the spaz of fitness has arrived

Performance One: Learning Olympic Lifts

In General, Training on June 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Today I paid a visit to Performance One Advanced Sports Training in Mesa, Az. If any of you are in the Phoenix area, I highly, highly recommend a trip there. I first discovered the place in an article about 2012 Olympian Sara Robles who is currently ranked first in the US for women’s weightlifting. She happens to train at Performance One. I wrote to her trainer (and owner of the gym) and discovered that they offer one-on-one training sessions for a small fee (less than minimal if you compare it to the cost of… oh, say an Oly lifting certification from CrossFit, Inc.). Needless to say, I seized upon the opportunity and signed up.

I had no idea what to expect when I drove the half hour to the gym this morning. My fitness experience has been limited to P90x tapes, a slew of LA Fitness branches, and of course my own CrossFit box in State College– and more recently the two CrossFit (or CrossFit-esque) gyms I visited in Taipei and in Phoenix. But Performance One, more than any space I’ve set foot in before, embodies the word “gym.” No-nonsense, Rocky-style, rubber floors and battered plates, made-for-sweat-and-blood gym. All high-quality equipment, but nothing fancy or shiny about any of it. Mostly there are racks and lifting platforms, a dumbbell rack, medicine balls and plyo boxes (some at heights I can’t even imagine leaping). It certainly has that warehouse-feel, complete with the sliding metal garage door on one wall. I feel as if it’s the sort of down-to-earth, back-to-basics environment that CrossFit tried to emulate before it became encumbered with Again Faster posters and all the newest toys.

I wish I’d brought my Oly shoes, but with all my traveling, I couldn’t fit them into my luggage so I wore my Inov-8s. Luckily, they had a spare pair of Adidas lifting shoes for me to wear (about a size too big, but enough to get the job done). We started with… “stretching.” You know the CrossFit motto “your workout is our warmup?” Yeah well some of these stretches, I swear, hurt about as bad as some of my worst WODs. A continual frustration of mine is that I often feel inadequately stretched/warmed up for workouts. I know this is due to the limited amount of time we have for each class, but sometimes– especially for faster wods, I feel like my body’s just adapting tomoving by the time the buzzer sounds. I’ve been trying to be more conscientious about warming up now that I’m working on a strength focus, but this was definitely more intense. We started very simply with leg swings, but it took all of one swing for the coach to notice that I had very tight hips (a huge problem, on which I’m pretty sure I can blame all my initial box jump miseries… and lots of my squat depth problems). He then led me through a series of excruciating hip stretches. By the time I tested my air squat again I felt like I had a new lower body.

After the stretching, we started with some technique drills– first with nothing but a stick, then with a training bar. I’ve done some of these before. They were mostly variations on the snatch balance and overhead squat as well as footwork drills. Then we moved to the muscle snatch. Throughout these, he drilled into my head the importance of the starting position– knees slightly bent, butt back (because if you’re standing straight, you have nowhere to go) and the importance of pushing my knees out (my knees always tend to bow in). Both these I knew before, though haven’t practiced enough. A new development, though, is that he kept telling me to shrug up instead of back. I’m now struggling to remember where/when I picked up the idea that we should shrug back during the lift, but apparently that’s wrong… since technically we want the bar to go up and not back. Also– something that our coaches introduced after their oly-lifting certs, but alas after I’d already ingrained some bad habits… don’t jump during the lift. Your feet leave the ground only to reposition themselves. They should not go any higher than the minimum necessary for the repositioning. I desperately need to reprogram my mental cue of “jump” before the drop.

After all of this, I hit a snatch PR (we built from progressions through the pulls to the drop to muscle snatches, finally to full snatches from the floor). But what I find more exciting than the actual weight of the PR is that, for the first time, I actually caught the bar in a full squat. I’ve been pretty much power snatch/cleaning everything because I never fall low enough. I dropped the bar the first two times I tried a full squat, which is actually a good learning experience. I feel more comfortable with lifts after having failed them once or twice, to know what that feels like, to know that I can bail.

Then we moved on to the clean and jerk– again through the pull progressions, then practicing cleans at 1/4 squat. Here I discovered what’s been wrong with my press/jerk position the entire time. I tend to rack the bar in a front-squat position. Because I have decent wrist flexibility, I have no issue pushing my elbows up. Unfortunately, this makes for a really shitty press/jerk position because you have to go out and around your head before you press up. By repositioning my elbows, he showed me the proper position for pressing the bar directly up. I’m probably going to rehearse the position more at home (with a stick) and hopefully ingrain that in my muscle memory. Additionally, I found out that my split jerk position is wrong. I’ve been lunging with my back leg straight, which is apparently terrible for the lower back. The back leg should bend. Also, for some reason, I kept thinking about thrusting my back leg out instead of my front leg forward– switching to the latter made for a much smoother/stable drop.

One of my biggest struggles with the Olympic lifts is that I tend to overthink everything. Especially with Oly lifts– since there are so many elements/steps/etc to consider– I jumble my thoughts and ruin the lift before the bar even leaves the ground. While I’m even more aware of the intricacies of the lifts after these drills, seeing them all broken down and adjusting my technical errors in each of them has helped me feel… calmer? It’s less a jumble of ideas than a long chain of them now.

Finally, we ended with back squats, where he had me progress through sets of 5 then a set of three, and a couple doubles until I hit a one rep max PR. Again, I’ve been misconceptualizing the lift. I’ve always thought to drop fast and to push back up… whereas he told me to control the lowering portion and then push as hard as I could back up (as if I were trying to jump). Ah! All this should have been intuitive; it makes so much sense when I say it out loud, but I just needed someone to tell me.

At any rate, I’ll be returning on Friday to hopefully “clean” up my clean and jerk (ha!) before I return to State College.

  1. […] skill day somewhat close to his prescription. I warm up according to the progressions I followed at Performance One, and then I work first on the snatch and then the clean and jerk. I figure my cleans get another […]

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