To Boom, or Not to Boom

Originally Posted on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 3:38 PM
I've got a lifter named Hamlet.  He's a bit weird, dresses in black, hangs out with some hipster graduate students, but he's got potential (already an outstanding fencer, he decided to change sports to impress some young chick; having been to his house, I think she'd be more impressed if he cleaned up that smell under his stairs).  He seems to just not be able to complete the second pull.  I'm sure if he did all his lifts would be great.  He hesitates past his knees, seemingly torn between holding the perfect positions and hitting the top of the pull as fast as he can.  This moment of hesitation is where he misses the mark of the lift. Without speed, his technical perfection is useless.  Unless he maintains his positions, all the speed is merely random explosion and the bar flies everywhere.

Here's what we're doing so that he can fix the problems.  He 's working on maintaining good position over the by pulling his shoulders back, sticking his chest out, and flaring his lats. I tell him that that position is the key to a good lift; if he maintains it, he'll be fine.  Sometimes his shoulders round, but generally he can hold that position.  However, he lacks the confidence in it, and instead of attacking the finish by driving with his legs until his hips snap and he can shuffle his feet out quickly to the ground, he goes slowly to ensure that position is tight.  I told him that, unless he goes fast, that position won't do him any good.  So we're doing some pulls from the blocks for him to get confidence in his speed and ability to produce speed and hold the positions.  That confidence, that desire to just go for it, is what will make him a champion.  

Something that seemed to help him was watching some YouTube videos the other day.  We got some take-out crab claws and peaches from The Silent Sea, sat on some prufrocks outside the restaurant, and watched videos of a European lifter named King Denmark.

"One thing you'll notice about King", I told Hamlet, "is that he pulls those shoulders back and goes like hell toward the top of the pull.  He doesn't hesitate.  He doesn't always hit the lift perfectly, but he gets under the bar and makes a few minor adjustments.  His key to being a good lifter isn't hitting the perfect lift 1 out of 10 times, it's hitting an 8/10 or 9/10 lift every time.  Worrying about the position too much would interfere with the ultimate goal of maximally accelerating the bar; otherwise, he'd never make a good lift and just be some dude rolling his pants up and hitting on the women in the gym, talking about artists he doesn't know anything about."

Hamlet replied to me: "That guys a quintessence of boom; he seems so full of confidence and success that of course he makes the lift.  I'm just not that good yet."

Me, facepalming: "Dude, he's that good because he makes it happen.  No hesitation.  Going fast is what enables those positions to stay tight, and going fast every lift makes you a little bit faster every time.  King knows he's going to make those lifts because he goes for the speed and positions, not because he worries about the bar getting overhead.  The bar getting overhead is a by product of doing things right.  You have to act on what you know and what you have.  You can't wait for the one perfect position and hope to get a good lift once in your life.  Hitting that pull will get you under the bar, punching through at the end will hold that bar overhead now matter what the weight is.  You just keep adding weight little by little and it will come together. You can never just have that bar overhead magically, but acting on what you know and maximizing your positions by going fast at the top will lead to a good lift.  One more thing:  you have to accelerate the bar at the top.  If it's going fast but slowing down, you'll miss the lift.  You need that bar to hit your hips like it's breaking the sound barrier.  Feel the need for speed, kid; hot nasty bad ass speed."

A yellow fog started to creep about our feet, so we went home.  He said he had to hang out with the hipsters and relax a bit; they were going to see a play about a movie, or a movie about making a play.  I don't remember which; I had to go home and empty the mousetrap.

Our next training session had the regular crew there, including Matt Laertes, Hamlet's friendly nemesis.  Matt often trained a little earlier than Hamlet, and Hamlet only ever saw Matt's heavier lifts.  Although they had been training about the same length of time and were about the same size (they even back squatted the same amount), Matt's lifts were better, and this fact frustrated Hamlet.  No matter how many times I tried to get Hamlet to focus on his own technique and problems, he always seemed obsessed with how others lift and paid little attention to changing his own errors.  Over the next few workouts, Hamlet got better.  He started to focus on his own lifting rather than working out and worrying about others.  He just kept focusing on things he could control:  back tight, feet flat, bring the bar in off the floor, drive through the heels and shuffle the feet hard to the ground when they come off the floor. He seemed to be able to hit the top of the second pull with speed about half the time, and his heavier lifts became more consistent; the other half of his heavy lifts ended in disaster.  He went flying, or the bar went flying, or he slammed the bar into his throat, or he simply lost a position and got frustrated.  Hamlet felt good, and knew he could attack the second pull.  His next meet was our big meet of the year, the Fort Inbrah open.  Not only was Matt lifting in his weight class, some big Nordic guy was going to lift; his Dad was an Olympian.

The day of the meet, everyone made weight; Hamlet was relaxed after taking his girlfriend to the water park the night before.  Hamlet made his first two snatches and needed a PR on his third to tie the Nordic guy and take the lead on bodyweight.  Hamlet got up to the platform, and muttered to himself:

To boom, or not to boom; that is the question
Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the 
Perfection of position or to make 
Speed, and with speed make the lift; Speed and Focus,
They're the keys; and by speed and focus
We mean to accelerate the bar, increase the velocity,
Not let the bar be burdened by our doubts and weaknesses
But to let the bar rise above ourselves 
without that worry--that worry which we constantly bear;
To worry, that's the rub; worry about the lift, to want to succeed 
When we have shuffled and popped our hips and 
Lifted the weight Overhead and to our 
Shoulders; That worry makes us pause at the top
There's the issue with the lifts:  who wouldn't speed
Up if they could when faced with the desire to lift?
Who would face the loss, the falling back, the Clark;
Who would bear the no total, the failed PR, the
Fourth place the unworthy take when speed lay
At your heels and the position in your back?
Who would squat and clean, snatch and pull,
Jerk and press day after day for the elusive glory
Which comes only to the bold, only to those who
Feel the need for speed.  Are we so afraid of 
Lifting the bar wrong that we don't lift the bar at all?
Thus worry makes us all slow.  and thus the hesitation 
Causes the bar to slow for everyone. And this worry causes 
Us to miss the Boom and to lower the bar in defeat.
Quiet now, the announcer's spoken, the lift is upon us.


After the meet, we talked about the legendary Beowulf, and how the legends do extraordinary things for glory, and how they don't hesitate at that moment of decision.  And we sat with legends and champions at dinner, and they were ourselves.

Michael McKennaComment