Physical Activity

CrossFit® and Olympic Lifting: Why You Should Care About Lifting

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If your goal is to become a better CrossFit® athlete, you already know there are several factors you need to master: For instance, you have to have killer gymnastics skills, you need optimal endurance and your Olympic weightlifting needs to be top notch. Still, many CrossFit® athletes only lift as much as it’s programmed into their classes and WODs, not realizing that improving as a weightlifter involves a lot more than that — but it’s absolutely vital if you want to excel in CrossFit®.

CrossFit® and Olympic Lifting: The Former Needs the Latter

CrossFit® and Olympic lifting often seem to go head-to-head. The former relies on quick lifts in rapid succession, often doing sometimes 10 or more snatches or cleans in a row. The latter demands absolute precision, rehearsing the same motions possibly hundreds of times a week in order to see even just a little bit of progress.

With the differences between weightlifting as a person doing CrossFit® and weightlifting as a weightlifter, and with the time that it takes to master the two lifts (snatch and clean and jerk), why should a CrossFit® athlete care about being a proficient weightlifter?

Here’s why: If you can execute a lift concisely, efficiently and accurately, then you will be able to do it faster and in greater numbers than someone who hasn’t learned to execute the lifts traditionally. It doesn’t matter if your goal isn’t to become an amazing lifter. If your goal is to become amazing at CrossFit®, then, by default, you need to be an amazing weightlifter.

You’re also helping to protect yourself from injury, as you’ll learn which corners you can safely cut and which you can’t. More on that later.

There seems to be this pervasive idea amongst some of the CrossFit® community that learning the proper technique for the Olympic lifts “just enough” is all you need. You don’t need to be great — you just need to be able to pull it off and finish the workout, preferably faster than the people around you. But if you look at some of the greatest athletes in the arena of CrossFit®, their mentality is very unlikely, “I just need to be good enough to get away with it.” CrossFit® is a never-ending journey of improvement, whether it’s the snatch, muscle-ups or doing a one-minute burpee AMRAP without dying. No athlete’s journey is ever done. That’s why it’s a lifestyle.

First learning the proper lifting technique in and of itself makes for a solid foundation. A more solid foundation means that under great stress — say, in the middle of an exhausting WOD — you should be able to maintain greater efficiency than an athlete with a shaky foundation. Furthermore, you’re avoiding the risk of injury. Ah, yes. Olympic lifting and its many risks…except weightlifting isn’t risky.

Olympic lifting, like CrossFit®, is not dangerous. Poor coaching is dangerous. Poor technique is dangerous. It is poor weightlifting technique under the stress of CrossFit® that can equal a disaster. There’s this myth that during a CrossFit® workout, your technique can’t help but deteriorate — that it’s a sign of working hard, and if you technique is still pretty, you’re not being challenged enough.

Instead, your aim should be maintaining “pretty” and technically sound lifts even when the clock is running, even when you have to move as fast as you can and cycle 15 snatches in a row. Proper technique isn’t what it is because it makes the lift harder; it’s so that you can put yourself in a place to lift as much as possible. And it’s the reason why someone like me (now a strict weightlifter) can do a barbell-focused WOD and do it very well. (To be clear, I’ll get my behind kicked in just about everything else.)

“Remember that Olympic weightlifting is largely about being able to apply force and explosiveness. It’s about strength, control and speed.”

One more important point worth noting: Remember that Olympic weightlifting is largely about being able to apply force and explosiveness. It’s about strength, control and speed. If you think these traits don’t apply to your CrossFit®, you’re mistaken. From box jumps to bar muscle-ups to push-ups, Olympic weightlifting can make you significantly better at CrossFit®.