Friday, February 24, 2012

An awkward marriage.

Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit? This topic seems to come up in my little world more and more these days. What do I think about this? As usual, I have several opinions.

First, I would like to acknowledge that there are many people, myself included, that would have never been introduced to the Oly lifts without CF. I had never heard of a clean & jerk or a snatch, ever in my life, before I became a CrossFitter over 4 years ago -- and I was a gym regular for years. So the exposure to weightlifting that CrossFit has provided, has been beneficial to the sport, I am certain. And I am grateful, because in learning to lift, I found my passion.

That being said, there are ongoing problems with CrossFit regarding the Oly lifts that cannot be denied. Let’s talk about some of those things.

Teaching the lifts: Currently, when one receives a CrossFit level 1 certification, it “qualifies” them to be a CrossFit trainer. The level one cert does not introduce the Oly lifts. By the way, a medicine ball clean is nothing like a clean. And a push jerk isn’t nearly as useful when someone doesn’t know how to get the bar from the floor to the racked position. CFHQ does not require any sort of proficiency in the lifts. However CrossFit regularly programs Oly lifts in wods. Are we to assume that the level one trainer is equipped with the basic knowledge to teach a clean, a snatch, and a jerk? The vast majority are not. But they are CrossFit certified trainers. So how do these new CrossFitters learn to lift properly? Many don’t.

Misinformation/representation regarding Oly lifts: I cannot count how many times I have seen video links to wods that are not a representation of how the wod is actually written. A clean & jerk is a clean & jerk. It is not a thruster. Yet a CF newbie who viewed the video would assume that what they see from this “elite” CrossFitter is a technically correct clean & jerk. CrossFit needs to say “ground to overhead.” That is what they generally mean.

Incorrect terminology: Why, oh why, does CFHQ not get the terms correct? It’s far from rocket science, yet they seem to take great pleasure in confusing the shit out of the mass CF main site followers. If they just used the correct terms, they would eradicate all of the ridiculous posts that ask, “It says ‘clean,’ does that mean I can ‘power clean’ it?” Or “It says ‘clean.’ So do I ‘squat (don’t get me started) clean’ or ‘power clean?”’ It is so simple. I could go in to the explanation, but I have in a previous blog. So I won’t. But I am left to believe that CFHQ enjoys the message boards being clogged with stupid questions. It’s either that, or they love to f@#K with the lifting community. I personally believe, it’s a combination of the two.

The programming of lifts at high repetitions/intensity: This is a recipe for disaster in many circumstances. Let’s take people who can’t even tell you what a snatch is and have them do it 75 times during “Randy.” Awesome idea? Not hardly! Yet, it’s being done over and over by CF affiliates worldwide. If your affiliate is better than that, I applaud you. But don’t be pissed because I am speaking the truth about the vast majority.

So, it’s my opinion that the biggest CF problem, by far, is not taking the time to teach people how to lift correctly. And I believe this to be such, primarily because it’s a long process, and needs to be taught in a progressive manner. Most affiliates do not have trainers or the resources to spend the time necessary to teach new people. Newbies are pushed into classes well before they should be, either based on economics or scheduling -- which I understand to a point. I was trainer at a small affiliate and I understand the challenges -- so I’m speaking from experience, not out of my ass. But regardless of the excuses, affiliates need to do a better job. It isn’t their fault entirely, however. I blame CFHQ for not policing the quality of movement being taught, or more specifically, for the fact that the Oly certification is a separate entity from the Level 1. You simply cannot be a good CF trainer, if you don’t have the necessary basic knowledge of Olympic weightlifting.

I realize that many, many CrossFit trainers have taken it upon themselves to further their education regarding the oly lifts. And that is awesome. I have been to the CF Oly cert. I am USAW level 1 certified, and I just recently attended the Catalyst Athletics seminar. I watch videos, read everything I can get my hands on, and I follow a lifting training program. Does this make me flawless at teaching the lifts? Unfortunately, no. But I do my best -- and I continually try to become better and continue to educate myself.

I have a great deal of respect for the sport of weightlifting. And although I have been lifting regularly for a few years, I know that I have so much more to learn. So when I was asked recently, “Don’t you ever ‘just lift’ without worrying about your form?” My answer was, “Uh, No. Never.” That’s like asking me if I go anywhere without wearing lip-gloss!? You get my point. It matters to me. Always.

CrossFit continues to introduce the lifts to its massive followers – which is super great. What they don’t do well -- is communicate to them that it takes lots of time (years) to get proficient at them. And that’s IF you practice. And have a DECENT trainer. And CARE about it.

So, herein lies why I say that Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit are an awkward marriage. The two are linked now -- for better or worse. There is an undeniable bond between them. Weightlifting is benefiting from the exposure that CrossFit has given them. CrossFit continues to flaunt their relationship all over the internet in a way that isn’t always accurate or beneficial. But the two are linked. Good or bad. If only they could find a way to come together and form a cohesive union. Find what is good between them. And fix what isn't.

