Article written by Travis Jewett
I travel to a lot of gyms and talk to a lot of coaches and athletes. As a part of the MobilityWOD staff and the CrossFit Mobility Seminar staff I get asked all sorts of questions regarding exercise performance and selection. As someone who has been putting a bar on his back for over twenty years, I feel I have a lot of experience in training. I have made a long lifting career of performing the basics and constantly refining my skills and every now and then signing up for a powerlifting meet (my competitive outlet of choice) and putting myself on the platform. What I have found is lifters with relatively less experience and training age are always looking for that one extra exercise someone who is stronger and more famous or from a different country is doing that will take their performance to the next level. I am here to tell you it is a fallacy and a pipe dream.
Depending on what you are training for, there is a big question to consider when looking at that new cool exercise Klokov or the North Vietnamese and Chinese weightlifting team is doing; does it make sense with my goals and what I am looking to accomplish in my training. Many new trainees fall into the trap of what the elite are doing and never consider the difference in training age. Lifters on the international stage are typically in their early to mid-twenties and have been lifting, starting with a broomstick, since between 8-10 years old. This gives them a training age of 10-12 years. Most people who ask me if they should include the Klokov press or pancake good mornings after they witnessed it on Instagram are in their thirties and started lifting weights 6 months to 2 years ago, giving them a training age of 6 months to 2 years. This is an extremely important distinction to make as not only an athlete, but a coach.
Let us back track a minute and discuss this concept of training age. Training age is best described as the time from the first time you decided lifting weights should be part of your life until now. If today is the first day you ever walked into my gym and you say to me, “Travis, I have never lifted weights on a barbell in my entire life,” your training age for all intents and purposes is zero. If this is the case, the last thing on my mind is teaching you how to snatch. I need to see if you can even create a stable spine and hinge at the hip or push your hips back and do something that looks like squatting. I need to decide if you can properly organize your shoulder to hold a PVC pipe overhead or push yourself off the ground. Then we need many reps of basic moves and develop a certain level of competency in your ability to move with an external load. I also need to consider if your body is currently capable of even achieving the necessary positions to load safely. You many have some homework ahead of you to unglue your body from old injuries and the stresses of daily life. Unfortunately due to the plethora of information and videos hanging around on the internet people begin to take an extremely narrow view of their training journey. This is about mastery and continuing to train well into old age (whatever that means to you). This is not about how quickly you can get yourself to catch a full snatch. In fact, due to your goals, this may never even be necessary.
Recently I decided to attend a StrongFirst kettlebell certification course. At these courses there is a challenge referred to as the Beast Tamer. To conquer this you have to perform one press, one pistol and one pull up with a 48kg kettlebell. I have done a lot of kettlebell pressing in the past but nothing that heavy. I reached out to Pavel and he was gracious enough to help me plan. Guess what I am doing? A lot of pressing with weights 75-80% of 48kg. There is no magic formula or exercise I need to add to my training that is going to get me to my goal faster. It is about manipulating volume and intensity around my goal and improving my efficiency with a broad base of relatively heavy technical work with a fairly high degree of specificity. Is it boring? It can be. I am also someone who gets excited about finding different nuances in the path of the kettlebell and how increases in my ability to create tension improve speed and mechanical efficiency of the lift. I am also not going to add anything to my training, especially being only a month away, which is going to detract from the goal. This has even more importance as I have asked for the help of a coach and if I add anything he did not tell me to do and it leads to me failing, whose fault is it?
Please new lifters do not get wrapped up in what people far ahead of you in training age are doing. Variety for the sake of variety is a dead end and a novice mistake. You can get very strong and make tremendous gains for a very long time doing relatively few lifts. I still refine my squat, bench and deadlift after over 20 years of training. If Olympic lifting is your thing and you are new, Klokov presses and pancake good mornings are not going to make your snatch next level, practicing more efficient snatches will. These things can be fun and exciting to watch but remember the difference between them and you. If you are someone who employs a coach, do not ask why these things are not part of your training or add them in yourself. This is a one way ticket to a throat punch.
Travis Jewett is a Chiropractor, MobilityWOD Staff Member, CrossFit L1 and CrossFit Movement and Mobility Seminar Staff Member. He runs a clinic and a “gym” in Iowa referred to as The Yard. He can be found in Iowa if you happen to live there or on the Facebook page for The Yard. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.