nauseam.

Furthermore, over time, scientific charlatanism in the form of functional training, core training and the discovery of ‘gluts’ only exacerbated the training and conditioning landscape; heavily overcast  as to what/which exercises and techniques are best. All too often, commercial exploitation  was legitimized by the science behind the ‘new and improved’ systems of training; or, was it the science that spawned the commerce?  

Meriam – Webster lists several definitions for the word derivative. However, the one most appropriate to this essay is “lacking originality (banal)”. Lacking in originality suits academics hiding a lack of knowledge and/or expertise behind a maze of numbers and initials after their names.

Mythical Training

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand”. Albert Einstein

At the outset, the findings of the training science presented in the articles (Suchmel, 1 & 2) reviewed in this essay, should be dismissed out of hand due to a number factual as well as all to easily discernible flaws of logic. Although there are too many glaring flaws to cover within the context of this essay, the principle misinformation which forms the entire premise of the so – called research is:

/ “overloading the triple extension”

“The primary purpose of training with weightlifting movements is training and overloading the coordinated triple extension movement” Suchomel, Comfort, Stone, 2015

The so – called triple extension of the lower extremities and trunk to generate maximum power in dynamic sports is a myth. How does one ‘overload’ a myth?

Figure 1. The critical role of ankle muscles (outside of plantar flexion) to generate power in the weightlifting exercises most frequently ignored is the loading of the Biological trebuchet mechanism; obvious in the bending of the shins forward under the bar. Charniga photo.

Physiological/biomechanical research refutes the myth of the triple extension. The human body has anatomical and geometric constraints. Geometric constraints refer to the limits of joints to straighten or bend due to contact with the body links or fastening restraints from ligaments and tendons.

Anatomical constraints refer to the activation of bi-articular (muscles whose attachments cross two joints) and other antagonists to prevent hyper-extension; or, otherwise injury to joints. In the case of forceful extension of the knee, bi-articular rectus femoris, hamstrings and others constrain the movement and shift the force of the knee extension to the feet; acting as brake to slow the movement while at the same time functioning as transfer straps so the energy of the knee extensors is not dissipated; but, is shifted to the feet for push off in running, jumping and so forth.

The existence of this reactive protective mechanism has been confirmed by considerable research. Consequently, the avowed purpose of the ‘derivatives’ research is to ‘overload’ a reflex to protect joints and avoid injury. Absurd!

For instance, do you really want to practice a dangerous action; to overload yet?:

“The angular velocity in a joint has to be zero on the instant that the joint is fully extended. Otherwise, structures traversing the joint run the risk of damage.” Bobbert, et al, 1988  

A concise explanation a forceful triple extension of lower extremities is a myth is presented in the quote below; attributed to the research of Zatsiorsky:    

“Great work by the team at Leeds Beckett University. … “A full extension of the knee was seen as a picture of good technique until Zatsiorsky’s work, which found that extending the knee over 165° required supplementary muscular work and time, while no longer applying significant force into the ground.”

Soviet era research in weightlifting biomechanics confirmed forceful straightening of knees is an error in technique. According to Zhekov (1976) and others (Vorobeyev, 1988) trying to fully straighten knees is counterproductive to generating maximum power in weightlifting:

“The barbell reaches its greatest speed when the knee angle is 165 – 170° and the angle between the torso and the vertical is 10 – 15 °.” I.P. Zhekov, 1976

Zhekov’s assertion one continue to forcefully straighten knees past 165 – 170° is counterproductive confirms the research of Zatsiorsky:

“Pulling in the second half of the explosion, in order to lift the barbell as high as possible will lead to a reduction in barbell speed, because it is not possible to increase it or maintain it. Pushing – off from the barbell slows the drop in its speed and increases the height of the lift.” I.P. Zhekov, 1976

If an athlete endeavors to perform a ‘triple extension’ in power exercises such as weightlifting, he/she is fighting the body’s reflexes to brake the movement of the joint before, in this instance, the knee reaches an angle of 180°. An athlete ends up fighting his/her own reactive actions by purposely trying to straighten the knees to 180°;  instead of switching from straightening to flexing the lower extremities. 

In actuality, the power the weightlifter generates in the pull phases of the classic exercises emanates from timely switching directions; which involves switching from lifting the barbell to squatting down after it passes the knees. A full extension is ineffective because athletes have to begin the switching from straightening knees and trunk while knees are still flexed. In most cases, the full extension of knee which can be observed in still photos or slow motion video is due to inertia of the knee extension and not a prolonged forceful effort to straighten the knees and trunk, the so -called triple extension (Zhekov, 1976).

Furthermore, a  high class weightlifter has already begun raising the heels in the classic exercises with still knees bent; activating the windlass mechanism of the feet and the body’s largest strongest spring the Achilles tendon to release more energy faster than mere muscle contraction; especially the potential energy released from the mythical triple extension.  

Another concept the derivative researchers do not take into account is that lifting the barbell from the floor in the classic exercises involves an accumulation, a gathering of energy if you will, in the weightlifter’s visco – elastic tissues culminating when the knees re – bend as they are shifted under the barbell in the explosion phase; with more bend in ankle than in knee joint.

