On its own, 30 pounds isn’t much—think of a microwave oven, or a two-year-old child. Add those 30 pounds to your barbell after eight minutes and two rounds of snatches, though, and it might as well be an engine block.
Just ask Josh, who cranked out 60 reps in perfect power-snatch form: bend at the waist, lift straight up, pop the hips, bend at the knee, lock out arms, stand erect. 30 reps at 75 pounds, 30 reps at 135 pounds. Smooth. Fluid. Efficient. Then came 30 more pounds, and on the third rep the six-foot-tall, 185-pounder buckled under the weight, collapsing to the floor as the barbell crashed down in front of him.
Around the room, a half-dozen sweat-soaked men and women bend, lift, thrust, and arch their way through ten minutes of hell. Chests heave and faces contort from the strain. They battle the weight, they battle their lungs, they battle the clock. Guttural cries punctuate the cacophony of clanging weights, thumping radio beats, and the undulating roar of the crowd.
Like predators stalking their prey, the competitors tune out distraction and zero in, on one thing and one thing only: the next rep. Nothing else matters. Nothing else exists. And today, during round two of the CrossFit Games, nobody will give up the chase until the clock hits zero.
The snatch is an Olympic weightlifting move whereby a weighted barbell is raised from the floor to overhead in one continuous motion. In true CrossFit fashion, the rep count is a whopping 30 for each set. Raw strength and power won’t cut it here—you need speed and stamina, too. CrossFit’s ideology echoes the classic “competent human” principle, which celebrates those who possess not a single talent, but a broad range of skills. As science-fiction author Robert Heinlein put it, “Specialization is for insects.”
Amid the damp, heavy air, the struggle continues. Spectators scream encouragement to Brandon, who labors against the weight of his second set. Over and over he brings the barbell up; each time, it falls to the floor. No rep. But he doesn’t quit, and on the eighth attempt the bar rises higher, breaking the plane of his chest. Onlookers fall silent as it creeps past the bulging veins on his neck… finally, his elbows lock out. Cheers and applause erupt. Brandon lets out a throaty bellow of triumph, throws the bar down, and proceeds to haul it overhead 15 more times before the clock runs out.
Across the room, Natalie captivates a throng of onlookers by lifting her barbell up and over a very round belly. She’s in that radiant stage of pregnancy, aglow in the spotlight of her own beaming health and vitality. Midway through her second set, the weight takes its toll and slows her pace—but her form holds strong, and she hits 60 reps without breaking her rhythm. “That’s gonna be one tough kid,” someone says, and heads nod all around.
With the snatch, technique is more important than strength, the mind more powerful than the body. Muscle through it and you'll crap out early. Use poor technique and face a strained back or shoulder. As the reps add up and your body falters, you face your limitations. You find out who you are. The gym is your own personal proving ground and your friends are only here to make sure you suck it up, damn it, and crank out a few more reps.
The crowd thunders once again as Terri, a 49-year-old grandmother, steels herself against the pain and fatigue and racks another 25 pounds on the bar. Her eyes are so intense, you can almost hear her psyching herself up: Do your best. Be your best. Right here, right now. Lift the weight. LIFT IT! And lift it she does, in the final seconds before time runs out. It’s a PR—a personal record, her heaviest snatch to date. She drops the bar and pumps her fist as the crowd swarms her with hugs and high-fives.
Throughout the room, competitors drink water, swab foreheads, and shake out tight limbs. Physically drained but mentally super-charged, they chatter about the weight they and others lifted, the reps everyone completed. Nobody complains about taxed lungs, stiffening torsos, or the lactic acid flooding into their thighs. Somehow, it was all worth it. For some reason, it all feels good. It feels like progress. It feels like achievement. It feels like… victory.