Jim at the top of the lift, Becca sets up.

Coaches talk a lot about technique at CrossFit West Santa Cruz. The basics of a lift, say the deadlift–hips down, shoulders over bar, neutral neck, even ascent, etc, are repeated over and over. Nuances of the lift–lat activation, breath, elbow supination, abductor support, etc, are explained. But, after the physical aspects of a lift become second nature, there is another side to lifting that is just about as important. The esoteric side. That is where intent falls.

Many years ago I was lucky to train with George Xu. Xu was a very skilled fighter of enormous repute. He had won a string of challenge matches in China and Taiwan before living in San Francisco and was a highly respected fighter there. Xu had trained with men who had killed other men with their hands in the wild of early 20th century frontier China (I met one of them, a mean eyed man in his 80s who had spent years as a saber-wielding caravan guard in the autonomous regions of China).

One thing that Xu emphasized over and over was intent. Referring to solo forms, he said that everything a person does in the martial arts gym must have intent. He used dogs as an example, saying that a dog is a master of intent. One moment a dog can be calm and quiet, not particularly focused on anything, and then they can be wholly and aggressively focused on something. And, if you have ever had a dog focus on you that way, it can be quite frightening. Xu said you must have this kind of intent when you are practicing fighting (perhaps it was a language issue, but he didn’t use terms like martial arts or kung fu, it was fighting to him), otherwise you are just dancing around.

When you do a lift, where is your intent? Are you wholly focused on the lift? If it is a very heavy lift, approaching a max weight or maybe a PR weight, probably, but what about all the other lifts? Intent isn’t something that is going to magically appear when you most need it. Like just about anything else, it needs to be practiced. Just as the physical aspects of a lift need to be trained, so do the esoteric. A good lifter who can deadlift 500 pounds will strive to have the exact same technique on 300 pounds. That’s what ingrains good technique, making it subconscious and unthinking. And so it is with intent. You need to train your intent every lift you do, whether it is maximal or not. Just as a person across a room from a dog can see it’s intent without having to hear any growling or barking–body erect, hackles raised, balance forward to the fore of the paws, eyes engaged–so should a person across the room be able to see your intent on each lift. That’s good lifting. That’s safe lifting.

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