The Secret to the Weightlifter’s Strength: Speed of Muscle Relaxation

Andrew Charniga


The ability  to quickly  express maximum effort in weightlifting exercises; while at one and the same time, control one’s movements; is a complex enterprise. Afferent impulses to the central nervous system (CNS) from muscle tendon and joint sensors have to be converted into efferent (from the CNS) to the muscles to produce smooth coordinated movements. The central nervous system has to decide what to do and how best to do it on the basis of these sensory messages.   Essentially, this conversion of impulses defines the complexity of intra – muscular coordination:  

The fundamental problem of coordination to a great extent, if not exclusively, is the problem of transforming afferent impulses to efferent” (K. Lashley, 1951) quoted by Verkhoshansky 1988.

A number of Soviet era authors have emphasized the significance of muscle relaxation in the performance of complex motor skills, such as the  classic weightlifting exercises (Vorobeyev, Matveyev, Verkhoshansky, Sokolov, Falameyev, Zhekov, and others). A common topic of (Soviet) research of the 30s, 50 – 60s (Verkhoshansky, 1988); little of late appears on the subject; especially in the western literature.

That being said, something to consider is the fact people who have not undergone special training to learn the skill of muscle relaxation will have little ability to relax muscles. (Federov, Nazarov, Frafels, 1975; cited by Verkhoshansky, 1988). 

The ability to relax muscles effectively to perform dynamic sport is not only a skill but a trainable one. A coach simply telling an athlete to relax muscles is not enough; he/she must cultivate the ability to ‘feel’  muscles relax. Furthermore, this ability applies likewise to the skill to ‘sense’ unnecessary tension in weightlifting exercises; and, to make the appropriate correction.

The inherent complexity of dynamic sport exercises, especially the classic weightlifting exercises, can be stated simply: one has generate great power performing precise movements; all the while simultaneously tensing and relaxing muscles (Hippenreitor 1935; Farfels, 1939; Ozolin, 1947; Makarova, 1955; Federov, 1995, cited by Verkhoshansky 1988).

The classic weightlifting exercises involve brief bursts of near maximum and maximum muscle tension; which makes rapid relaxation of these same muscles difficult. Consequently, various Soviet era authors emphasize the need for weightlifters to perfect the ability to relax muscles from the beginning of training and throughout one’s weightlifting career (Sokolov, Vorobeyev, Falameyev, Zatsiorsky, Matveyev; and Bulgarian Abadjiev).

Skillful simultaneous tension/relaxation of muscles essentially defines coordination of movement.  

Coordination of Movement in Weightlifting Means Muscles Tensed with Muscles Relaxed & Rapid Switching from Contraction to Relaxation

In the performance dynamic sport exercises two main forms of muscle relaxation are on display: agonist muscles tensed with antagonist muscles relaxed and instantaneous relaxation of tensed muscles (Verkhoshansky, 1988). 

Although the span of snatch and the clean and jerk are relatively brief: less than 3 seconds for the  snatch and 6 – 9 seconds for the clean and jerk; the weightlifter’s muscles rapidly alternate muscle tension (agonists) with muscle relaxation (antagonists). A state of constant tension/relaxation during the classic exercises is punctuated by very fast switching between extensor muscles such as quadriceps, and flexors (hamstrings, anterior tibialis) from maximum tension to maximum  relaxation. This switching from contracting to rapidly relaxing the same muscle groups coincides with the changing angle of the legs and trunk relative to a vertical disposition. This is the first form of muscle relaxation. 

Furthermore, complete shifts in direction from straightening the legs and torso, to squatting fast; involve even more complex instantaneous switching from contraction to relaxation of muscles. This is the second form.

For instance, as the weightlifter drops under the barbell in the snatch the biceps, forearm and shoulder muscles contract to pull the body down. At that same instant, the muscles of the ankles, thighs and hips which flex the lower extremities are all actively contracting in concert with the arms to lower the weightlifter as fast as possible. While the upper and lower extremity muscles are flexing their antagonists such as triceps and quadriceps are all relaxing; so, unnecessary tension in these muscle groups do not create internal resistance for the muscles flexing the arms and lower extremities.

Subsequently, an – instant – within – an – instant later, the  flexing muscles relax as the extensor muscles (quadriceps, triceps and so forth) contract to further speed the lifter’s descent under the barbell; for the preparation to receive the weight on outstretched arms (figure 1).

