Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [2]

Dmitry Klokov, 2008 Beijing Olympic silver medalist and repeated medalist at World Championship events in the 105kg class.


Gif from Dmitry Klokov warmup video

What is most amazing is that the ankle plantar-flexion (the direction into which Dmitry is stretching his ankles in the image) is not a range of motion required for any lift; yet Dmitry’s ankle flexibility equals if not exceeds the ankle flexibility of many swimmers.  In fact, I have heard many cyclists argue that ‘stiff’ ankles are required, even optimal to maximize power transfer from the body into the pedals thus mechanics of the bike.  If anyone could argue ‘stiff’ ankles are optimal, lifters would be the ones as it wouldn’t be hard to agree that when lifting and holding hundreds of kilograms above the head, rigid ankles provide a stable base from which to generate power.  But rigid ankles don’t translate into optimal power transfer, and this is why an Olympic weightlifter spends time ensuring that his ankles are flexible in every direction.

If any athlete requires ankle plantar-flexion flexibility, it’s swimmers. In his book No Limits, Michael Phelps refers to the flexibility in not only his ankles but all his joints as one aspect of his physique which moved him towards success. Swimmers not only need flexibility in their ankles in order to position their feet for the kick, they need to be powerful in this position to generate propulsion with their kick. Top swimmers are capable of doing squats (unloaded) from a seated child’s pose (see images below):


Gif from The Race Club video titled Secret Tips: Propulsion

How many swimmers stretch their ankles, and then train during dryland to have this level of power from a kneeling position? This ability to generate power applies directly to a swimmers ability to generate propulsion with the freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly kicks.

For the breaststroke, the following dryland routine trains flexibility and power, and it trains the athlete to drive the whip kick posteriorly, not laterally, slicing through the water.


Gif from The Race Club video titled Secret Tips: Propulsion

Recently while watching the AT&T American Cup 2015 (US Gymnastics competition), top US gymnast Simone Biles during her floor routine started one of her tumbling runs from the kneeling position as shown by the male swimmer above, and just like him rose to her feet as if kicking the floor with a swimming dolphin or butterfly kick.

Weightlifters are training to develop such ankle flexibility, as are gymnasts yet neither of these athletes depend on this position nor power from this position to the extent that swimmers do. If weightlifters are training this flexibility, then all athletes – not just swimmers – need to seriously consider or reconsider their attitude, perspective, and the effort they make into training flexibility.

Any coach seeking peak performance from their athletes who doesn’t have flexibility as a primary aspect of their training routine is only fooling themselves that consistent peak performance is achievable.Dmitry_Klokov_200kg_Snatch

Gif from Dmitry Klokov performing 160kg, 190kg, and 200kg Snatches.

2 thoughts on “Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [2]

  1. MGrodski Post author

    A article providing additional explanation as to how/why flexibility is critical to proper lifting:

    The Physics of Lifting: Don’t Forget to Hinge

    In any movement, the weight is pulled down by gravity in a straight-line path to the ground. Our bodies move around this path. For example, when we get up from a sitting position, we lean forward to counterbalance the weight in our hips (try to stand from a sitting position without bending forward; it is harder than you think). So, any time we add weight to our body, we balance it out along this imaginary line to the ground.

    In the front squat, we keep an upright torso, as that keeps the weight following our imaginary line to the ground. In a low-bar back squat, we bend forward to keep the weight along this same line.

    From the article:
    Figure 2-31 reveals how a simple change in position of the bar causes/requires the athlete to have greater range of motion in different joints and muscle groups. To lift with proper technique, full range of motions is required (i.e. deepest possible squat requires proximity to the bar requiring full ankle dorsiflexion).

    What has this got to do with muscle power? If you change the angle of a joint even slightly but have not trained the muscles to be strong in and around that range, then you will not be able to generate force nor transition force smoothly through that range. In fact, untrained zones of range expose athletes to injury especially if the only time they enter those zones are during max efforts. Untrained zones must be trained, slowly, with minimal or no weight to start so that the neural pattern of movement through that range can be established by the brain. Therefore, deconstructing movements of any sport into zones or components and training each independently is key to both peak performance and injury prevention.

    What applies in weightlifting, applies to every other sport: the desired direction of movement is a straight vector (i.e. lifting a weight straight up; in swimming, cycling and running the desired vector is directly forward). What makes this possible as the article states is that our body and our parts must rotate around that vector (to hold a straight line). Peak propulsion/force/speed is achieved when the vector is perfectly straight with our bodies rotating around the line of force. Propulsion/force/speed is lost when inflexibility causes the athlete to zigzag, with energy being lost in all other directions than the desired one.

    If you want to lift a weight, then the easiest way to accomplish this is to lift it straight up, not even slightly to the left, right, forward, or back, or worst zigzagging in all directions all the way up.

    If you want to swim, ride, or run your fastest, then the shortest distance, the straightest line (A > B) is required. Zigzagging while swimming, riding, or running is energy spent in every direction other than the one you want to travel. The more flexible the easier it is to direct all energies forward. The more inflexible, the more you have to zigzag.

    Its that simple. To go faster, go straight. To go straight, become more flexible.

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