24 Oct Top 5 Mobility Needs for the Olympic Weightlifter
As much as any other sport, olympic weightlifting requires incredible mobility if an athlete is to perform the lifts with proper technique and lift maximum weights. Without enough mobility, athletes will lack full depth and positioning, as well as expose themselves to potential injuries. Olympic weightlifting mobility
A mobile thoracic spine is crucial to any overhead position, especially the catch of the snatch and jerk. A lack of thoracic extension can result in excessive shoulder flexion, abduction and internal rotation, leaving it in a less-than-optimal and unstable position. Compensation in the lumbar spine is also visible with hyperextension in an attempt to keep the torso upright.
While passive extension in the thoracic spine is a prerequisite to achieving a solid overhead position, more often than not athletes lack thoracic extension strength, or ‘active mobility’ in these positions, more so than a passive mobility restriction. Building in more active thoracic spine extension drills into your training will lead to a much improved thoracic spine position that can withstand and support PR-loads overhead without compromising position.
To assess your thoracic spine mobility, try this lumbar locked thoracic spine rotation test. While sitting back on your heels and keeping one arm behind your low back, a bisecting line from both shoulders should rotate to greater than 50 degrees from horizontal. An inability to achieve full rotation could be due to a mobility limitation or lack of stability/strength.
Every veteran weightlifter knows the importance of full overhead shoulder mobility. Of the many components that play into achieving full shoulder flexion overhead, one of the most common limiters is lat extensibility. Many who make the transition from CrossFit or hypertrophy-style training to olympic lifting have spent a tremendous pulling heavy loads, either vertically or horizontally, and have left their lats in a state of high tone — blocking their shoulder flexion by greater than 20 degrees in some instances. This can be masked on the table or standing, but is near impossible to hide from in the bottom position of an overhead squat.
To assess your lat extensibility, start by laying flat on your back. Take your arms overhead close to your ears & touch the floor with your thumbs. Next, bring both knees up to your chest so your thighs are greater than 90 degrees from horizontal. Attempt to touch your thumbs to the floor again. If you notice reduced range of motion and you’re unable to touch the floor with your knees to your chest, a lat extensibility restriction may be present.
Arguably the most common mobility restriction seen in weightlifters, and most athletes, is limited ankle dorsiflexion — the ability for the knee to track forward over the toe while the foot is planted on the ground. Due to its position in the closed kinetic chain, limitations in ankle dorsiflexion can lead to a host of compensations upstream, including knee valgus, excessive pelvic reversal or ‘butt wink’, an increased forward torso angle, & excessive shoulder abduction. While olympic lifting shoes attempt to buffer limitations in ankle mobility, there’s no outrunning the need for full ankle mobility in the olympic weightlifter.
To screen your ankles for full mobility, try this knee-to-wall self assessment. With shoes off, start with your foot 4-inches away from the wall. (For a less precise but quicker test-retest, use the width of your hand as an quick measurement distance.) While keeping your heel down the entire time, push your knee forward to be able to touch the wall. Ensure your knee tracks over the second or third toe to prevent the urge to collapse the midfoot and direct the knee inside the first toe. If you’re unable to touch the wall without your heel rising, move forward 1-inch and retest until you identify your current mobility limits.
Being able to fully flex the hip is a necessity if an athlete wants to hit full squat depth during the Olympic lifts. Not squatting to full depth will drastically reduce the weight lifted. I use the following test to determine optimal stance width for deep squats. Every athlete has a unique hip structure, meaning no two athletes will have the exact same stance. Performing the hip scour test will go a long ways towards getting yourself in a better position to fully flex the hip deep in a squat. The majority of athletes automatically choose this stance but for a surprising number of athletes, this test will show them they’ve been utilizing the wrong stance.
If an athlete lacks proper hip extension during the split jerk, major compensations will occur most often in the lumbar spine. Because the back leg can’t fully open up, these athletes will go into excessive lumbar extension during the jerk.
To assess hip extension, we use the Thomas Test as shown below. The athlete lies at the end of a box and holds on thigh while the other is lowered by a partner.
The partner assess first if the thigh reaches an angle parallel to the ground. If not, psoas tightness is the most likely restriction.
Next, the partner assess the rectus femoris by bending the athlete’s knee to 90 degrees. If tightness is present, the hip will rise or the knee won’t reach 90 degrees.
Finally the lateral angle of the thigh is examined. It should stay directly forward, but if it deviates laterally then TFL tightness is to blame.