Philosophy on Olympic Weightlifting

It was fun to hear Jon North on an old Barbell Shrugged podcast. He is the most phrenetic guy who I hate to love. I mean, you can’t help but like that guy. I followed his Weightlifting Talk podcast over the years and I still call myself a part of the Attitude Nation. He talks about his troubles in his writing about the Dark Orchestra. The guy really has a way with expression.

But sometimes, I feel like I’m being pulled into the darkness with him. He would often go on rants that, to me, were very ego-centric. Honestly, he is the most humble guy I know. He even admits that he has to do that brash, arrogant things to counter his dark, self-defeating thoughts. I understand all of that and love him for it. But its just hard to hear long rants on a regular basis. So I’d wander away from him and then get sucked right back into it again.

I could even tell the Barbell Shrugged hosts, Mike and Doug, were on their heels with some of the things Jon said. But they enjoy a free spirit more than most, so they took it in stride. What’s the funniest was the irony about Jon saying that we shouldn’t "Shrug" when we do the Olympic lifts. A shrug may happen, but cueing and coaching to shrug is wrong from his viewpoint. I think its all semantics and in the end it doesn’t matter much. But the irony was that he was dissuading a "shrug" on a "Barbell Shrugged" podcast.

Oh yeah…I’ve been writing this trying to remember why I am writing this.

On the philosophy of Olympic weightlifting. When I took my CrossFit level I training, my group trainer, Christmas Abbott, had some choice words to say when we were learning how to clean. We actually used wall balls (heavy weighted but soft on the outside). We worked on the set-up from the ground. We did the 1st pull to the knees. Then then 2nd pull to hip high, we were supposed to make contact with the ball in the finish. Otherwise, your hips weren’t coming forward and bringing yourself into full extension. The Triple Extension is where Jon North departs the discussion. Triple means, on your toes, knees straight, and hips completely forward or open. The point Christmas was making was getting your hips completely forward. So she’d actually yell at us saying "Hump the Ball, Hump the Ball". It was a very memorable time when you have this strong lady yelling right in your face while you are lifting.

Fast forward to a few years later when I was taking the CrossFit Weightlifting Trainers Seminar. Mind you, this was before I ran into Jon North and the California Strength crew. Mike Burgener is the key trainer for this seminar. But in Illinois, we had Fred Lowe, an accomplished Olympic lifter on the world stage. In the early day of Olympic weightlifting, it was a rule that your hip could not make contact with the bar. Bars would actually break, especially in Mexico and South America. But with newer technology and better equipment, you don’t see that happening anymore. The no hip contact rule was invalidated decades ago. But older lifters like Mike and Fred still abided by this idea. Bar path had to be vertical from ground to overhead. Triple extension and the sense of shrugging was necessary when you are trying to lift straight up. So, unlike Christmas Abbott, Fred would tell us in an Eastern European accent, "no sex with the bar". He said this over and over. He meant no contact with the hips to the bar. Hmmm?!

Along comes Jon North and his mentor, Donny Shankle. And still, if you watch California Strength videos or any pupils of legendary coaches like Gle,n Pendlay, bar contact is brutal!! You hear that rattle as the bar is pulled from the ground, the a loud double crash as the bar meets the hips and immediately into the shoulders. The path is totally not vertical either. It looks more like an S-curve. Burgener also says "when the elbows bend the power ends". I believed this for the longest time. That is, until Jon North. Bending the elbows to row the bar into your hip crease is essential in what Jon calls the "Catapult" method of lifting. Another legend, Don McCauley, was probably the originator of that name. It is so counter to the idea of triple extension lifting taught by CrossFit.

I think the worlds are slowly merging though. As Jon says, there really isn’t one correct style of lifting. He prefers catapult but understands variations from that. In CrossFit, if you are cycling a bar through from floor to overhead many times, hitting the bar to hips may not be helpful. And if the bar is light enough, then you can just move it in a more vertical path. But for heavy competition lifting, the catapult holds lots of merit. To each his or her own!

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