By Ryan Kucish
I had my first experience with Olympic Weight Lifting in 2002. I was a junior in high school and it was my first day of weightlifting class, which also happened to be the first year my school had offered this course. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Up until this point I followed the basic “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” protocol that involves the bench press, squat and deadlift. I always assumed that these were the best lifts to achieve strength and give you the edge required in sports. I assumed this class would follow that dynamic and would make me better at those three lifts. My weight lifting coach was also my English teacher, Mr. Myron, unsuspecting, I know. On the first day of class he showed us video highlights of Olympic Lifts. I knew of Olympic Weightlifting and saw glimpses of it every four years when the Olympics came around, but I didn’t really understand it. In my eyes, I saw guys of all sizes throwing weights above their heads while contorting their bodies into strange positions to pull it off. I did not understand how these lifts were more significant than my bench press and deadlift, but I saw something in Mr. Myron that drew me to focus on his commentary. I realize today that I saw passion in his eyes. He lit up like a kid on Christmas. While most of the other teenage boys zoned out, Mr. Myron was so driven to make us understand his passion that I was sucked in.
Mr. Myron explained weightlifting in such a simple, profound way, that I still use it with athletes to this day. He told us, “This is Olympic Weightlifting! The lifters, divided by weight classes, are trying to lift the most weight possible overhead in two different lifts: The Snatch and Clean & Jerk.” Of course the class full of teenage boys erupted in laughter upon hearing these terms. However, Mr. Myron continued, “Each athlete has three attempts at each lift, which makes each lift very important.” My hand went up “So, why those lifts?” I asked, wondering what was special about these two movements. He responded to my broad question with a simple answer, “The goal of the Snatch is to get the most weight from the floor to over your head in one movement. The Clean & Jerk is to move weight from the floor to overhead intwo movements.” He explained to us that these two lifts have adapted into what they are today simply out of necessity.
100 years ago these lifts look way different than they do today. The clean & jerk for example looked more like a muscle clean into a strict/ push press, broken and mechanical. Over time the athletes who learned to drop their bodies under the weight were lifting more than the guys remaining rigid and upright. The sport reached a turning point. It was less about catering to brute force and now more about explosiveness and speed (power) to lift more weight. The two lifts are a symphony of strength, speed and precision. I like the way US Weightlifter Donnie Shankle phrases it, “It is like trying to thread a needle, but the thread is on the tip of a rhino horn running at full speed.”
From that point, I realized that these lifts were on another level from what I thought was weightlifting. Mr. Myron explained the lifts very simply and then made it relevant to me by describing how these lifts will make me a better athlete. “You have to understand how strong and fast you have to be to lift these weights from the floor to overhead. It will make you a better athlete no matter what sport you play.” I remember him concluding, “If you can get 200lbs from the ground to overhead, how much more confident are you when a 150lb guy is in your way on the playing field?” He was right. Realizing my capabilities made me a better athlete across the board, not just a stronger weight lifter.
15 years later I owe a lot to Mr. Myron for introducing me to Olympic Weightlifting. The passion he showed drew me in like a moth to a light. I am thankful that Mr. Myron made me a better athlete, but I am more thankful that he made me understand the Why.
“The Why” is reason why we lift, go through programming, do warm ups, mobility exercises and everything else in between at the gym. What does this movement achieve? How will this make me more fit? Why do we do below parallel squats? The Why is something that is so easily lost when members are only focused on going through the motions because that is what they have been taught to do. This was a hard lesson for me to learn as a trainer. What we have to understand as athletes and even more so as coaches is that every second that we are training/coaching, understanding why we do what we do is the most important aspect of every lift. It isn’t hitting every position perfectly every time or lifting the heaviest in your weight class, it is the Why. I got into CrossFit for just this reason.
Eight years after Mr. Myron’s weight lifting class, I was introduced to CrossFit. It was the only program that carried a true definition of fitness. Using science and math, CrossFit eloquently defined fitness and how to achieve it. Much like my Mr. Myron did in my adolescence, CrossFit did what all other types of workouts and strength programs could not. It made me understand the Why. It was clear, concise, and proved by science. Everything else at this point in my fitness career was a marketing scheme to sell something or programs backed by corporations with other invested interests while the whole time never fully knowing who is right and who is wrong and why this was important. Greg Glassman changed that with the first CrossFit Journal article, what I like to refer to as my fitness bible, "What is Fitness?" by Greg Glassman. Coach Glassman gives a clear definition for fitness that no other person or program has been able to disprove. I encourage all of my athletes at Skyline CrossFit to read his journal entry to understand fitness and why we do it.
As athletes you must ask why. As coaches you must be able to explain the why. It is crucial as an athlete, daily wodder, or competitive athlete, to fully understand why you are doing what you are doing. You should be able to answer these questions: Why do you CrossFit? Why is working out legs more than once a week important for overall fitness? Why do we do full range of motion movements? Why the pullup is more beneficial than the curl for overall fitness? The list of questions is infinite. You should be able to answer and understand these questions for your own knowledge and to keep your eye on the focus of achieving fitness.
When trying to achieve goals you must understand how to achieve them. Auto Mechanics make the average person feel like complete idiots when they explain to a customer why their car is making a funny noise. Mechanics need to understand why every little part of the car is important and how it works. You are the mechanic of your body. Your tools are your workouts and the why is your gasoline. Sure, blindly going through a CrossFit class will make you more fit than you were, but we must come to a point where we want to excel and not just survive. To excel in CrossFit bleeds into all aspect of life. Understanding the Why is important with achieving any goal whether it be financial, personal, fitness, or career goals. So I say to you find your Why. Ask questions, do your research and never lose sight of Why this is important.