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Sports Feature of the Month: Weightlifting

Updated 
August 31, 2020
Written by 
Gianna

Weightlifting and Massage Guns: How Simple Tools and Methods Help You Recover Faster and Lift More

The 2008 Beijing Olympics was supposed to be quite the achievement for 24-year old Hungarian weightlifter Janos Baranyai. It was his first time to qualify for the quadrennial event. On top of that, he was his country’s lone lifter in the competition.

What happened next though resulted in one of the most powerful images that came out of the tournament.

Competing in the men’s 77kg division, Baranyai was trying for his third lift in snatch. The weight was 148kg. This was dubbed ‘modest’, after all, the world record at the time was 173kg. It was like lifting one adult giant panda bear, or two full stainless-steel half-barrel beer kegs. Almost impossible for a regular joe, but not quite unattainable for a trained weightlifter. As Baranyai went into the squat position however, his elbow popped.

This was the end for Janos Baranyai’s Olympic debut – with his right forearm bent unnaturally, in an avalanche of pain and shock while his body lay shaking on the floor.


Baranyai loses control of the barbell twisting his left arm
Janos Baranyai in agony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics


Weightlifting can be dangerous, as Janos Baranyai had certainly shown. But with proper training and recovery methods, it also has the potential for vast rewards.

What is weightlifting though? When, and where, did it start? How did it end up as one of the longest contested sports in the Olympics? Why has it become popular even outside of the Olympics? Read on to find out.

Powering through the Ages – A Brief History of Weightlifting

Weightlifting has had a long and storied Olympic history that began when the sport was first featured in the 1896 Games in Athens. It’s amazing to think that the sport has been thriving for over a century, even without the help of adjustable incline machines, kettlebells, massage guns and other modern-day tools.

A sport that mainly evolved to measure strength and power, weightlifting was practiced in Egypt, Ancient Greece and even China. The iteration of the sport as we know it today evolved from European competitions in the 1900’s. In its earliest form, there were no weight classes and was pretty much a male-only sport. 

Dimitrios_Tofalos_(no._872) _&_Josef_Steinbach_(no._700)_at_the_1906_Summer_Olympics_weightlifting_competition

                                                                                                                                       Source

Before the First World War, there were only two categories- one-hand lift and two-hand lift. After the war, weightlifting was finally featured on its own outside of the athletics events. The Olympic event in France in 1924 added two more lifts to the program and weight classes were introduced. That paved the way for the future classification into five weight divisions.

Today, only two elements make up the Olympic Weightlifting Program –

1)     The Snatch – this entails lifting the barbell from the floor to overhead in one motion, and

2)     The Clean and Jerk – which means moving the barbell from the floor to the shoulders, and then from there to overhead.

Weightlifting then, more than a simple game of strength and power, is also a study in balance and flexibility. 

Achieving the Perfect Form

It’s easy to assume that weightlifters need to be a certain physical build. After all, almost every picture of a weightlifter has that one common detail – big, brawny men with bulging muscles. It can be intimidating.

What people often overlook is that this is the sport that gave us “The Pocket Hercules”, Naim Süleymanoğlu. The man was 2 inches short of 5 feet and not only won gold in the 1988 Olympics, but also set the record in clean and jerk, lifting 190kg. 

Naim Süleymanoğlu in the 1988 Olympics
The Pocket Hercules in action

There’s also Yurik Vardanyan , who was a world champion at 21, weighing under 73kg and lifting many times his body weight, eventually setting 41 world records. So physical build should not be a hindrance.

Yurik Vardanyan setting weightlifting record
Yurik Vardanyan at the World Championship

However, weightlifting is not quite as straightforward as picking up a bar and lifting it above your head. Weightlifters, especially competition level athletes, spend years and years building their strength, doing countless repetitive exercises to fortify muscles.

Whether you’re already lifting or looking to get started, there are a few things you need to consider to ensure you’re lifting right.

Get the right equipment. 

Whether you’re planning a home set-up or wanting to train in a public gym, there are a few things you need to ensure is available before embarking on your weightlifting journey.

·   Squat Cage – Weightlifting has a few basic exercises that you need to practice, and this allows you to do them and get a full body workout.

·   Olympic Bar and Weight Plates – You’d need several plates in different weight increments. Get at least two of the lighter plates and you can simply adjust the combination or add more later.

