I tend to be a minimalist about technique in the world of CrossFit. I just like to get after it. The fun is in the doing, so once I can do something I try not to stress myself out about making my technique perfect. But Olympic lifting requires practice and refinement of technique; otherwise, you can spend years or decades slowly hurting your body because of bad form. So, grudgingly, I am now attempting to learn Olympic lifting. Meh. Sassuum. Hurrumph. Grrrrhhhuh. Fine. But I don’t have to like it. And nobody has to know about it.

Olympic lifting is tricky. There isn’t much that happens, but there’s so much going on. Getting a heavy weight from floor to overhead requires the recruitment and coordination of a number of different muscle groups.   The transition from getting the bar past the knees through the opening of the hips and driving the bar up before dropping back under it for the catch is vexingly simple, yet difficult. It is referred to as the scoop and second pull or the ‘second knee bend.’

The power of that second pull doesn’t and shouldn’t come simply from taking the back from a bent-over-at the-waist position to a vertical position. Doing that generates power forward, not up, throwing the bar away from the body when you are trying to project the bar vertically towards your shoulders. It also puts serious stress on the low back, which is not a good idea if living a life without pain is something that interests you.

One of the coaches trying to teach me these lifts is Ari. Ari is meticulous, articulate and unwaveringly supportive. He would take what he has to teach and deliver it directly to the synapses in your brain – with a pizza and a 2 liter bottle of coke – if it were possible. He would spend an hour explaining technique to someone with the aptitude of a mannequin. Perfect, in other words, for coaching someone who thinks he can check in and out of learning CrossFit skills with the rationalization that he ‘just likes to get after it.’

“Tony that looks amazing. Soooo much better than last time. Now what I want you to do is take your hands and instead of having them like this – with the hands in line with the wrists – I want you to have them like this – with the wrists bent forward, so that you’re already sweeping the bar back towards yourself. The way you are now is fine, but see how my shoulders push forward toward the bar and my back slackens when I have a straight grip? Instead, curl the hands over and feel how that locks your shoulder back and allows you to tighten your back in your setup position. It’s a much stronger pull from there. It will come more from your legs and hips. The other way forces you to take up the slack in your back first and try to make the lift with your arms.”

I gave it a shot. I immediately felt the tighter position, which translated to more use of my legs and less reliance on my shoulders and low back. Ari’s tip also helped me to integrate into my lifting something that I learned from a video of Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, about the ‘scoop and second bend.’ Glassman’s message was: get to a vertical position with your spine stacked and strong and then explode upward like a crazy person. Ari’s tip allowed me to get the bar into a better position for this second pull, which allowed me to explode upward (or as close to ‘explode’ as a novice Olympic lifter with a preference for fitness ignorance can get to it).

When it comes to working out, I like to get after it. I am learning that that has to mean more than just grabbing a bar, a kettle bell or whatever and having at it. Ari is helping me with this, god bless him. I’ll probably see him again on Friday. He will have lots of technique to teach, and I’ll be ready to get after it. I just hope he doesn’t forget the pizza and coke.

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