Sunday, April 30, 2006

Do you know how to use the barbell properly?

The barbell is a great tool. It gets a bad rap sometimes because it is misused and abused by those who think they know what they are doing. See the picture and grimace. I took it. Scenes like this are repeated every day in weightrooms across the country. It is my opinion that many of the "coaches" in America's weight rooms, both at the college and high school,--level have nary a clue as to how to use this simple tool help create better athletes.

My point is this: A tool is only as good as the idiot who uses it.

The barbell allows one to use gravity and variations on movement to work on strength, mobility of the hips, ankles and shoulders (imagine that!), power and torso stability. Most weight room coaches in this country limit barbell use to 3 exercises: bench press, squat and the "hang clean." It is all about maximal upper body strength and maximal lower body strength and power.

A few attempt snatches or presses, but the technical challenges of the snatch movement frustrate many; the lack of shoulder flexibility in the majority of American athletes causes even more problems. Some college "strength coaches" even teach that the press is dangerous, and can lead to cervical disc rupture! (Hmmm...don't know any true weightlifters that have suffered ruptured cervical discs. I do know there are documented cases of pectoral ruptures and death with bench pressing though.)

The exercises are blamed as being "dangerous." What if someone suggested the physical condition of the athletes was the problem--they were deficient in normal shoulder mobility? What if the coaches were blamed for not helping the athletes create and maintain the mobility they need to truly have healthy shoulders and backs?

Bottom line, other than the bench press--it is not a total body movement and it is THE LEAST FUNCTIONAL and LEAST TECHNICAL movement most athletes do--weight room coaches do not respect the complex and technical nature of total body barbell movements. Nor do they take advantage of the shoulder and lower extremity mobility these movement help create and maintain. If you have a thick neck, a bald head, a goatee and ever wore a football uniform, you're qualified to teach someone to lift weights and use a barbell. Most of these coaches do not properly prepare their athletes to work on the platform. They only see heavy weights to be lifted, regardless of technique. It a manly game; not an art that demands technical mastery and respect for its complexity.

I once observed a highly-regarded Division I strength coach work with a professional hockey player on what I think were supposed to be power snatches. I'm not sure what the exercise was or for what purpose it was being done. This individual held all of the "right" certifications for his job--CSCS and USAW Club Coach. Despite the paper trail and the DI job experience, it was clear he did not understand proper application of pure weightlifting movements to a more general program.

It makes me sad to see a great tool get a bad reputation because people don't know how to use it properly. Their ignorance breeds fear and disrespect to a sport (weightlifting) and art (weight training with a barbell) that is being lost in our culture. I hope to change that.

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