Olympic Weight Lifting – It’s Worth a Second Snatch

By Laine Himmelmann

Laine Himmelman
Laine Himmelman

When my best friend Tara told me she was getting into Olympic weight lifting, I thought she was joking.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s in great shape – the girl used to get mistaken for Anna Kournikova, but the idea of her running around in a singlet and grunting to lift her own body weight over her head was laughable.

Four years ago as I stood there scoffing at her, she stopped me dead in my tracks with one simple declarative sentence.  “I’m doing this, because I want to feel strong.”

Skeptical at first, in the years since I have watched in awe how strong my friend has become – both physically and mentally.  

At one of her recent weight lifting meets, I had the opportunity to meet her coach Ben Claridad. He invited me to visit his gym Occam Athletics ( 1809 23rd Street) and try Olympic Weight Lifting myself.  

At first I was nervous. I’m not exactly in Kournakova shape myself and Ben looks like Drogo from Game of Thrones, so I was concerned about what a “Olympic Weight Lifting” workout from him would entail. But, I was curious and had been waiting for the right opportunity to learn what a “good snatch” looked like, so I said yes.   For moral support, I asked if my brother could tag along.

The Himmel siblings and Tara showed up for a group class. Ben led the group, through a number of conditioning and lifting drills; each drill specialized to fit the individual.  

As the class went on, I found myself continually impressed with the vibe, Ben’s knowledge, and how he catered to my brother’s back problems and our lack of lifting knowledge, while still giving us an amazing workout.  An hour later, we ended class dripping in sweat and brimming with pride.  Tara was right; it feels good to feel strong!  

After class I “snatched” a few moments with Ben to talk about some common misconceptions about Olympic Style lifting. He had some great insights:

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Is weight lifting something that anyone can do?

I have both competitive weightlifters and fitness clients of all ages and skill levels. My youngest competitive lifter is a 12-year-old girl who weighs about 100lbs. I recently travelled to Savannah, GA for Master’s Nationals, which is a competitive circuit with age brackets starting at age 35 and up and I brought a team of 4. Weightlifting can absolutely be rewarding for anyone.

What would you say to someone who is nervous about trying Olympic weight lifting?

Lifting weights, even today, carries with it a certain stigma to those that have not tried it. Or perhaps people have tried lifting weights in the past and have had a bad experience. To these individuals I would say – give it another shot. To be proficient in Olympic style weightlifting, one has to be more than just strong. It requires thought and skill and perseverance. These are all qualities that the bro at the big box gym never had to develop on his way to getting big biceps or a 400 lb bench. If strength was the only requirement, I would’ve lost interest years ago. Learning how to more skillfully control our body is empowering. It is beautiful. And in my opinion, it is at least worth a shot even if it is uncomfortable.

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Ok, but real talk now.  I know Tara is a freak of nature, but what about those of us who aren’t 5’10” and aren’t still able to shop in the Junior’s department- won’t weight lifting make us bulky?  

Nowadays, people are learning that weightlifting does not necessarily make you bulky or muscle-bound. It helps individuals drop weight, have toned, athletic bodies, and improves mobility and athletic performance. Personally speaking I weighed over 200lbs before I even hit 6th grade so skeptics whom I talk to are rarely convinced. However my results speak for themselves. Literally 90% of every national caliber Lifter I have produced has been female. Toned. Athletic. And very feminine. All of my general fitness clients both male and female are given workouts to improve HOW THEY DO THINGS and in turn improves the way they look. An added benefit is that Olympic weightlifting specifically targets the hips and quads so all of my clients and lifters develop stronger and “sexier” legs and butts without becoming muscle-bound or “big.”

Tell us a little bit about YOUR gym and classes?

My gym is catered primarily as an Olympic Weightlifting training hall which my competitive team spends most of their time in – however, we do get access to the rest of the facility at Capital Strength and Performance which is a LEGIT strength and conditioning gym. So my group general fitness classes make full use of the facility. My classes are a structured strength and conditioning program where my clients get a healthy dose of Olympic weightlifting, strength training, bodybuilding and short but intense conditioning workouts guaranteed to give you a capable and well balanced physique and athletic looking legs and glutes.

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What can someone expect when attending one of your classes for the first time?  

For someone attending my class for the first time, I’ll usually modify the class workout and give the trainee an introductory lesson in Olympic style weightlifting after a short screening and warm-up process. Most people of all skill levels will be able to handle the bodybuilding and conditioning with little to no modifications. My classes are purposely kept to 15 or less people so everyone is very supportive and I can have my eyes on all clients, ensuring that everyone is safe and getting a great workout.

I noticed you don’t have any mirrors or clocks in the gym, what’s up with that?

Nope. No mirrors or anything to distract you from what you’re there to do. When I was looking at spaces, I was looking for a place that could give us a pure and serious training environment. I’ll sometimes jokingly refer to my training hall as “the Lair.” Sterile looking, overly polished gyms have always turned me off. Street art or played out graffiti doesn’t speak to me so you won’t find any of that here either. I wanted something simple, pure, and visceral.

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Where does the name Occam come from?   

Occam Athletics came to me while I was taking any Exercise Physiology class at CSUS in 2012. It comes from Occam’s Razor which is a line of reasoning at is applied to math and science; paraphrased, it means: “all things being equal, the simplest solution is usually best.” I apply this concept to everything I do especially when it comes to my methodology. You won’t find anything extraneous or gimmicky when you come to train with us. You learn and eventually master skill-sets and the beauty that you can produce with your own human movement with a wonderful and supportive group of regular people.

If someone wants to become a member, where do they start?

I offer the first class free for my group classes. For those interested in weightlifting I’ll usually meet with beginners for a one on one assessment free of charge. For the intermediate weightlifter, I’ll have them hop in on a group practice to get in the team mix. We love to have lifters visit for our heavy sessions on Fridays as it makes for an exciting and electric session. For clients interested in one-on-one personal training I’ll meet for an initial assessment free of charge.

(Tara, Ben, and I after a hard workout!)
(Tara, Ben, and I after a hard workout!)

So there you have it folks, I tried Olympic Weight Lifting and I actually liked it.  Though I can’t say I’ll be joining Tara anytime soon in a matching singlet, I will definitely be heading back to Occam for some more workouts with Ben!

 

You can follow Occam Athletics on Facebook or on Instagarm at: @occam_athletics

 

 

 

 

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