Figure 1. Two completely different circumstances separated by a fraction – of – a –  fraction of a second. On the left the lifter’s upper and lower extremity muscles are flexing the body – arms pulling down; hip and thigh muscles flexing the lower extremities. On the right the lifter switches to extensor muscles of both upper an lower extremities to continue dropping down to receive the weight. A high speed switching from tension with relaxation of opposing muscle groups. Charniga photos.

Essentially the same situation occurs in the clean:  simultaneous tension in flexor muscles of arms and legs as extensor muscles of arms and legs relax precedes an – instant – within – an – instant later, the opposite circumstance: flexors relax and extensor muscles contract (figure 2).

Figure 2. Two figures illustrate the same tension with relaxation switching instants of opposing muscles as in the snatch: with arms pulling the body down along with leg muscles in the figure on the left. Subsequently, there is an instantaneous switching to extensors of arms along with leg extensors to further facilitate the descent and prepare to receive the weight in the squat. Charniga photos. 

The specificity of these rapid switching – from – tension – to – relaxation actions are frequently ignored. And, this is obvious in competitions where lifts are missed even though barbell speed and height of lifting seem to be sufficient; yet, the lifter is unable to fix the weight on the chest or on outstretched arms in the snatch. Here it is possible the lifter pulled up on the barbell too long: arm and shoulder muscles contracting too long; delaying the switch to pulling the body down.

Another possibility can be the lifter “brakes” the descent with the leg muscles; a habit formed by stopping the descent into the squat from training a lot of power snatch and power cleans. At any rate, the switch over from tense – while – relaxing of select muscles to the opposite: tense – while – relaxing of other select muscles; does not occur effectively. The lifter fails to fix the weight even though sufficient power to lift it was produced.

       Tension/Relaxation Complexity in the Jerk

The jerk is different from the snatch and the clean: upper extremity extensor muscles (triceps) push against bar while the lower extremity extensor muscles first relax; as the flexing muscles of the lower extremities tense to pull the body down. Then these same flexing muscles of lower extremities instantaneously relax as extensor muscles tense for the lifter to receive and amortize the barbell.

Figure 3. The extensor muscles  of the arms contract along with the flexors of the lower extremities  to speed the descent under the barbell in the jerk. This is followed by the flexors of the lower extremities relaxing as extensor muscles of lower extremities contract to fix the barbell in the split position. Charniga Photos.

The upshot of this exercise into the complexity of the alternating tension – while – relaxed; cycles  of the weightlifter’s muscles; is to point out efficient technique depends on the ability to perform the movements  with the optimum muscular tension; of which optimum muscle relaxation is the key. This of course is includes the skill to switch muscles from a tensed to a relaxed state repeatedly over the relative brevity of the classic exercises.   

Figure 4. Photos like the one above are often used to interpret the weightlifter is pressing up while dropping under the barbell in the jerk. This even though both feet are not in contact with the floor, i.e., there is no fixed surface to push against. Charniga photo. 

Mechanically Efficient Technique and Muscle Relaxation

The notion that mechanical efficiency is connected with minimizing internal resistance is illustrated in electro-myographic (EMG) data depicted in figure 5. The elite lifter’s (B) muscles are shown to contract faster as well as relax faster than the lower class lifter (A). A rather simplified metaphor of this circumstance; imagine driving a car with the parking brake on. The lower class lifter (A) is ‘driving with the parking brakes on’ due to internal resistance of the overlapping tension in muscle antagonists.


Figure 4. Comparison of muscle actions between a lower class weightlifter (A) and a high class lifter (B). Note larger spaces between bursts of electrical activity of muscles, depicted as large circles, of the main lower extremity muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, Tibialis anterior, gastro – soleus) of the high class lifter (B). This is indicative a shorter time of firing and rapid relaxation of the same muscles. The same data of the lower class lifter (A) shows a pattern of prolonged onset of electrical bursts and longer contraction time before relaxation; an overlapping of tensed lower extremity muscles. The biceps muscles (red arrow #2) also reveal the same pattern: the lower class lifter (A) has a prolonged tension while the high class lifter (B) exhibits pronounced tension interspersed  with relaxation breaks. From Podlivayev, 1975; cited by Verkhoshansky 1988.

