Olympic Lifting Cycle: A CrossFitter’s Perspective || Coach Aaron Garza
That’s how long I chose to dabble in the world of weightlifting. You know, that sport where there are more chairs sprawled out on the floor than barbells. Where burpee is a dirty word and where lounging on a chair, taking a cold swig of water, and chatting about the weekend every 3 minutes for an hour is an integral part of the training protocol. You know, that easy sport where you only have to worry about two lifts. Yea, that’s what I thought. I was wrong.
Know Your Why
We had just finished the 2018 CrossFit Open and for the second year in a row, the Open revealed that strength was my weakness. My background in distance running and triathlon allowed me to quickly develop strong calisthenic and aerobic capacities in the sport. This gave me a huge advantage when I first started CrossFit. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much carry over to the barbell. As I improved as an athlete, my lack of strength became more and more evident. I wanted to not only compete, but be competitive. I still have a spreadsheet from 2015 with all my lifts and target goals that I’ve been working towards ever since. I’ve been slowly creeping closer and closer towards those maxes, however, I realized that I never truly dedicated time to weightlifting. I knew that just as I had spent years and years building an endurance base, I would benefit from taking the time to focus on strength alone. The desire to improve as a CrossFit athlete. That was and is my why. Whether you wish to refine your technique, need a change of pace, or simply want to improve strength, know your why.
In triathlon, you train your brain to turn off. You learn to focus on the cyclical patterns of each discipline. During the swim, you shut it off to limit anxiety, remain calm and focus on breathe and stroke. During the bike, you learn to focus on cadence and disregard the buildup of lactic acid in the legs. During the run, you turn it off, fall forward into every step and don’t stop. Crossfit is similar. You learn to shut off your brain and grind through WODs. It works well. The thought of quitting, or “this sucks” never even has a chance to enter a mind that’s turned off.
Then, there’s weightlifting.
Throughout these past 10 weeks, I’ve had to retrain my brain to remain on. For me it was not easy and took much effort. From approaching the barbell, to the setup, to bar path, catch and finish, every aspect of the lift requires thought and intense focus. It’s exhausting. There is no autopilot with weightlifting, especially for the novice lifter. The mental aspect to weightlifting is challenging but rewarding, frustrating but encouraging and downright addicting. If you’ve been in off mode for a while, I encourage you to consider flipping the switch. You’ll be better for it.
Be a Sponge
Two words that will completely rid you of the opportunity to learn something new, “I know”. As a coach, it is never easy to be coached. I pride myself on being well informed about the Crossfit world and knowledgeable with all things human movement. So to now be taking instruction from someone else wasn’t easy. I had to make a conscious effort to leave my ego at the door and trust in my new coach, Dylan Wall. All that being said, it didn’t take long for me to realize the value that Dylan had to offer. He has a drive and passion for the sport that is infectious and demanding of your very best. Should you choose to test the waters with weightlifting, the best thing you can do is to be a sponge. Have an open mind and be coachable. Listen, think, visualize, and then execute. Weightlifting is not easy. Some days it’s fun, some days its straight work. This is the reason you must have a why. If your why is strong enough, nothing can stop you. I had plenty of days throughout this cycle, where I wasn’t feeling it. I felt weak, tired and slow. But, I showed up. Just show up. Your why will help you do that.
Practice Makes Better
One more thought. If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you’d consider yourself to be a CrossFitter. By nature, you are tough-minded, hardworking and have incredible strength of conviction. This makes you a prime candidate to jump into a weightlifting cycle, even if just for a few weeks. Why? Because you aren’t afraid to fail. You understand that the inverse of progress is not defeat. Progress is only achieved through the steady pursuit of failure. Not even a stud like Dylan can coach you such that you hit every lift with perfect technique. It’s not going to happen, and that’s okay. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make better. So go for it, try something new, pursue failure and watch yourself grow.
I ended the 10 week weightlifting cycle with the 2018 Weightlifting Wise Championships, my very first weightlifting competition. In addition to having a strong why, setting this end goal was a big motivator during those not feeling it days. Thankfully, I felt good the day of the meet. We had an easy week leading up to the event so I felt well rested and ready to go. I weighed in with 6 other lifters for the 85kg class. This was the first time I got to take a look at the competition. “I’ll take him, no way he’ll beat me, yea he’s probably gonna win…, I can do more pull ups though”. Just a few of my thoughts. After weigh in, I got together with Dylan and we game planned how the day would go. I didn’t realize how much planning actually went into the day. This is why you have a coach. It was neat to see that every lifter had their coach; someone they’ve spent months, maybe even years working with. As a lifter, all you have to do is worry about lifting; your coach does everything else. You’re told when to warm up, how to warm up, when to rest, and how much to lift. It’s actually quite nice. It’s funny to think that I had questioned Dylan’s programming at week 1 and now in week 10, I wouldn’t move without asking. The first lift was snatch. Sitting on deck waiting to get my turn on the platform, I was unusually calm. I’ve always been the type of athlete that gets nervous, sick before competition, but this just wasn’t the case. I attribute my lack of nerves to the old saying, ignorance is bliss. I was in a completely foreign world without much expectation, but amped up and ready to jump in.
If you’ve never been to a weightlifting competition, you should. It is crazy intense. Your name gets announced, the place goes silent and all eyes are on you as you approach the platform. There is no hiding. There is no blaring music. There is no clanging of barbells or shouting of spectators. Just silence. The snatch went exactly as planned. I hit 3 of 3 attempts and finished with a 6lb personal record. 6lbs in 10 weeks? Why didn’t I do this sooner? After a quick intermission, the rotation of athletes began once again for the clean and jerk. I hit my opener at 115kg, but felt a little shaky on the jerk. Of course Dylan caught this. The guy sees everything. He decided to set my next lift 1 kg less than what we had originally planned. Again, as the lifter, you don’t question your coach’s call. Your job is to lift, and not worry about what’s on the barbell. Dylan’s intuition was right on as I got red carded on my next lift at 119kg; no lift. On the jerk, I caught the barbell with a slight bend in my elbow, and then continued to press and lock it out over head. This is a no-no in the weightlifting world. After a quick discussion with Dylan, we agreed to set 120kg on the bar for my third and final lift. After 2 minutes of rest, I hit it and matched my current clean and jerk PR.
I was pumped; I went 5 for 6 with a 6 lb PR in the snatch. It was a relief to see that the 10 week cycle had really paid off. I now notice that my pull off the floor is stronger and I’ve improved my catch position in the snatch. My legs also feel stronger coming out of the hole in the front rack position. I probably had the most fun I’ve ever had at a competition and couldn’t be happier with the result. My weightlifting cycle is over, my end goal has been met and I now have a cool singlet to prove it. And you could too!
Move well, move often.
Editor’s note: Coach Aaron isn’t one to brag, but he went home with a shiny new piece of jewelry from his meet! Aaron took silver in his weight class and we are super proud of him!