Expectations vs. Reality

I’ve been noticing a trend pop up in classes recently that I feel compelled to nip in the bud. That’s right, its time for some tough love folks. That trend I’m referring to is outward displays of disappointment and frustration during some of our recent barbell complex workouts. For the last several weeks, we’ve placed a programming emphasis on the hang power clean, and more recently included the push jerk. These are some of the most complex movement patterns you’re going to come across in training. What I need you all to understand is the following: the barbell snatch and clean & jerk are the only two exercises that are contested in the Olympic sport of Weightlifting. Like any other sport contested at the highest levels of athletic competition, the best athletes have made massive sacrifices and put in countless hours of sweat equity to reach their current levels of performance. While minimum proficiency levels (with say a PVC pipe or empty barbell) can be reached fairly quickly in an athlete with good body awareness and flexibility, developing real skill in this sport usually takes years of dedicated practice. From firsthand experience I can say that Weightlifting, while ultimately very rewarding, is a damn challenging pursuit that most lack the patience to stick with. As Dave Tate would say, simply moving from shit to suck in regards to performance could take years to achieve.
What does this mean for you, the athlete? Don’t get mad at yourself when you haven’t mastered the nuances of the jerk the first, 5th, 10th time you are exposed to it. These are complicated exercises that require speed, coordination, skill, timing, etc. I don’t want to see head shaking or negative self-talk taking place when you are learning an advanced exercise that is unfamiliar to you. Instead, embrace the process of getting better! Think about what you could have done better on a particular lift, and focus on improving the one specific area on your next go round. Do not expect to make linear improvements to your hang clean like you probably have in your front squat, deadlift, etc. Beginners are typically greatly limited by their technique, not by their strength and power. Keep honing your technique and allow time for progress to happen.
Here’s a personal anecdote for some perspective. On Monday I posted a video of 13-year-old Clarence Cummings doing a 135kg (297 lbs) power clean and jerk at a bodyweight of roughly 135 lbs. I’ve been seriously focused on weightlifting for a couple years now, I am fairly proficient technically, and this kid blows my best lifts out of the water. His last meet he snatched 112kg (245 lbs) and clean and jerked 136kg (300 lbs) at the youth nationals. My best lifts in the gym are a 102kg snatch and a 130kg clean and jerk, but I outweigh him by 60 lbs and, oh yeah, he’s 13! If we broaden the competitive pool and look at weightlifting at the international level, I would be highly competitive in the Women’s 53kg (117 lbs) weight class. Don’t even get me started on the men’s side, because you wouldn’t even believe what those guys are lifting.
My point with this is that as a beginner, you simply are not good enough or experienced enough to be disappointed. It’s understandable being frustrated with struggling, but its also irrational. If I started playing violin tomorrow, I should expect to be terrible at it. The only way to improve would be accepting the fact that improvement will be incremental and slow, but slow progress is still progress. Ratchet down your expectations, think long term, and recognize that somewhere, a small Chinese girl is literally warming up with your max. Once you accept that, focus on the one thing you actually can control: your own effort; everything else is simply noise.

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