As a Crossfitter, I’m sure you’re pretty familiar with the Olympic lifts. They show up in our programming intermittently – a push jerk here, a power clean there, a few complexes now and then. Perhaps you are a strength junky like me, and any WOD with a heavy barbell or Olympic lift is your jam. Or maybe you dread these days because snatching is a near-death experience, your collar bone gets bruised for a month after doing cleans, and getting in the bottom position feels like you’re putting your joints through a meat grinder. Regardless of where you are on the continuum, there are numerous reasons why every Crossfitter should dedicate more time to Olympic lifting and we here to help!
Learning the Art of Weightlifting
After my college soccer career ended, I spent my days exploring barbell sports. It was a natural transition; I had fallen in love with strength training when I was 13, and it had (voluntarily) been a big part of my training as a soccer player. I trained in powerlifting and strongman back home, and when I moved to Missouri, I was eager to find a new, iron-pumping community. I decided to join a Crossfit gym here in town. However, after eight months of CrossFit, I had lost a significant amount of weight and strength from the combination of sipping the metcon Koolaid and grad school stress. I decided to take a break to focus on strength. It was then, just by luck, I met the coach of the local weightlifting club, who encouraged me to give weightlifting a try. I’ve been a competitive Olympic weightlifter ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved CrossFit, and I still incorporate some conditioning into my exercise regiment. However, the transition to the sport of weightlifting has taught me some valuable life lessons and improved my fitness and athleticism immensely. I also feel the spirit of weightlifting aligns well with our culture here at MKT. Here are some of the reasons why I am actively encouraging our members to put effort into learning the lifts and building strength.
Mental Toughness & Process Orientation
In the Crossfit community, you routinely hear things like “Leave your ego at the door,” and as Games athlete, Josh Bridges famously says, “Pay the Man.” These mottos encourage humility and relentless work ethic. Nothing embodies that more than the sport of weightlifting.
There is no sport quite as demanding as weightlifting. Success in weightlifting requires mobility, strength, speed, and technical proficiency. If you lack any one of those four things, you can never rise to the top. When I started weightlifting, my athletic career blessed me with three of the four, but no one is born with technical proficiency in the lifts. Every single person has to “pay the man” with thousands and thousands of reps over YEARS of consistent training. The pursuit of movement mastery demands raw humility. For beginners, especially, this means putting your ego aside and doing crippling sessions of skill work over and over with just an empty barbell. It means developing muscular strength, neurological efficiency, and skill acquisition during your training cycles. There is no instant gratification; in this sport, it is not uncommon for people to spend years chasing 1kg PRs.
Furthermore, weightlifting culture is brutal; to be frank, no one cares if you can make a lift once in the gym. It’s about being so proficient in your movement that when you’re on the platform, you simply CAN’T miss. There’s no place for your ego to hide in a process-oriented culture. In the sport of weightlifting, no one is ever too good to neglect to practice the basics. Lifters are intentional in honing their craft, and even elite lifters put a daily focus on the foundations. That mindset is CONTAGIOUS, and entering this community has improved all areas of my life. As an athlete, I started caring less and less about the weight on the bar and started caring more about my effort and mentality in training. As a person, I found myself being fully present and process-oriented during other activities in my life. For no other reason, this paradigm shift is worth a few hours of your time each week. Think about how much progress you could make if you applied this mentality to every aspect of your training. If you spent hours on your shapes and didn’t focus on advance movements until you’ve mastered your strict skills, you’d be a stronger and better gymnast. If you spent every day doing the mundane or boring work, like building an aerobic base, there’d be no long metcon you couldn’t crush. It’s not sexy, but every elite lifter, gymnast, and runner knows that it works.
Performance Benefits & Athletic Development
There is a reason why Olympic lifting is incorporated in strength and conditioning programs for high-level athletes. That’s because the performance benefits are unmatched; training the Olympic lifts (or variations of the lifts) train power production, motor control, and force absorption. The lifts develop an athlete’s neuromuscular efficiency that will translate all of the strength built in the gym into enhanced sports performance, like allowing athletes to jump higher, run faster, and hit harder.
Improved athleticism can improve performance in various functional movements used in Crossfit: kettlebell swings, box jumps, burpees, rowing, etc. Unfortunately, these fantastic benefits of the lifts require the correct technique! Doing the lifts with poor technique, for example, not using proper leg drive and hip extension, will rob you of any translatable athletic performance.
Still, there are undeniable benefits of proficient movement for weightlifting-related WODs. Whether the workout includes a one-rep max or a metcon with high volume Olympic lifts – it behooves you to have strength and adequate technique. In the case of a one-rep max, strength can only get you so far. Strength without technical proficiency creates a low ceiling in weightlifting. You’ll never stand up with a super heavy snatch if you don’t have complete control of the barbell at all times. Let’s use a common example; if you violently thrust the barbell with your hips, making the trajectory look more like a rainbow than a straight line, at some point your shoulders will not be strong enough to stop its momentum in its tracks, and allow you to stand up with it. Think about it! Maximal efficiency, and therefore load, requires you to optimize physics, not fight it.
You can apply the same logic to success in the high-rep WOD scenario. Wouldn’t it be nice to master the movements so you can make each rep energetically efficient? Further, continuous practice and increasing your maximal load will only make the prescribed weight relatively easier (or a smaller percentage of your 1rm), and will, therefore, increase your potential work capacity.
Health and Longevity
Even if you have no aspirations to be a competitive athlete, weight lifting and strength training is of paramount importance, especially as you age! Weightlifting requires you to maintain adequate mobility to work at a full range of motion. Movements like overhead squat, full-depth front and back squats, jerks, and push presses require sufficient mobility at the ankles, hips, shoulders, wrists, and thoracic spine. Working at a full range of motion, as you do in Olympic weightlifting, is better for joint health, as it reduces shear forces on the ligaments and tendons. Further, this type of training improves joint stability.
At my previous job, I worked at a supervised exercise facility, where a majority of my clients were over the age of 65. At this age, the ultimate goal is to maintain functionality and independence. We strength train to prevent and treat sarcopenia (muscle wasting), osteoporosis (loss of bone mineral density), and to prevent falls.
I apply the principles of Olympic weightlifting in all of my clients’ training, even those ages 65-80. We regularly train movements where we pick objects (barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls) and take them from the floor to the overhead position. We work hard to maintain neuromuscular efficiency and motor control through power output (high pulls, dumbbell snatches, med ball slams, box jumps, etc.). We view flexibility and balance as necessary prerequisites for function. We are always working to improve mobility, and all my clients work at a full range of motion (if possible) to relieve osteoarthritic pain and reduce strain on the joints. Although the lifts or components of weightlifting may take varying forms based on orthopedic or other limitations, the foundations of weightlifting are critical for all athletes of various ages, shapes, and abilities.
So, why wait? It’s time to grab a barbell, a knowledgeable coach, and learn the lifts. Starting this month we are offering one Weightlifting Specialty Class per month for members who want to get some personalized help practicing the techniques of Olympic weightlifting.
MKT Weightlifting Specialty Class
Join us for a FREE Weightlifting Class Sunday, February 23rd, 8:45am – 9:45 am.
This class will focus on the Clean & Jerk and is limited to 10 participants only.
Use the link below to register and save your spot in class!
Please email questions to: Teammkt@mktcrossfit.com