Weightlifting in CrossFit: Better Combination than Peanut Butter and Jelly?

Heather, who is coached by Jordan, lifting at CrossFit Greenbay on 01Oct16. She walked away with 1st place in her weight class and hit a personal best (meet) in both snatch and clean and jerk.

It is no secret that successful CrossFit athletes, ranging from every day average box goer all the way up to professional Games athletes, are at least decently proficient at weightlifting. Well, maybe it was a secret, but I just spilled it, so it’s not a secret anymore. If you want to make workouts easier, improve times, move more efficiently, or put up more weight in just about everything, becoming more familiar in weightlifting is something you should add to your goals list. When I refer to weightlifting, note I am referring to the sport that is Olympic Style Weightlifting and all the training methodologies that go with it: basically anything that helps improve either your snatch or clean and jerk.

So why is weightlifting so good at developing a more complete CrossFit game? There’s a lot of reasons, but I’m mainly going to focus on hip extension, core strength, and explosiveness.

“All good things in life start with violent hip extension” is something you will read on some Oshkosh Weightlifting shirts scattered on various athletes around the gym, myself included, or you may hear me quote the Happy Gilmore mantra “It’s all in the hips!” repeated over and over again by Chubbs. All jokes aside, the effective application of force from violent hip extension is something that is an integral part of being a weightlifter and is one of the three things (along with knees and ankles) that help propel the bar upward in both the snatch and clean. In fact, if one mistimes their hip extension, does not do it efficiently, or straight up completely neglects it, maximal load lifts cannot be completed successfully. Ever bang the bar off your quads, miss a snatch or clean forward, and wonder why? Mistimed and mis-directioned hip extension is the culprit here. Guess what also uses hip extension to help complete movements effectively and efficiently in CrossFit? I’ll give you a clue. It rhymes with everything. Kipping/butterfly pull ups, muscle ups, kettle bell swings, sumo deadlift high pulls, rowing, burpees, box jumps, etc. etc. etc. you get the point…All these movements use the hips to some extent, when being done correctly.

I think it goes without saying, that, athletes at the pinnacle of the sport of CrossFit all have ridiculous mid sections. Let’s use one of my favorite athletes, Annie Thorisdottir, as an example. Sometimes I feel like I get hit in the face by Annie’s abs when I watch her on TV. Those things are nuts. Guess what Annie is also really good at? Weightlifting. She actually competed at the International Weightlifting Federation Worlds Competition in 2015, she’s that good. The main components of each lift, when you break them down, involve some kind of core stabilization: snatch/overhead squat, clean/front squat, jerk/supporting a ton of weight overhead. Contrary to what a lot of mainstream fitness would have you believing, the core’s primary functions are for force transfer and stabilization. This means that things that utilize both of these features (i.e. squats, pulls, presses, jerks) are much better at developing the core than just about anything else. The core, is not just abs though. It exists in three dimensional space around your spine from your chest to your mid thigh. All of these muscles do significant work when the body performs both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Lower back strength helps with positioning, abdominal strength helps support weight in both an overhead squat and front squat, diaphragm strength helps support maximal loads in the clean, hip flexor strength helps in the deep parts of the squat and bouncing out of the hole, and the muscles of the mid/upper back help with load stabilization in both the snatch and clean and jerk. Proper gymnastics positions, heavy squats, deadlifts, kettle bell swings, double unders, wall balls, thrusters etc. etc. etc. (at this point you’re probably sick of me listing off every CrossFit movement known to man) all require at least a decent amount of core strength to complete as well. Moral of the story, work on your Olympic lifts, develop your core, and succeed in all other realms of CrossFit.

Author of the article, Jordan, competing at the Granite Games in 2015

One of CrossFit’s biggest selling points (to me at least…and it should be for you too) is, that, it uses science and physics to back it up. In many workouts, the goal is to complete the most amount of work (force*distance) possible. When this is done with the goal of completing the most work in the least amount of time, we increase our power output. (Power = work/time). Contrary to what each sport is named, powerlifting actually isn’t all that powerful compared to Olympic lifting. This is not a dig at powerlifting. I occasionally like watching dudes squatting over 1000lbs, but I love weightlifting. It’s my thing. Some people have powerlifting as a thing, and more power to them (no pun intended). But I digress, if one watches an athlete perform a snatch or clean and jerk, one of the first things that they might see is how fast the whole thing is completed and subsequently over with. These athletes move heavy loads, over significant distances, very quickly. Remember your math and poof! High power output. Athletes that are capable of producing a lot of power in these movements are often referred to as “explosive”. Explosivity is good. You won’t blow up or implode, but you will run faster, jump higher, move weights faster, and PR your Fran time. Guaranteed.

So what does all this babbling with how awesome weightlifting is really mean? Well, hopefully it has inspired you to pursue your own path in the iron game. It can be as in depth as you want it to be, can occupy every waking moment of your existence or it can be something you do just for warm ups, but one thing I can promise you is that it is worth the time and effort to learn. Happy training!

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