The pros say it takes seven years to really understand and reach full potential in the sport of Weightlifting. If that means with the three years of studying and practicing tedious hours of technique I’m approaching that half-way mark… then I better fasten my seat belt. Life’s about the journey, not the destination.
Have you ever had a ‘really good feeling’, but can’t exactly picture what the future will hold? I had a really ‘good feeling’ that CrossFit was going to change my life but I couldn’t actually picture in my head where I would be or what I would be doing that was so different from the modest box I started at in Grand Junction Colorado. Back then I attended the Olympic Lifting classes, which were just a group of the same 3 or 4 people working with percentages on specific movements, with one of our CrossFit coaches. I couldn’t have even explained at that point all the different moves, and I was learning new names everyday, just soaking up the lifts like a sponge. Oh wait is that the one where you…. and I would ghost-barbell act it out and our trainer would be nodding his head. Breaking down skill and technique before I even understood the concept of what we were building for, and what were getting ‘generally prepared for’….. but I was going blindly along for the ride.
I really had no concept of how much to go up, what weight to ever start at, what the percentages were or how to get stronger. All I could see in the beginning was that I had a long way to go, and from the bottom, knowing nothing, you can only go up. Comparing myself to the two older men in the group and the other female coach taking class didn’t really help me understand what I should be able to lift, and it wasn’t until I moved to Hollywood and was stuck with a bunch of goofy friends who were all trying to figure it out at the same time. As my friends got stronger, I got stronger. As I PRd, my roommate would PR. It was like the 4 minute mile where I would think it was impossible until I saw my friend did it in the noon class and then I would make it back to prove we can all sprint that mile!
My basic understanding of Olympic lifting was rooted back before college 6:00am ‘Weights’ sessions. When we would all crawl out of bed to lift potentially the same few lifts all the time, and even in years only make small advancements because we weren’t regularly testing or had the constant hands-on, eyes-on coaching that CrossFit has made normal. We were shown the movements once a season and then from there on we were pretty much just making up our own hang power clean, and getting away with it because we were all athletic, and were still getting results just from moving around heavy barbells. High school was the same thing, it was interesting the little supervision we thought we needed once we were the ‘Varsity sports’, where we probably needed it the most! Being 16, 17, 18, thought I was a full-blown training professional, little did I know how much I would learn in the years to come studying Exercise Science in college. My work ethic developed in the weight room in high school and then carried on through college, and expanded to the other sports I played, but it wasn’t until I started CrossFit that I realized how truly lucky we are to be working with coaches with standards and technique with thorough explanations and demonstrations on how to generate power.
I started taking Olympic Lifting very seriously when I met Sean Waxman in Lawndale, California at Waxman’s Gym. Growing up as an athlete and student submerged in the world of Weightlifting, he was under guidance of USAW Hall of fame Coach Bob Takano and NSCA Hall of Fame Strength Coach Dr. John Garhammer. The stories this man has from spending four to six hours a day, six days a week, fifty weeks a year, in the trenches training, observing, and learning with some of the best scientists and athletes of the sport is unbelievable…. I used to get caught eavesdropping on his experiences, but I quickly learned if you want to hear a story, all you have to do is ask.
Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of good “eyes on” coaching. I have a bunch of guy friends that commute an hour in LA traffic to attend an Olympic Lifting gym together. Now, that’s commitment; starting your day off with low-speed 15mph traffic that snaps into high-speed Eleiko barbells. When we approach the gym with our humongous bags full of gear, you wouldn’t know we were approaching anything special from the outside. You have to be ‘in the know’ about this place because most won’t be lucky enough to stumble across this well-hidden, un-marketed house of excellence. With light 50’s music playing and a huge English bull-dog guarding the open garage door, we walk through mobility tools and dowels to pick our platforms for the day. I personally walk over to Ashley Weber, one of our coaches, where I think she can see me the best… I soak up her attention. With nearly a decade of experience, she has worked under and been coached by some of the best coaches in the sport, and is a national-level competitor.
As athletes, by watching the coaches critique and give feedback, we catch on and learn from the cues. I see what my friends need to work on, and I try to fix it on myself before Waxman comes around and recognizes it as a “CrossFit default” that we all need help on! From all the one-on-one time and “taking lifts again…” and “finding speed,” when we’re on our own, we try to give the same cues that they would say to us that we’ve learned over the years. Coaching each other and holding ourselves to a high level of detail even though we all consider ourselves pretty advanced CrossFitters… has helped key the term, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
After competing in the CrossFit Games in 2011 on the biggest platform of competition our sport has to offer, I came in thinking fine-tuning would help get a few PR’s. Being personally impressed with my mediocre highest lifts in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk, I thought Waxman would want to see how heavy I could lift on the first day. I pictured myself maxing out and him giving me cues that would help and then hugging goodbye after a few months when I was ‘fixed.’ Little did I know that my mind would be blown for the next two years literally every time I stepped in to listen and learn from our wise Yoda.
When I’m teaching Olympic Lifting and regurgetating and paraphrasing all the stages I went through in the beginning, I never let classes forget we won’t learn the lifts in a single day. When I go through and show them very elementary and fundamental drills while they sometimes groan with impatience to add weight I remind them that I did each drill for two weeks straight with no weight when I first started. Interesting a new appreciation for simplicity comes when they realize how much every drill transfers into each lift we take. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” …and neither was your Snatch.
Excuse my bias, but CrossFit has done an impressive job teaching the Olympic Lifts to the masses. Weightlifters are often caught off-guard when walking through a class that has 25 people of all levels and ages passionately learning their sport at the same time. Although they might think we jack it up by making it ‘for time,’ and accepting lifts that we joke around saying, “It counts in CrossFit!” after someone struggles to make a risky lift. As our sport grows, so does theirs, and with that we will build athletes in either sport to respectively better their performances.
“The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind. Our terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives have found their best fitness from the same regimen. We are a broad, general and inclusive fitness that scale load and intensity, not programs. ” – Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of CrossFit
…. Now go watch 14 Youtube videos of World Champion Weightlifters ….and go Snatch!
Sean Waxman 150kg(330lb) Clean
Ashley Clean & Jerk
Andrea Snatch #147lbs/67kil