The weekend of Jan. 10, I had the pleasure of attending the Orange County Throwdown exercising competition in Southern California. It seems every time I attend a CrossFit competition, people get the impression that I watch in horror when they start doing the lifts, but this weekend was much more than that. There was some good lifting, ugly lifting, running (gross, right?), extra high wall balls, sled drags in the sand, and did I mention it rained half the weekend? I thought I would take this opportunity to go ahead and write about the weekend as a whole, as an athlete from another sport watching from not quite the point of view of the regular fan.
Before we even started the weekend at the OCT, Ariel Stephens and I hosted a weightlifting workshop at Crossfit Tustin with the help of Russell McCarthy, coach of Kilofornia Barbell. It was a full room full of great people. The growth of the sport of weightlifting in Southern California is amazing. There were some weightlifters, some CrossFitters, and some who compete in both. For me, it was amazing to get such interest, and the willingness to learn was fantastic. We covered the lifts with a focus on one common issue for each the snatch, clean, and jerk. If you are in the Southern California region, keep an eye on the events put on by Juggernaut, because I have a feeling there will be a lot more great opportunities like these. Let’s get back to the competition.
One event was a snatch ladder. Of course, someone asks me: “How much do you cringe watching CrossFitters do the lifts?” To be honest, not as much as you think, and nowhere near as much as even 2 years ago. Of course there was some ugly lifting. There’s some ugly lifting at weightlifting meets as well! This ladder included snatch doubles. They really weren’t that bad. A few of the athletes I knew personally and had worked with before. Some that I had never seen or heard of moved quite well. CrossFitters are approaching the level they should be at in the lifts. They shouldn’t be as good as strict weightlifters because, well, they don’t do it as much and they do other activities on top of it. But, they should be better than the vast majority of other athletes because it is a competitive aspect of their sport. The ladder was followed by a whole bunch of shuttle running, which back in my days of playing football or judo wouldn’t have been an issue, but now – gross. Overall, I was impressed by the technical prowess of the athletes as far as it pertains to snatching. I will not go into what I thought of other aspects of the competition because I’m here to talk about weightlifting. Ariel and I took some time in the afternoon to get a decent training session in on the supposed-to-be exhibition area. Ariel worked up to an impressive 99%-ish snatch on a slightly uneven surface with a number of cameras flashing in her face. She was going to do an exhibition/seminar, but since it was Friday afternoon and most of the fans were still at work, Chad made the call to push hers to Saturday along with mine. I worked up to a medium 130kg snatch pull plus snatch then hit some front squats up to 193kg and mixed in a few down doubles at 180. Zygmunt programmed around the plan to work up to something moderately heavy on Saturday when I was supposed to do my speaking/coaching/exhibition on the snatch. As unlikely as it could be, the weather in Orange County didn’t cooperate.
Rain. How often does it really rain in SoCal? I mean, honestly?! The Juggernaut booth still had a few visitors, but clearly, a lot of people didn’t make the trip to watch the competition. My big part in the weekend was the exhibition. Of course the exhibition area was outside and uncovered (well, now it was covered in rain). Turns out, Spencer Moorman was also going to do something over at the Caffeine and Kilos tent, which was also outside and now covered in rain. So, in this inconvenience, the battle was born! We were to go lift-for-lift against each other until someone missed. This was going to be done on the main competition floor during a break between events. Now at this point, I have snatched over 150kg only once since World Championships back in November, and it took me five shots to hit it. Clearly, things haven’t been going well. Spencer had his meniscus worked on something like 9 weeks ago. Neither of us were really thinking anything big was going to happen, and we would have been okay with less than what we hit, to be honest. We started with 120kg, then 130, and 140. I started to wonder where he was going to break down because in all honesty, they got better as he got heavier. His 150 was a great lift, and I thought maybe he would, out of the blue, give a run at a big number in the 160s. Of course, I couldn’t let him beat me. I smoked 150 as well, and he called for 156 to follow that. He pulled well, but didn’t get under it as well as he had been. Unwilling to watch me crush his dreams, he turned his chair around as to not watch me crush the weight. He tried again and once again – close, but no lift. I went to 160. No way did I think I would even be in position to pull on it much less make it look so easy. Pull was great, got under it in fantastic position, and it was a good lift. Spencer – in classic Cal Strength fashion – threw another half kilo on either side to try to take the lead with 161. Pull looked heavy, but he got it high enough, but not quite under it in the right spot. I decided to go for a respectable 165. First shot was close, and the second attempt was damn near perfect, but left it a touch out front. It felt like I had it up there for 5 seconds before it finally floated too far forward to save. The last attempt I was just a bit tired and dove at it a little bit. Spencer pulled on 161 again after my second but lost it behind. In the end, it was a pretty successful day! I came in hoping to hit something over 150. Supposedly, he wasn’t supposed to go over 130 as per coaches orders, but, you know, fans and stuff. Honestly, his lifts looked great after time off. The whole thing was a lot of fun. We battled a little, and I ended up winning, carrying the Juggernaut flag to victory. It really was just good fun and went better than I think any of us could have hoped. But that wasn’t even the highlight of the weekend.
Sunday. Rain. More rain. Again, the exhibition area was covered in water. Chad was scheduled to squat 500lbs for reps, aiming for 20 or more. Sure as shit he had no problem doing it in the rain, but they weren’t going to make him do that. They brought a half rack down onto the same place Spencer and I had done our exhibition and during a break, they loaded up the bar in front of the crowd for what seemed to be the highlight of the whole weekend. He took a warm-up set at 500 and did 3 quick reps, then racked it. After some introductions, a little breathing, and some talk of what exactly was about to happen, it was game time. Belt was on, he was setting under the bar, and walked it out. Each rep was counted out loud by the crowd. He tore the first several off like they were a joke; I mean, it was sort of unfair. The bar moved like there was only 100kg on the bar. (That’s just a hair over 220lbs for you normal humans). He hit 10, then 15, then the crowd reached 20. Still moving, he knocked out another one, then a breath, then a final rep. Looking from the outside, it looked like the legs maybe had another one in them. But really, after 22 reps at 500lbs, I’m sure everything was numb. If I did 22 reps of anything, I’m pretty sure my lungs would start on fire and burn me alive from the inside out.
This was an incredible experience. The whole operation was top notch. There are definitely some things to learn from organizers of these events. Everything seemed to be on time, and they really were willing and able to work around the inconvenience of the rain, even though we as exhibitionists weren’t even part of the competition. Everyone from vendors to fans to organizers were all part of an event that really impressed in so many ways. I can say I would do it again, even with the rain. Now take away the random chance it rains in Southern California, and you have a truly fun event. Here’s to next year!
Colin Burns is a 94kg Weightlifter based out of Louisville, Ky. Burns won the USA Weightlifting National Championship in the Snatch as well as the Bronze Medal at the Pan-American Championships in the same lift as an 85kg lifter in 2013. One year Prior in 2012 he placed 5th at USA Weightlifting Nationals in the total and 3rd in the Snatch. Before pursuing weightlifting, Burns was an All-Conference running back for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a top ranked Judo athlete. Burns trained in Judo at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for 3 years.Colin is a graduate of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs with his degree in Health Science, as well as being a USAW Sports Performance Coach and CSCS holder. Burns has served as a physical preparation coach for the US Olympic Training Center, University of Wisconsin Badgers football program and University of Michigan Olympic sports programs.Online Training, Facebook, YouTube