domenica 27 novembre 2011

Zen Mind, Big Snatch, Part II: Yang



This is the second part of a two-part series on Zen Weightlifting, Yin vs Yang, and Becoming a Samurai on the Platform.  Read the first part about your inner Yin, here.

Most of the time on this blog I emphasize the need for you to develop a calm and tranquil mind.  Given the stress levels and workload most of us are living under, finding ways to promote a sense of well-being and settledness (not sure that’s a word!) is imperative.  For instance, my articles on managing depression, or the art of happiness are totally focused on what we might call the Yin side of the line.  Life is full of enough Yang!

That said …

Today, we’re gonna shift gears and breath a little fire on your snatch!

Aggression is a word that is most often associated negatively.  And, if we’re being honest, it should be.  There are precious few situations in life that call for shear aggression.  When you are sitting in traffic or when someone cuts you off, that is not the time.   

When someone bumps into you on the sidewalk and causes you to spill your coffee on your new PDX Weightlifting T-shirt, that is not the time!  (It’s black, it should be fine.)

But, in weightlifting, as much as I promote a Zen-like Meditative state, there IS a time when you have to be aggressive – VERY aggressive.  If you aren’t outright fierce at this exact moment, you will never hit the big PR’s you’re chasing. 


In ancient Chinese culture Yin and Yang are opposites that exist in harmony.  Yin is the side of shade, softness, water, calm.  Yang is the side of light, fire, aggression, and symbolized by the dragon.

“The Yin and Yang are … two polar energies that, by their fluctuation and interaction, are the cause of the universe” – The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism

Yesterday, to recap, we focused on developing the Yin side of your weightlifting.  In weightlifting we can think of Yin as the side of technique and control, and also of fearlessness.  It is the foundation of everything you will do later.  Without tons of time working in a mellow manner and learning how to have a stable and fear-free mind while lifting heavy weight, you won’t progress.

But, that is not enough.  It is only one side. 

The pearl, all by itself will only be able to lift moderate weights.  Yes, the movement will LOOK fantastic.  You’ll be very impressive to your friends if you can take an empty bar and perform a beautifully technically correct snatch.  No doubt.

However, I know you want more than a pretty snatch!

You want a BIG snatch!

I made a good case yesterday as to why you should calm-the-frak-out on the platform.  So, when is the time to go all dragon and breath some fire?

The ideal time to become the dragon is during the combination of the second and third pulls and right through the catch, and finishing by standing up and waiting for the down signal.

That is, you are a Pearl walking up to the platform, grabbing the bar, pulling the bar from the floor all the way to the hip … and then you are an explosive fire-breathing dragon-beast for the entire rest of the lift. 

You MUST be able to transition on a dime! 

Go ALL OUT.  And don’t stop going all out until you hear the down signal from the judge (in a contest) or have successfully stood up with it. 


The second pull and third pull are confusing names.  I never use them in the gym.  I think a lot of the terminology in weightlifting causes far too much misunderstanding with lifters, and I’m out to change the way we describe technique.

I (along with others) teach the 1st and 2nd pulls in three parts.  The first is the floor position, the second is the knee position, and the third is the hip position.  The traditional term “first pull” is actually a combination of the first two.  That is, the first pull goes from the floor all the way to the hip.  The second pull starts at the hip position and goes up.

There is also traditionally a “third” pull which is the act of pulling yourself under the bar.  It’s easiest to just call this the “pull under”, and not worry about giving it a numerical value.

It is combining the 2nd and 3rd pulls, or movement from the Hip position all the way down to the full catch that is brutally hard.  You have to first pull the bar up as hard and fast as you can, then immediately pull yourself down under the bar.  WTF?!

Sometimes, when a lifter is really struggling, I’ll have them practice pulling themselves down under the bar with light weights – intentionally using their arms.

But, for most lifters, what helps most is not thinking of splitting the pulls up so much.  Instead, just be a wildly aggressive freak from the time the bar moves from the hip position onward. 

Become a Dragon.

Psychologically, if you THINK of having to pull the bar up, then pull yourself down – opposites! – then you will screw one of the two up!  This happens all the time.

Instead, I like lifters to not think at all and drive/pull like hell and not stop pulling until they’ve caught that bar.

Amazingly, this works for the VAST majority of lifters.  Their body knows what to do, but their mind was getting in the way.

Let the dragon in you do its thing.  Don’t over-think.  The “second” and “third” pulls are the SAME pull.  They are fluidly connected. 

Sure, different parts of your body are doing the prime moving at different phases, but that is beside the point, and beyond your brains ability to think about it in the moment.  Don’t even try.  It all happens far too fast.


Once a lifter gets to a certain point in their technical training I start to hint at something I keep under wraps in the beginning.

I’m not saying I’m lying to them at first. But, I am holding back the truth a bit … OK, that is a form of lying. But, coaching/teaching requires some white-lies here and there if you are going to be effective!

