You can watch all of the videos on Youtube, you can have the best discussions with the greatest coaches, and you can read the best literature available, but you still may not be able to do complex movements like the snatch, clean, jerk or squat correctly.  The reason is often the lack of mobility.

We are animals with awesome bodies. We are built to run, climb, swim, do forward movements, backward movements, lateral movements. We can twist, turn, jump and stretch in every direction. But because of the lives we live, we lose the ability to do most of those things. The older we get, the narrower we get in our abilities to move. When we’re toddlers, we wobble, legs and arms swinging in all direction. Then when we get to school, we have 16 years of sitting at a desk, standing in line, always walking forward – maybe occasionally running forward in gym class. The muscles responsible for everything else atrophy.

The importance of mobility in weightlifting:

In strength sports, there are ways in which you can position your body to make the major muscles work. These positions stress the major muscles, making them adapt and grow. If you are getting into a position that has the biggest potential for growth, which stresses the muscles that have the biggest potential for growth, then you are on a path to getting to your potential in strength. If you use any other positions/trajectories that stress muscles with lower potentials for growth, you are on a path to a lower strength potential.

Most people get into the wrong positions in most lifts. They get into positions their mobility allows them to get into – or where they are currently strongest. They continue to work on those positions, getting the minor muscles stronger, leaving the major muscles without much stress. The lifter gets stronger, but the growth isn’t as fast as it could be, and has a lower maximum potential.

As an example, when you go up from a front squat, does your butt go back or do you increase the arch in your back? If that doesn’t happen, great. If it does – this is your body moving the responsibility of lifting the weight from your legs to your back, because it feels the back is stronger than the legs in that position. Your back which is already strong, will continue to get stronger until it reaches its limit. Your legs, which aren’t strong enough, aren’t being stressed, and will not get much stronger. By working on this trajectory, the lifter will reach a relatively low-strength potential.


Ilya Ilyin always working on the strongest positions

Try this: do a front squat (could be just body weight), as you go up, don’t allow your butt to go back, at all. Feel the legs are working? Is the back tight? To feel it more, place 0.5kg under the middle of your feet and focus on the balance – so the toes and heals never touch the floor. Now you should feel the right muscles working. Squatting like this will make the major muscles stronger. And if you keep doing this with all squats, your body will automatically start going to this trajectory/position because you will have the  major muscles to support it.

No one wants to go to the gym and lift 40% of their usual. They want to come in and lift big weight. Most people who change technique (whether for the better or worse) will be lifting 20-50% less than what they were lifting before because previously unused, and undeveloped muscles are being used. With proper technique, and work, the new numbers will catch up with the old and surpass them.

Some people can’t do the squat without increasing the arch of the back or changing its angle (raising hips more than shoulders) with or without weight. This is because of a lack of control/mobility of the needed muscles. They are unable to control the right muscles in the right positions and the knees cave in, hips move back or the back starts to overarch.

How do you fix this?

Easy. You need to put your muscles under stress, in the right position so they learn how to work in those positions. Wake up the atrophied muscles, and they will gladly get to work. For most positions it takes less than a week to gain full control.

For front squats – to have a good front squat, the biggest helper will be wall squats: face the wall, place your feet at front squat width (wide enough for hips to fit between heals). Point the toes out at about 45 degrees to start. Stand with your toes 3 inches away from the wall, and place your hands behind your head.

Squat down. If you can squat all the way down and get back up,  get closer to the wall and repeat. Keep doing so until your toes are touching the wall. If you can squat in this position, most likely everything is working fine and you have the control in the right positions to at least get into them and use the right muscles – although they may not yet be strong enough to lift any good weight, for now.

If you aren’t able to squat down without falling back, the problem is likely either:

  • The groin muscles are too tight and inactive, making your knees pull in and hit the wall – pushing your hips back and your body off balance.
  • Or your hips go back to let the back to the work because the quads aren’t activated properly. If so, you’ll fall back.

Have someone stand behind you to keep you from falling back by pushing you into place, and making sure your knees are going out enough. Use force.

If you feel that you are shaking – good. This is your body telling your muscles what to do, and them saying ‘we haven’t done this before, it’s hard, we’re trying’.

If you can do 4(ish) sets of 8(ish) 3-5 times for a week, the muscles will learn their role and get comfortable in this position.

-Story time

When I was being coached by Vasiliy, there was a point when we both understood exactly what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, but we weren’t able to understand why I was unable to do the right movements, or why my body wouldn’t go to the right positions.

It turned out that my body was placing itself in positions it felt comfortable in, positions it was confident in – which happened to not be the positions we wanted. And the positions we wanted, and knew would be better for me – I was just unable to get into. Finally Vasiliy assigned wall squats, and we realized that I just wasn’t able to turn the right muscles on – because I could barely do them at 4 inches away from the wall.

A week later I was able to do wall squats with no problem, with quads burning. My squats looked awesome, although I was squatting 50% of what I was squatting a week before. Within a month, my squats increased in the new positions to what they were before the switch. My squats don’t hurt anymore, and the strength I build in the squats transfers into the lifts much more efficiently.

The front squat is only an example – but one that most people don’t do as they should.

Blog 3 complete.

Yasha Kahn
Weightlifter, coach and now: blogger. I've traveled around the world sharing my weightlifting knowledge and experiences. I look forward to the next adventure.
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