Yesterday, my favorite basketball team took a disappointing loss.
The Hotshots fell to the Bulldogs in a hard-fought game during the local 2nd-grade championship tournament. My favorite player—and seven-year-old daughter—put in some valuable minutes with a rebound and very close to one assist throughout the tournament. However, despite her hustle defense, it was clear that she wasn’t picking up on the zone strategy during her first game.
So at home, my wife and I printed out a picture of a basketball court to draw out the area she was supposed to own and did some practice in the living room. This helped her with the concept, but ultimately, it was lost during the game’s speed and action.
Then this morning, as I looked at my court diagram that should put me among the likes of Phil Jackson, I connected some long-held thoughts about why PVC pipes are mostly useless for weightlifting.
The Problem with Pipes
There is some utility of a 6oz pipe, or broomstick, as a teaching tool for the beginner, but like my basketball diagram, it only creates a concept. Beyond the initial learning stage, lifting something so light is a poor teaching tool.
To explain, it requires a bit of information on how the body learns new movements, a science called motor learning.
Now, if you’ve ever coached someone on a complex movement outside of those freakish athlete types, you will see them thinking very hard as they try to put all the pieces together as you’ve instructed them to do.
And if you instructed appropriately, that was probably done as a progression of simpler things. For example, the progression for a snatch is something simple like:
Jump and shrug
Jump and high pull
Jump, high pull, and punch
Jump, high pull, punch, and drop
You can see the layering that gets more complex.
Although, to get proficient at an exercise, like the Olympic lifts (that’s often taught with a PVC pipe,) you can’t think about all the details of the move. In fact, focusing on just one part of a movement affects learning to move as a whole (Wolf, 2007.)
Instead, to teach movement, you want to give challenges that require a person to self-organize without thinking through the process.
For example, people will throw better when told to throw faster than when instructed on the technique of throwing. They learn to do things like rotate their trunk or take a contralateral step before throwing. And to do this for weightlifting, you have to scale up on something for learners to self-organize their movement (ref).
That’s as simple as adding some weight. Then, suddenly, an athlete will stop thinking about parts of the lift like using their hips more or punching under the bar and just do it because they have to do those things to accomplish the task.
If it’s too heavy, that will affect learning the movement too, but the point here is that the PVC is too light for people to successfully self-organize a dynamic lift.
Thus, I see this image and idea floated around often:
I would argue that the inverse is more accurate!
And you won’t ever master the PVC lift until you master the lift with a barbell.