Lifter A’s car will still move; nevertheless, the brakes inhibit the speed possible under such conditions. Furthermore, ‘driving with the parking brakes on’ will accelerate the onset of fatigue (Matveyev, 1977). In this example, the excess tension in the antagonist muscles is characterized driving with the parking brakes of a car engaged. Whereas, lifter B’s rapid, pulsating rate of muscle firing interspersed with rapid relaxation (the gaps in the diagram); on the other hand; metaphorically speaking, can be likened to a car speeding at full throttle uninhibited by  internal resistance; especially, with no drag from ‘parking brakes’.

Progression of Muscle Relaxation Speed Specified

The idea that an athlete’s progress in dynamic sport can be gauged at least in part by the ability to relax muscles faster than he/she can contract muscles is a unique perspective. This is especially true of weightlifting; where, all too often, criteria defining progress; in addition to the actual results in the classic exercises; are results in squats, power snatch and power clean, push jerk, deadlift and the like.

Data in table 1 from Matveyev, 1977 illustrates the ability to relax muscles can be a progressive skill. The latent period of a volitional muscle contraction (LCT) is quicker in the novice than the latent period of volitional muscle relaxation (LRT) 0.2980 sec to 0.3820 sec; or a difference of 0.0840 sec. By the time an athlete has reached the class II level of sport mastery the difference has receded to 0.0032 sec (table 1).

Table 1. Comparison of Latent Contraction Time (LCT) and Latent Relaxation Time (LRT) for athletes of different quulification. (L.P. Matveyev, 1977) 

Novice 0.2980 0.3820 0.0840
Class III 0.2708 0.3730 0.1022
Class II 0.2500 0.2532 0.0032
Class I 0.2375 0.2425 0.0050
Master Sport 0.2304 0.2185 -0.0119

Table 1.Difference (in sec.) Between the Latent Contraction time (LCT) and the Latent Relaxation time (LRT) of the Muscles of Athletes of Different Sporting Qualification (L.P. Matveyev, 1977). Over time athletes in dynamic sports develop  the ability to relax muscles faster than contract: a crucial indicator of movement efficiency.

As this same athlete continues training and progressing in dynamic sports like weightlifting, track and field and so forth; speed of muscle relaxation catches up and ultimately exceeds speed of contraction. By the time the athlete has achieved a master of sport rating; time of muscle relaxation is quicker by -0.0119 seconds (table 1).

From the data in table 1 you can see both indices of speed of contraction and speed of relaxation times improve; however, the rate of relaxation exceeds the rate of improvement in speed of contraction time. The divergence of faster relaxation from contraction of muscles means the progress of the higher class athlete is due in no small measure to enhanced mechanical efficiency.

For example, of the indicators of progress in dynamic sport such as improvement of strength, speed of muscle contraction and speed of relaxation times as an athlete rises in sport rating from Class III to master sport are: 32.2%, 37.2% and 57.6% respectively (Verkhoshansky 1988). Speed of muscle relaxation time improves at faster rate and is almost twice that of strength and speed of contraction. Likewise in events such as the 400 meter and 400 m hurdles events in track and field the speed of relaxation has a significant effect at all levels of sport classification (Verkhoshansky, 1988). The relative improvement of speed of muscle contraction, maximum strength and speed of muscle relaxation are: 39.8%, 54.6%, and 94.7%. For these athletes the relative improvement of speed of muscle relaxation is almost twice that of the other two qualities:

“In those sprinting events with greater distances (400 and 400 M hurdles), where speed endurance has a significant affect on results, the key factor defining and regulating sport results at all stages is the speed of muscle relaxation. Y.V. Verkhoshansky, 1988

Progression of Speed of Muscle Relaxation Implied:

Learning to Raise Limit Weights at a Progressively Lower Maximum Height of Lifting

Although strength is a necessity for success in weightlifting it is easy to get carried away with measuring one’s progress by results in training exercises such as front and back squat. The idea of gauging a weightlifter’s progress in terms his/her technical efficiency by such non – traditional indicators as the lifter’s speed of descent  combined with a lower height of lifting are brilliant ideas; way ahead of their time in weightlifting’s past; still way ahead today. The ability to drop fast and fix a barbell to a relatively low height;  are connected with the weightlifter’s ability to relax muscles quickly.

