“Lessons from the Cave: the clean” by Alejandra Morisi

Last year I started a series of blog posts titled “Lessons from the Cave.” It’s meant to be blog posts with lessons that I’ve gleaned from specific movements and exercises that I’ve done at CrossFit Baltimore. I decided to start this series because of the profound experiences that I have at the gym. I often have “a-ha” moments that are applicable to many other aspects of my life outside of the gym.

It’s been nearly six months since my first post and I keep thinking that I need to write another blog post so this series is actually a series and not just something I said. Alas, here we are, so I’m going to get right to it and present you with the lessons I’ve gotten from the clean.

Since so many lessons come from our challenges and struggles, it will come as no surprise to you that I am picking exercises with which I’ve struggled. Maybe I’ll get so good at writing this series that I’ll eventually get to lessons with movements and exercises that have come easy to me. Though, if you do CrossFit, you know that sounds pretty ridiculous. Nothing comes easy here.

 Anyway, here we go:

·         Respect the barbell. I’m putting this here because it is so important. I almost named this “start with a lot of tension” and “start with intention” because how you step up to the bar is so important. You have to be very engaged and in the right position when you start in order to generate the most power. You can get tired just from holding the starting position! It is tough. But, the thing is, you can’t just step up to the bar and lift it with no tension looking like a noodle. And if you can’t hold the starting position, how do you plan to get through the entire lift? Energy gets lost if you’re a noodle. Lol. And bad form and technique may work up to a certain point. We’ve all seen people lift with poor technique. But, at some point, you will step up to a greater challenge. The weight will be heavier and maybe even something you’ve never lifted before. When you get to this bigger challenge, you will have to rely on technique and the work you’ve put in so far. So, if you don’t have it and can’t lift a certain weight, you might need to build the strength and technique in order to step up to the weight on the barbell. Respect that and prepare for it! It’s great to have “unreasonable” goals but you gotta be willing to show respect to them. Put your head down, put the work in before stepping up to that bar.

I look at some heavy weights and think, “what am I going to need to be the type of person who lifts THAT weight?” Another body? Just kidding! But, really, what do I need to do to be able to do this? How do I prepare? What can I do to meet the next challenge; to attain the next goal I want?

·         Release the grip on the bar. In Olympic weightlifting, we use something called a “hook grip” to hold the barbell. This is a method of holding the barbell by gripping the thumb between the barbell and the remaining fingers in your hand. Usually when we hold a bar or make a fist, the thumb lies on top of the other fingers. With the hook grip, the thumb is inside and the other fingers are on top. The hook grip is very secure and allows us to have a better grip while lifting through points of great acceleration and heavy weight.

You mainly use the hook grip through the first two pulls and then you are supposed to release it when the bar becomes weightless and travels to its final position.Well, I have a bad habit of holding on to the bar in a hook grip the entire time. This is not good. There is no need for me to be doing this the whole time and it gets in the way of the movement. Why do I insist on holding on to the weight even when it gets weightless? At some point, the load literally feels lighter (due to magical physics!) and there is no need to act like you are carrying it anymore. It reminds me of that saying, “Those mountains you were carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” Why do we continue to hold on to things when there is no need for it anymore? We do this with pain and the past. There is a time to let go. Holding on just gets in the way of what comes next.

Holding on to the hook grip slows down my elbows and can cause me to miss the entire lift! Know when to hold on and when to let go. You’re not mean to hold on to the weight the whole time.   

·         My legs are longer than I think they are. Okay, so I’m borrowing this lesson from something that our rowing coach, Brian, tells me all the time, “Your legs are longer than you think they are, Ale!” I’m mentioning it in this blog post because it shows up in my cleans as well. Funny how my bad habits creep up everywhere…

I am 5 feet 1.6 inches tall. I recently started thinking about how I perceive my own height when it comes to my clean and my rowing since Coach Brian kept on telling me the above. I have gone through this life being told that I am short. I am aware that I am short and I move as if I’m short. I have no complex about this but can see it show up in so many movements when I really think about it. I shorten movements, I pull early, and do some other weird stuff because I don’t have great body awareness. To give you a visual of this with reference to my legs, I’d pull the bar off the ground and as soon as it got to mid-THIGH, I would jump to complete the clean. MID THIGH! Or sometimes just past my freaking knees!

I didn’t play sports growing up so this has never really come up before. I think that, because I didn’t play sports, I also never developed body awareness like this. It is clear to me that this is a limiting belief. This is something subconscious that shows up in my habits and how I do things. And limiting beliefs don’t have to be “negative.” I don’t think mine is. But it is definitely something that has shaped the way I use my body to move without me being consciously aware of it. Which makes me think, what else is limiting us because of something we believe about ourselves? What have I internalized and made part of my identity/of who I am, that I don’t even see how it is shaping something I do today?

Read the next lesson for the good news related to this…

·         Sometimes you need another set of eyes.  Actually, you pretty much could always use another set of eyes.

I don’t feel very confident about the clean. For some time, I felt like I was regressing instead of even maintaining whatever skill level I had there. I hadn’t hit a number close to my 1 rep max in what feels like years. Also—and this is a very important factor—I’ve gotten hurt twice while doing cleans. I sprained a ligament in my left wrist in around 2013 and then I did something similar at the end of 2018. I’ve been recovering from this injury but it also really got me in my head about the clean.

I started dreading cleans and I would step up to the bar with no confidence and a really negative vibe. I tried to think of what I could do to fix it. I felt like I had to start from scratch with the clean in order to fix whatever was going on. So, I got help. I reached out to Tony and to Cora (Sarah Woodman) and asked Cora to coach me specifically with my clean.

This is actually the lesson that supports with all the previous lessons. Cora asked me to record myself doing some cleans before we even started working together. She studied them and one of the first things we worked on was my starting position. Some small changes made a world of difference! Through our work together, we also noticed and addressed my hook grip “situation” and have worked on “jumping tall” because I have longer legs than I think I do. And there’s a lot of other things that we’ve worked on.

It is amazing what you can learn from having someone else watch and coach you. Sometimes we think we are doing something when, in fact, we are not. I’m often impressed when Cora shares videos or her insight with me. Half of the time I have no clue that I’ve been doing some things she points out! And, guys, I realized why I got hurt those two times in the same way. It was all related to my technique and not getting my elbows through fast enough.

I believe in coaching in all areas of our lives. I feel fortunate to have the coaches that we do at CrossFit Baltimore. They are patient and truly care. I can’t point you in the direction of coaches for other areas of your life, but if you’re looking to improve your weightlifting, CrossFit Baltimore is now offering personalized weightlifting sessions by my very dear coach, Cora! So, if you feel the same about your clean, or your snatch or your jerk, sign up so Cora can work her magic with you.