Learning Olympic Lifts: Modifications and general awkwardness

Learning is a little messy

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been focused on general strength and increasing my work capacity.  That was pretty straight forward.  My next phase is a learning phase in which I want to learn about Olympic style lifting and jump rope training.  I am sensing this phase will not be as easy.  I guess if it were too easy, I wouldn’t be learning anything.

Last week I got a crash course in the basics of the Olympic lifts. My goal now is to practice the movements and to figure out what I can do with the resources I have available.

My gym is not the kind of place one can really do the regular Olympic lifts.  There are no lifting platforms.  In fact, there aren’t even regular squat racks, just Smith machines.

Monday I experimented with dumbbell snatches and jerks with an ez curl bar.

I was surprised by how awkward I felt. There is no way to hide in a corner or be discrete when you are performing explosive lifts.  Random thoughts interfered with my focus.  “Are those dudes looking at me because they think I’m hot, or because I look as uncoordinated as I feel?”

It’s been a long time since I felt awkward in the weight room.  My gym is one of those places where the men work their bench press and the women workout on the ellipticals.  The MMA guys and myself who do more functional exercises are in the minority.   As the only woman who regularly ventures into the part of the weight room with the heavy dumbbells, I have learned to keep awkwardness at bay with a no-nonsense look in my eye and with confidence that I know what I’m doing.

While attempting these new lifts though, the level of discomfort is noticeable.  I have a renewed empathy for players (women especially) who are beginning their weight training for the first time this winter.  Fortunately, I know from experience that if I push through the awkwardness I will come out on the other side with renewed swagger. I wish the same for all of you who are embarking on the journey to ultimate fitness.

If you’ve recently started lifting, tell us how you’re doing!

8 comments to Learning Olympic Lifts: Modifications and general awkwardness

  • I like Dan John’s PVC pipe suggestion, although I’ve been working with a waxwood staff (a friend’s on loan), a PVC pipe from Ace Hardware, or even cheaper a plastic “bamboo” stick to get my overhead squat.

    Still though, it’s taken me a while to get used to front squatting a barbell and will figure out this barbell clean in 2011! Good luck =)

    • I’m lucky in that the overhead squat and front squat are coming pretty naturally. I think some of this lifting stuff is easier for me because I have kind of a short torso so it’s very easy for me to maintain a neutral spine. Right now the most awkward part of the clean is catching the dang thing properly. I’m sure we’ll both be awesome at the barbell clean by the end of 2011. 🙂 good luck!

      • Are either of you familiar with the Burgener Warm-up? It’s a quick & easy way to reinforce the oly lift technique that you can do each day as part of your warm-up (back when I was doing the Crossfit warm-up full-time it was always what I substituted in my first round for OH squats).

        Might not help you nail the catch…but I bet you’ll find it helps more than you think. Between that and developing good mobility in the OH and front squats I worked up to doing 1-3RMs above my bodyweight for the power clean last season, an accomplishment I was quite proud of. I’m positive 2011 holds similar achievements for you!

  • Amen on rocking it with confidence and coming out with renewed swagger. Yeah, maybe the big boys doing their bench days won’t know what to make of you…but there’s this wonderful vibe when you come across somebody else rocking their training like you know how. Were I in your gym, db snatches are good for mucho bonus points toward the me checking you out vs. scoffing at your form continuum; I’ve caught myself admiring particularly good squats and cleans more than once, on both genders (typically guys given the weight room skew).

    I think the best approach you can take is to accept being something of an evangelist for your brand of fitness – doing Crossfit type work, wearing vibram five fingers, anything a bit more outside the typical mold – and be ready to make small talk on why you’re different – you never know, there could be a training buddy or form spotter in waiting if you’re just open to the opportunity!

  • […] Olympic lifting practice went much better today.  Not feeling quite so awkward with my dumbbell snatches and I didn’t notice anyone looking at me funny. […]

  • Aaron

    While I’m with Mackey in that the tendency is for my eyes to repeatedly work their way back to the unusual athlete doing functional work, I feel that this is somewhat ingrained from the culture we’re in (Competitive Ultimate). Mackey, especially, coming from a pretty thorough CrossFit culture, has been steeped in functional training for some time now. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Power is the be-all, end-all of athletic strength training. I’m just saying that most of the people in the gym aren’t there to play a sport. They’re there to look good or feel good about themselves and their bodies or just to have something to do. I don’t expect them to be doing functional training or to really understand what I’m trying to accomplish.

    I’ve started moving into functional lifting in the last few months(in large part thanks to Mackey’s writings) and I’m getting many of the same feelings as you, Melissa. In a gym full of neckless meatheads, it’s an awkward feeling to be working power rather than strength. I’ve definitely noticed the swagger in my walk after the workout though (or is that muscle fatigue in my quads?) and that helps. In the end, I think you hit the nail on the head in saying it’s the MMA guys and you doing functional work. If I’m training like some of the most badass people in the non-military world, I’m alright with feeling a little awkward.

    • “I’ve definitely noticed the swagger in my walk after the workout though (or is that muscle fatigue in my quads?)” This made me laugh. haha! Nothing’s better than a post-workout swagger/stumble!

      Yea sometimes I think it would be easier being a guy in the weight room. But probably not. I’m unusual just for being there so what I’m do while I’m there is kind of irrelevant. In a way, that frees me to be different right from the start. It’s impossible to feel that anyone is comparing my bench, squat (what am I talking about. Meatheads don’t squat!), or physique to theirs.

  • […] doing it for awhile because I thought I would feel self conscious.  But after powering through the awkward feeling of the Olympic lifts, and doing goofy looking core strengthening exercises, I’ve decided any desire I have to […]

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