Saturday, January 21, 2012

Catalyst Athletics Olympic Weightlifting Seminar: Day 1

I’ve been looking forward to the Olympic weightlifting seminar at Catalyst Athletics for months.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I first encountered barbell snatches, cleans, and jerks. When I started working out at CrossFit Palo Alto, I was lucky to have Tim -- an experienced Oly lifter -- patiently coach me through various progressions until I was able to perform these movements safely. But we do a lot more than just Olympic lifting at our 5 a.m. classes, and I was eager to devote an entire weekend to honing my form and getting better at this stuff.

As luck would have it, we live less than 15 minutes away from Catalyst Athletics -- home of Greg and Aimee Everett, two of the most insanely accomplished and knowledgeable Olympic lifters and coaches in the country. 

Greg’s the co-founder of The Performance Menu, and the author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches -- THE book to buy if you’re at all interested in learning to lift. I’ve had a copy of it on my nightstand for over a year. (It’s not just that I’m a slow reader; the book is incredibly comprehensive and packed with information.) In addition, Greg is Robb Wolf’s co-host on the Paleo Solution podcast; if you’re a listener, you know he’s one hell of a smart, engaging, and dryly funny guy.

As for Aimee, she’s not just an inexplicably huge fan of Britney Spears and Tori Spelling -- she also happens to be the 2007 U.S. Women's National Weightlifting Champion. M and I have spent entire mornings watching Aimee’s videos on YouTube before picking our jaws back up off the floor. From my recent correspondence with Aimee (I helped design some graphics for her new business), it was clear to me that I’d like her a lot. After all, she has the same (gross) sense of humor and potty mouth as my wife. (Which also explains why M is always doubled over laughing when she’s tweeting back and forth with Aimee.)

A few months back, after listening to Trish’s glowing report about her experiences at the last Catalyst weightlifting seminar, I couldn’t wait to sign up. Ultimately, a dozen of us from CrossFit Palo Alto -- including M and me -- registered for the two-day workshop.

With our kids spending the weekend at their grandparents and a key deadline met for M’s soon-to-be-released Nom Nom Paleo project, we were free to spend a super-romantic weekend lifting barbells. (Did I mention that as of today, M and I have been together for 19 years?)

The first day of the seminar was singularly focused on learning the various progressions to a full snatch. After we warmed up in the morning, Greg took us through a couple of static stretches to help mobilize our ankles and hip flexors.(My favorite: “Russian Baby Makers.” They make my hips hurt so good.) 

We then spent a good portion of the morning on establishing a proper squat position, maintaining even weight distribution across the feet, breathing, and other basics. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to focus on each of these techniques, and to practice them until our muscle memories kicked in. Although we covered a ton of stuff, it all clicked into place like little LEGO pieces, one brick building upon another. 

The importance of the hook grip was drummed into me yet again. Without it, you can’t maintain full control of the barbell during the second pull of the snatch (and clean). Tim has repeatedly reminded me to use the hook grip, but I haven’t consistently done so because,’s uncomfortable. But as Greg pointed out today, it’ll never feel comfortable until and unless I stick with it for a while, so I guess I’m just going to have to  suck it up like a big boy (and ice my hands until they get the hang of this painfully awkward grip).

The rest of the day was a blur as we worked on progression after progression: Overhead squats, snatch balances, muscle snatches, snatch deadlifts. We worked to establish our mid-hang positions, and I learned a number of useful cues from the Catalyst coaches, including my favorite: “J-Lo butt.” (Aimee was telling me to stick my butt out more -- and keep my knees back -- at the start of the second pull.)

At the end of the day, we got some plates on the barbells and practiced snatches from the floor. The name of the game was good, solid form, and although I was beat, I did my best to suck less than usual. I was a bit wobbly and only managed to snatch 40kg, but I ended the day with a big smile on my face and a lot of tips to incorporate into my training. 

I soaked up as much as I could, but I have a feeling I’m not going to retain as much as I’d like. Today was like drinking out of a fire hydrant -- but boy, was I thirsty.

I can't wait 'til tomorrow.

[UPDATED: Day 2 recap is here.]