Hold the Bar – What happens at the Olympics…

While living in Las Vegas I got pummeled with advertisements, but the most annoying was the city’s tourism motto “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” I became extremely annoyed hearing that lie over and over again. Go dump all your money on a craps game, reel home broke, and try explaining that stupid slogan to your overdue mortgage company and see how that works out for ya. The reality is that we all are a sum of our choices, both deliberate and subconscious. So if a lifter and/or coach have a mentality of “What happens in training stays in training.” They couldn’t be more wrong, because what happens in training goes you with 100% to the competition stage. Believing that things will magically be different once you set foot on the platform is just as ridiculous as hoping for a reprieve on your late house payment. I have heard this fallacy so many times from athletes: “When I go to a competition I always do better than training. That’s why I am going to open with ______.” Fill in the blank with 5-10kg over anything they have attempted in training. Fast forward 3 hours, and they are back in the warm-up room, with a no-total bomb-out, shaking their towel-covered heads in frustration, hovering over a puddle of tears.

Watching the 2021, err I mean the 2020 Olympics, I observed countless blunders that should have never happened, costing athletes more than money at a craps table. When you are on arguably the biggest stage for an athlete, and make the same errors an inexperienced, untrained novice would, it isn’t simply unacceptable, it’s a cataclysmic failure of both coach and athlete! To forgo any of only 6 attempts due to something you should have learned on day one is unforgivable, inexcusable, and downright stupid! Surrendering an attempt not only puts you in a terrible strategic position but also crushes your positive mental attitude, momentum, and energy level. Having to successfully repeat a missed lift that should have been routine will weigh heavily on you. Also, you might have to follow yourself which leaves very little time to prepare and recover. Now burdened with these unforeseen circumstances, there is a massive amount of additional stress, which only increases exponentially with the size of the competition. You put yourself behind the eightball going backward instead of moving forward with everyone else. Now, while everyone is waiting for the increase of the barbell, you are alone, trying to recover quickly and rush back out to duplicate an otherwise made lift. This unfolds so quickly that you don’t have time to calibrate your thoughts and feelings. You literally have seconds to make the correction and get back in the game. But even if you succeed with your next attempt (assuming you have another attempt and you didn’t already bomb out or lose the competition), the adrenaline rush, stress response, and loss of an attempt all are factors that likely already cost you the win.

 

So, what are these blunders?

First, and easiest to correct, is holding onto the barbell. Dropping the bar from overhead has become too commonplace over the past decade or so to the dismay of veteran coaches and lifters. Basically, it’s just plain lazy not to hold onto it.

Back in the ’30s, you had to place the bar back on the platform. Dropping wasn’t even a thing. You would be immediately disqualified if you dropped the barbell from any height.

In the ’50s, to protect the athletes from injury and potential damage to the stage caused by missed lifts and inadvertent drops of the loaded barbell, the plate manufacturers began to cast the 20kg / 45-pound plates with wide lips. This improvement facilitated the lifters to be required to lower the bar to knee height and then drop it the final foot or so. Holding onto the bar until it came to a final rest remained mandatory. The reasoning was the lifter would be prepared if the bar took an unexpected bounce, and be able to react for the safety of all.

When rubber bumpers hit the scene in the ’70s the rules partially changed. It permitted lifters to drop the barbell now from at or below waist level, however, they kept the part of maintaining a grip on the bar until it came to a final rest on the platform.

Materials, manufacturing, and engineering have continued to improve. So today, the rules allow you to drop the bar at shoulder height and not even follow it down to a rest on the platform. Even with today’s extremely lax rules, it’s staggering to see people just letting go of a loaded barbell from overhead while turning and walking away before the bar comes to a rest. At this competition, there were multiple occasions where the Jury convened to discuss and review a lift after the referees had given it 3 white lights signaling a good lift and ultimately failed it due to this foolish infraction of the rules.

Set the bar down like a professional on every training lift. Take a small step backward while releasing the bar so it lands straight underneath where it is while overhead. Do not push the bar away from you and remain standing in the same place as you were when you finished the lift. Not only is this lazy, but it will cause the bar to have horizontal movement, and on a bounce could get away from you or even bounce into your shins. As the bar falls to the platform, keep your hands relaxed and lightly touching the bar. Do not hold it tightly and don’t try to keep it from bouncing. If the barbell kicks up in an odd way you might injure your wrist. Follow it down like you are dribbling a basketball. The moral to the story – don’t be lazy. Lift like a pro, release like a pro.

 

The second massive error is not holding the bar overhead long enough. Not doing this is just as stupid as letting go too soon. Waiting for the down signal is unique to competitions. I have never seen, nor heard of a training hall that used a down signal to inform the lifter that it is time to return the barbell to the training platform. What professional coaches and lifters are taught from the beginning is to hold the barbell overhead until they are motionless and in full control for 3 seconds, and to not put the bar down until you have achieved this with crystal clear clarity for anyone spectating. The rule of thumb is that if you are not sure, then continue to hold it until there is no question. Holding the bar for a few seconds after the down signal has no negative repercussions, only positive.

On one lift during this competition, a lifter received a down signal although he was not completely motionless. Knowing this, he continued to hold it and stabilize himself after the down signal was given. The jury convened to review the referees’ decision to award 3 white lights, and because he held it longer and was able to gain complete control, they upheld the good lift. Had he simply dropped it upon hearing the buzzer he would have lost that lift. His coach did a great job in preparing him for such an occasion, and he responded perfectly. Don’t let someone steal one of your attempts. Do each one like it is for the gold medal because someday it might be.

Unfortunately for another lifter at this same competition, he missed his first 2 cleans due to a balance issue. Being a tenacious lifter he was relentless on his last attempt and completed the clean. Sadly, after he made a gutsy, very difficult jerkyou guessed it, he dropped it before the down signal. Boom! Bomb-out. Just like that. 1 more second and he would have had a bronze medal. Wonder how long he will regret that?

A lot of lifters get the barbell overhead in both lifts and then immediately drop it as if the goal of getting it overhead was completed, even though they didn’t have control nor hold it for the 2-second time which is required by the rules. When you do this hundreds and thousands of times, this becomes your auto-default. On autopilot, you will defer to the subconscious movements you have programmed it for, not the ones you are supposed to do specifically for that occasion. You can quickly spot the competitors who have shortcutted their training by how shaky and uncomfortable they appear with the barbell overhead.

During training, if you were to hold an overhead barbell for 6-8 seconds, roughly 3-4 times longer than competitions require, your chances of dropping it before a down signal will be almost zero. the extra 6 seconds on each lift will not extend your training session length because it’s such a small amount of time, yet over a decade of training, you will have held a loaded barbell overhead hundreds of hours longer than other competitors. The extra work to hold it those few seconds is negligible but will pay you dividends hundreds of times over. Your rock-solid body positions will be the envy of other lifters as they struggle to maintain balance and control while you hold it with ease.

Again, don’t be lazy! Hold the bar overhead each lift attempt like it is the gold medal-winning lift.

Watching lifters bomb out, miss podium finishes, and put up sub-par totals because of these two, very fundamental mistakes was hard to watch. I would think that at the Olympic Games, you would prepare for gold. I guess not.

What happens at the Olympics doesn’t stay at the Olympics, it gets broadcast around the globe and lives forever.

 

 


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