For example, legendary Bulgarian national weightlifting coach Abadjiev (1983) spoke of how it was possible for 15 year old Naim Suleymanov to lift a world record jerk of 160 kg at 56 kg bodyweight while another lifter can manage only 110 kg weighing 100 kg; in terms of Suleymanov’s  intra – muscular coordination; of his ability to relax muscles. This despite the other lifter’s obvious advantage in size and strength.The huge gap between the weights these  athletes could lift was dictated by intra -muscular coordination; of which muscle relaxation is an integral part.  

The essence of Abadjiev’s system of training was specificity: to lift maximum weights in the competition exercises by emphasizing practice with the competition exercises with near maximum and maximum weights; to the exclusion of the many assistance and muscle mass building exercises common in weightlifting training. The reasoning behind this system is to mitigate the risk a weightlifter will develop the wrong habits from incorporating various assistance exercises. Even though these exercises improve strength for the classic exercises; they can alter the athlete’s coordination from the correct performance of the classic exercises with maximum weights.

For instance, one such assistance exercise is the so – called muscle snatch. In this movement the lifter lifts the weight to arms length from the from the hang without re – bending the knees. The flexors of the arm and shoulder muscles are lifting up until the barbell is on outstretched arms; whereas at a given instant in the classic snatch the weightlifter is pulling the body down with the muscles of the upper extremities as the muscles of the lower extremities flex to pull the body down. See above descriptions.

The potential negative carry – over of muscle snatch exercises and such may be a subtlety not readily visible to the naked eye: the lifter ingrains a negative habit of flexing arm muscles too  long – see EMG graphic in figure 4. The EMG data of the lower class lifter shows a prolonged tension in biceps muscle with an overlapping of tension of muscles in lower extremities, i.e, lifting with parking brakes on. This same circumstance could create a problem which affects the complex coordination of the muscles of the upper and lower extremities described above. For instance, coaches will often give the wrong advice to a lifter after a missed lift; telling the athlete to pull harder; shrug the shoulders and such; which of course will just exacerbate the problem.

A Weightlifter’s Progression in Muscle Relaxation Quantified

The idea that a weightlifter, like athletes in other dynamic sports; improves the intricate skill  of mechanical efficiency; by learning to relax muscles ever faster; is not specified; yet is certainly implied from those data compiled by A. V. Chernyak, (1978) in table 2.

For instance, a beginner whose height is in the range 165.1-170 cm will be expected to raise a weight which is 100% of his/her maximum 126 cm to snatch it; and, lift a 100% weight to a height of 94 cm to clean it. The corresponding maximum heights to which the lifter of this height will be able to lift 100% of the snatch result and 100% of the clean result in the snatch pull and the clean pull respectively are: 109 cm and 102 cm (table 2).

As this same lifter of 165.1 – 170 cm in height range progresses from beginner to master of sport international class; instead needing to raise the barbell to a height of 126 cm in order to snatch a maximum weight; he will have developed the skill to lift a weight he can only raise to 95 cm. Likewise, instead of a maximum height of 102 cm he will be able to clean a weight which he can only raise to a height of 87 cm (table 2). The now MSIC lifter has improved his mechanical efficiency significantly in both exercises (table 2).

The reason for the disparity in height of lifting between pulls and the classic exercises is the effect of the weightlifter raising 100% higher in both classic snatch and classic clean as he/she drops into the squat. The action of descending under the barbell imparts an additional lifting force on the barbell; which is simply not possible in the pulling exercises. This circumstance is consistent regardless of the rise in the lifter’s skill (table 2). A lifter who is able to raise 100% of his/her snatch weight higher in the snatch pull than in the actual classic snatch is technically deficient. A lifter who is able to raise 100% of the clean higher in clean pull than in the actual clean is likewise considered to be mechanically inefficient.

Chernyak’s data presented in table 2 demonstrates progress in weightlifting is connected with an ever rising mechanical efficiency evinced by the ability to fix a maximum weight at a lower height; a skill impossible to acquire without likewise developing the skill to relax muscles extremely fast. The progressive – regressive nature of the maximum height of lifting implies improvement of speed of muscle relaxation; it is obligatory. It doesn’t have to be spelled out.

Table 2. A Progression – of – Regression of Height of Lifting in the Snatch, Snatch Pull, Clean Pull and Clean as an indicator of Rising  Mechanical Efficiency. According to A.V. Chernyak, 1978


Ht. cm

Snatch Pull, cm

Snatch, cm

Clean Pull, cm

Clean, cm







Class III






Class II






Class I



















180.1 -185





Class III

180.1 -185





Class II

180.1 -185





Class I

180.1 -185






180.1 -185






180.1 -185





Notations: MS – master of sport; MSIC – master of sport international class.

