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Grooving the Pattern.

I want you to visualize your morning routine: the first 100 steps of your day, the way you cook your breakfast, or how you take a shower and brush your teeth, and get into your car and to head out to your job or school. Throughout this process, how consciously aware of your movements are you? Do you remember all the small minute details of your morning routine, or have you programmed your body well enough that it functions to a certain degree without much interaction of conscious effort? I can attest to the fact that I have left my house uncertain if I had closed my garage door because my morning routine is so engrained in me that I am able to lend my focus to other activities while muscle memory takes over. The ability to perform tasks well and without conscious effort is the same way you should begin to think about approaching a bar before any lift.

Olympic lifting movements contain instantaneous decisions, part which are conscious and part which are subconscious. There is little to no room for self correction while executing these moments. In order to perform the olympic lifts well, you have to begin to eliminate as much thought process to the movement as possible. It should be secondhand nature, just like your morning routine. The lifts require your body to be able to contract and relax antagonistic muscle groups in the fraction of a second. A valuable way to improve fluidity during movements involves solidifying the approach to the bar. This eliminates your time under tension and saves energy, allowing you to excel at the rest of the movement pattern.

If you have spent any time with our coaches in the box, you have more than likely heard us talk about approaching the bar and how important it is to aptly perform whichever movement we are taking on that day. Bar approach can be handled several ways, but for simplicity sake, I want you to think about a top-to-bottom approach and a bottom-to-top approach. I, personally, use both techniques depending on which lift we are using during our strength and met-con. It becomes a question of what is more comfortable for yourself and what places you into a good position to begin a lift. Without getting into excruciating detail of what these approaches look like, just imagine beginning to brace from a position of height versus a low position and initiating your pull. If you have more questions or want to work on what those positions look like in person, come down to the box and I will be more than happy to help you.

The idea of bar approach, or grooving the pattern, is that it begins to eliminate two things: time under tension and fluctuation in the starting position. Both of these faults are what can, and most often will, interfere with an athlete’s ability to perform a lift well. The more time you spend under tension, or hovering over the bar attempting to decide if you are in a good position, the more the contractile forces of your muscle fibers begin to decrease (ultimately, driving at muscle tetanus, which is simply a rapid stimulation of a muscle fiber until its locked and unable to relax).

Digressing a bit, what I am talking about is muscle fatigue and movement inefficiency. The longer you hang over the bar, the more you are tiring your system out. Forgo raising and lower your hips, rolling your shoulders back, flexing and extending your back, attempting to brace your trunk, shifting your feet, and the countless other components that go into gripping the bar and executing the movement. If you are skeptical about what I’m talking about and do not believe you are less efficient while spending excessive time placing yourself into position, then I would ask you (under the supervision of your coach) to try a snatch, or a clean or a squat. Perform the movement twice. Once with some urgency and the next with some lack of direction, hang out over the bar, take some time, look at your feet, shift your hips back and forth. You will undoubtedly feel more fatigue, have less strength, decrease speed, and an overall decrease efficiency within the movement.

Grooving the pattern is a skill, and just like any other skill, it takes time and practice. Instead of that extra rep (or five) that you all like to sneak in after we’ve finished the strength component, take some time and work on your bar approach. Find what works for you and engrain that into your mind, so on those days when you are feeling like you’re going to PR your snatch or clean, you have one less thing to be worried about. One less thing to stop you from reaching your goal.

You’ll be one step closer to greatness.

Kyle Habdo