I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this advice in the gym. From coaches to workout buddies to YouTube videos, “be aggressive” seems to be one of the most popular Olympic weightlifting cues.
Which makes sense. The Olympic lifts — the snatch and clean — rely on a transfer of power from the hip to the barbell. There is a magic moment when the glutes squeeze tight and the hips open up. When done correctly, there is an explosion that propels the barbell from the hip pocket up into the air, before it comes to rest overhead or in the front rack, depending on which lift you’re doing.
This powerful movement is commonly described as “explosive,” “violent” and “aggressive.” Which all make sense.
There’s just one problem. I’m none of these things.
I’m not inwardly or outwardly aggressive. I don’t have pent-up aggression that I can “release” in a lift. Yes, exercise helps keep me sane by fighting the effects of chronic life stress.
But I never have a bad day at work and think to myself, “I’ll take it out on the bar.”
In general, I’m quiet. I avoid confrontation and I smile a lot. It takes a lot to get me worked up and not much to get me to calm down. Whether this is good or bad, healthy or not, is something best left for a therapist to figure out.
For me, and for the purposes of this post, it means one thing: The most common lifting cues go right over my head.
When someone encourages me to “be aggressive” with the barbell, it just doesn’t compute.
Instead I have flashbacks to my previous life as a teenage cheerleader in New Jersey, where we encouraged the boys’ basketball team to “Be aggressive. B-E aggressive. B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E. Be aggressive! Wooooo!” (There’s no better illustration of multi-tasking than girls who can spell, clap and fling each other in the air at the same time.)
I love nostalgia as much as the next gal, but it does nothing to help me achieve a successful lift.
So what did I do? I tried to force it.
I’d throw shade at the bar, staring it down as I stepped up to the platform. I’d move quickly and purposefully, hooking my fingers around the iron and squeezing my butt as tight as humanly possible. I’d take a deep breath, accelerate from the ground and… wait.
Wait for the bar to collide with my hips.
This rarely, if ever, happened. I’d pull too soon and muscle the bar up. My maxes only increased as my upper body strength did. I stalled out on both the clean and snatch months ago, and finally the snatch and I went through a little break-up.
Then, during a snatch demo in Asheville last month, I heard three magic words: Tap, tap, purr.
The bar “taps” the hip. The bar “purrs” when it leaps into the air.
This was new. I gave it a try.
Once, twice I tapped the bar against my hip. Then I jumped and squeezed.
The bar literally purred like a wild cat, rattling and shivering as it bounced past my face.
I tried it from the high hang, the low hang and finally from the floor. I tried it with pulls and full snatches. I added some weight. And then a little more.
With each challenge, as my strength and skill gave out, the purr got softer. But the auditory and sensory cues — the rattle of the bar echoing in my ears and the shiver against my hands — were still there.
Not to get hyperbolic or anything. This cue — which I now refer to the “Tao of Tap, Tap, Purr,” courtesy of Jen Sinkler — didn’t save my snatch. Far from it. I didn’t magically PR. Any discernible improvement is probably all in my head, at least for the time being. But it allowed me to see the lift in a new light.
Power and strength do not necessarily correspond to aggression. Power and strength can come from a place of quiet and calm. They don’t have to come at the expense of a smile.
So off I go. Time to make it purr