We’re going to look at this one through the lens of a CrossFitter/ Functional Fitness Enthusiast/ Fast Exerciser today.
If all you do is train Olympic lifting and you aren’t where you want to be, I would suggest you have other issues- strength/timing/speed/placement/proficiency, all of which can be solved by getting an objective coach to review your lifts…or simply be patient and trust the process.
Like most things in life, you don’t start out as an expert or proficient in Olympic lifting. If you were to use a self rating system (and you were honest with yourself, another key part), you would probably say that your first few weeks of lifting are 1/10 and 2/10 lifts.
Then miraculously (almost as though you had been working on it) your lifts start to improve.
Your 1s and 2s become 5s and 6s. You don’t feel as though you’re a fraud every time you drop into that snatch or push under the bar in that split jerk.
It’s been a few months now. I know, time flies quickly on this blog. Your 5s and 6s have become 8s and 9s. But then a funny thing happens.
Your lifts don’t change. Your perception of them does.
What you would have classed as an 8/10 you suddenly become more critical of. “Well, I felt that bar get a little away from my hips on that snatch, I should have kept my knuckles down for longer and eyes forward.” All of a sudden your 8/10 is a 5/10 once more.
This is the vicious cycle of lifting, and learning skills in general. The better you get, the more critical you are of each tiny flaw.
When you first begin there are 300 things to work on, all of which will yield massive improvements in technique and performance, but as time goes on and those flaws get smaller and improvements more incremental, you need to become more critical to ensure you keep improving.
So whether that’s where you find yourself now or you are still in the early phases of your journey into the mythical land of olympic weightlifting, here are 5 reasons you might not quite be where you want to be:
1. You’re a cardio bunny.
It’s hard to get strong. It’s also hard to get fit. And then it’s hard to learn new skills. Want to know what’s even harder? Trying to do all these things at the same time. Welcome to CrossFit.
On any given day there may be 10+ different skills you need to master, so it’s hard to decide where to spend your time and energy. I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
It’s a lot easier to gain cardio fitness than it is to get strong. True story.
When there are so many things to work on, it’s easy to worry about neglecting one aspect and letting your fitness fall by the wayside as you concentrate on getting stronger.
If you program smartly/ follow a smart land mammal based program (The Buffalo Tribe hint hint) you will see that there is a time for getting stronger and a time for increasing fitness. Unless you are brand new to fitness, it probably isn’t the time to do both.
You don’t have to do a cool down 5km run after every single session. You won’t lose your base level of fitness if you spend some time on strength. And guess what? (Today is a day for guessing games it seems)...
There is a direct correlation between your squatting and pulling numbers, and your snatch and clean and jerk numbers.
If you become stronger at squatting and pulling, you will be able to snatch and clean and jerk more, guaranteed. So put the skipping rope down for a bit, jump off the assault runner and pick up a barbell and work on a structured strength program.
It will pay dividends.
2. Too many mind.
I love the movie The Last Samurai. Not just for the irony that the whitest guy in the world, Tom Cruise, is the last Samurai, but for the philosophy of the samurai that is actually very similar to olympic weightlifting. Also sword fights. Mostly sword fights.
When Tom Cruise’s character is struggling with learning a new fighting style with a new weapon (you can see the similarities already can’t you? I’ve seen you all pretending the barbells are swords or staffs), he get’s distracted often and focuses on too many aspects of what he is trying to achieve.
He has “too many mind”. Focusing on too many things at the one time.
I’m a coach. I’ve employed coaches. I’ve trained new coaches. Maybe this one isn’t always your fault. But it definitely sometimes is.
One of the biggest things I see with newer coaches is a need to overcue. They see 12 things wrong with your lift, so they hit you with 12 problems and 12 solutions all in one go.
So what happens? You try to fix 12 different things in your next lift and everything falls apart.
Start from the ground up. Olympic lifting is supposed to be fast, explosive and powerful.
Which means it is very hard to correct flaws mid lift, if you get your start right and set yourself up in correct positions that is half the battle. Focus on one problem at a time, once it is no longer a problem move on to the next thing. Talk to your coach, tell them exactly what you’re working on (no-one likes to feel they’re being ignored) and ask for their feedback on whether it is improving or not. You focus on perfecting that aspect of your lift and get immediate feedback from someone you trust or feedback from yourself. Film everything. Comment before the lift exactly what you’re trying to improve and then see if you did that thing.
....It isn’t rocket science. It’s olympic lifting. Too many mind is a problem, not a gift. Laser focus and tunnel vision on one part of your lift at a time is what is going to help you improve.
It’s exactly the same as all the hospital emergency departments I’ve never worked in. You deal with the biggest problem first to the exclusion of others and then work your way all the way down to the sprained finger. One mind. Not too many mind.
3. Your bar and your body have a reverse magnetic field.
When I first started snatching and cleaning, I knew exactly what to do. You bang the bar into your hips/quads as hard as possible, watch it loop away from the body and hope like hell that it lands in the right spot over your head or on your shoulders.
Luckily, I had some great coaches who informed me pretty quickly that this is not the way to better lifting. Some people aren’t so lucky, they’ve been doing this for years and still think thats the process.
So I’m going to enlighten you here.
Contact between the bar and body should only happen when you reach full (triple) extension. This means the point where your toes are the only thing in contact with the ground and your ankles, knees and hips are fully extended. This contact will naturally occur then as you sweep the bar back with your lats and hips naturally come slightly forward.
This should not occur by me humping the bar as though we were in a committed long term relationship (safety first). Which hopefully you are with your barbell, but you know, respect it a little.
