Returning the Barbell to the Platform After a Successful Lift

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(Edited)

Returning the Barbell to the Platform After a Successful Lift

When a lifter succeeds in lifting the bar and has completed a "set" (one or a series of lifts preceded and followed by a rest period), he or she needs to return the bar to the platform. In the days when weights were made solely of cast iron, there was little choice for most about how the bar was replaced on the platform. The bar had to lowered with some care lest it damage the flooring beneath (dropping the bar was restricted solely to instances in which a lift was missed). Since rubber "bumper" plates were perfected, the practice of dropping the bar after a lift has come into vogue.
Dropping the bar, especially immediately after the lift has been completed, is a poor habit. It can create a tendency for the lifter to lose control of the bar at earlier and earlier stages in the lift. Then, at competition time, it is possible to fail to control the bar long enough to satisfy the rules of the game. To prevent this, athletes should hold every heavy (90% or better) lift in training just a bit longer than is necessary to gain control of the bar and make an effort to control the bar to a certain extent on the way down the methods for doing this will be explained shortly).
Apart from the fact that dropping the bar tends to cause some lifters to lose the ability to control it, dropping the bar with unnecessary frequency and force hastens the destruction of the equipment you are training with Bars will be bent and come apart more easily. "Bumper" plates will lose their spring and become damaged prematurely. The flooring on which the lifts are done will become damaged and the sub-flooring or structure of the building in which the lifting is performed can become undermined.
Weightlifting has not historically been a moneymaking sport for those who sponsor it, so finding a facility at which weightlifters can train for weightlifting competition is often not a simple task. Unfortunately, many weightlifters have made the sport even more unappealing to gym owners because they have cultivated a reputation for destroying equipment and facilities. Therefore, the facilities that do exist for weightlifting practice and competition should not be abused. If lifters limit dropping the bar to missed lifts, or at least to lifts with 90% or more, I would estimate that the rate of equipment wear and destruction could be reduced by 75% to 90%. A bar's life could be increase from several months or years (depending on the quality of the bar) to several decades or more. It also means that lifters would be far more welcome in gyms, Y's and other facilities. Weightlifting would then become more popular and widespread.
Whenever you discuss this topic with weightlifters and coaches, you will always hear the counterargument that "lifters are unnecessarily injured by having to lower the bar." In my experience, this is a half-truth. While lifters do sustain occasional (and generally very minor) injuries as a result of lowering the bar, almost all of those injuries occur as a result of the lifter's failure to lower the bar under reasonable control. Moreover, it has been my experience that many more lifters have been injured as a result of dropping the bar unnecessarily (such as when the bar bounces up and hits the lifter's hands or shins) than by lowering it under control.
Irrespective of whether or not dropping the bar is advisable, there is absolutely no excuse for a behavior that some lifters cultivate: throwing the bar down. When an athlete lowers a bar somewhat and then lets it fall to the platform (or misses a lift and very appropriately lets in fall), the bar travels a limited distance, gaining speed solely as a result of the pull of gravity. Such a fall will have limited force. When a lifter throws the bar down from his or her full height, the bar not only falls further (i.e., from a greater height); it also falls with the added downward force supplied by the lifter. This kind of behavior is unnecessary, dangerous and destructive. It should not be tolerated.
Athletes who complain that lowering the bar hurts have probably never received instruction in the proper technique for lowering the bar. That technique varies slightly among the snatch, the clean and the jerk, but the principles used in each are the same: the bar and body are rendered motionless, the centers of gravity of the bar and body are lowered together, the arms then offer some resistance to the bar as the center of gravity of the body is raised and the descending bar is then brought under control and returned to the platform.
In the jerk the method used is to bend the legs into approximately the quarter squat position while still holding the bar overhead. From that position the bar is lowered toward the shoulders with some resistance from the arms, while at the same time the legs are returned to a nearly straightened position (which raises the lifter's shoulders). As the bar comes in contact with the lifter's shoulders, the lifter allows the legs to rebend to absorb the shock of the descending bar. (The torso is kept strictly vertical during this process; it is particularly important not to permit the torso to lean back when the bar is received on the shoulders.)
A similar process is followed in the snatch, except that the bar is caught at the top of the lifter's thighs instead of the shoulders, with first the arms and then the thighs offering the primary resistance to the descending bar. In the clean the shoulders are lowered by bending the legs; then the arms offer some resistance as the bar descends, and the legs nearly straighten once again to stop the bar at the mid-thigh position. Once the bar has been lowered to mid-thigh after a snatch or clean, it is lowered with the legs and arched back to the floor. Following these steps will make lowering the bar a relatively easy process and will actually make the lifter stronger by providing some eccentric muscle action training. (See Appendix 2 for an explanation of eccentric muscle action.).
Irrespective of the issues raised above, there will be times when the lifter will want or need to drop the bar after a successful lift. In such situations, certain safety rules must be followed. First, the platform must be clear of any plates or other objects that make it anything but perfectly flat. When the bar is to be dropped, it must be on a surface that is free of objects from which the bar can ricochet. Dropping the bar at the edge of a raised platform should be avoided, as the bar can rebound against the corner of the platform and travel horizontally with great force.
Second, before dropping the bar the lifter should lower the body as much as is comfortably possible (e.g., by bending the legs) so that the length of the bar's fall is reduced. Third, the lifter should keep all parts of his or her body behind the falling bar (including the wrists, which should never be above the bar). When a lifter has his or her legs near the bar or the wrists above it, any rebound of the bar when the it hits the platform, can cause an injury. When the hands are in contact with the bar but the palms are facing the floor and the wrists are behind the bar, any rebound of the bar will simply push the hands up. If the lifter lets the bar go entirely before it hits the platform, he or she should keep the entire body well behind the bar; even if the bar travels in a somewhat horizontal direction when it rebounds, it will not hit the lifter. Following these procedures should make lowering the bar a safe procedure in all cases. A description of how to drop the bar after a missed lift is provided in the next chapter.
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