Small Steps towards Big Lifts: The Case for Deliberate Practice

By Coach Mike Flanagan

Has this long winter got you down?  Cheer up—vaccines are on the horizon, and in April, we’ll be opening another session of weekend Barbell Club!  Olympic lifts are among the most complex and athletically demanding skills that we teach at Mountain Strength, and while there’s no “quick fix” or “weird trick” that can deliver instant mastery of these complex movements, there are “small things” you can do to aid your steady climb up Mt. Olympus.
What makes the clean & jerk and the snatch so challenging?  In technical terms, they’re ballistic, multi-phase movements that ask athletes to transfer power from their core to their extremities in a single fluid motion—like the golf swing, the tennis serve, or the fastball pitch.  And what all these movements have in common is that they benefit from “deliberate practice”: consistent and perfect repetitions over a long period of time, with complete focus.   But how do you practice something “perfectly” when you can’t yet do it? And how do you focus when you’ve got a dozen things going on at once?  The key is to break these complex patterns into simple parts, and then drill those parts, piece by piece, every time you’re in the gym.
We asked the MSCF coaching staff for their favorite examples of “deliberate practice” for Oly lifting and in the three short videos that follow, you’ll see a path to moving big weights gracefully, by focusing on “small things”:

  • Don’t have time for extra work?  Watch CrossFit Weightlifting Coach Ray Regno put that idea to rest as he breaks the Burgener Warm-up into four key moves and cues.  We don’t actually recommend racing through it in 16 seconds, but if you give yourself a minute or two with a PVC before EVERY class—even days when Oly lifts aren’t on the menu—you’ll be honing a perfect bar path even as you get your shoulders and hips opened up for the WOD.
  • In Regno’s video, you heard a reference to “Skill Transfer Exercises”—so here’s  Sophie Burgener from Burgener Strength with a clear demo of these 5 movements, and how to chain them together with a PVC for a quick drill that takes less than 3 minutes.  Don’t skip the comments, which list the movements in order and the purpose of each.
  • Finally, if you’re struggling with “fast elbows” and “pulling yourself under the bar,” here’s Sage Burgener* working a clean progression with a light barbell to take the bar from “triple extension” through the jerk overhead.  Again, movements and cues are in the comments, and whatever you do, don’t skip the “Sots Press”: it’s 0% fun but 100% effective at building strength and mobility.

Hopefully, what these videos make clear is that no single drill takes more than a few minutes to practice, easily incorporated into your existing warm-up and cool-down time.  And if you commit to them consistently, over time, you’ll eventually hit every position, and nail every transition,  without thinking.   Start working on them now, ask the coaches for help if you don’t understand any of them, and we’ll see you at Barbell Club in April!
*Why is everything Burgener, you might ask?  Here’s a background piece you might enjoy. 


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