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How to approach lift analysis - a coaches guide

Aside from programming - one of the main components to consider when improving in Powerlifting is how we move a weight from A to B. Yes, we’re just asked to move a fixed object from point A to point B, but how we do it can drastically change how much weight is moved and is one of the variables that separates novices from world-class athletes. One of the best ways of bridging this gap and facilitating progress is to have an athlete record a video of themself lifting and to analyze that footage and look for ways of improving performance. We’re talking about lifting technique, and how to analyze this.

When we look at lifting footage it’s useful to approach it in a step-by-step manner and keep a few key goals in mind. The primary goal is seeking peak efficiency and allowing an athlete to master the skill of moving the barbell a specified way given the rules and goal of the lift. We often use cues to do this, but the goal isn’t to find the best cue, the goal is to need no cues and to be able to focus purely on the work of moving the bar, and not on how the athlete moves the bar.

We’ve outlined a sequence for analyzing training footage below, listed as a series of steps. These are ordered steps, but they aren’t mutually exclusive and there’s often a crossover and repetition of some of these steps that happens over a lifter’s journey.

1) The Big Picture

These are global technical breakdowns. We’d aim to look at the whole ‘system’ - the lifter and bar and contact with the floor/bench. We’d be asking questions like: Do we see potentially dangerous practices that could injure the lifter? Fixing these is top of our list of things to fix and a prerequisite for further steps below. Things that fall into this category include excessive spinal rounding, suicide gripping, divebombing a squat, extreme or illegal bar placement on the back for squats etc. Teaching lifters to correct these issues with the necessary combination of further specific strength training, flexibility work, and technique work will become a top priority here.

2) Stance Selection - Contact With The Floor

Once we’ve made sure a lifter is performing lifts safely, we can start to choose optimal stances in their lifts. We’d look to explore concepts like: Would this lifter best suit sumo or conventional deadlifts? Would they benefit from flat shoes or heels when squatting? How far out should their feet be placed when generating leg drive when benching? These changes aren’t permanent. This process will be revisited many times over the course of an athlete’s development. As a lifter advances and is more confident with the success and efficacy of each chosen stance, this will happen less often. How you determine optimal stance isn’t a question easily answered, but a combination of strength, strength potential, safety, lack of pain, how the stance of one lift compliments the performance of another lift, and leverages must play into that decision.

3) Technical details

Once we’ve secured stance and basic safety checks, we can move on to smaller, more intricate improvements. Most lifters will spend the majority of their time reviewing videos performing this step. This is a stage that can take years, primarily because there are so many potential changes to make, and secondly because of the time it takes to transfer a change into a real, long-lasting improvement to the movement motor pattern and overall efficiency of the lift. Cues are usually implemented at this stage as corrective tools and can be useful for many lifters but are not the only way to address small-scale changes.

In this stage, we would look to address issues with bracing, hip position, small changes to foot and hand position, bench arch and global tightness, or where the bar touches on the chest in bench. We’d also look to develop a routine as the lifter approaches the bar or performs their unrack/walk-out to consolidate consistency. Most cues fall under the umbrella of fine technical details, and it’s in this stage that real efficiency in a lift is cultivated.

4) Bar Path, Speed and Other Metrics

With most of the work seemingly done, what else can we look at? There’s a lot more to look at and correct in lifting videos besides what the lifter looks like and the overall mechanics of the movement. This is the point at which we can address factors like bar speed, peak acceleration, and overall path. These quantitative observations can make massively meaningful contributions to the overall movement and are often valuable when combined with qualitative feedback from the lifter in terms of perceived effort. We’d look to ask questions like: Is the athlete slow in a place where other comparable athletes are usually fast? How does the bar path compare to a generalized model of bar path for the lift in question? Similarly, how does peak acceleration pair up with data on acceleration in averaged groups of athletes? Video analysis apps are capable of drawing bar paths and estimating bar speeds in an accessible way, but the numeric data is going to be more accurate from accelerometer devices like a RepOne unit.

5) Psychological Factors Related to Performance

Assuming that all physical factors have been covered, the only changes left are changes to athlete psychology, which can be picked up in lifting videos in subtle ways. We’d consider things like how the athlete approaches the bar. What are they thinking about? Are they calm or tense? Is this state of arousal or hype repeatable for them? Does it lead to consistent outcomes? Does the athlete approach near-maximal loads the same way they approach warmups?

Video analysis is a vital part of assessing and improving lifts, but the spectrum of corrections necessary to progress spans well outside video analysis and into programming changes and everything it takes to make a lifter stronger.

The point is that worrying about bar speed on the first half of a deadlift before worrying about more fundamental movement issues is baseless, and worrying about tiny technical details before major stance selection isn’t logical!

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