·   Adjustable bench – This works with the squat cage to allow you to do bench presses and other similar exercises.

·   Dumbbells – This will help in doing exercises where you need to isolate one arm at a time.

·   Proper Shoes – Different exercises may require different shoes. Elevated heel shoes typically good for squats, for example, will not help at all if you’re doing dead lifts.

·   Weightlifting Gloves – Especially helpful if you’re just starting out, these help protect your hand from calluses and scratches.

·   Weight Belt – This helps protect your back and keep you upright.

·   Knee Wraps or Knee Sleeves

·   Chalk – to keep the bar squarely on your back.

·   Wrist Wraps – for easing wrist and elbow pain

·   Massage Gun – to help you warm up before a session and to ease muscle pain after.

Always warm up before training. 

Studies all stress the importance of warming up before doing any intense physical activity. Even something as simple as 10 minutes of cardio or stretching can help with blood flow to the muscles. Warming up limbers you up and lowers the risk of injuries.

Pro or not, practice makes perfect. 

Before you can properly train, you must get your fundamentals right. Without correcting poor technique and behavior, you are risking your potential to be more explosive and precise with your lifts. Even pros sometimes have problems doing these correctly, consistently. The five lifts you need to learn to do correctly are:

1.     Squats

Squats are awesome as they activate both upper and lower body muscles. Easy to learn yet hard to master, squats will help you strengthen your legs. 

Image of weightlifter in squat position from the back

Do It Right:

1)     Get underneath the bar in the proper position with feet firmly planted under.

2)     Take a deep breath, bracing your abdominal wall and then unrack the bar.

3)     Take 3 steps back, with the final step getting your feet in alignment.

4)     Make sure your stance is not too wide or too narrow.

5)     Take another deep breath and brace.

6)     Drive your hips back and knees out using both hip muscles and glutes. You should end in a sitting position between your legs with the hips slightly lower than your knee joints.

7)     Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to get back to upright position.

 

Watch how it’s done:

2.     Deadlifts

Deadlifts are one of those exercises that can have everyday function. There’s almost always a need to lift something off the ground, no? Doing deadlift exercises engages the muscles in the legs, shoulders and lower back.

Image of person doing deadlift


Do It Right:

1)     Get into the foot position – feet under the bar, in the stance most comfortable to you.

2)     Place your hands just outside your shins.

3)     Make sure your scapula is positioned over the bar.

4)     Take a deep breath and brace your abdominal wall.

5)     Engage your lats and pull the slack out of the bar.

6)     To lift, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward.

7)     To lower the bar, unlock the glutes and drive your hips back.

 

Watch how it’s done:

3.     Bench Press

This pumps up your pecs, upper chest and shoulders.

A picture of man doing bench press

 

Do It Right:

1)     Place feet as far back as you can while still keeping them flat on the ground.

2)     Lie back and position your back where you won’t have any trouble unracking or hitting the pegs.

3)     Grip the bar with your hands, not your fingers. Make sure you wrap your thumbs around the bar as well.

4)     Take a deep breath and unrack the bar by driving your shoulder blades against the bench.

5)     Take another breath, brace and lower the bar. Make sure to keep the elbows tucked close to the body.

6)     To lift the bar back up, tighten your glutes and use your legs to push up.

Watch how it’s done:

4.     Barbell Row

This exercises the back muscles. The back is one of the largest muscle groups in the body. Doing this increases back strength and mass.

Image of person with barbell

Do It Right

1)     To get to the starting position:

a.      Grip the barbell with the palms of your hands facing down. Keep knees bent and torso forward.

b.     Lift the barbell. Keep your back straight and bend at the waist. Keep your head straight and facing forward.

c.      The barbell should end in parallel position to the floor, with your arms perpendicular to the floor.

2)     Exhale and lift the barbell toward you by using your forearms. Remember to keep your torso stationary. Keep elbows close to the body.

3)     Squeeze your back muscles and hold the position briefly before inhaling and lowering the barbell back to starting position.

 Watch how it’s done:


 5.     Overhead Barbell Press

This is a favorite among many lifters because it’s fairly simple and yet quite effective for building upper body muscles.

A person doing overhead press

Do It Right

1)     With an overhand grip, grab the barbell at a wider than shoulder width.

2)     Fling the bar to shoulder height.

3)     Exhale and press the bar overhead. Ensure your head is not in the bar’s path.

