Six weeks in. It’s starting to come back. I can feel it. I’m still waking up sore and stiff, but not the kind where you roll out of bed going “oh man, what the hell did I do to myself?” No, this is the kind where you get out of bed, and you feel the fruits of your labor radiate throughout your body. The kind that make you feel like: “Ha, you sonuvabitch, I took your best shots, and that’s it?!” That tightness in my lower back? That dull ache in my quads? They’re not nagging pains slowing me down anymore. They’re badges of honor. Markers that I’ve weathered the storm, that I’ve survived the barbell’s best efforts to beat me back. Now I’m the one pressing forward.
The feel has been a constant theme in all of my writings thus far. There’s a reason for that. How the bar feels should tell you two things: what you’re doing well, and what you need to be doing better. But, what about when it all feels just perfect? If you’ve been training long enough, it’s quite likely that you’ve had a taste of it – like an addict – where that one lift you did felt like magic, like everything was just indescribably “right.” As Weightlifters, I think we all share that desire for perfection. To experience those moments of perfection in our training. Today I’m going to tell you about the day I first Snatched over 110kg. Why 110? It was after that moment that I felt I had begun to come into my own as a lifter. I’m certain it had to do with the feel, and moreover, my connection with the bar. For those of you still searching for that perfect moment in your lifting, maybe my story will help you discover it sooner.
The day in question sticks out because I had no idea I’d be hitting a record. It wasn’t a competition. I didn’t peak in my training for this. Nothing was planned. It just happened. At the time I was training instinctively. I had a regularly scheduled Snatch workout that day, and decided I was going to do some doubles, then, add weight if they felt good. My warm-ups started like any other… 50-60-70-80-90-95…. They were flying. I didn’t feel anything special yet, but I have to say, I did feel confident. What made this workout exceptional, however, was that I wasn’t feeling particularly good or bad. Positivity or negativity never entered the equation. I was just lifting weights.
100-105… I’d never done either of these weights for a double before. 108 was my all-time heaviest Snatch up until then, and it was awkward the one time I had done it. Prior to this workout, the bar was just an object I’d pick up and move around with. That night was different, though. The bar was my partner. It was like when you’re with someone you just click with, sharing the same head space, thinking the same things at the same time. We were synchronized that day. From the moment the bar broke from the floor to the point at which we would stand together, it was like we were working in unison. There was never a moment of the bar not “doing” what I wanted it to do.
After the double at 105 I decided on singles next. After all, I had just doubled within 3kg of my best! I felt a PR in me, but not like I normally might. There were no pre-lift jitters, no excitement, no anxiety. 110 was on the bar, a red and a blue. Two minutes had elapsed between 105×2 and my next attempt. I stood from my seat, approached the bar, and got set. Without a moments hesitation, I lowered my hips, gripped the bar, and pulled. I could feel the bar sweep up against my thighs, and then, in a second, before I could even process what had happened, I was standing up with 110. I though I had a religious experience, that something in me had changed. My lifting had never felt that good before. Ever. So, I did the only thing I could: I added more weight to the bar.
112 went up just as easily, with the same precision and confidence expressed in my prior attempt. I was now emotionally somewhere between extreme focus and pure bliss. I felt amazing, unstoppable even, and yet still just a man lifting weights. I was completely in-tune with my abilities that night. Already completely satisfied, I thought it’s a good night, why not? 114. Once more, I setup. The bar broke from the floor with control, pressed against my shin, clearing my knees, and then scooping into my quads. As my chest rose, my legs became charged. I exploded with an audible crack, whipping my shoulders up and under. That moment my senses paused, like my pull under the bar stopped time. All of a sudden I was standing up with 114, a 6kg PR!
My speed and position from the floor felt as close to perfection as a Snatch had ever felt. Once the bar left my hip I felt like a bullet going off. Jumping up and pulling under was one movement. There was no perceptual distance between my arms and the bar; that bar was simply an extension of my body.
I recall that session as a milestone in my lifting career not because of the number on the bar, but because of how it all felt. Sure, the numbers were great. I knew with numbers like that I could confidently say I lift. The real PR was what I felt. I experienced a connection with my lifting like I never had before. The bar and I weren’t at odds anymore. Rather than fighting we were working together.
What has me so excited about my training right now is that I can remember feeling as I do now just before that night. My struggles with the bar reached an apex before I finally started lifting well. I’m not a talented athlete. My colleagues can attest to the fact that between us, I have always been technically the weakest. I’m just stubborn. Because of that stubbornness I often frame my internal conflicts as combats, contests of the Will. You know what, though? It worked. That session changed me. It was like every session prior to that was bootcamp, the bar screaming at me like a drill instructor to do better. When I stood up with those three lifts, 110, 112, 114, it was like being congratulated by the bar for graduating.
I know full-well that the only life the bar has is what I give it. If you recall a few articles back, I mentioned the importance of metaphors in how you think about your training. This is the metaphor that works for me: the bar as an agent sent to work me into the ground so that I may emerge a better person. It adds life and meaning to what I do, and why I do it. I won’t go so far as to say I’m good, merely that I was competent at one point (and will be again!). Beyond any program, technical style, or coaching cue, what I think has made the biggest improvement to my lifting is the way I think about and embody it.
Russian weightlifting culture dictates that it’s sacrilege to step over a bar, that there is an expectation of respect and reverence for what they do. The Chinese have combined Confucian philosophy with modern sport science. What these teams have have done (and what I did) is make their training efforts and aspirations richly meaningful, but also immediately applicable to the way they view their worlds. If you have any desire to be the best you can be, I urge you to find your inner-metaphor, the symbolic glue that makes your lifting both a meaningful and fulfilling experience for you. Your lifting will change for the better, but more than that, PRs will no longer just be numbers; they’ll be life events.