The Sensory and Motor Weightlifter

I am now nearing the end of my 5th decade of coaching weightlifters and at this point I am coaching a greater number of athletes as well as a greater diversity in terms of native abilities. Consequently more perspectives are clarified and by sharing them I hope to help others who have chosen to embark on the coaching pathway.


The long range goal of the weightlifter’s journey is to develop a highly sensitive nervous system for the input from the bones and muscles and to be able to control the muscles.  The best weightlifter that you can be will have highly improved proprioception, kinesthetic sense, and the reflexive ability to make adjustments so as to preserve the integrity of a snatch, clean or jerk with exactly the proper amount of nuances.  The vast majority of beginners cannot accomplish this unless they are highly accomplished gymnasts, acrobats, divers and perhaps dancers.  This is the goal for your body to become through the proper and exacting perfection of the performance of the snatch and clean & jerk.


Beginners are a large percentage of the population entering weightlifting gyms in 2019.  Their nervous systems are the products of the movement patterns they’ve mastered in their lives.  Most have not engaged sufficiently in a large enough variety of movements to be “athletically literate”.  Their brains can only handle a limited amount of sensory input and can only react with a limited amount of motor output.  The goal of the athlete should be to increase both, and the job of the coach is to provide physical experiments that will assist in this undertaking.


Further along the athlete will have increased the ability to receive more sensory input.  What must then be developed is the ability to switch focus from one body part to another.  The ability to discern the relative positions of the hips and shoulders must switch quickly to the ability to feel the movement of the knees forward.  While this may seem impossible the first week of training it can become more and more achievable as time passes during the learning process.  The reception of sensory input for each body part may improve as training progresses and then the athlete must focus on being able to shift focus quickly from one body part to the next.


The final product should be an individual with global body awareness and global body responsiveness.  The brain must be able to receive signals from every part of the body simultaneously and respond immediately with the relevant bodyparts being moved to appropriate degrees of speed and force development.  The time required to reach this stage is highly variable, but like so many activities of the nervous system, beginning the training during the windows of learning appropriateness will yield the best results.  For most this is during pre-adolescence. 


A good coach should be just as focused on nervous system adaptation as on any other sphere of physical development.