The rapid stretch of Achilles tendons, the plantar fascia; not to mention the other tendons of the so – called leg spring; precedes the final straightening of the lower extremities. The accumulation of elastic energy is released very fast over the first 2/3 of the final knee extension. More energy is released because the weightlifter switches direction while the knees are still flexed; to dropping under the barbell. That is why weightlifters should not endeavor to fully straighten lower extremities and trunk and plantar flex the ankles sequentially. Time and effort would be wasted on a ‘triple extension’, i.e, the weightlifter’s muscles would be fighting themselves.  

The entire premise of the ‘research’ is a misguided effort to prove a false belief; a training method to improve something that does not exist; a habit athletes in dynamic sports should not acquire.

/ the skill of the weightlifter’s power is the rapid switching from contracting muscles to relaxation; not a prolonged contraction: lifters raise the barbell higher in classic exercises than in pulls!

There is no mention in the derivatives papers of the real mechanism of how weightlifters generate the power to lift maximum weights. The mechanism involves a rapid relaxation of muscles in the pull phase; resulting in a very fast re – bending of the legs as the barbell passes the knee level. The re – bending of the knees facilitates the re – introduction of the muscles of the shank and front thigh; which are ineffective when the shins approach a vertical disposition. 

The re – bending is a reaction to the drop in force against the support as the shins approach vertical. The relaxation of the weightlifter’s muscles is part and parcel a high speed switching from straightening knees to re – bending; followed by a very fast straightening (not fully) of the legs which stretches the Achilles and other visco – elastic tissues of the lower extremities; including the springs in the arch of the feet. The rapid switching from contraction to relaxation and back to contraction of the weightlifter’s muscles releases more energy faster than is possible from mere muscle contraction. Such a mechanism is  nowhere to be found in the maze of numbers in the derivative papers.  

…..elastic energy can be released from a spring like element much more rapidly than a muscle can shorten while it generates significant force”. A. Biewener, 2015

Elastic mechanisms in animals do not add energy to the system, but rather amplify power only in the sense that they release energy more rapidly than it is stored.” Roberts, T, Azizi, E., “Flexible mechanisms: the diverse roles of biological springs in vertebrate movement”, J Exp Biol., 02/01/2011; 214 (3): 353 – 361

Significant release of elastic energy is not possible or, at best weak if the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the ankles are not sufficiently supple. Yet, the Achilles spring is not even part of the derivatives lingo.

However, plantar flexion of the ankle is; which cannot generate anywhere near the energy released as can be released in concert with the recoil of the body’s largest strongest spring. The derivatives researchers never mention this; apparently, they are unaware of its existence. So, the whole idea of measuring power of the ‘triple extension’ while disregarding accumulation and release of strain energy from the Achilles and other visco – elastic tissues of the leg spring is a non sequitor. 

A further confirmation of this concept from Soviet era weightlifting sport scientist Frolov indicates the bend in the ankle joint has to be greater than in the knee as the lifter’s legs re – bend. A larger bend in ankle joints is highly unlikely; with the subjects who “were male collegiate athletes” of the study; especially when testing was done with a barbell above knee from a dead stop. Furthermore, any practical application of the study’s findings precludes any value of derivatives in a high school or college setting. These athletes would tend to be even more deficient in ankle mobility than collegiate subjects. 

“The athlete rapidly shifts his knees under the bar at bordering moment of the 2nd – 3rd parts within the optimum joint angles. For this to occur the magnitude of bend in the ankle joint is larger than in the knee joint.” V.I,. Frolov, 1977 

So, the power the derivatives are purportedly measuring is mere muscle contraction; not a complex combination of muscle power and elastic recoil of strain energy from visco – elastic tissues; consistent with efficient weightlifting technique. Subjects of the studies were to follow the ‘triple extension’ with a shoulder shrug (jump shrugs exercise). Is that silly or not? How much energy against the support can the ‘shrug’ produce? And, how does shrugging carry over to dynamic activities such as sprinting, jumping and so forth where energy is generated from the leg spring?

Furthermore, the ‘jump shrug’ is the not the correct technique of the classic exercises:

  “The correct action of raising the shoulders is performed simultaneously with the beginning of the squat under.” A.N. Vorobeyev, 1988

/ the highly questionable technique of the subjects;

Any perceived benefit from performing partial movements must come from ankle suppleness and the ability to bend shins forward and return at high speed. It is common knowledge muscles can contract in a reverse origin insertion action. In the classic snatch and clean the soleus and other plantar flexors of the shank become a biological trebuchet in this reverse origin insertion fashion when tilted as knees bend forward under the barbell. That is to say, the recoil of a forward tilting shank produces a counterclockwise torque at the ankle joint from muscles; and, especially the springy Achilles tendon. The energy released from such a trebuchet type recoil of the shank muscle – tendon complex produces the bulk of the power expressed in the explosion phase. This power peaks well before full extension of knee joints; in and of itself making a triple extension ineffective; even superfluous.

