Finding Grace

grace (ɡreɪs)

— noun

  1. elegance and beauty of movement, form, expression, or proportion


Some days you complete the workout with the speed, beauty, and elegance of a gazelle. Other days you smash yourself in the chin with a barbell. Today was the latter.

After last week’s meeting with Fran, I was excited to see another benchmark workout on the whiteboard today. Grace – 30 clean and jerks for time, at 135/95 pounds. I’ve only done Grace twice, but it may very well be my favorite workout, since I LOOOOOVVEEEEE cleans SO MUCH! Needless to say, I was pumped to get after this one.

Our coaches took us through a warmup with an empty bar, moving through the progressions of the clean and jerk. I regularly attend Olympic lifting class, so these movements are intuitive for me. I was just going through the motions and thinking about how I was aiming to go sub-3 minutes on the WOD. That is, until my delusions of grandeur were so rudely interrupted by the barbell propelling rapidly upward from the front rack position directly into my chin, which I had apparently forgotten to move out of the way. The collision with my face was so loud that the coach heard it from the other end of the gym. Stars flashed in my eyes, my chin split open, and I just laughed at myself for being an idiot.

Then it was time! Time for Grace! Time for awesomeness! At “3, 2, 1, go” I proceeded to pull and push as quickly as I could. I made it through the first 10 reps in about 50 seconds. Then things started to get ugly. My back rounded; my elbows slowed, causing the bar to crash on my collarbones; and my chest fell forward on the dip. Flat out, a hot mess. I still got the work done quickly, finishing in 3:22, a full minute faster than my previous Grace time. But there wasn’t anything pretty – or graceful – about my Grace performance today. Rather, Grace left me battered, bruised, and bleeding.


After the WOD, one of my friends showed me this video of Dan Bailey completing Grace in a mind-blowing 1:01. What struck me about Bailey’s performance wasn’t the speed; I would expect that type of speed out of an athlete at his level. But it was the grace and elegance with which he completed every rep – back flat, lats engaged, torso upright, and flawlessly moving from the clean to the jerk and back down to the floor. He made it look effortless.

His performance evidenced virtuosity, or “doing the common uncommonly well.” While a pretty technical movement, the clean and jerk is certainly a common movement in the Crossfit repertoire. It’s one of those movements you can kinda muscle through if you have to, but it won’t necessarily be pretty or efficient. It will lack virtuosity absent strict adherence to the fundamentals.


I’ve reached the point where 95 pounds isn’t heavy for me anymore. Despite my ugly form, I won’t hurt tomorrow from my rounded lumbar or hunched shoulders.

But I won’t get any better if I’m content being sloppy just so I can move more quickly. I won’t be any more graceful, and I certainly won’t exhibit any sort of virtuosity.

It’s time to get back to basics. To be mentally and physically engaged on every rep, regardless of the weight, regardless of the speed, regardless of who’s watching. Then and only then will I find Grace.

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