A female during the second pull of a barbell snatch at CrossFit 204.
A female during the second pull of a barbell snatch at CrossFit 204.

It would be easier to win the lottery if you knew the winning numbers in advance.

Same deal with weightlifting. 

It’s easier to lift the bar if you know exactly where it’s going to be.

The other day, I was lifting with Crystal and she asked if she should try a missed clean again. It would have been a PR lift, but I suggested we move on instead of trying to get lucky.

Crystal had the strength and power to make the lift. There was no question about that. But in the sets leading up to the PR attempt, she was swinging the bar away from her.

At lighter weights, the error doesn’t create misses. The bar swings out a bit and loops back to the athlete, who is strong enough to receive it in a less-than-ideal position before grinding through a squat that’s more difficult than it has to be. At heavier loads, the error ensures miss after miss. 

A male performs a barbell snatch during the 2015 CrossFit Games Open.
With practice, you’ll know exactly where the bar is going and increase your confidence significantly.

Crystal pulled the PR attempt and almost made the lift. I’m certain she would have if the bar had been in the right spot—about an inch closer to her torso—but neither of us knew for certain that it would go there on a subsequent attempt. 

We decided to pack it in a make a note to work on positioning to fix this error. That way we could make the lift with confidence rather than luck the next time we attempted it.

Lucky lifting is very common, but it’s a shortcut. The best example is when a bar owns an athlete and pulls him or her forward. All the athlete’s weight goes into the toes, the bar swings away from the body, and the athlete jumps forward, pulled by the bar. In some cases, the athlete happens to jump to exactly the spot where the bar was flung, and if the weight is relatively light and the athlete is strong, a lucky lift is made. 

But it’s not a good lift.

The tempting mistake is to consider the lift an unmitigated success, adjust goals upward and then continue flinging bars and getting lucky about 5 percent of the time. Many, many people do this. 

The smarter play is stowing the ego, backing the weight down and then drilling positioning and mechanics. Fix the errors at very light loads, then work back up. If the error is truly gone, the PR bar will be in the right spot and the lift will be made. And more PRs will follow quickly. At that point, when mechanics and positioning are sound, it’s time to focus on becoming brutally strong—which is easier than becoming precise.

Ever notice how world records usually look “easy”? I once read that it’s because they have to look easy. The loads are so heavy that tiny errors make the lifts impossible. If the bar is in the perfect spot, the athlete doesn’t have to struggle with a tremendous load he or she simply can’t lift if it’s not in the correct spot.

My advice: Enjoy the lucky PRs but recognize them for what they are. And listen to your coach when he or she says “leave it there for today.” That’s your cue to fix some errors so you can hit a PR that feels easy.

When lifting, it’s always better to be good than lucky.

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