Bottom to top and back down, students analyze Olympic weightlifters every move

Bottom row from left: HHP Associate Professor J.P. Barfield, Matt Koldewey and Aaron Kildea. Back row from left: Don Tredway, HHP Associate Professor David Sallee and Cody Kelly.

Radford University Fitness, Strength and Conditioning majors have gotten a heavy dose of hands-on learning experiences over the past few months.

In March, seven students participated in a three-day Olympic weightlifting certification course taught on campus by coach and former lifter Leo Totten. Two months later, four students traveled to York, Pennsylvania to work and conduct research at Totten’s East Coast Classic weightlifting competition.

While there, the students set up cameras to video each competitor’s movements on Day 1 of the event. There were about 75 male and female weightlifters and each attempted six lifts. Over the next few months, the students will meticulously analyze the videos, looking at each lifter’s technique to “determine the appropriate movements and techniques that led to successful and unsuccessful lifts,” said Health and Human Performance Associate Professor David Sallee, who accompanied the students to the competition.

Matt Koldewey, a strength, fitness and conditioning major from Sterling, was one of the students who videoed the lifters and was part of an educational project that could lead to further research. “We hope to look at these elite lifters, some of whom are the best in the country, and determine the ideal way to do Olympic lifts,” the rising senior said.

The project involves, in part, measuring the bar path from the floor to over the lifter’s head. The research team also will examine the competitors’ joints during a lift, Koldewey said, starting with the ankles and moving up to the knees, hips and shoulders.

The project is important to the learning process of each student, many of whom aspire to be strength and conditioning coaches. “When they are working as coaches, they have to understand how to teach the proper movements,” Sallee said. “This project gives the students an opportunity to have vital experience with high-caliber athletes.”

The group will compare lift patterns from various demographics, such as male and female and younger and older adults.

The project was a pilot for a future study that Sallee hopes to perform in the fall. If the project is successful, Sallee hopes to have his students present at undergraduate research conferences in the spring.

The group did more than video the lifters at the competition. Along with Sallee and Health and Human Performance Associate Professor J.P. Barfield, they loaded weights on and off the bars for each lifter.

“It was a pretty serious deal,” Koldewey said. “You have to have the weight absolutely perfect before the lifter comes on the stage.  It was pretty stressful at times when they were announcing the next lifter and you’re trying to load the weight.”

There was some math involved, too.

“The weight is in kilos, so you had to do the calculations in your head,” Koldewey said. “It was frustrating at first, but we got it down quickly.”

Moving weight plates back and forth for more than 20 hours over the two-day competition proved to be a tiring task, even for a group and fitness, strength, fitness and conditioning majors and faculty members who are in peak physical condition.

“All of us worked really hard, and we were all pretty tired at the end,” Sallee said. “It was a good time. We got what we needed for the project and it was a great experience.”

Sallee said he would like to investigate the possibilities of someday offering another hands-on learning experience to his students, one that would allow them to work and learn at an Olympic training center.

“My goal and dream is to have the students live there for a couple of weeks and interact with the athletes, coaches, nutrition staff, the rehabilitation staff and so on,” Sallee said. “I want the students to be immersed in the whole experience of training athletes. That’s my ultimate goal.”

That dedication is not lost on the students.

“Dr. Sallee runs circles for the students here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do if it wasn’t for him and the other faculty.”

Jun 29, 2016
Chad Osborne