A second major controversy with respect to weightlifting involves two groups that I will call the absolutists and the relativists. In their purest version, the absolutists maintain that: 1) there is only one proper technique for lifting weights; and 2) they know what it is. Absolutists are easy to spot at a competition; they are the ones who contort their faces and snort in disgust whenever someone fails to perform a lift in accord with their own model. They simply “know that their method is best and that everyone not using it is wasting their potential. How they have come to know this is not always clear, often not even to them.
In contrast, the relativists, in their most extreme version, maintain that proper technique merely involves “doing what comes naturally They maintain that the body has its own most efficient and “natural” way to perform the lifts and that each person has merely to search his or her soul for guidance and then do whatever the subconscious seems to say. There is a second school of relativists who accept the notion of proper technique but who maintain that a lifter can only do what is natural, even if another technique is preferable. You can spot relativists because they exhibit a perpetual grin of resignation while observing virtually any lift, a grin that grows even wider when an obvious fault occurs, as if they are affirming the irony that the harder you try, the more likely it is that nature and whatever it holds in store will emerge.
As is normally the case in such controversies both sides have some valid basis for their claims, but both sides are also dead wrong in a number of important ways. The absolutists fail to recognize that each human body is unique. Bodies are different with respect to the size and shape of the bones that are the levers and the joints that are the fulcrums in the mechanics of human movement The muscle-tendon units that move the skeleton vary in their structure and capacity as well.
Moreover, even if the infinite variety in humankind were not present, even if everyone were built in the same way, there would be a variety of ways in which the human body could develop a given force, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. This is not to say that there are not a significant number of absolutes with respect to technique that we can states there surely are, and we will identify them in this chapter. But absolutes are far harder to come by, and the variety that is possible while still achieving good technique is far richer than the absolutists would have us believe.
Perhaps an even greater weakness in the argument of the absolutists is that they know what the optimal technique is. (How they come to know is often not clear, even to them, but when it is, the reasons) given rarely stand up to serious analysis.) While we know a great deal about human movement in general and the scientific principles of weightlifting technique in particular, there is also a great deal that we have been unable to measure, analyze or understand. It is very likely that at least some, and perhaps a great deal, of what we believe to good technique today may be abandoned and replaced with something better in the future. The fact that the champions of today do something deserves our attention. However, their utilization of a particular technique is not proof that it is “the” optimal one, any more than the technique of the great champions of yesteryear has always withstood the test of time (although much can be learned from the old champions).
The relativists are not safe from criticism either. They are often unwilling to work with their lifters to develop proper technique or to confess their own lack of understanding of what is known today. They recognize the importance of biological individuality. Instead of using it as a basis for further study and learning, however, they use it as an excuse for whatever their athletes do. Clearly humankind was not born with proper weightlifting technique etched deeply within the recesses of the brain. The mechanics of weightlifting technique are not intuitive in nature. When you are doing a snatch or a clean and jerk, you are not moving in the way that most people think. Many lifters cannot explain the mechanics involved in weightlifting, even after observing and practicing it for many years. Therefore, the intuitive approach has great shortcomings. Correct technique needs to be taught by the coach and learned by the athlete.
As you might conclude from the preceding discussion, the development of technique is a process based on firm principles applied within the context of the individual characteristics of the athlete being trained. It is a difficult process at best, yet virtually everyone can develop a technique that is suitable for them with a well planned, consistent and flexible effort.