I have written about my weightlifting experiences on this blog on previous occasions. (Sometimes, about my experiences with, feelings about, and lessons learned from, particular lifts like the squat or the clean.) Today, I am writing about watching others lift weights. More specifically, I am watching some friends of mine complete the so-called Crossfit Total: three attempts to establish maximum weights at the one lift of the back squat, deadlift and press.(I have also written on a pair of Crossfit Totals I have attempted in the past).
So why is watching other people lift a good idea?
For one thing, it is straightforwardly educational. Part of the process of becoming a good weightlifter is to study lifting technique and form. But studying weightlifting doesn’t just mean looking at YouTube videos or reading books about it (though both of those are certainly very useful activities and I have done my fair share). Yet another way to study it is to watch others lift weights–with an appraising eye. There is a wonderful variety in the human form: height, weight, the length of the legs and arms, the flexibility of hamstrings or the shoulder joints, all of which make a difference to the ease or difficulty of executing lifts. (Lifters with short legs have an easier time with the squat for instance; taller people face their own particular challenges when deadlifting.) A Total provides an opportunity to inspect the form of a diverse set of lifters attempting to resolve their own particular idiosyncratic take on a lift. Watching lifters solve these problems–sometimes on the fly, sometimes under extreme stress–is edificational in the extreme.Watching lifters lift close to the limits of their capacities is also instructional: how does their form change as they approach that maximum? Part of developing a strong critique of one’s own lifting is to look for common faults and see if they show up in these stress situations. Every lift, every attempt is a veritable laboratory, a chance to look and learn, and troubleshoot.
Then there is the inspirational aspect of it all. The lifters at this Total have finished eight weeks of training, they have worked hard three times a week, lifting progressively heavier weights building up to this crescendo. Now, they are faced with a test of that training and hard work. Some of the lifters are relative novices, having started from a baseline of not being able to lift very much weight at all. Yet others are more experienced hands, capable of squatting or deadlifting twice their bodyweight. But in each case, the effort remains the same: they strive for their limits, trying to find out how hard they can push themselves, whether they have it in them to dig themselves out of the ‘squatters hole’, whether they can find it in themselves to execute each lift as it gets harder and harder. Lifting is not easy; the platform is often an arena where one’s fears and anxieties bubble up to the surface; a weight on one’s back can be an implacable foe. Watching an ordinary human being master these fears is euphoria inducing in its own way.
Lastly, the simultaneous simplicity and complexity. of weightlifting is a marvel in its own right. Yes, all of it just boils down to: pick a weight up off the floor; raise a weight above your head; stand up with a weight on your back. But in each case, the devil lies in the details. Inspecting those details is where the fun begins.