Power Cleans. (get out of your own way.)


I've been working on barbell cleans lately.

Until recently a kettlebell purist, barbells have brought some serious kickassery into my life : novelty, challenge, strength and a really good crying jag. (If you haven't met me, I consider crying jags bad ass.) I dove into to learning a new form of strength with the belief "I pick up heavy shit all the time. This will be easy!" Nope.

The conventional deadlift was my first real foray into barbell lifting. I assumed I'd automatically be a champ! Swings all day, b@#$. I can deadlift. A 1.5 x Bodyweight deadlift humbled me quickly as I figured out that my autopilot for kettlebells wasn't translating and that - more frighteningly - I was running up against an invisible barrier in my mind.  One pull would be fine. 5# more and my practice would end in frustration because the bar wouldn't even move.

I then tackled power cleans. The first few were easy. "Just get this thing into the front rack, duh!" I felt like an athlete. A goddess of heavy objects.

Yeah. Apparently it's easy to basically bicep curl an 85# bar with a little leg boost. It's another story to actually power clean a 115# bar with appropriate technique. I missed three cleans in a row in my attempt to use correct form & bar path. The next few minutes is a little blurry and filled with a lot of "I'mfine.reallyi'mfine." I ended up walking around the neighborhood with my coach, intermittently crying and swearing up and down I was fine and that there was just something in my eye.

Here's where this story gets interesting (if you were waiting for that part): I spent the next few days wondering why the actual f!@# I had missed that lift. It wasn't anything I couldn't manage. I was strong enough to complete the lift. But in some way...

My "failure" was serving me.

When I stepped back and took a look at the current state of affairs in my life, I realized that my "failures" (air quotes because I'm notoriously hard on myself) were all a product of unmet needs. In a very personal way, not completing that lift and several of my other current goals was making sure this unmet need got touched.  It was forcing a vulnerability that I was unwilling or unable to exhibit day to day. (This is called secondary gains, the concept that a not-ideal behavior or state is actually giving you something back. And that concept nailed me right in the bicep curls.)

SO I spent the last few weeks taking a really good look at those behaviors, those needs and the path ahead of me. There is a lot of power clean practice, personal transition and vulnerability in my immediate future. But when I went back to the gym yesterday, I successfully, repeatedly (and rather nicely if I do say so myself) cleaned and jerked  100#. 115# isn't far behind if I keep working on the internal brake system that is keeping me from reaching out for help and making progress.

Here's the question: What not-ideal behavior or symptom is serving you so well that you're unable to release it?


It's a freaking scary question, because pain, fear, failure can all be really safe places to live. Last year I was sick 9 out of 12 months. Why? Because running a new studio while my husband pushed through 2nd Year Law School at UW Madison was HARD.  Being sick meant I got to take a break and lay down for a few days without anyone questioning me! (Also I was doing childcare and tiny humans are germ cesspools.)

Humans with back pain give themselves permission to lay down.

Humans with compulsive eating behaviors give themselves permission to feel numb.

Humans with phobias give themselves permission to stay safe.

When we don't freely give ourselves permission, we'll come up with a reason to require it.

Take a quick look inward at your bad ass power-cleaning-the-barbell-of-life self and ask "Where do I need permission? Where do I need care? Where do I need vulnerability? And how am I creating an environment (for better or worse) where I get that?"

When you get the answer, send me an email and let me know how things start to shift. I'd be honored to share the journey.