Lift heavy things.
It’s the mantra of many CrossFitters, but also an incomplete one. A better motto would be, “Lift heavy things, from the right position, in the proper manner, at the correct speed.”
The reason so many CrossFitters get stuck with Olympic weightlifting is because they’re focused on the outcome, not the process. The outcome, of course, is more weight. But the outcome is meaningless without all of the steps that come before it. It’s like running a marathon and obsessing over your time but not bothering to notice that you’re racing on your hands and knees.
According to Greg Everett, founder of Catalyst Athletics, Olympic weightlifting follows a critical order of priorities: position, movement, speed and load. That means speed trumps load, movement trumps speed, and position is the most important priority of all. Let’s look more at each one:
If you aren’t in the proper position when a lift begins, your lifting potential is already severely compromised. In his book Olympic Weightlifting, Everett goes so far as to say that “performing a correct movement from an incorrect position is impossible, because it is, by definition, a different movement.” Everett says that the introduction of excessive speed or weight in an incorrect position is only going to be counterproductive because the lifter is practicing and reinforcing an incorrect movement.
So how do you practice correct positioning? During a lift, always focus first on your position before you think about execution. Get into position over and over without even moving the bar. Ask a coach to critique you. Better yet, ask someone to take photos of you in position so you can see how you look. Compare it to pictures and videos of professional lifters you can easily find online. We also have a library of lifting books at the front desk full of photos.
Athletes often get bored with repeating the same warm-up drills over and over again, but there’s a method to it. We’re trying to create motor patterns so that the proper movement becomes automatic. Like a golfer trying to perfect her swing, movement is all about repeatability. Everyone can move correctly at some point, but can you do it consistently? Take warm-up drills seriously and be aware of how you move when you do. You may not have the proper flexibility or coordination to perform a movement perfectly, so be patient and give yourself time to improve before loading on weight.
The snatch, clean, and jerk are all movements that require a degree of speed. But fast movement performed improperly is a recipe for injury. Speed enters into the equation only after positioning and movement are solid. With the introduction of speed, movement may start to break down. This is when it becomes important to take a step back and critique the movement. Go back and practice the movement with a PVC or empty bar, then introduce speed again. Only when movement and speed are working well together should a heavy load be introduced.
Finally, we get to weight. Increased load is the result of good positioning, movement, and speed; it is not the solution to making up for poor positioning, movement or speed. In short, you should be earning every pound you put on the bar by properly executing the other lifting priorities. Of course, as you increase weight it will naturally compromise your movement and speed; this is when it becomes important to know when to challenge yourself with increased load, and when to ease back and focus on movement and speed. Coaches should help guide you in this process, but athletes need to take responsibility for their lifting as well. Prescribed weights in a WOD are always just a suggestion, and every athlete should develop an awareness of his or her abilities. That’s why it’s important to track your progress on your sheets in the file folder or on Beyond the Whiteboard. (E-mail Pete to get a Beyond the Whiteboard account!)
So go ahead and lift heavy things. Just make sure you’re doing it properly.