Mastering the lifts

Top athletes all over the world perform Olympic lifts to improve power and explosive strength/speed and their trainers teach them correct form and technique.

Virat Kohli takes pride in his physique, which extends beyond the need of his sport, writes the author.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

The legs 'frame' the torso rather than collapse under it.   -  Zeeshan Sarfaraz Khurshaidi

The hip flexor stretch and ankle mobility stretch.   -  Zeeshan Sarfaraz Khurshaidi

The Swiss ball leg curl helps to develop feel for triple extension of joints.   -  Zeeshan Sarfaraz Khurshaidi

The correct technique for the 'high pull'.   -  Zeeshan Sarfaraz Khurshaidi

Recently, a video of Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli went viral on social media. Virat was in the gym performing an Olympic barbell snatch albeit with weights that would be more suitable to a pre-pubescent girl and not the athletic symbol of the sport in India! The form was embarrassingly poor but the video escaped scathing criticism from the strength and conditioning community because most of its Indian members are anyway part of this idol worship culture involving cricketers.

Some even raved about the video and others opined that since Virat was not a weightlifter, he was not expected to have perfect form. Point noted, but not agreed upon. Top athletes all over the world perform Olympic lifts to improve power and explosive strength/speed and their trainers teach them correct form and technique.

Virat is a tremendous athlete and should be lauded for trying to attempt lifts. He takes pride in his physique, much like a Cristiano Ronaldo, which extends beyond the need of his sport. Virat needs to be taught to master the lifts. It is extremely heartening that today’s cricketers are even attempting to master lifts of a technical nature. Until a few years ago, the cricket team had a foreign strength coach who would teach them ‘look good bare bodied’ exercises typically performed in spas and lifestyle health centres!

Here is what you need to work on Virat, to become a better lifter:

1. Improve your squats

When I say squat, I don’t mean the legs should just unfold below the torso. I want the torso to sink between the legs until the “ass is on the grass”. Look at this picture of my student and you will realise what I mean when I say the legs should frame the torso from two sides. Notice how the femur (thighbone) has abducted away from the body to allow the torso to sink in between the space. You need tremendous hip mobility to achieve that abduction. The feet are at 12 o’clock position. Without great ankle mobility, it will be impossible to hold the feet at that position, especially under a loaded barbell.

2. Work on hip and ankle mobility

As an extension of the first point, do work on hip and ankle mobility. The hip flexor stretch and ankle mobility stretch demonstrated here are the ones I frequently use to open up these two joints. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds or so and keep repeating frequently if required throughout your squatting session.

3. Develop a feel for triple extension of joints

Master the first pull of the barbell from the ground. The ankle, knees and hips have to learn to extend in proper hierarchy to achieve the correct ‘high pull’ position (see pic). It may be a good idea to begin with a PVC pipe or wooden dowel before progressing to an unloaded barbell. The legendary Soviet lifter, Medvedev, would have his students work on the high pulls for months, with never more than 50% of their body weight, before progressing to more advanced lifts. He greatly stressed on improving movement efficiency with technical competence as the only goal.

I find great specificity of the triple extension in the Swiss ball leg curls. Learn to practise ankle, knee and hip extension on a Swiss ball (see pic) and carry over the patterns on to a vertical plane.

4. Push the floor away

I am going to borrow from the legendary coach, Dan John, for this advice. John says that the best advice he knows to get the bar off the floor is to “Push the Floor Away.” You need to hold the hips and shoulders in the same angle to the floor for “as long as you can”. Physics and physiology will help you finish the lift correctly. Russ Knipp argues that all you ever do in pulling, throughout the whole clean or snatch, is to focus on pushing the floor down. Think of this first part, the “first pull,” as a leg press on a machine.

5. Keep it close

I wish I had a rupee for every time I have bruised my shins and nose while lifting. Then again, I like to tell my students, that is as close to technical perfection as possible. Keep the bar as close to your body as you can. I am fond of telling them that your lifting space ends at the end of your toes. No way does your bar cross that boundary.