The Olympic Lifts in CrossFit

By Blake Barnes

Tags: olympic lifts | technique | crossfit | training All Posts


There needs to be a good understanding of the Olympic Weightlifting movements prior to involving them into high-paced conditioning workouts. One of the problems with how most CrossFit gyms are structured is that they don’t take the time to break down the olympic lifts. Either the coaches don't know how to teach them correctly or they don't want to take the time. Their only goal is to get through the workout as fast as possible no matter how unproficient the technique is. A lot of time the weight is light enough to where most people can get away with doing the movement fast with bad technique. But there are a couple reasons why this will be detrimental to your future in crossfit.

The key to all learning is repetition. When you do a movement over and over again, you have just taught your brain to tell your body how you do that movement; in other words “muscle memory”. It becomes a habit and believe it or not, your brain plays a big part in these lifts. So what happens when your workout calls for a one-rep max Snatch or Clean? If you’re doing the movements wrong all the time my guess is you can do a lot more than you actually are. Why? Because you’ve been doing the movement incorrectly (or at least unproficiently) since you’ve started and when you are attempting maximal effort weights, technique becomes a much bigger piece of the puzzle than it was when you were doing 30% of maximal effort for a hundred reps. 2+2=4 still, right? I’ll tell you why this can also be bad for you when doing lighter weights.

I’m sure you are very strong and who am I to say you can't just muscle it up and everything will be fine? Another reason this can be detrimental to your crossfit future is that when you're working with such a dynamic movement and you are executing it improperly, it actually takes more energy to do it wrong. You use the ground as the anchor to accelerate the bar upwards, right? Right! Good. Two common errors I see when someone is fatigued doing the olympic lifts is a rounded back and the good ol’ early-arm-bend.

Think of your body’s levers as chains. You want all of those chains to be tight. You do not want slack in those chains! No slack! - If your back is rounded that (usually) means it’s not tight which means there’s slack. And it’s important to note that this will be putting a lot of unnecessary stress on the back that may or may not lead to a slight back injury. - If your pulling too early with the arms, that means when you are trying to push against the ground (your trusted anchor) with your legs your losing power at the elbow and all of the force is being placed onto the biceps. So if your biceps are super sore from doing Snatches or Cleans from the day before you might be an early-arm-puller. Don’t be an EAP.

I’d like to also mention something that I think get overlooked a lot of the time. Think of this for a second...how many times have you fallen or stumbled when learning the olympic lifts? My guess is that 90% of you have (and that’s shooting low). So if you’re doing it wrong as fast as you can what are the odds that you’re going to stumble? Probably pretty high, right? NOW, think about how long it takes you to gather yourself before you do the next rep. Exactly. That’s just time wasted. Some of you say you do it the way you’re doing it (the wrong way) because it’s faster. You better make sure that you don’t stumble and have to regain your balance because now you’re just canceling out the time your saving by doing it “faster.” I’m not going to sit here and say that you’re supposed to maintain perfection when doing these movements in the middle of a high-paced workout. They are highly technical movements; probably the most technical you’re going to do in crossfit.

The issue is the learning/teaching process. If you take the time on a regular basis to break the movements down and actually practice them without a running clock going then you’ll be able to teach your brain to tell your body how to do them correctly. Especially with the right coach! Then when you’re racing other people you have less time wasted and more time dancing with the bar instead of fighting with it. This is the reason we’ve started doing our Weightlifting Workshops. It’s just once a week and it’s free for any of our members to participate. I encourage all of you other CrossFit gyms to do something similar. Give your athletes the opportunity to progress.