Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"You're Cleaning? You're Dating a Jerk?"

The Washington Post just posted a write-up about CrossFit's role in the resurgence of Olympic weightlifting -- a "total-body technique that's pretty much guaranteed to make you run faster, jump higher and get stronger."

Sadly, over the past few decades, "America's fitness industry has virtually abandoned [O-lifting] in favor of new equipment, fads and methods. 'It is almost a forgotten way to train. People just want to bounce around,' says Greg Haff, vice president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and an assistant professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine." (Zumba, anyone?)

Why has chronic cardio and high-rep, low-resistance "weight training" eclipsed O-lifting as the exercise approach of choice? There are plenty of reasons to choose from:
  • If you view exercise as a necessary evil, it's a hell of a lot easier to just hop on an elliptical trainer, crank up your iPod and start flipping through the latest issue of US Weekly on the machine's conveniently-mounted magazine tray. As Haff points out in the Post article, Olympic lifting is "a lot of work." And ironically, most gym-goers would prefer to stick with what's familiar and easy. (Like machines.)
  • Some guys might gravitate towards it, but women tend to run for ze hills due to myths about how O-lifting'll break their backs, bulk them up and turn them into she-hulks like Nicole Bass.
  • And it's not easy getting started; proper technique is critical and difficult to learn without coaching or instruction (or at least a good book or two).
  • Last but not least, barbells and bumper plates aren't available at most gyms. (This, though, is kind of a chicken-and-egg problem: People don't ask for barbells and plates, so gyms don't stock 'em, which means people aren't exposed to O-lifting, and so they don't ask for barbells and plates. Thankfully, you can just buy your own.) 
 As a result, O-lifting's been dying a slow death in the U.S. Thankfully, CrossFit's come to the rescue:
To stage a comeback, weightlifting needed an army of advocates who not only didn't mind the challenge, but relished it. And it seems to have found that through CrossFit, a 15-year-old methodology for producing well-rounded athletes that's found huge success among law enforcement, the military and, these days, the general population... 

Every single one of [CrossFit's devotees] sweats the two "O lifts": the snatch (a single, continuous motion that requires lifting the barbell from the ground and forcing yourself under it so that you're standing with your arms locked in extension above you) and the clean and jerk (start by pulling the weight from the ground to your shoulders, then dip and drive the bar overhead, splitting your legs into a half lunge to get the power to extend your arms upward).

If you've never heard of the moves, you're like most of Allison Jetton's friends. The 28-year-old Arlington resident has had trouble explaining exactly what she has been doing during CrossFit classes and personal training sessions the past few months at Balance Gym in Thomas Circle: "People are like, 'You're cleaning? You're dating a jerk?' " But she has fallen for the feeling of raising a hefty barbell over her head -- and how it has made her clothes fit.

"Women are usually lined up on treadmills with a magazine aerobicizing themselves to oblivion," she says. "I tried that. I didn't find it effective."
 Sounds like the understatement of the year.

(Source: Washington Post)