The ingenuity of Chernyak’s concept, its intrinsic value, as evinced from those data presented in table 2; lies in its simplicity; a weightlifter’s improvement can be quantified; by the rise, or lack thereof in mechanical efficiency. Quite simply, a lifter whose numbers are off significantly in height of lifting for 100% snatch or clean, i.e., lifts 100% weights higher in pulls than in the classic snatch, or clean; needs to spend more time training the classic exercises and less time on strength exercises such as squats and pulls.  

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

Another unlikely, yet brilliant in its logical simplicity; is the notion to calculate mechanical efficiency in the classic snatch based on the lifter’s hand spacing. According to this line of thinking (Bykov, A.P., Smagli, Y.I., 1970) one should be able to predict a maximum height of lifting in the snatch based on the ratio of the lifter’s height to his/her width of hand spacing.

First the weightlifter’s hand spacing is determined. Then the angle of the arm to the bar (the range is 49 -63°). Using a table of norms one finds the required height of fixation for a given athlete’s height. If the athlete’s height of fixation is significantly higher than the norm for the lifter’s height and hand spacing; the technique is poor; and, vice versa. In either event, a low height of lifting as calculated from the width of the hand spacing implies speed of muscle relaxation is a governing factor; which affects the speed of descent under the barbell as well as the weightlifter’s flexibility.  

“...if the actual height conforms to the maximum, you know the exercise technique is imperfect. If on the other hand, the actual height of lifting is below the mean you know the athlete possesses excellent snatch technique and flexibility”.(Bykov, A.P., Smagli, Y.I., 1970)

Practical means for eliminating unnecessary tension in antagonist muscles & European style ‘sticky’ squats

To reach elite status in dynamic sports, athletes have to learn how to relax their muscles faster than their muscles contract; so as not to be hinder movements with unnecessary tension; commonly referred to as internal resistance (Matveyev, 1977).

That being said, excessive tension in antagonist muscles can negatively impact a weightlifter’s flexibility. A full range of motion can be impaired; especially the speed with which a weightlifter reaches the full amplitude of motion; due to excessive tension in antagonist muscles (Matveyev, 1977). This superfluous tension can affect range of motion in joints negatively because dynamic flexibility depends on muscle relaxation to permit full range of motion, i.e., you can’t expect to reach a full range of motion by simply bending; antagonist muscles have to relax so as not to impede motion, especially in dynamic exercises.

“…flexibility indices depend on the ability to combine loosening of the extended muscles with the tensing of moving muscles.” Matveyev, 1977

So, irregardless if one has good range of motion; superfluous tension in antagonist muscles; or even a slow switch to relaxation can adversely affect dynamic flexibility, i.e., the ability to squat very low, or drop very fast in scissoring the legs quickly in weightlifting exercises.

Even if an lifter is able move through a large range of motion in regular static stretching exercises; she/he may not be able to realize this flexibility in the snatch or clean due to an inability to effectively relax muscles; or, relaxes muscle antagonists too slowly.

Figures 5&6. Elite female drops extremely fast and low in the squat to fix the barbell (see videos). Two important considerations for dropping fast in both snatch and clean often overlooked are the flexibility to sit low and the absence of excess tension in legs which can slow the descent; beginning at approximately parallel. Muscle tension in the legs and hips has to be reasonably low to permit the lifter to drop through the disposition depicted in the 2nd photo without ‘sticking’. Optimum tension – relaxation cycles of leg and hip muscles along with good flexibility translate into a lower height of lifting and higher speed of descent (Leshko, 1976; Charniga 2019). Charniga photos. 

The athlete in the two videos illustrate the mechanical efficiency of a high speed of descent effected by low tension in antagonist muscles and extremely fast relaxation of muscles. The lifter’s drop to the very low squat is uninhibited by superfluous tension, i.e., a ‘sticky’ descent is non existent. 

This circumstance illustrates why it is imperative lifters emphasize dynamic stretching exercises over static; to ensure one’s flexibility is dynamic, i.e., is in sync with the specific conditions of the snatch and the clean and jerk. 

The ability to effectively relax muscles for dynamic exercises like the classic snatch and the clean and jerk is a skill which is not inbred; special training is required. (Federov, 1955; Nazarov, Farfels, 1975).