Maybe CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting need a couples retreat to try and mend the vast differences in this troubled twosome.

Or maybe they will continue to live in limbo.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My so very AMAZING Catalyst experience.

Lori and Loraine
Most people long for thrill rides and cotton candy, or sandy beaches, sunshine and a cold cocktail in their hands, when they go on vacation. I opted for black mats, lifting platforms, overcast skies, a tepid water bottle. . . And the super awesome company of Aimee and Greg Everett. I traveled to the happiest place on earth for lifters. . . Catalyst Athletics!

Getting there wasn’t easy however. Loraine, my lifting partner, and I arranged our trip months beforehand. Booked seminar. Check. Air travel. Check. Hotel and car. Check, check. Massive snow and ice storm in the Seattle area 3 days prior to our departure? What?!?!? No! We did not plan for this.

After our flight was cancelled, we contemplated that maybe our trip was not meant to be. Not wanting to wait until the next seminar in July, we opted to fight the nightmarish roads to the airport and the even worse nightmarish temperaments of the Alaska airlines employees -- and ended up flying out of SeaTac on standby to San Jose. A very lucky break!

The next morning, when our cab dropped us at the front door of the CA gym, we were a mixture of excitement and a dose of nervous energy. We walked in the front door and saw Aimee’s smiling face behind the front counter. She said, “You made it!” We had exchanged several email and tweets regarding our travel dilemmas. I was immediately warmed by her friendly demeanor. It seemed to melt away a bit of the intimidation I was feeling.

Our new friend Corey.
This wasn’t my first Olympic Weightlifting seminar or cert, but this was Catalyst Athletics! I have been visiting their website almost daily for around 3 years. I’ve bought the book, the videos, read every Performance Menu article. I scrutinize every collected training video and search out every Aimee YouTube video I can find. I’ve even written a blog a couple years ago entitled, “I want to be Aimee.”. Needless to say, I have felt motivated by and in awe of this group, from a far, for a very long time. So to be actually standing inside waiting to get hands on training from them? Well as I said, it was simultaneously, intimidating and also very, very cool.

We found a place to set our bags, and were asked to circle up. I didn’t want to miss a word, so it wasn’t by accident that I found my place at the front of the room in close proximity to Greg. I quickly realized that Greg was not only a gifted and knowledgeable coach, but he was also very, dryly, hysterically funny. And Aimee reminded me of a bubbly  fairy -- a freakishly strong fairy -- flitting and bouncing around the room, spreading joy, and giggles, and making everyone feel like they truly belonged there. Greg and Aimee are a dynamic duo, to say the least.

As Greg taught the progressions and the lifts, we had the opportunity to interact with the other coaches. They were all helpful, knowledgeable, and spot on with critique. For me it was awesome to meet them and see them in person after watching them lift in videos for so long. I found them as personable as I hoped they would be. And they made everyone feel completely incredible when they gave out a complement.

It was amazing to have such talented eyes watching you lift. Telling you what you did well and what needed to be better. I tried to soak up as much as I could every minute. I felt like the attention was distributed equally around the gym, among all of the attendees. Although I did ask Steve, if perhaps he didn’t like our end of the room because he’d been rather scarce. Of course he stayed and watched our jerks. And I’m so glad I cornered him. Because his personality is infectious and just makes you smile! That being said, absolutely everyone we were able to interact with, was great beyond belief.

With so much to learn and remember, Loraine and I sat in the Embassy Suites bar at the end of both days, writing notes to ourselves of cues that resonated with us, and technical issues we were having and how to fix them. We talked at great length about the amazing lifters we were about to become. Some of the best life plans are made in bars. I truly believe this.

Anyway, I ended my last day at Catalyst with a couple videos of me lifting on one of the platforms. I bought my CA sweatshirts that I proudly wear. I thanked Greg and Aimee for the wonderful weekend, and I said a silent prayer that this wouldn’t be the last time I was going to see the inside of this incredible place. And I left with a skip in my step and fresh goals in my head. To say I was inspired by this experience doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Yeah! Me!
For anyone who loves to lift, this seminar is something you should not miss. Go!!! You will learn from the best. You will be made to feel at home. You will laugh. You will meet remarkable people. You will take away a love for the sport of weightlifting, even greater than you had. You will wish you lived in Sunnyvale CA, and could be around these talented people on a weekly basis.

I walked out of Catalyst Athletics feeling like it was possible to be an Olympic Weightlifting rock star. This morning, in my little garage, lifting alone, I am back to feeling a bit more like a fan. . . But a fan who got to interact with the coolest cats in the weightlifting community!

Thank you, Greg and Aimee and all of the Catalyst coaches, for an unforgettable experience.