Progress... Twice as Hard for Half as Much
In the spring of 1993, I was snatching 120 kilos (264 lbs). I was twenty years old and I had been training as an Olympic lifter for about three years. In my workouts at this time, I was usually doing my snatch pulls with 135-140 kilos. This weight was so heavy…I wondered how the hell I would ever be able to snatch it. It felt like I was trying to drag the Titanic off the floor of the ocean.
But I snatched 137.5 for the first time a year and a half later, in the summer of 1994.
This is good progress, but it isn’t exceptionally rare. I’m telling you about it to make a point; if you’re a newbie, this is what you can and should expect. There will be a great time period in the early years of your career when you’re setting new PRs almost constantly. You’ll be clean and jerking a certain weight, and then a year later you can snatch it. This is when you feel bullet-proof, invincible…like the weightlifting gods sent you to this earth to spray your awesomeness all over everybody.
If you don’t make this kind of progress in the beginning, that’s a problem. There could be a few possible reasons why:
A) You might be training wrong- Improper programming, not enough emphasis on technical skill development. If you (or your coach) are one of those people who thinks you’re going to make progress in the OLifts by focusing on heavy squats and deadlifts, your progress will be slower than the people who practice the competition lifts a lot.
B) Spreading yourself too thin- You’re trying to be an OLifter at the same time you’re trying to be a triathlete, Crossfitter, dwarf tosser, or whatever. If you want to be a jack-of-all-trades, that’s fine. But you have to accept that you probably won’t make amazing progress in the OLifts. You’ll get some improvement, but not as much as you want or expect. This sport is hard enough to master when you’re devoting full-time focus to it. If you’re part-timing it, you’ll never make it to the top.
C) You’re a crusty old geezer- Maybe you decided to start Olympic lifting when you’re not exactly a young tiger anymore. You’re at an advanced age, your joints don’t bend very well, you have an enlarged prostate, you read a lot of online articles about Botox, you sometimes crap your pants a little without being aware of it, whatever. I love it when people decide to become weightlifters in their older years and I think it’s one of the best things you can do, but you have to be realistic about the progress you’re going to make. It probably won’t happen as fast as it will for a teenager (but don’t get discouraged and quit because of that).
Still, you’ll probably make a lot of improvement even if these things are true simply because you’re starting from the bottom and you have nowhere to go but up.
Enjoy these PR bonanza days, because anybody with long-term experience in weightlifting knows exactly what I’m gonna say next…
You’ll hit a wall at some point. As my coach used to say, “You start reaching a point where you have to work twice as hard to make half as much progress.” This is the best statement I’ve ever heard to describe those time periods when the PRs start to get fewer and farther between.
When you reach this phase, your frustration will get pretty hot. I recommend that you find something you can hit regularly. A punching bag would work, or maybe a small child who doesn’t show much potential.
(I’m just kidding, don’t hit things. I’ve done plenty of that and it doesn’t help.)
A lot of people want to start changing everything when the progress slows down. They think, “What I used to do isn’t working anymore, so I need to do something different.” Sometimes this might be true…but sometimes it isn’t. When your PRs start getting higher and harder to beat, it doesn’t necessarily mean your program is wrong. You can easily get sucked into a pattern where you’re constantly changing how you do things, and that’s not good. You keep wanting to rearrange your technique or routine because the previous change didn’t lead to any improvement. Before you know it, all you’re doing is jumping from one rock to another. Having good coaches and actually LISTENING to them can make this a lot easier.
I once heard a coach say, “Everything works, but nothing works forever.” I disagree with both parts of that idea. There are some things that clearly don’t work, and there are also things that definitely work forever. Trying to become a better Olympic lifter by using all the newest strength fads you read about on the internet doesn’t work. Mastering the technique of the full competition lifts and improving your squat strength works forever.
Here’s a little thought about making progress. Have you ever chopped down a tree? It didn’t topple to the ground the first time you hit it with the axe, did it? Nope. You had to keep swinging and whacking at it, over and over and over. It took a lot of blows to knock that damn thing down, but you finally did it. You might have had to make a few adjustments while you were doing it, like changing the angle of your axe swings or adjusting your grip on the handle. But it basically came down to simply putting in a lot of effort over a long period of time. That’s how weightlifting works, jack.