Chinese Weightlifting Experience Part 2

Experience in Chinese Weightlifting Part 2

What was it that made Chinese Weightlifting so different if the programming seemed so basic?

My next logical conclusion would be that there must’ve been a fundamental difference in the coaching. I still remember telling Coach Pang my best numbers at the time, which were a 77kg snatch and 95kg clean and jerk at 62kg bodyweight. He nodded his head disapprovingly and said: ‘oh wow that’s pretty low. My lifters (high schoolers, mind you) lift more than that.’

Aside from the metallic taste of ego death in my mouth, I was excited to see what pointers he had for me – that would get me from a 77kg snatch to 100kg snatch in a matter of months. At least, what’s what I thought would happen. That there would be some kind of Chinese secret that made the weights immediately lighter.

There were none. Surprise, surprise. There were some nuances in technique that I hadn’t learnt back home, but otherwise the principles were very similar. Keep the bar close, be aggressive at the top, stay balanced, to name a few.

One key technical difference I learnt was the acceleration point in the ‘Chinese’ style. Coach Pang explained to me that the bar must be put in the ‘power pocket’ before violently extending. In the snatch, this would be the hip crease. In the clean, this would be slightly lower. This was a key feature that improved my movements immensely. Prior to this cue, I was used to accelerating above the knee. By delaying my ‘acceleration’ I was much more precise.

Although the technical principles were similar, I would argue that the delivery was very different. Being bilingual myself, I know there are expressions that only exist in English, that cannot be adequately translated into Cantonese, and vice versa. There were coaching cues delivered in Chinese that were similar to English, but not totally the same. Differences in language would play out in subtle differences in technique.

For example, in the extension of the snatch, I was frequently cued to violently extend with the legs, followed by pulling with the arms. However, in Chinese, the cue was ‘transfer from the hip’. What this described was using the hips to propel the bar upwards. It seemed to insinuate that momentum was involved. The arms were then used to ‘send’ the bar into place. The Western cueing encouraged stiffness and power. The Chinese encouraged looseness and fluidity.

If you watch the Chinese Weightlifting Team snatch, you will see that their turnovers look extremely loose and fluid. Almost as if the bar is weightless. That’s because (as best I understand it), the turnover is encouraged to be ‘loose and fast’ as opposed to stiff and aggressive.

Some other nuances include how ‘tightness’ was cued. In the West, I was told to keep my back tight. However, in Chinese, they would tell me to ‘lock’ my back. Just a subtle change in what words were being used made me think about the movement different. Telling me to ‘lock’ or ‘keep my back tight’ promoted different sensations within my body. ‘Lock’ seemed to encourage a static, less active posture. ‘Tight’ encouraged an active, constant straining posture. Referring back to the Chinese Team, you can observe how they ‘lock’ into place when they receive the bar overhead.

This begs the question – could the coaching of Chinese Weightlifting technique require a fundamental understanding of the Chinese language? Are there expressions in Chinese that cannot be translated adequately, and therefore, any attempt to interpret Chinese Weightlifting Technique without the use of the language in which it was developed, will always be incomplete?