Don’t Mistake the Effect for the Cause

by coachdanbell


Cause-and-effect seems a simple enough concept to grasp: this happens and makes that happen. It’s amazing to me how often athletes (and too many coaches) in the sport of weightlifting confuse the effect for the cause. What is most obviously wrong about a missed lift is rarely the cause of the miss.

Have you ever pulled a snatch to your eyeballs and your body refused to get under it? Looped the bar around you and missed behind? Deadlifted–or Clarked–the bar? What you assume was a technical failure at one point in the lift probably happened much earlier. What you assumed a lack of guts or commitment to the lift was likely a technical mistake.

For example, take balking at going under the bar. I’ve worked a lot recently with a lifter named Eileen who powered everything. Just could not move under the bar for a full lift. She could pull the bar eyeball high and still not move under it. She’d try to pull down, only to pull her chest and shoulders down and forward and stop, letting the bar fall to the floor in front of her. She was frustrated almost to the point of giving up the sport. She thought it a failure of will, lack of courage or even some esoteric nuance she could not grasp. It was none of these. She simply did not get the bar deep enough over her base in the first pull, then tried to drive up over the balls of her fee in the second pull, leaving the bar out front, where she simply could not do anything with it. A lack of courage or will was not the cause of her misses. It was bar location. Eileen is a realtor, and would tell you now that in lifting as in real estate, it’s location location location.

We worked a few drills to get the bar deeper over her base and finish the lift driving UP with her legs rather than forward with her hips. After a couple days, she was moving under the bar effortlessly because the bar was over her base of balance, where she could easily interact with it.

How about banging the bar away from you? You’re standing up with a snatch that seems to be going well and then you bang it away from you and loop it. Your training partner says, “Don’t swing your hips at the bar!” Was driving your hips at the bar too much the cause of the miss? Maybe not. It may well have been the effect of something that happened earlier. If the bar wasn’t swept close to the front of your body right off of the floor, it will be too far forward, leaving a gap between the front of your body and the bar. The bigger this gap, the more you’ll have to chase the bar with your hips at the top of your pull. You are trying to get your hips on the bar as you should, but again, the bar is too far out front already to do anything useful with it. By the time your hips reach forward to get to the bar you’ve already lost the lift. Looping the bar may look like the cause, but the miss happened as soon as the bar moved vertically off of the floor rather than back over your base.

One more example: A lifter’s hips pop up faster than the shoulders, leaving the bar swinging away from the lifter right off of the floor for a miss. The usual advice is, “Keep your hips down,” the assumption being that the hips coming up too quickly was the cause of the miss. Yes, the hips came up too fast and the bar moved away from the lifter. Were the rising hips the cause of the problem? Again, maybe not. Many lifters, especially newer lifters, do not know how to engage their upper backs for a solid starting position. Their upper backs not being locked in and solid means their upper back gets soft right off the floor, their chest falls, their lats lose engagement and the bar swings away. Like the bar swinging away, the rising hips are an effect, the poor upper back engagement the cause.

It often pays to look away from what appears to have gone wrong to find the real reason. A decent rule of thumb is to look as early in the lift as possible for the cause of the miss. I can usually tell by the time the bar reaches the knees if the lifter has a chance, and often within the first two inches of a lift. If things go wrong right off the floor, they don’t usually get better as the lift progresses.

Having instant access to video tools aids in this process greatly. If things are going wrong, it is no shame to pull out that iPhone or iPad and get some slow motion video to better analyze the lift. Even this takes practice and some experience to be as useful as it can be, but even beginners will spot basic flaws they can’t feel or see full speed. Be careful, though. Don’t assume the first glaring mistake you see is the cause of the problem. A little digging and nuanced thinking goes a long way.