My first day of Olympic lifting training was, in one word, humbling. I’d just started CrossFit the week before and was intrigued by the idea of a two-hour Saturday session based entirely on form.

“Two hours?” I remember thinking. “What could they possibly cover?” Turns out, I underestimated the power of proper execution—and the time it takes to perfect form.

As I worked my way up from gym newbie to seasoned lifter (though I’m not there yet), I noticed that a lot of the lessons I’d learned under the weight of the bar translated from the gym to an office setting.

1. Don’t rush proper execution

When you’re just observing, clean and jerks seem easy. The objective is straightforward enough: get under the bar and lift the weight overhead. But when you start practicing and placing proper execution at the forefront, you realize it’s a complicated dance: feet and hands shoulder-width apart, shins a few inches from the bar, hips back, core tight, drive and explode with a tall chest, drop under the bar, and press overhead until your elbows are completely locked.

This is how work is, too. Moving parts don’t align, and the finished product doesn’t just appear. Learning the steps behind one compound movement, and adapting with patience and constant practice, taught me how to break things down instead of tackling them all at once.

A group is working out lifting weights from a deep squat.
Instead of winging it, practice and focus on proper execution.

2. Start with the basics

Watching the CrossFit Open or seeing Olympic lifters lift double their weight on the platform was definitely inspirational, but if I’d planned to stack plates from the start, I’d be sorely mistaken.

Lifting too heavy before you’re ready not only increases your chances of failing, it also leaves you at risk of injury. Lifting more than you’re ready for can also lead you to train the wrong muscles or make certain muscle groups overcompensate for lagging ones.

In the same vein, reaching for your goals in the office is to be applauded, but taking on more than you can handle, or heading a high-level project when you’re a novice isn’t advised.

3. Accept that failing is essential

While at CrossFit, I attended a workshop on how to fail properly. That’s right—a whole workshop on how to fail.

When it comes to barbell squats, cleans, and snatches, testing for a one-rep max is standard. How do you know when you’ve loaded your last plate? You fail. Since getting stuck under a few hundred pounds can be dangerous, knowing how to bail safely (release your grip on the bar and push your head up and chest out, then jump your feet forward to prevent the bar from hitting your heels) is essential.

The same holds true outside of the gym.

4. Get comfortable with discomfort

Hips open, knees tracking over ankles, feet slightly pointed out, and squatting below parallel—no one ever said squats were fun. Part of training—especially when you’re new—is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. The more you sit in the hole, the easier getting below parallel on your squats becomes.

When you’re approaching a difficult task at work or learning something new, it’s OK to feel uncomfortable. Do it anyway, because the more you practice, the quicker new tasks become second nature.

Woman lifting weight with another woman watching in the background.
Know your limits, but keep the bar high.

5. Trust your gut instinct

In life — whether in the gym or office — always trust your gut. If your legs are sore to the point where squats seem out of the question, target upper-body work instead. If your arms are shaky and you think you’ve done your last press for the day, stop.

At work, learn to trust your hunches. Go after that lead, take on that story, or reach out to that new client.

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