Lately I’ve been thinking about exercise, mainly because I’ve been experimenting with Crossfit. Too much has been written about the good and bad of Crossfit, this isn’t one of those posts. What I’m interested in is some of the exercises people do at Crossfit, and how they make me think about how we use our bodies to do work.

Crossfit emphasizes Olympic weight lifts — the clean and jerk and the snatch. They’re both techniques for getting weight from the ground to over your head. With the clean and jerk you do it in two movements, the snatch involves one continuous movement. Both require a large amount of skill, and even people who have been doing them for awhile tend to be pretty terrible at it.

All but the most skilled can lift more weight using simpler approaches. What’s interesting, though, is that if you can perform these lifts well, you’ll be able to lift more weight than an equally strong person could using other techniques. Mastery enables you to make the most of your own physical potential.

Olympic weightlifting teaches you to be an expert in using a particular tool (your body) for a specific task (getting some weight from the ground to over your head). It’s is a pure example of a case where doing things the hard way takes a person further than easier paths can provide.

I find this really motivating. Currently I am at the point where I feel my weakest when I’m trying to do the proper Olympic lifts. The simpler the approach, the more effective I am. I am intrigued, though, by the idea of learning how to use my own body like an expert.