Fad Fitness: Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me!

Week 3: Learning to lift less "noodle-y"

“This is an Olympic weightlifting move. It’s going to take you thousands and thousands of reps to nail this one.” It was around 6:15am Tuesday morning, and our trainer, Josh Martinez, was struggling—bless his heart—to teach my three classmates and I something called a mid-hang power snatch with an empty, 45-pound barbell. At this point, though, I was only on my third rep ever and looked more like a drunken sports fan performing the wave than an Olympic weightlifter.

By way of a broad overview, the power snatch requires you to lift the bar off the ground; lower it to just above knee-height; then, in one swift, very tricky motion, stand straight up, jump in the air (with heavy weights!), throw the bar up over your head, squat down beneath it, and catch it (yes—catch!); then you stand straight up, keeping your elbows locked with the bar high in the air. When you break all of that down into its individual parts, there are something like eleventy moves (that’s a rough estimate, mind you) involved in getting the bar from the ground to way up over your head. It’s like advanced yoga, but with weights.

But Josh kept pushing us, breaking down the lift and having us perform weight-free drills that would get our muscles used to the mechanics. Still, every time I got ready to throw the bar up over my head—“95 percent of the force should be coming from your jump, not from your arms and shoulders”—I pictured every Olympic weightlifting fail I’d ever seen and reverted to bad form, lifting slower and steadier with my arms rather than using the jump.

Josh, for his part, looks like he was carved from steel, and performs many of these lifts better than anyone else at the gym. He’s on the posted leaderboard multiple times, for cleaning nearly 300 pounds and squatting even more. But when I lift, I look like I’m carved from, well, noodle. “Take a deep breath before you lift,” Josh says, “so your core stays tight and you don’t get so noodle-y.”

But this is the point of Foundations. To take it slow, to ingrain some muscle memory, to barely put any weight on the barbell until each athlete is ready for it. “Alright,” Josh says, “that’s good enough for today. I just want you to get the basics here.”

And that’s really all I will get, since in three straight days of class (one a make-up for missing a class over Thanksgiving) I’ve tried wrapping my head around lifts including the press, push press, push jerk, overhead squats, front squats, mid-hang power cleans and the dreaded mid-hang power snatch. Needless to say, there is a lot of weightlifting in CrossFit. Each day, I discovered new ways of looking awkward with a bar in my hand, and each night I discovered new—sadly, very sore—muscles.

By the time 5:50am Thursday rolled around, and we were ready to repeat the benchmark WOD from our first class, I felt like a new, more hobbled man. For a refresher, that workout was:

• 270m run
• 3 sets each at 21, 15 and 9 reps of:
–air squats
–ring rows
• 270m run

The first time around, I did it in 8 minutes, 42 seconds, and the sit-ups gave me more trouble than anything else. Now, in my semi-broken state, the only goal I could muster—and it seemed like a distant one—was faster. We sipped from our water bottles, milled around quietly and—clearing the butterflies from our stomachs—looked anything but psyched (I like to think it was steely determination). “You guys ready?!” Josh yelled. Silence. “OK, go!”

Out into the 33-degree dawn we ran, pushing hard toward the end of the block in shorts and t-shirts, trying our best to outrun the cold. I made it back inside first and dug into air squats (five down before the second person, Paul, made it back) then sit-ups then ring rows. The first round went well, but by the second round of ring rows, my shoulders were full of lactic acid, and aching. A press WOD (20 seconds of dumbbell thrusters, 10 seconds of rest, for eight sets) the night before had done me in. I decreased the angle I was standing at, reducing the weight I was lifting, and kept on. During the third set, Paul caught up to me.

“Let’s go, Paul,” I gasped, trying my best to be encouraging as we jogged for the door (God help my future children if I’m ever called on to coach a team and, you know, be encouraging). I sprinted ahead of him down the block and, as I passed him after the turnaround, Paul called out, “Nice work!” I grunted. Farther down the block, Steve, then his wife, Alex, passed me heading outbound. “Nice run!” she enthused. I continued silently, digging deep now in my final sprint. Finally at Josh’s side, my chest heaving and hands on my knees, he clocked my finishing time: 8 minutes, 32 seconds.

Group classes, here I come.

Class 5 (Tuesday)
Focus Lifts/Movements
• Overhead Squats
• Mid-Hang Power Snatch
• Front Squat
• Mid-Hang Power Clean
• Wall Ball
• Burpees

Workout (WOD) (8x)
• 20 seconds wall ball
• 20 seconds burpees

Class 4 (Wednesday, make-up)
Focus Lifts/Movements
• Strict Pull-up
• Press
• Push Press
• Push Jerk
• Thrusters
• Dumbbell Thrusters

Workout (WOD) (8x)*
• 20 seconds dumbbell thrusters
• 10 seconds rest

Class 6
• Test Out (see above)

About the Project: The Active Times' Fad Fitness Challenge is a six-week-long project in which five hapless writers will immerse themselves in five popular fitness programs—CrossFit (at CrossFit South Brooklyn), Insanity, Barre, Flywheel and Kettlebell classes—for the dual purposes of getting in shape and evaluating them for our readers. We guinea pigs will bust our butts, burn calories and discover muscles we'd long since mothballed and, if all goes well, emerge into the New Year with a well-rounded perspective of the top fitness fads. Check back every weekday from now until the New Year to come along for the ride without breaking a sweat. Click here to check out the rest of the programs.