Progressions of Video Analysis
Powerlifting is a simple sport. After all, we’re just asked to move a fixed object from point A to point B. The great, beautiful thing is that the details of how that move is done are one piece of separating novices from champions (of course, aside from the strength differences). One of the best ways of bridging this gap and accelerating progress is to record video of yourself and learn to analyze that footage and look for ways of improving. Here we’re talking about lifting technique, and how to analyze this. As we analyze video footage, I think its important to keep in mind the goal: utmost efficiency and becoming a master of moving the barbell a specific way given the parameters of the lift. The goal is not to find the best cue, the goal is to need no cues, to be able to focus purely on the effort of moving the bar, and not on the way you move the bar.
Below I’ll present a hierarchy of analyzing training footage, listed as a series of steps. While these are ordered steps, they are not mutually exclusive and there is often crossover and restarting that happens over a lifter’s career.
1) Global technical breakdowns
Looking at the whole system (the lifter and bar and contact with the floor/bench), do we see potentially dangerous practices that could injure the lifter? Fixing these is obviously of high importance and a basic prerequisite for the steps below. Possible things to fall into this category include spinal rounding, false gripping, divebombing, extremes in bar placement on the back or in relation to the chest in the bench. Teaching lifters to correct these faults with the necessary combination of further strength training, flexibility work, and technique work must become top priority.
2) Stance selection
Once basic safety conditions have been met, we can begin to choose optimal stances in the big lifts. Would a sumo or conventional style be suited to this lifter in specific? Flat shoes or elevated heel in the squat? How far apart are the feet and where is the bar? Of course, these changes are not permanent, and revisiting these steps in this order is a process that will happen many times over in the course of an athlete’s development (hopefully, with decreasing frequency as the lifter becomes more advanced). How you determine optimal stance is not a question easily answered, but a combination of strength, strength potential, safety, lack of pain, and leverages must play into that decision.
3) Finer Technical Details
Following stance selection and basic safety checks, we can move on to smaller, more intricate corrections. Not surprisingly, most lifters will spend the majority of their time analyzing video here. This is a stage that can often take years, first because there are so many potential changes to make, and second because of the time it takes to integrate a change into real, lasting changes to the movement motor pattern. Often, cues are implemented at this stage as corrective tools. Here we can address bracing, hip position, small changes to foot and hand position, bench pressing arch and global tightness, or where the bar touches on the chest in the bench. Developing a ritual as you approach and walk out/unrack the bar are steps to be developed here as well. Many more cues and changes fall under the umbrella of fine technical details, and it is here that real efficiency is built. It is tested and tweaked in the step to follow.
4) Bar Path, Speed and Other Metrics
With most of the work done, what else is there? There’s much more to observe and correct in video besides what the lifter looks like, and now is the point where assessments of bar speed, peak acceleration, and overall path and related observations can really make meaningful contributions to the overall movement. Is the athlete slow in a place where athletes are usually fast? How does the bar path compare to the generalized model of bar path for the lift in question? And similarly, how does peak acceleration pair up with data on acceleration in averaged groups of athletes? As I’m sure in earlier steps there is room for individualization and customizing movement patterns to the individual, there’s also room here to realize that the lifter in question perhaps accelerates the bar fast off the floor, and most lifters at high levels are slower off the floor, or other such realizations. Video analysis tools like Kinovea, Tracker, IronPath, and others can help grab data here, though the numeric data is going to be more accurate from accelerometer devices like a Tendo unit, GymAware, or the new PUSH band.
5) Motivational/Psychological Factors Related to Performance
Finally, presumably the only changes left are changes to athlete psychology, which express themselves on video in subtle ways. How is the athlete approaching the bar, what are they thinking about? Are they calm or tense, and is this state of optimal arousal repeatable for them? Is it consistent? Do they have an attitude that breeds success and ignores failure, and do they approach near-maximal loads the same way they approach warmups?
Admittedly, the spectrum of corrections here spans well outside video and into programming changes and everything it takes to make a lifter stronger. I’ve tried to keep things focused on what we can learn from video, and I hope that the reader will take away a hierarchy and some actionable steps. The point is that worrying about bar speed before worrying about more fundamental movement issues is unwarranted, and worrying about tiny technical details before major stance selection is also not needed.