Anyone who has held a 15/20kg barbell at arms length will know that it feels as though it is 80kg and a lot heavier than it should be. The further away from your body the bar gets, the heavier it feels, and the less chance there is that it’s going to land in the correct position.
You can get away with a lot in the clean just by having pure strength, but the snatch especially is a different ballgame. A make or a miss is measured in millimetres, not centimetres so you need to do everything you possibly can to ensure it’s in the right catch position.
Whether snatching or cleaning, focus on keeping those knuckles facing down as long as possible in the lift, shrug the shoulders and let the elbows come high rather than pulling back. You want to pull yourself under the bar, not behind it.
Fun test: see if your coach trusts you and ask them to stand directly in front of you when you’re lifting. I guarantee you will focus more on keeping the bar close to your body.
4. You don’t like routine. I mean that’s why you do CrossFit in the first place, right?
“Routine is the enemy”. I mean it’s right there in the CrossFit credo- Fitness in 100 words.
And it is right. But it’s also wrong.
Routine is the enemy in the traditional way of fitness and exercise because it leads to complacency, boredom and eventually, you just won’t do it anymore.
I walked out of a traditional gym 7 years ago after fronting up for the same leg day routine I had been doing every Friday for the last 3 months and realising I really had no interest in sitting on the leg extension and hamstring curl machines anymore.
I craved variety. I wanted to learn new skills, climb ropes, do muscle ups and throw 100+ kilos over my head.
But guess what? (I know right, you would think a blog post would tell you more information instead of always making you guess it) There is a caveat to this. If I snatch, clean, jerk only once every 2 months then I’m going to find it very difficult to improve.
By the time I’ve got to lifting again I have forgotten all the breakthroughs I made last time and things I knew I needed to work on. 3 steps forward, 3 steps back.
It’s healthy to keep your fitness varied, learn and play new sports and play with rep schemes and weights, but when you are delving into movements as complicated as olympic lifts (you know, the ones that have a whole sport based around 3 basic movements), then you do need some consistency in your approach.
If your gym/coach doesn’t provide this, awesome. Add it in yourself. Google olympic lifting programs for beginners, add 30 minutes twice or three times a week and focus on just those movements. You improve on the things you work on.
I think there is an important distinction that needs to be made between olympic lifting and wod lifting. When you lift for a 1rm your setup and execution is going to be very different than lifting a moderate weight multiple times in a “for time” setting. I can tell you if a workout calls for 40kg snatches I will be muscle snatching that bad boy off my thighs all day long, I definitely won’t be setting up as though I’m going for a 130kg snatch.
Each has their place and the basic principle remains the same- efficiency of movement for a particular purpose. For time vs for load.
Don’t think that because you have snatched in a wod you don’t need to spend time on it in a controlled time and load based environment- eg 3 x 3 after the workout.
Do the work, reap the rewards.
5. Right way. Wrong way. Your coaches way. Your way.
And so we come to this. The final point. The end of this long journey together we started 5-10 minutes ago (depending on your reading speed and numerous breaks for Instagram notifications of course).
The point at which I really hope I have lost my client’s attention and the only interested parties still reading are those who I don’t need to argue with on a daily basis. (If you are one of my clients, my way is still the correct way, disregard these next few paragraphs)
The right way. The wrong way. My way. Your way.
Allegedly there is more than one way to skin a cat. And while I don’t condone skinning any animal (for various reasons, one of which high up on the list is a page on FaceBook called “Crap Taxidermy”) the meaning of more than one way to achieve a task is definitely relevant and applicable to olympic weightlifting. Chinese style vs European style vs American style lifting. Guess what? (Last time I promise) They all aim to achieve the same end result, the biggest total on the platform.
Which style is best for you is going to depend on your mobility, your biomechanics and preferred setup position. If your coach is 5 foot 2 and you are 6 foot 1….you are probably going to have some differences in what is the most efficient way for you to get that weight from its start position to finish position.
A good coach will recognise this and not force their personal preferred style of lifting on you, and will recognise what is best for you.
So we have the right ways: the well known and accepted methods of lifting that have been tested and tried on the world stage. We have your coaches method, with those secret tweaks and accessory exercises they swear by.
And then we have your way.
You’re going to hopefully continue on with this journey. And when you reach a point where you feel competent and in control with your lifting you are going to want to experiment.
I also hear its normal to experiment when things get stale.
My old training partner has a snatch of 150kg at about 115kg bodyweight. Nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone who has never focused time solely on olympic lifting or on getting stronger. Repeat, olympic lifting has always just been a part of CrossFit for him.
In that time he has realised that the dreaded early arm bend (If you have an old school coach, you have probably heard “when the arms bend the power ends” only 1000 times this year already), is actually beneficial to him.
Having a narrower grip on the snatch than would be ideal for the bar to sit into his hip pocket actually allows him to have a stronger and faster first pull from the ground. So to counteract this narrower grip and make sure he gets the bar into the hip pocket rather than smashing against his pubic bone or worse (I believe he does want children one day after all), he bends his arms slightly past the knee to guide the bar into the correct placement.
Would I advise this for everyone? No. But the point I am making is that in this sport where levers and biomechanics, grip strength and precision play such a large part in success then there needs to be room for individual preferences.
So once you’re at this stage (maybe not 150kg snatch…but maybe) then play around with it, and develop your own style. It could be the thing that leads you to your next big breakthrough.
Want more ramblings?
Want more coaching?
Want to see some videos that actually demonstrate these things I am talking about?
Hit me up and let me know either via instagram @nicholasgwhite or firstname.lastname@example.org