It is highly unlikely; if not an absolute certainty; the derivative’s subjects lack the mobility especially in the ankle joints; to realize the energy accumulation to perform the weightlifting exercises correctly. Which further calls into question the authors data obtained with low skilled subjects.  

Figure 2. The fast re – bend of the knees comes against a backdrop of tilting the shins forward, i.e, loading a Biological trebuchet; which in turn rapidly stretches/loads the visco – elastic tissues of the leg spring; the subsequent release of energy is faster than mere muscle contraction; let alone a ‘overloaded triple extension’ with a shrug.   Charniga photo

Beyond the Pale

/ the delusion of less is better mentality does not avoid injuries associated with strength exercises; it exacerbates the problem;

“Practitioners should consider implementing weightlifting pulling derivatives that eliminate the catch phase for athletes who are not competitive athletes. Suchmel, 2015

The false premise that some academics have discovered athletes can derive the same benefit by reducing the amplitude of motion in classic strength exercises, as can be obtained by doing the full range movements is at the heart of the American sport injury epidemic. They need to stand up and take credit where credit is due: for the injuries they cause. Collegiate, high school and professional weight rooms are already full of benches, racks, machines and the like where low coordination, restricted range of motion, suppleness compromising exercises are the norm. Another excuse to simplify and/or avoid complex coordination strength exercises; or, distort them into glorified bodybuilding/powerlifting exercises just adds fuel to the injury fire.    

“The execution of the movement is correct when there is no full extension of the knees; nor a significant rise onto the toes. The squat under begins when the athlete has straightened his knees to an angle of 165 – 170° and has only begun to rise onto the toes.” I. P. Zhekov, 1976

 Figure 3. Elite weightlifter with shoulder joints well behind the vertical projection of the bar, heels raised and knees bent has already begun descending under the barbell. Charniga photo.

Conclusions

Obscuring ignorance with numbers

/ the so – called derivatives research is neither science nor research, it is an exercise in ignorance to affirm false beliefs with numbers; 

/ the less amplitude of movement, the less coordination in strength and conditioning exercises is better, zeitgeist, is without question, part and partial the core cause of the epidemic of injuries in American sport;

The smaller amplitude of movement in strength exercises involve less coordination, little in the way of muscle relaxation skills. These are the exercises, the false narrative, the derivative devotees promote as: “… may provide a training stimulus that is as good as, if not better than, weightlifting movements that include the catch phase”;(1).

There is no basis for this in fact or fantasy.  All the numbers, the so – called data, confirm the fallacy; not the efficacy of the made up derivatives fad. 

/ proclaiming less amplitude of movement (derivatives) in weightlifting exercises are safer is a lie;

Figure 4. The initial loading of the body’s trebuchet mechanism occurs as the barbell is raised from the platform with shins tilted forward. Charniga photo

The ability to perform complex exercises requiring rapid switching of directions, large amplitude of motion; and, especially suppleness, are in fact safer; evinced by the relatively low injury rate in weightlifting sport by comparison to the aberrant injury rate in American sports where less amplitude of movement, static and low coordination conditioning exercises predominate. 

References:

/ Zhekov, I.P., Biomechanics of the Weightlifting Exercises, English translation: Sportivnypress, Livonia, Michigan, Original publication in Russian: Fizkultura I Sport, Moscow, 1976

/ Vorobeyev, A., N., Weightlifting, textbook for the institutes of sport, FIS, Moscow, 1988. English translation: Sportivnypress, Livonia, Michigan,

/ Charniga, A. “There is no system” (parts 1 – 6), www.sportivnypress

/ Charniga, A., “The secret to the weightlifter’s strength”, www.sportivnypress.com

/ Charniga, A., “Speed in weightlifting: an optical illusion”, www.sportivnypress.com

/ Charniga, A. “How is it possible weightlifters are stronger”, www.sportivnypress.com

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

/ Charniga, A., “Why Safe is Unsafe”, www.sportivnypress.com

/ Frolov, V.I., “The optimal phasic structure of the snatch of highly qualified weightlifters”,Tyazhelaya Atletika Ezhegodnik, 1977:52 – 55, Fizkultura I Sport Publishers, Moscow Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ 1. Suchmel, T. J., Comfort, P., Stone, M.H., “Weightlifting Pulling Derivatives: Rationale for Implementation and Application”, Sports Med
DOI 10.1007/s40279-015-0314-y

/ 2. Suchomel, T., McKeever, S., Comfort, P., “Training weioth weightlifting derivatives: The effects of force and velocity overload stimuli”, Journal of strength and conditioning research, (2020) 34:7

/ Bobbert, M.F., Jan Van Ingen Schenau,G., “Coordination in Vertical Jumping,” Journal Of Biomechanics, 21:3:249 – 262, 1988.
/ Bobbert, M.F., Huijing, P.A., Jan Van Ingen Schenau, G., “A Model of the Human Triceps Surae Muscle – Tendon Complex Applied to Jumping,” Journal Of Biomechanics, 19:11:887 – 898, 1986