I wrote earlier about the special conditions women have in the sport of weightlifting as well as important notions to be considered in planning their training. Since then, I have been contacted by many to expand on one of the point I made in the article. The point was that the constant improvement of women weightlifters over time is due to the improvement of their technique as well the use of gender based programs. In this article, I will review three studies that have been conducted that could be explaining this type of improvement.
Most of the weightlifting scientific literature is dedicated to men’s weightlifting. This trend is slowly changing as recently we are seeing more papers analyzing the technique of women weightlifters. A study by Gourgoulis et al (2002), published in the journal of strength and conditioning research, compared the technique of 6 Greek women weightlifters with their male counterpart (6 male weightlifters) using a 3-dimensional kinematic analysis. They specifically looked at the snatch, which is definitely the norm in weightlifting science.
In their abstract, Gourgoulis et al state : ”The results revealed that women flexed their knees less and slower than men did during the transition phase”. They also found that the turnover – or the drop under to ”catch” the barbell- was slower and, that they dropped under the bar less, in comparison to men. In agreement with what I have stated in my article about the speed of the first pull, they noted that the vertical displacement of the barbell in men was greater in the first pull than in the second pull whereas women showed similar work output in the 2 phases. In other words, for men weightlifters, the first pull was done in a way that allowed correct placement of the body to allow maximal velocity in the second pull. They worked harder during the first pull whereas the way women pulled made them work equally hard during the lift.
In 2006, Hoover et al. published an article in which they did a biomechanical analysis of women weightlifters in the snatch. The data came from the performance of ten 69kg women weightlifters who competed at the 1999 USA national championship. They noted that 50% of the attempts displayed the optimal toward-away-toward horizontal bar trajectory (commonly called the S pull). Like Gourgoulis et al reported, they noted greater drop displacement and drop under times than men weightlifters. An interesting point which could be a critique of american technique in itself (at least, at that time) is that ”they also demonstrated lesser maximal vertically velocities of the barbell than those reported for world class women weightlifters”.
However, women have been improving at a fast rate and it can be seen in the results published by Akkus (2012) in the journal of strength and conditioning. Akkus analyzed the heaviest successful snatch lifts of 7 female weightlifters who won gold medals at the 2010 World weightlifting championship, which was a qualifying competition for London Games. Akkus writes in his abstract : ”The results revealed that the duration of the first pull was significantly greater than the duration of the transition phase, the second pull, and the turnover under the barbell”. As I have pointed out, this two phase technique is extremely important and is an integral part of good technique. The first pull has to be slower so that the second pull can be faster, there is no escaping. The next line in the abstract puts it in perspective : ”The maximum extension velocities of the lower limb in the second pull were significantly greater than the maximum extension velocities in the first pull”. The first pull was slower than the second pull.
He noted the fastest extensions at the knee joint during the first pull and at the hip joint during the second pull, which shows that the first pull is supposed to be done with the legs in a way that allows you to keep the same back angle throughout the lift. This will allow the lifter to use the remaining of his legs in the second pull on top of using his hip and back very powerfully. Akkus notes that the pathway of the barbell of these women were similar to those of men. This is novel in the scientific literature. As seen in the previous studies, before this study, it was acknowledged that women’s technique has major culprit in term of drop under times, horizontal displacement of the bar and more. Akkus concludes the abstract this way : ” […] the snatch lift patterns of the elite women weightlifters were similar to those of male weightlifters”.
Many people theorized that the improvement of women in the sport of weightlifting since 2000 is due to the talent pool being bigger. This could be the case, but it is speculation. As far as facts that could explain their improvement are concerned, these studies show that the technique of women weightlifters is improving at a very fast rate. Female lifters who won gold medals at the 2010 worlds pulled much differently – it allowed them to get under faster and pulled using the two phase technique- than previously reported in the literature. Accordingly, women seem to be faster and to get under the bar much faster. To be noted, I only had access to the abstracts of the Akkus (2012) study.