Muscle relaxation warmups

All to often one can observe lifters warming up for training and competitions with an unloaded bar and/or with light and even medium weights performing power snatch, muscle snatch, power cleans and such. These exercises don’t contribute to timely relaxation of muscles for dropping under the barbell; they involve prolonged tension of upper body muscles and tension of muscles of the lower extremities to stand straight before squatting.

Some authors even recommend a host of exercises to warmup for competition attempts such as muscle snatch, overhead squats, press behind head in squat position; good mornings, jumps and others. In some cases there are so many movements the recommendations border on the ridiculous. In fact, some recommend a host of muscle inclusion movements so that each muscle group ostensibly be warmed and ready to perform specific functions at each phase of the exercises. However logical this may sound in the classroom; it is not only is wasted effort; muscle relaxation skills tend to be neglected.    

For the most part, few think of ‘warming up’ speed of muscle relaxation. 

A viable alternative to traditional warm up sequences and exercises; especially for those with poor muscle relaxation skills; would be to perform only full range of motion lifts: squat snatch and squat clean; squatting as low and as fast possible. Multiple sets (4 – 6) of full lifts with an unloaded bar and very light weights prepares the weightlifter for the forthcoming efforts with maximum weight; muscle relaxation skills, the centerpiece of dynamic flexibility are instilled from the onset of exercise.

Performing warmups in this manner, forces/teaches the lifter to relax muscles to reach a low squat position; all the more so; because with the unloaded bar. With such light resistance a lifter can only generate a negligible force on the bar to  pull the body down with the arms. As the weight of the barbell increases a lifter is able to pull against an almost immobile barbell to facilitate the descent. However, muscle relaxation skills should be inculcated before the enhanced leverage conditions of a slower moving barbell is reached.

On the other hand, a lot of power snatch and power clean exercises in training can manifest in ‘sticky’ style squatting under the barbell in the classic exercises. This is a common occurrence in European lifters; especially today’s lifters. This ‘stickiness’ can be due to the excessive tension in the legs during the descent into the low squat.

A ‘braking’ or involuntary slowing of the athlete barbell system in the squatting under phases of the snatch and the clean with maximum weights can occur; beginning at, or even slightly above the parallel disposition of the legs in the squat. Instead of braking the descending athlete – barbell system the weightlifter should descend to a low squat without this unnecessary tension in the legs, i.e., as fast as possible.

Sticky squats and the 3rd curve

European ‘sticky’ squatting under the barbell in the classic snatch and clean may result from a negative transfer of a habit from power snatch or power clean: prematurely braking and/or abruptly stopping the descent under the barbell. This creates extra resistance for the weightlifter to drop into a low squat position in lifting maximum weights in the classic snatch and clean; which is the same as forcing the lifter to lift  the barbell higher to fix it on outstretched arms, or on the chest.

A premature slowing or  ‘sticky’ squatting of the descent may adversely effect the barbell’s rear – ward trajectory towards the athlete. An oft overlooked and equally misunderstood segment of barbell trajectory in the snatch and the clean is the ‘3rd curve’; or the rearward hook towards the athlete as he/she drops under to fix the weight on outstretched arms, or, on the chest (See diagram in figure 7). 

Figure 7. Drawings of barbell trajectory from left to right: of the classic snatch {broken line} and the classic clean {broken line} are depicted with contrasting bar trajectory curves of the snatch pull and clean pull (both continuous lines). In both cases the maximum height of lifting is higher for both classic exercises than for the corresponding pull with the same 100% weights. Likewise the hooks of  the 3rd curves in the the classic exercises are wider (towards the athlete) indicative the descent affects curve-linear trajectory; pulling the barbell towards the lifter. The shifting towards the athlete in the 3rd curve is necessary for the lifter to be able to fix the barbell on outstretched arms; or at the chest. The lifting efforts of both clean and snatch pull lack this rearward trajectory because the lifter does not drop under the barbell. This is evident from the smaller width and depth of the hooks of the 3rd curves for the pulls in the figure. The final positions of the barbell are at lower maximum height and further in front of the lifter for both snatch pull and clean pull. Diagrams from Roman 1974; Charniga photos

Dropping rapidly into a full, low squat facilitates the oft overlooked rearward, uppermost 3rd curve in barbell trajectory of the snatch and the clean.

