Open Mouth or Closed Mouth? Does It Make A Difference?

An open mouth or closed mouth while pulling? Today we see both, but does it make a difference?

A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research caught my attention. The Effects of Jaw Clenching and Jaw Alignment Mouthpiece Use on Force Production During Vertical Jump and Isometric Clean Pull (July 31, 2017 published-ahead-of print) concluded:

“This study supports previous research demonstrating that the implementation of remote voluntary contractions such has jaw clenching can lead to concurrent activation potentiation and a resulting ergogenic effect during activities involving and requiring high force production.”

This is not a new topic. During my time as USA Weightlifting’s National Coach (1981-1984) the lifters at the Olympic Training Center had custom mouthpieces made in an attempt to determine possible effects. Prevailing thought at the time was, jaw clenching during high force moves (squat, heavy pulls, etc.) may enhance performance.

For the most part, pictures of star lifters in the 1950s and 1960s show a closed mouth. Today it’s not unusual to see a number of open-mouth first pulls, from the Olympics down to novice meets. Are the lifters hamming it up for the cameras or is there a reason for this action? I see it a lot at local meets, with loads well under bodyweight. Are these lifters simply imitating the champions?

The case can be made for both open and closed mouth performances by elite lifters. Bruce Klemens, noted lifting photographer, recently discussed this topic with me. Bruce supplied me with the following photos of recent champions:

 Kakiasvilis 1996 Olympic Games

 Dimas 1996 Olympic Games

Two of the three-time Olympic gold medalists, Kakiasvilis (open) and Dimas (clenched), pulling at the 1996 Olympic Games. No consistency here, even though they both lifted for Greece.

Curt White 1984 USA Olympic Trials

While most open-mouthed lifters are silent, teenager Curt White (USA) picked up the moniker “The Young Lion” for the roar he let out while pulling at the 1977 Pan American Championships, Mexico City, where I was the USA coach. Here Curt lifts in the 1984 USA Olympic Trials.

Question: What do you think? Does any of this make a difference? Let me know, but please state a reason for your decision.