PITTSFIELD - The World Weightlifting Championships were hosted in Poland last week, and most people that tuned probably gawked at the rotund weights.
Pittsfield resident Greg Herrman knows better. Olympic-style weightlifters have far more important concerns, he said.
The 31-year-old is a former competitive cyclist, but following a life-threatening accident he has embraced Olympic- style weightlifting at Raw Sports Performance and Fitness in Pittsfield, the only gym in Berkshire County with a certified USA Weightlifting Club. Owner Daniel Larrow is a certified trainer with USA Weightlifting, which serves as the national governing body overseeing weightlifting in the U.S.
Herrman is one of about a half-dozen local Olympic-style weightlifting enthusiasts. When watching video, he'll look at how far the bar bell is from the bodybuilder when he goes to pick it up. Following the lift, he'll monitor a bodybuilder's positioning compared to where the barbell is.
In Olympic-style weightlifting, perfect form - which can take years to perfect - can be attributed to the world record set by Lu Xiaojun, who lifted 388 pounds using the snatch - more than twice his 169 pound body weight.
"With body building, it's primarily all about strength and how strong you are," Herrman said. "Olympic weightlifting is not just about how strong you are, the technique is a huge part of it."
Olympic weightlifting incorporates two forms, and competitors have three opportunities to attempt a maximum single weightlift. The forms are the "clean-and-jerk" and "snatch."
The clean-and-jerk requires a weightlifter to take the barbell from the floor to above his head in two sweeping motions. The first movement goes from the platform to as high as the lifter can manage (normally the chest). After a pause, the athlete goes to the second stage. In this second stage, the athlete lifts the barbell into an overhead position, placing the legs in a lunge position (one leg on front of the other).
The snatch requires the weightlifter to heave the barbell from the platform to an overhead position in a single movement.
A casual observer might attribute the split-second motion - from floor to above the head - to Herculean strength. There's a small cadre of enthusiasts in Berkshire County's Weightlifting Club who know it's all about the form.
"The beauty about Olympic weightlifting and the reason it's an actual Olympic sport is that it's 50 percent technique," said Larrow, of Raw Sports Fitness. "It's so technical that if you don't have the form, it won't get off the floor, and you can't do it technically."
Certified as a U.S. Olympic weight trainer by USA Weightlifting, he was trained in San Diego by two former weightlifting Olympians. A former Pittsfield High School graduate, he earned his bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2009 from Springfield College.
The gold standard for weightlifters is lifting more than their own body weight. Larrow, 28, who weighs 175 pounds can lift 254 pounds using the clean-and-jerk.
"Could you do your body weight with subpar form? Absolutely. A little more than body weight? Sure. But eventually you hit a wall," Larrow said.
Before a gym member is allowed to perform the snatch or clean-and-jerk, months may pass by, Larrow said. Using weightlifting vernacular, he said there are several swats and deadlifts. The students in his class start with a PVC pipe before making their way to a barbell.
Olympic weightlifting requires flexibility, coordination, power and stamina, Larrow said, so it can take time before someone is able to lift extreme weights from the floor to above their head.
The sport resembles golf, Herrman said, because of the intense focus on technique.
"I find it satisfying to nail the technique," Herrman said.
Pittsfield resident Billy Bacon is another recent convert to Olympic weightlifting. He is a former amateur kickboxing champion, but multiple concussions had him searching for other sports. Body building didn't satisfy him, but he's found enjoyment in Olympic-style weightlifting.
Bacon weighs 165 pounds. He's lifting 215 pounds with the clean-and-jerk and 165 pounds with the snatch.
"I feel like the technique will get you the weight," Bacon said. "The weight won't get you the technique."