4)     Breathe in as you lower the bar back to shoulder height.

Watch how it’s done:

Slow and steady wins the race. 

When lifting weights, it’s easy to feel pressured into adding more weight or doing more reps especially if you’re not seeing muscle gains as fast as you envisioned. But do not feel pressured to add more weight as fast as you can. Remember, even the greats took years to reach Olympic levels.

The basic principle of weight training is something called “progressive overload.” Simply put, the body needs to be overloaded for it to work harder. As the body gets used to a particular level, you can then progress to the next load.

What does it mean for a weightlifter? You must first get stronger and comfortable with one weight level before pushing for heavier loads. This is done gradually to minimize risk and injury. But that’s not all you need to pay attention to.

The Importance of Rest and Recovery 

person getting back massage

When you’re chasing after a goal, fatigue is just another stumbling block that you must overcome. The pain and discomfort may feel like minor inconveniences. Rest is just another thing adding to time away from training.

But rest and recovery are both very important parts of the training regimen.

Constant repetition of Olympic lifts can cause fatigue. The pressure exerted by muscles during lifts and squats can cause microtears in muscle fibers. Lactic acid can build up in stressed areas.  This leads to soreness, aches and pains. It’s important to allow the body to rest and recover between sessions. Thankfully, there are many ways to do that.

1)     Hydrate. 

Exercise causes fluid loss and dehydration. When a person is dehydrated, peak performance is diminished. Experts recommend drinking mineral water to help with post-exercise recovery and recovery of muscle strength.

2)     Sleep. 

Sleeping may seem like “doing nothing”. But far from it, the body actually produces hormones for muscle-building while you’re getting your shuteye. It’s when tissue growth and repair happen. Sleeping between 7 to 9 hours every night not only helps in healing but results in overall improvement in athletic performance.

3)     Contrast Therapy. 

This refers to taking a 45-second to 1-minute ice bath after an intense workout, followed by a hot shower for 3-4 minutes and ending with another ice bath. Repeated thrice, this process has been proven to increase blood flow. It also helps clear the build up of lactic acid in the muscles faster.

4)     Massage. 

Time and again, getting a massage after weight training have been shown to help in various ways:

a. Improve Flexibility. Fluid motions are an important part of a weightlifter’s arsenal. Massage helps stretch muscle fibers, thus promoting and maintaining flexibility. Sometimes, one muscle group may be tight while another may have a different degree of tightness, or even none at all. A deep tissue massage helps manage this imbalance.

b. Improve Circulation. Increased blood flow means better circulation. Better circulation means the weightlifter can breathe easier. Better breathing leads to improved performance. Good oxygen supply also leads to faster recovery.

c.  Reduced Aches and Pains. Massage helps ease the pain of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

d. Sleep Better. Massage can improve sleep quality and quantity, meaning you sleep better for longer. A well-rested lifter is a better-performing lifter.

e. Decreased Tension. A massage can help you feel more relaxed. Allowing yourself to let go of the tension will also allow you to focus more on the exercises and improve overall performance.

Advances in health and fitness have shown that while the soreness can’t be totally eliminated, the recovery time can be shortened significantly

image of massage gun

Having a deep tissue massage at least once every week will have a positive impact on muscles and well-being. Of course, with training and rest alternately taking up all your spare time, do you even have time to go to the spa every week? On top of that, massage therapy can get very expensive, very quick.

Fortunately, at-home percussive therapy is now available. Instead of needing a masseuse or therapist to administer deep tissue massage, one can simply make use of a sports recovery tool to provide rapid bursts of pressure into the muscle tissues. 

Looking a little bit like power drills and occupying just as little storage space, these handy sports recovery devices are very easy to use. After an intense weightlifting session, simply focus the head at whatever muscle needs help. The pulsing rhythm will start working on relaxing the muscle and promote blood flow at the same time. Found a trigger point? No need to press harder, just let the tool work a bit longer on that area and pulse the pain away.

Will Massage Guns, Plain Water and Sleep Help You Lift More?

Drinking and sleeping enough improves health. Regular massages can help keep your muscles healthy and maintain fluidity and agility. It will bolster relaxation. It can ease pain and reduce potential injury. Plus, massage guns can do all that without breaking the bank.

There are no limits to what a well-conditioned weightlifter can lift. So, can a massage gun, simple sleep and water help you lift more? We think it can. Do you?

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