The  inertia from the lifter’s body dropping into a low squat draws the barbell towards him/her; which up to this point in the classic exercises has shifted forward in a curve-linear trajectory (figure 7). 

“The rearward deviation in the barbell’s trajectory is caused by the lifter shifting forward and down as he squats under the bar. The reactive force occurs in the opposite direction as this happens. It is the horizontal portion of this force which curves the barbell’s trajectory. I.P. Zhekov, 1976

By way of contrast a ‘sticky’ effect is created by prematurely braking the descent under the barbell; and/or stopping the descent from habits of power snatch or power clean. The ‘sticky’ effect can prevent the barbell from shifting  sufficiently towards the lifter in the ‘hook’ portion of the ‘3rd curve’ to fix it on the chest; or, on outstretched arms overhead in the snatch. Indeed, lifters usually tilt the trunk forward in receiving the barbell in both power snatch or power clean to compensate for a smaller ‘3rd curve’ in order to fix it overhead; or, on the chest. 

Relaxation Fatigue?

Estimating recovery with simple flexibility and speed of switching direction

“Apparently, one can say that the after – effect of training affects the inhibitory processes more: recuperation takes longer in comparison with the excitatory processes.” Volkov, Milner, Nosov 1975)

Weightlifters need to recoup the ability to contract, and of course, relax muscles  after intense workouts. It is a common assumption  that muscles are unable to contract with the same pre – workout speed and generate the same pre – workout power because they are in a state of fatigue. Tired muscles cannot generate the power of fresh muscles.

Soviet sport scientists moved on from the 1930s – 1950s research into the crucial role muscle relaxation plays in dynamic sport. However, a rather obscure paper defining the asynchronous after – effect of weightlifting sessions offered a unique perspective: speed of muscle relaxation returns slower after intense training inhibiting muscle power (Volkov, Milner, Nosov ,1975).

If the idea that muscles recuperating from intense weightlifting workouts are unable to contract with the same pre – workout power; because, the weightlifter’s ability to relax muscles takes longer to return to pre – workout levels; sounds strange; it is not.

“We called the ratio LPC/LPR the coefficient of sportsman’s workability. The LPC/LPR ratio diminishes with the sportsman’s improving functional state and rises with fatigue. The LPR undergoes the largest alterations. The sportsman’s coefficient of workability falls after a heavy training session and fatigue. Geselyevitch, V.A., Medical handbook for the coach, FIS, Moscow 1981.  

The LPC/LPR coefficient referred to in the quote of Geselyevitch is the ratio of latent period of contraction to the latent period of relaxation. In essence, the time to contract muscles relative to relaxation time. This ratio is an indicator of the athlete’s current condition. The smaller the ratio the better; and, more importantly and inverse relationship of faster relaxation speed to contraction; even better. The fact that this ratio deteriorates with fatigue has important considerations for both coach and athlete.

In order to reach an elite level in dynamic sports like weightlifting, track and field and others an athlete’s muscles have to be able to relax faster than they contract so as not to impede speed and coordination of movements; otherwise, an athlete endeavoring to generate great speed and power would be fighting the resistance of muscle antagonists (see figure 6).

An unconventional view of this circumstance is that contraction speed and power are inhibited by the lag in recuperation of the ability to relax muscles. Recuperation of speed of muscle relaxation after intense workouts lags; slowing the speed of contraction (V. L. Federov, 1964; 1971; M. Y. Gorkin, 1966, and others, cited by Volkov, 1975):

The time of electrical activeness of a volitional contraction rises after training because there is an essential deterioration of the ability to volitionally relax the muscles. Considerable research confirms this (V. L. Federov, 1964; 1971; M. Y. Gorkin, 1966, and others).”

Unconventional Soviet era research of such a thing as a slower rebound in the ability to relax muscles, i.e., the inhibitory processes; generally goes unnoticed in the west because this sort of literature is not readily available in English. And, more to the point, eastern thinking has its roots in dialectics where logic is inseparable from science. A lagging of ability to relax of muscles has a negative affect on the ability to contract muscles is logical; resistance to movement has to be minimized by relaxation of muscle antagonists for technically efficient movements.

That being the case, it follows there must be such a thing as relaxation fatigue; muscles can’t contract with the same pre – workout speed and power because the body’s inhibitory mechanisms are not yet recovered from a previous workout. A logic of existence confirmed from special Soviet era research.

