There are lots of books about weightlifting and it’s difficult to know which are good. Reading widely around a subject is usually a good idea but when reading about lifting technique it’s also useful to have some background knowledge to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Without some basic science knowledge you are left with relying on an author’s credibility, or even likeability, as a coach or lifter to decide if what they say is right. With a bit of background reading you can be more confident that the information you’re reading is useful so I’m going to cheat. No books about weightlifting, just a couple of topics which are useful to read up on.
I’d recommend getting to grips with Newton’s Laws in an “AS” & “A2” level (that’s what students in the UK study at ages 17 & 18) textbook or perhaps try “physics for Dummies” – I haven’t read this but the “For Dummies” series are aimed at about the same level and tend to be pretty good. I find my very basic knowledge of classical mechanics tremendously useful when deciphering articles on weightlifting technique. It can be intimidating to read terms such as “conservation of momentum” or “force vector” until you know what they mean. It’s also quite common for people to use these terms to look authoritative while covering up the fact that really they don’t know what they’re talking about. Improving your knowledge on these principles gives you a fair chance of spotting who’s talking sense and who isn’t.
I often mull over the mechanics of the lifts and try to apply my own knowledge of Newton’s Laws to them. For example, during the transition phase of the pull (when the knees move forwards under the bar between the first and second pull) the lifter is moving the bar up and back. Applying force in order to do this will result in a force pulling the lifter down and forwards. This is an example of Newton’s Third Law: “for every action force there is an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction force”. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s lifted something heavy that the weight is resisting your attempts to move it upwards by pulling down on your hands – that’s the force of gravity acting on the weight to accelerate it down towards the Earth while you struggle to apply an even greater force to make the bar move upwards. It’s less obvious that you need to have applied a horizontal force to the bar to get it moving back and that this will inevitably also apply an opposing force which will try to move you forwards. As the weight gets heavier this force will accelerate you forwards more than it accelerates the weight back (your bodyweight remains a constant) and this informs our power position. Our weight at the end of the first pull must be distributed in such a way as to resist being pulled forward. In other words – “STAY OVER!”.
According to Wikipedia – “Critical thinking is the study of clear and unclear thinking”
Learning about critical thinking skills has influenced me more than anything else I’ve read or studied in the last few years. Finding out that our memory and the way we process problems is inherently faulty and prone to bias can teach us the pitfalls of being too sure of ourselves and makes us look more carefully at the information we’re presented with.
One fascinating aspect of critical thinking is recognising cognitive biases. These are the short cuts our mind often takes to save us time and effort but which can lead to incorrect thinking. We’re all prone to these and we should be aware of them when performing a technical analysis. Expectancy bias, for example, can lead to the observer seeing what they expect rather than what’s actually there. Here’s an example:
Coach Don McCauley says about this part of the lift during his analysis – “When he comes in on that readjustment his knees come forward nicely and his hips stay back. They hardly move at all they only move down”. As you can see, made clearer by the vertical yellow line I’ve put in, Jon North’s hips do indeed move forwards considerably but that’s not what McCauley was expecting to see so he describes something entirely different. You can check it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4fig6ZoSBs from about the five minute mark.
This might seem a silly mistake but we all do these types of thing all the time. I’m often amazed (and, to be fair, smugly pleased) when I see video accompanied by a written description that bears little or no resemblance to it. This is only tempered by the knowledge that I must do the same thing.
One cognitive bias I often fall foul of is confirmation bias. I’ll read something I don’t like the sound of then look for evidence to support my own viewpoint rather than trying to get to the truth. Confirmation bias is looking only for evidence that supports the opinion you’ve already formed. Another bad habit. There are loads of them to look out for!
Being wary of these faults in our reasoning skills helps us to avoid them. I’m not sure it’s possible to do entirely and once you know how unreliable your brain is you’ll find it harder to trust your own judgement and you can get a bit paranoid about making any statements at all but it’s useful none the less.
There are plenty of books about critical thinking skills. I watched the lecture series “Your Deceptive Mind” by Steven Novella from The Great Courses and found it excellent. It had a great influence on the way I approach analysis. If my physics is all wrong at the start of this article my critical thinking skills should allow me to review the evidence of my mistakes when some clever dick on the internet points them out to me and I can change my views accordingly instead of getting emotionally attached to my opinions and defending them even though they’re wrong. If I can do that I’ll be a better coach in the future than I am now. Easier said than done though!
So that’s my reading recommendations. Something on pre-university standard classical mechanics and something on critical thinking. Not specific book recommendations but subjects that deserve your attention if you’re looking to understand and coach the Olympic lifts. Once you’ve read up a bit it never hurts to keep topping up by reading bits on the internet either. My mechanics is very sketchy so I often refer to Wikipedia or Google to find a good site to remind me of what I should know and further my knowledge.