What I Learned from Diana Fu

This Saturday, I had the pleasure of listening to Crossfit rockstar, Diana Fu, teach the principles of olympic weightlifting. If you are not familiar with Diana check out her website and blog at fubarbell.com.

Before attending the workshop I thought I had a decent understanding of the positions and transitions necessary for performing an efficient barbell snatch and clean and jerk. However, as I would discover in the seven hours spent in Diana’s presence, I still had a lot to learn.

Below are three vital concepts I learned from this olympic lifting goddess:

1) Don't forget your anterior chain

Performing movements to strengthen the posterior chain (back of the body) has become all the rage in the strength and conditioning world, and for good reason. In our culture, we are often in positions (sitting, leaning forward) that shorten the front of our bodies; therefore, logically it makes sense to try to strengthen the opposite muscles. Moreover, many of the exercises performed to accomplish this, such as, deadlifts and kettlebell swings promote functional strength and explosiveness. As a physical therapist, I have found these kind of exercises to be therapeutic for treatment of low back, hip and knee pain.

 Strengthening the posterior chain can be very valuable, but when when performing vertical movements the anterior chain cannot be neglected.

Strengthening the posterior chain can be very valuable, but when when performing vertical movements the anterior chain cannot be neglected.

Understanding the many reasons that posterior chain strengthening can be beneficial, it -- like most things -- can be overemphasized at the expense of functional efficiency.

In regards to this workshop, many participants (myself being one of the biggest offenders) were attempting to take the action of the anterior chain (mainly the quadriceps) out of the equation by setting up their cleans and snatches with weight shifted back through the heels. The "through the heels" cue can be very beneficial for decreasing stress to the anterior structures of the body in the presence of pain during exercises like squats and deadlifts, but in the case of olympic lifting, this can be counterproductive to the vertical path the bar must take. Diana reminded us that vertical jumping, in which the body is moving in a similar direction, must involve strong engagement of the anterior chain if any proficiency in performance is expected.

 Setting up for a vertical jump will tend to load the middle to front of the foot, activating the anterior core, anterior thigh, and posterior lower leg muscles necessary to perform vertical motion.

Setting up for a vertical jump will tend to load the middle to front of the foot, activating the anterior core, anterior thigh, and posterior lower leg muscles necessary to perform vertical motion.

2) Stack your combined center of mass

Further exemplifying the erroneous nature of the excessive posteriorly directed setup, was the concept of stacking the body’s combined center of mass over the bar. This was described with elegant simplicity as setting up with the navel over the bar and the shoulders over the navel. This setup cue again brought many participants more forward on the feet than we were accustomed. Despite the initial awkwardness, it was quite evident -- at least to me -- that the balance achieved while receiving the bar in either the power or squat position was much greater. Moreover, the amount of effort to create power and speed under the bar was substantially decreased, making the full movement much more efficient. Diana explained to the participants that once a proper setup is attained, all one needs to do is “stand up”. Initially I was skeptical that she may be over simplifying things due to her vast amount of experience, but I came to understand exactly what she meant by the end of the seminar.

 A traditional deadlift setup where the bar is substantially out in front of the navel

A traditional deadlift setup where the bar is substantially out in front of the navel

 Diana herself, setting up for a snatch with her navel stacked over the bar and her shoulders over the navel

Diana herself, setting up for a snatch with her navel stacked over the bar and her shoulders over the navel

3) Stability has an inverse relationship to speed

This concept made so much sense once it was said, but can so easily be underestimated in training movement. Often coaches are so focused on creating tension in the body through strength and stability training that it can be forgotten that in movements requiring speed and power, our athletes need to learn the skill of relinquishing and regaining tension depending on the component of the movement.

In my personal experience with olympic lifting, I often prepared to clean and snatch by creating near maximal tension on the bar and throughout my body. Upon heeding Diana’s cues to relax my starting tension, I found that the bar moved with much less effort. Moreover, I felt improved range of motion in my shoulders during both the pulling and receiving of the bar.

See the video below for my cleans and snatches pre- and post- Diana’s teachings. Can you tell the difference? I could certainly feel it.

Many other tidbits of information were shared by this olympic lifting icon, but those were the three that will stick with me the most and have forever changed the way I look at these movements.

Thank you, Diana!