Like many people, I had no experience with weightlifting (olympic lifting) until I started CrossFit. Even then, doing it by myself in a university gym made for a slow learning process of teaching myself by watching video after video of the snatch and clean & jerk. This is one of the reasons I always recommend people join an affiliate if they can. The hands on coaching will dramatically accelerate your learning curve for these complicated lifts. As I’ve said before, it takes a good 10,000 hours of practice to master something and these are no exception.
Although CrossFit is about generalized fitness, it’s important for me as a trainer to learn from the specialists, especially in the technical world of weightlifting. Greg Everett is one of the premier weightlifting coaches in the USA and is the co-founder of The Performance Menu and author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches. He also runs a weightlifting gym called Catalyst Athletics and travels around the world running weightlifting seminars each year. They’re based in California and rarely come out east, so when I saw they would be in South Carolina, I knew I had to sign up right away.
After driving thirteen hours through six states, we got into Charleston and had a decent night’s rest before the 10am start of the seminar hosted by CrossFit Integrity. About half of the fifty people were only taking the seminar for the experience, while the other half, including moi, were there to get certified in the Catalyst Athletics methodology. For some reason we decided to pay an extra $500 to take an in-person written test and then if we pass that, an online test. If weightlifters are masochists, I guess we were geeky masochists?
On Saturday, Greg and his team (Kara, Mike, and Mark) took us through breathing exercises, mobility warm ups, and the basics of the squat. Weightlifters are a funny breed because of the nature of the lifts. You find all sorts of body types, but one common theme is having strong legs. This makes sense when the snatch and C&J involve squatting. (yes CrossFitters, you need to SQUAT and no, they do not call it a squat snatch)
After squats, we went into the progressions for the snatch. For those familiar with the USAW progressions, you won’t find too much of a difference, although I was surprised there wasn’t much talk of going from a hang to a power snatch. I asked Kara about it and she said that they really encourage everyone to squat from the get go. If someone has a mobility issue, then they’ll recommend the power snatch, but as we all know, CrossFitters are notorious for preferring the power positions over the squat. This made sense and I was glad that my thinking was in line with theirs.
Since we were a large group, we worked with PVC for going over the movements first, then broke off into smaller groups to work with the barbells. This is not an uncommon format for larger seminars and I thought this provided a good balance. The four instructors walked around and critiqued people as they lifted. If I had a critique of the weekend, it would be that some people did not get looked at for some lifts due to the order of the small group and the rotating instructors. Obviously the instructors were not ignoring people on purpose, but if you definitely wanted to be looked at, you would need to be on the bar when they walked by. Don’t take this out of context though. Sometimes we would be going over basic positions that did not need much critiquing and for the full lifts they rotated a few times. Just be aware of this format if you attend a seminar.
Although there was clearly an agenda to go through, we would sometimes pause to go over a side note or tangent that was related to the movement. For instance, in talking about the second pull, the topic of the double knee bend (or “scoop”) came up. While some people teach it intentionally, Greg said that as long as the positions are correct, it’s impossible to NOT double knee bend and it should just come naturally. Another point was that people with long levers (legs/arms/torso) will need to use a slower first pull than people with shorter levers*. As someone already familiar with the position progressions, I found these “other” nuggets of information to be just as, if not more useful than the progressions themselves.
[*As Greg later clarified, it’s not that taller people should pull more slowly in the first pull, it’s that it’s unavoidable because of their greater mechanical disadvantage relative to their shorter-limbed counterparts. Once proficient and lifting heavy weights, all lifters should be trying to move the bar quickly throughout the entire lift – it’s not slow and fast, it’s fast and faster.]
Afternoon included lunch and then more snatch progressions. By the end of the day (5pm) we were doing full snatches with weight. With my shoulder rehab, I only started to OHS and (squat) snatch before the Open started, so I kept it light at 95#, but felt my positions were better than before. Always a work in progress though.
Sunday started off with an hour lecture about program design for the beginner/intermediate weightlifter. Greg emphasized that this was for the person focusing on weightlifting, not CrossFit plus weightlifting. We talked about volume, intensity, frequency, and periodization. For the weightlifter and even CrossFitter, it’s important to have a plan – long term plans, mid-range plans, and short term plans. Or as Greg calls it, Plandomization. I really liked this part of the weekend as it was a topic important from a coaching perspective. As I said, most of us attending were CrossFit coaches and we were reminded that although CrossFit is “constantly varied,” having a plan is important to the development of athletes.
After the programming lecture and Q+A, we went into the jerk progressions, all thirteen of them. Yes, thirteen progressions starting with the overhead position leading all the way to the split jerk. I bet you didn’t think there could be thirteen progressions to learn the jerk, but there are. For you CrossFitters out there, did you know there is a difference between the push jerk and power jerk? Did you even know what a power jerk was? This is the kind of stuff you’ll learn from the weekend.
After the jerk progressions we had lunch and then came back for the clean. Since we had already gone over the snatch progressions the day before, the clean did not take long to go over. A slightly different setup and receiving position, but the progressions were similar. Just like the day before we were able to put weight on the bars for the clean and jerk, but a lot of us were knackered from the humid weather and two days of a lot of moving. I stayed at 215# to focus on form and felt ok, but definitely drained. Half of us were cramming for the paper-based test anyway.
The test wasn’t hard (I hope I passed now that I say that), but I’m curious about the next online multiple choice test. Greg said that 60% of people pass which indicates just how rigorous the tests are. For those thinking about taking the tests, you MUST get the book prior to the seminar weekend and study it, even if the only reason is to avoid Greg from making fun of you to future certs. Most of the paper based material will be covered during the weekend, but I have the feeling the online portion will include minute details that are not covered in the weekend material.
Overall, this is a great weekend for those looking to work on their technique and progressions of the lifts. I don’t know if it was an anomaly, but many of the attendees were fairly proficient at the lifts already. Note that you do NOT need to be intermediate or advanced, and in fact, I think this seminar is a great one for beginners. When I run my clean and jerk clinics at CF KoP, much of my material mimics how this weekend was run.
If you are familiar with Catalyst Athletics’ philosophy and progressions, you may not learn much new material, but it’s always good to hear from the man himself and pick up on those “other” nuggets of info. It’s also a great opportunity to have great coaches look at you lift in person and get immediate feedback. It’s also an opportunity to talk with fellow lifters and trainers to see how they train or run their gym. I had an awesome time talking with the owner of CrossFit Integrity and understanding how he runs his box.
Thank you to Greg, Kara, Mike, Mark, and owner of CrossFit Integrity, Brian Kost. It was a useful weekend that did not disappoint in terms of quality instruction and active learning. If you have the chance to get to a Catalyst Athletics seminar (either as an attendee or for the certificate) or visit CF Integrity, then do it!