Perhaps it is just semantics or it’s the popular obsession with bar paths that led me to write this article. Anyhow, If you are a weightlifter, then you live and die by the principle that at all time the barbell should be close to your body. For one, the closer it is, the more mechanical leverage you have : You and the barbell become what we call the barbell-lifter complex. The barbell-lifter complex has a center of gravity of its own, meaning that the heavy barbell pulls the lifter forward and the lifter is exerting tremendous force to not let it happen.
If this is done correctly, the center of gravity of the lifter-barbell complex will be over the foot of the lifter during the pull and later on, towards the back of the foot when the bar is received. During the execution, the lifter moves around the barbell in a way that favor mechanical advantages in an effort to lift the barbell as ”easily” as possible. It also means that the barbell trajectory is dependent on the favored positions by the lifters. This is what I call seizing the moment of least resistance.
This explains exactly why there is so much variation in barbell trajectory among lifters. It also tell us that barbell trajectory, while being an interesting tool, do not offer enough information about the lifter-barbell complex to characterize the lifts as good or bad. Anyhow, this led many to claim that the trajectory of the barbell should be as straight as possible. Not only was this not found to be happening in scientific inquiries as we will review in a bit, it also does not take into account the way the body of the lifter is moving and what it entails.
The biomechanics of the lifters are as interesting – or even more -as the trajectory of the barbell. How the lifter moves around the bar as he pulls, meaning the positions he adopts (angles) as well as how he makes it happen, and the morphology of the lifter – especially in regard to the length of the limbs (arms and leg) as well as the torso/legs ratio- are of incredible importance in understanding technique and refining it.
More over, other factors are quite important too. I am referring to the neuro-motor qualities of the lifters such as his ability to recruit the right muscles to do the task, his ability to reduce or limit co-contractions of muscles or to inhibit to some extents antagonists muscles, his ability to time correctly the uses of muscles and, to push it even further, his ability to recruit the right muscles fibers to get the right result. Thus, the bar path is not enough to access what is really happening during the lift.
Now, as far as the trajectory of the bar is concerned, it seems that the idea of its straightness is not the norm or seen at all. This is at least true when studied in lifters during scientific investigations. More importantly, horizontal displacement – as in the bar travel forward after reaching the hips- is seen in most lifters studied although it is controlled because as stated at the beginning, we live and die by the principle that the bar has to be close. A bar close to the body does not mean that the bar is travelling in straight fashion.
Here is the bar trajectory of Suleymanoglu and Krostev as illustrated in Bartonletz (1996) paper ”biomechanics of the snatch: towards a higher training efficiency”. For both lifters, the bar travels towards the lifter reaching the hips, before travelling forward (as in more forward than it was at the hip). Althought one could argue that Suleymanoglu’s trajectory is ”straight”, it is not. For one, the bar starts around the beginning of the foot. The bar never ever cross that starting position vertical line: It is travelling behind it (more towards the lifter). Krastev does that as well.
Here, Bartonletz compares two lifts with different first pull velocity. I have written before about speed and mechanical considerations of the first pull and this should not come as a surprise to the reader of First Pull. Anyhow, in both cases, the bar is not travelling straight up, it is being kept close -especially in the case of a slower first pull. Please look at the maximal velocity reached by the lifter who pulled slower off the ground.
Next, Baumann (1988) compared the trajectory of the barbell among lifters of different weight categories who competed at the 1985 Worlds. Among the lifts recorded, we can find lifts by Suleymanoglu, Vardanian and Krastev. Some trajectories are ”curvy” some are ”straighter”, but all of them are great lifts. The bar never travels in front of the vertical line either which means that the trajectory of the bar is angled towards the lifter or angled towards where it going to end.
Isaka (1996) compared the trajectory of the barbell of different lifters of different weight classes from the Friendship Tournament (Japan, 1993). Korean, Chinese, and Japanese lifters were part of the study. Snatches ranged from 137kg to 160kg which means that the lifters were top level weightlifters. These are some of the least ”straight” bar path you will see in lifting – even though some of them are of Chinese lifters. The 76kg lifter even has the bar travel forward of the vertical line where as the other lifters have their pull line angled towards them.
Akkus (2012) compared the bar trajectory of the 2010 Worlds best female lifters and compared the paths among all weight classes. None of those bar paths are straight. Some of them have the bar travel past the vertical starting line whereas some of them really have the bar trajectory angled towards themselves.
Finally, Harbili (2012) compared the top lifts of the A group (men and women) of the 69kg category from the Worlds (2010). All of them are inclined trajectory while some of them are quite curvy. One bar path, by Chinese Liao, is close to being straight which makes him an exception in regard to what we have looked at in this article.
My point, with this article, is not to say that bar paths don’t matter. They do matter as long as they are considered along other things – such as morphology of the lifter, biomechanics, and neuro-motor aspects. These studies show that there is a very high variance in bar paths among the best lifters of the world. More importantly, it shows that there are many types of pull that can be used with great success (read elite level success) and that the trajectory of the bar – although different from the normalized text book model- as to be the result of the lifter using all the mechanical advantages he can get. In other words, if the bar path is not straight on your bar path application (Bar sense) or software (Kinovea), but the lifters keeps the bar close to his body as well as uses positions in which he is strong (read : at mechanical advantages), then success of the lift is possible. If this is true, then flattening the curve of the trajectory might not be necessary or recommended. Ultimately, it stresses that individualization of technique is a must. The bar has to be close to the body, but not necessarily travel in a straight fashion.