It feels heavy off the floor, when I know it shouldn’t. I pull harder, it gets lighter, and I shrug that motherfucker up as hard as I can. Newton’s 3rd law makes the weight feel heavy through my shoulders, down into my heels, but I know I’ve pulled it high enough. I’m on the way down.

And it drops in front of me.

“You got behind the bar,” Coach tells me. This means I let my chest rise too early, which makes it easy to get off the floor, but makes it a lot harder to throw up once the bar’s past my knees. “Keep your chest over it, wait it out.”

Coach always says he was like me. He wasn’t a notable lifter in his time, maybe placed top 3 a couple times at Nationals, which isn’t a big deal in the US. I was just like you, I’d blow through my warm-ups and up to ninety-percent without blinking an eye, but I always lost my shit when I started pushing beyond that, I wasn’t very consistent with heavier weights. I always had to really get my shit together when it really mattered. This is what separates the greats, the good athletes from the joes, folks like me: they’re not afraid of shit, and if they are, they don’t care, they’ll move and pull like there’s no other possible outcome to the lift other than success. Average folks, we recognize when something isn’t going to happen, we recognize those things and acknowledge them.

I read somewhere about a theory, that the psychological state was the driving force behind physiological ability, that a weightlifter was not physically capable of lifting a weight until he already lifted it, that is, until he attempted a weight that he knew without a doubt he could succeed in lifting, despite the fact that he had not lifted that much weight before. The greats have this science developed to like the Nuclear Age. Everyone else is still basing it on ancient religious texts where sticks turn into snakes.

There’s a difference between pulling the bar up, and a good first and second pull. If you’re just worried about getting the bar off the floor, you’re going to adopt the positions that allow you to do this with the greatest mechanical advantage. You obviously want to get upright as quickly as possible, so your chest is going to rise faster, and you’re going to want to get your shoulders behind the bar, so that you’re actually pulling, rather than standing with the weight, it makes it a lot easier to move the weight this way.

If you want to throw the weight up, snatch or clean it, you’ve got to do the exact opposite: keep the shoulders over the bar, maintain your back angle, and this just happens to be a lot harder than moving the weight as efficiently as possible.

I sit on a bench for a few minutes, let my heart rate drop, get my head right. I tell myself, Stay over the bar. Wait it out. When I feel ready I stand over the bar again, get into my start position, and take a big breath. Pull.

It feels heavy again, but I keep my hips pushed back and my chest where it is in relation to the bar. But it feels fucking heavy, there’s no way I’m going to be able to pull this –

My coach is yelling before the weight hits the platform again, I almost can’t hear him as the blood rushes out of my head, “For fuck’s sake, just trust the fucking technique. Hold your positions, and when you get under there, get under it like you mean it.”

You get frustrated when shit like this happens, when you know you’re just being a pussy, when all you’ve got to do is take a real, legitimate swing and it’s yours. You think of about a dozen things regarding your inescapable inadequacy you don’t need to be thinking about right now, and it’s in moments like these that you lose a little bit of your sanity.

I say fuck it, I might die trying this weight today, it might crush my wrist, elbow, and shoulder in quick, merciless succession on the way down, but I’m going out swinging. I say this, but inside I’m thinking, this is the minute in which I die. This is when I lose the use of my left arm. This is the fucking end.

But I chalk up again, get back onto the platform and get into my start position. I take a big breath, slow, and a million thoughts turn to zero, what if what if what if into nothing, and I pull against an immovable object that miraculously starts moving. Keep the chest over the bar, pull it in with the lats, get the knees around it and keep the hips pushed back, slow, slow, slow, it’s grinding up my thighs, now, I pull, there’s no way I pulled hard enough but I’m getting under anyways and it’s there, overhead, right where it needs to be and I stand.

I drop the weight and Coach says, Let’s see what another five-k looks like.

I say, “Sure,” my A-game just took over, this is where I get my shit together. I sit on the bench, let the sweat dribble down my body a minute or two, like residue fear leaving my system. Wipe my brow, it’s go time, let’s fuckin roll.

Another 5k on the bar, two black discs added to the plates already loaded. Big breath, pull, and it’s the same fuckin story, it’s heavy, a lot heavier than 5k should feel, but I trust the technique, that’s what it’s all about, adhering to form, holding my positions –

I miss it. Almost get crushed underneath the weight but I push myself away and roll onto my ass. “Fuck,” I say, “What’d I do wrong?”

Coach says, “Nothing, it was a good pull.”

My wrist is already getting sore, either from pushing myself out from under the weight or from falling back shortly after. I’m going to feel this for a week and I’ve got nothing to show for it. “So what happened?”

“Trust the technique,” he says. “Too much weight.”


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