What is the secret I don’t mention in the beginning?

If you are aggressive enough, you can save a lot of bad lifts. 

Obviously, the best lifters are BOTH aggressive AND technically correct.  They laid a great foundation of technical training before they went hog wild.

But, we all mess up technique here and there.  If you can stay “hardcore” throughout the pull, the pull-under, and the catch/lock-out no matter what, then you have a chance at saving a lift that you would have otherwise missed because of some technical flaw.

For example.  If you swing the bar too much off the hip (smacking the hip is good, but you need to do so in such a way that you have an upward trajectory not a horizontal trajectory), then in the catch you will risk losing the bar behind you or in front of you (depending on other factors). 

That is NOT ideal.

But, you can get away with it periodically if you are so darned locked out that you are able to sit in the bottom and “rock it out” for a while. 

Peter-Front-Squat--BW-BRIGHT Front-Squat_Arron-2

No lifter is a perfect balance of Yin and Yang.  Each lifter will err on the side of one or the other.

I’ll use two of my lifters as an example of each type: Peter (left) and Arron (right).  I’m using them because they are both well developed in both their Yin (pearl) and Yang (dragon) sides.  They’re both also the same age, early thirties.  And, are both about equally talented, etc.  They are a lot alike in some important ways.  However, each is leaning more to one side than the other on the Yin/Yang spectrum.

Peter is naturally more Yin than Yang, he’s a Pearl.  He will comfortably spend hours and hours training with light weights and never go heavy unless things look perfect and/or he believes there is a reasonable chance of success.  He does very long warm ups and makes sure to do all the fancy pre-hab work that we’re all supposed to do, but rarely do.

Peter never gets angry when he misses a lift, and never gets unsettled or nervous leading up to a heavy attempt.  He is a paragon of chill.  Always smiling, he finds missing not only “no big deal” but an important part of the process of learning how to do the lift correctly and perfectly. 

That said, he has developed his Dragon side very well.  He FINISHES his lifts.  He pulls hard, and he fights hard.  He doesn’t give up.  He will attack a weight over and over and over if he believes there’s a chance he can make it.  Now, like I said, he’s a Yin guy.  In spite of what it sometimes looks like on the outside, Peter is never reckless.  He might take 20 misses on a snatch, but that is because he KNOWS there is a good shot at making it. 

Arron, on the other hand, is more Yang than Yin, he’s a Dragon.  Arron will attack anything heavy, with a vengeance.  He never undercuts his pull, and no matter what trajectory he’s put on the bar, he’s going after it, and he’ll probably catch it.  Arron is famous in our gym for his rambunctiousness, and his shear aggression.  If he was a muppet, he’d be Animal.   

But, he’s also built a strong Yin side.  He has spent countless hours honing his technique, and has some of the best technique in the gym.  He doesn’t let his Dragon side take over and throw all the hard-won skills out the window just because he’s attempting a heavy weight.  He’s in full control.

He starts off the ground rather slow, actually, till he knows he’s got the bar in a good position – then he blasts off!  Often, his heaviest attempts are his best looking lifts. His Make-to-Miss rate at 90% and above is probably the highest in the gym.

He’s certainly on fire on the platform!  But, as soon as he walks off, he’s back to joking around and having a good time. 

That’s the balance both of these guys share.

Both Arron and Peter are adults.  That makes a difference.  And it plays into why they are able to be so well developed as both Pearls and Dragons. 

They are true Weightlifting Samurai.  Now in their 30’s, they’ve gotten past much of what may have held them back when they were younger. 

Adult Weightlifters have the advantage of life-experience.  They understand that you need to be well developed on both sides, Yin and Yang – not just in weightlifting, but in life.  And, they are adult enough to recognize that while they may naturally be good at one, they are likely less so on the other.  That is where they need to focus their efforts. 

Youngin’s often have a hard time understanding any of this!  Physically, they are ideal for the sport because of their youthful recovery ability, flexibility, etc.  But, mentally, we adults have the advantage.

I’m more like Peter, by the way.  I’m a Pearl.  I’ve had to work on my Dragon side, which has developed quite a bit over the years.  What is cool about this kind of training, and this approach to understanding weightlifting training, is that you find that your personality development on the platform carries over to the rest of your life – big time. 

If there is any point to these two articles it’s that Olympic weightlifting (like real life) requires that you are in balance.  You can’t be all Yin and mellow, and you can’t be all Yang and aggressive.  Too much of one without the other is a recipe for missed lifts and an incomplete life. 

Part of your discovery and learning process is figuring out which side of line you tend to be on naturally, and working hard at developing the other side.  We all know we need to train the body.  But, don’t get complacent in training your mind.  The mind is just as plastic as the body.  You can, with work, make it better.

So, which are you naturally?  More Pearl or Dragon?


View the original article here

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