Bring the barbell from the floor to over your head. Six times. That’s all. That is all that an Olympic lifting competition is.
Yet… so much potential for failure. Not just six moments in time when you can fail, but millions of fractions of a second, when the lift can go from yay to nay.
Walk up. Set up. Start tight.
Go smooth. Patient. Lock out.
Do not lose focus. Finish tight.
There is a pause of relaxation in a clean and jerk. Clean. Phew. Take a breath. Reset. Then, jerk.
Powerlifting vs. Olympic weightlifting
I remember watching the powerlifting competition and Olympic lifting competition side by side once. Both set up in a large convention centre, during a bodybuilding expo – powerlifting to the left, Olympic lifting to the right. Take your pick. Or stand right in the middle, and observe, while chewing on a “protein cookie”. Guess which option I chose. 🙂
Powerlifting comp is set up on an actual stage with flashing lights and raging music. Thick legs, short levers. Powerful. Lifters – White and Black. I notice more tattoos, and more shaved heads. The air is more raw. More angry. The announcer tries very hard to sound like he is on WWF.
Weightlifting has a small rectangle of floor space sectioned off with a wooden platform in the middle, and the bowl of chalk in the corner. The bar is on the floor. Always on the floor. I notice more body type disparity in weight lifting. Some tall, some short. Thick, thin.
Lifters – White and Asian.
No soundtrack. You can’t be angry in weightlifting. You have to be the opposite of angry. Can’t psyche yourself up for a snatch. No shortcuts to serenity. [Unless you are Lucas Parker. Then there may be some strategic caveman grunting involved. He refers to it as “a barbarian kind of berserk mindset where you’re just looking to rip things up”.]
There is way more applause, yelling, clapping and cheering on the powerlifting side. It’s more obvious when to clap. There is no yelling in weightlifting. The thing is… it’s hard to know when to yell. In a deadlift, back squat and a bench press, there is a sticky moment of struggle, obvious to the observer, when the athlete needs to… pull out, save the lift in the middle.
With weightlifting, the pacing is irregular. Slow, slow, fast. You do not want to cheer too soon. The bar eventually ends up over your head. Or it doesn’t.
And so, the crowd goes quiet, and holds their breath, as the athlete touches the bar. For the athlete, the room goes blurry, and disappears. It is as if a magic boundary has been crossed, when her feet touch the platform.
My first competition
The comp is really a small in-house meet at the barbell gym where I train few times a week. All I bring is a pair of Olympic lifting shoes. That’s it. You don’t need anything else to lift. Stiff soles with elevated heels allow for greater depth in the squat, allow to cheat the stiff ankles just a little bit.
We weigh in. It feels strange to do that in the evening, after a meal, and while wearing all of my clothes. I am not trying to make a particular weight class, and so, the scale predictably reads few pounds heavier than in the morning.
I go into the competition feeling pissy. After weeks and months of form work, the sheer volume of overhead work catches up with me, and my shoulder tendonitis is back with vengeance.
The snatch portion feels meh. My opener and the subsequent lifts are supposed to be moderately heavy – not the all-time PR, but rather enough of a challenge while maintaining form.
I have been struggling with the full depth of the snatch since the very beginning of my relationship with Olympic lifting. As soon as the bar gets heavy, I get scared. And I stay high, instead of going low.
Compare the finishing photo above, to the landing position in this video.
Brooke Ence has struggled with this tendency in the past:
[quote]The heavier the weight got, the more I didn’t want to use my technique—the more I wanted to muscle it. I had the technique at moderate weight and at lightweight, but when it came to moving real weight around … I threw it out the window. It was almost like I immediately went to what my body used to do, which was just muscle and power everything.[/quote]
As a result, I care less about lifting more weight, than I do about lifting more weight with the full depth. I catch the first lift in a power snatch, feel myself to do the same thing in the second lift, and ditch the bar, frustrated. The third lift goes up, once again in a power position. Way too high of a landing for me to feel accomplished.
A tight snatch is really beautiful. And an ugly snatch? Really ugly. [Do with that what you will].
The clean and jerk portion holds more promise. As is the case for most lifters, my clean is much stronger than my jerk, and I am excited about the possibility of closing that gap a bit today. The last couple of heavy jerk sessions feel “light”, hinting that my actual one rep max is now heavier than what I know it to be.
I warm up in the back with 85%, 90%, and finally, on a whim, one rep max. It goes up without a fight. Few seconds later, I am at the judges’ table, changing my opening weight for the lift with a self-satisfied smirk on my face.
All three lifts go up. The barbell rests on my shoulders, and then goes up once again above my head. The last lift feels a bit shaky, as I start to lose form. Few more pounds, and I won’t be able to get it up. The last lift is also equivalent to my bodyweight.
Jerking my own body weight above my head? You bet your lifting shoes I am happy with that.
And, I see another meet in my future. 🙂
P.S. I have written about my tumultuous affair with weightlifting quite a bit. Here’s a lunch break worth:
** Why A 100-Pound Snatch And The Relativity Of Goals
** Why My Snatch Stinks (And Other Reasons To Talk Dirty)
** The Voice Of The Snatch Spirit And Other Frustrating Things About Olympic Lifting
** Musings On Strength, Skill, And Strength-Skill