Ahh, the barbell. Most of us have a love-love relationship with it, as we saw on Saturday when only 3 people came to run the 5K (I’m making a disappointed face). But sometimes, we have a love-hate relationship with it. And usually the reason being is because we can’t push past a weight we’ve been stuck on. Now, of course, if you want to get stronger you have to spend time either lifting a manageable weight for more sets and reps OR lifting a heavy weight more than 3 times per week. And just to be clear, when I say weightlifting I’m referring to specifically the snatch and clean and jerk. Well unfortunately, most of us don’t have the extra time to spend in the gym so what can you do to break through that pesky number you can’t get past?
You can go lighter.
Yes. Go lighter.
Now, again to be clear, I’m not talking about during conditioning pieces. You should always do the appropriate weight during a conditioning piece because the whole point of it is to get out of breath and if you’re just standing around staring at a barbell that’s too heavy, you’re missing the point of the workout.
I’m talking about going lighter specifically on days where you’re just doing a weightlifting movement and trying to go for max load. You know, 7 sets of 1 on a snatch. Or 7 sets of 3 for a hang squat clean. Something like that. You should go lighter. Why?
Well, if you try to lift a weight that is even moderately heavy, you’re never going to teach your brain arguably the most important aspect of weightlifting. Speed.
When we talk about speed I’m specifically referring to the 10 general physical skills that we get taught during our CrossFit seminars. You have 4 organic skills: cardio respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility. Then you have 4 neurological skills: coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance. The first 4 you have to actually do something to the muscle to improve upon them. The latter you have to spend time learning through repetition to improve on. Then there’s 2 more skills that are equal parts organic AND neurological. That’s power and speed. You can either spend time lifting weights or your own body weight to improve on them BUT you can also LEARN power and speed better.
Now, what is speed? Well, the way basic physics describes it is distance divided by time. The resulting number being speed. Now, think of this in relation to moving the barbell in a snatch or clean or any variant thereof. What can you do to learn speed in doing these movements? You can move the bar with absolute proficiency. How quickly can you make the bar move from point A to point B? This can ONLY be done with light weight. You have to teach your brain to move the bar, the correct way, as fast as you possibly can. You have to apply the maximum amount of force your body can generate in order to do this, and you can only do it with a weight you can manipulate in such a way.
A document about Bruce Lee recently came out on ESPN, and in it, he describes his famous 1-inch punch. He said that he can provide the same amount of force from 1 inch that a normal person could from 3 feet away. And when they asked him how that can be he said, “perfect speed.”
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