From this line of thinking is it possible a weightlifter whose ability to relax muscles deteriorates in workouts is an indication of onset of fatigue? It may be possible for a coach to estimate a deterioration of the lifter’s speed of descent under the barbell in snatch, clean and into the scissors position of the jerk as signs of ‘relaxation fatigue’.

Under these circumstances it would be advisable to reduce the weight of the barbell or move on to another exercise because one risks developing a negative habit performing the classic exercises with slow relaxation cycles to switch from lifting to descending under the barbell in snatch, clean and in the jerk.

This concept, of course, contradicts common practices where a lifter is assigned a certain volume of lifts, at certain intensities; irregardless whether the exercises are performed with optimum technique or not.

Lifts with maximum weights are performed in competition under optimum conditions where fatigue is not a deciding factor.

So, it follows, training for competitions in the classic exercises under conditions of fatigue; which in this example, means a visible decline of the ability to relax muscles fast; is illogical. This visible decline in muscle relaxation ability as manifested by a slowing of the athlete’s descent under the barbell in snatch, clean or in jerk can and probably should supersede a pre – determined volume of lifts; which under these circumstances may be counterproductive.    


/ Inter-muscular coordination involves a constant interplay of muscles tensed with muscles relaxed;

/ rapid relaxation of muscles, voluntary as well as involuntary are integral parts of  mechanically efficient technique in the classic weightlifting exercises;

/  the ability to relax muscles rapidly is a trainable skill which should improve from beginner to elite status;

/ speed of muscle relaxation is implied by the declining maximum height of lifting in snatch, snatch pull, clean and clean pull exercises;

/  it is possible to ‘warm up’ muscle relaxation with full lifts in the classic exercises with unloaded bar or very light weights;

/ the ability to relax muscles declines and takes longer to recover after intense training;

/ inability to effectively relax muscles has a negative impact on dynamic flexibility.


/ Abadjiev, I., “The preparation of international class weightlifters”, The proceedings of the IWF Coaching – Medical Seminar, Varna, Bulgaria 1983. Published by the International Weightlifting Federation, Budapest, Hungary

/ Charniga, A., “Scaling of Body Mass in Weightlifting: What Can Happen to the World’s Strongest Weightlifters”,

/ Zatsiorsky, V.M., Arunin, A.S., Selyuyanov, V.N., Biomechanics of Man’s Motor Apparatus, Moscow, FIC. 1981. Translation Andrew Charniga

/ Matveyev, L.P., Fundamentals of Sport Training, FIS, Moscow, 1977

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

/ Donskoi, D. D., Biomechanical Fundamentals of Sport Technique, Fizkultura I Sport, Moscow, 1971

/ Vorobeyev, A., N., Weightlifting, textbook for the institutes of sport, FIS, Moscow, 1988. Sportivny press. Translation Andrew Charniga

/ Charniga, A., “How Is It Possible Weightlifters Are Stronger?”, 2020

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

/ Sokolov, A.N.,Tiiazhelaya Athletika, Textbook for the institutes of Physical Culture, 1982. Translation Andrew Charniga.

/ Chernyak, A.V., Method of Planning the Training of the Weightlifter, Moscow, FiS, 15 – 26:1978. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Leshko, M., “The Affect of Developing Joint Mobility and Flexibility on the Technical Mastery of Young Weightlifters”, CCCR Tiiazhelaya Atletika 1976: 11 – 13.  Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Vorobeyev, A.N., Tiiazhelaya Atletika, FIC, Mocow, 1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga.

/ Zaporozhanov, V.A., Kontrol V Sportivnoi Trenirovke, Kiev, “Zdorovia, 1988. Translated by Andrew Charniga.

/ Volkov, V.M.,  Milner, Y. G., Nosov,  G.V., “The After – Effects of Training”, Tiiazhelaya Atletika, 8 – 10:1975

/ Bykov, A.P., Smagli, Y.I., “Optimum Width of the Grip in the Snatch” Donyets Polytechnical Institute Weightlifting: Sbornik Statei 63- 67:1970.  Translated by Andrew Charniga

/Astrand, P-O., Rodahkl, K., Dahl, H., Stromme, ZS., Textbook of Work Physiology Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL 2003

/ Zhekov, I.P., Biomechanics of the weightlifting exercises, FIS, Moscow, 1976. Translated by Andrew Charniga

/ Geselyevitch, V.A., Medical handbook for the coach, FIS, Moscow 1981. Translated by Andrew Charniga