Considerations for coaching crossfit athletes

-The popularity of Crossfit, as a mean of general training and fitness, has created (at least momentarily)  interest for the sport of weightlifting. Whether I/we like crossfit or not, the fact of the matter is that a lot of crossfiters are seeking weightlifting coaching or looking to make the switch to the ”dark side”. As a matter of fact, most lifters I’m involved with at the moment come from a crossfit background. Coming from such a ”general” background to such a specialized training comes with a need to adapt. Here are some of the considerations for coaching weightlifting to crossfiters. These considerations are based on my experience and may not be reflective of the majority of crossfiters, but there are still lessons to take from this.

1. Many crossfiters are too strong for their own good 

It is obvious that strength is very important in weightlifting. However, strength serves no purpose if technique is limiting the amount of weight you can lift in the snatch and clean and jerk. Robert Roman said : ”Technique is the ultimate expression of strength in weightlifting.”. I have (too) often witnessed crossfitters have very poor snatch to clean and jerk ratio. Most proficient lifters will have a ratio of 78-82% SN/CJ. It has not been rare for me to witness crossfitters with a ratio of 70% or even lower.

Why is that?

BOEVSKIWell, the clean and jerk requires a bit more strength and many people get away with mistakes in the clean on the account that they are strong enough (although they would be lifting more if they had better technique). On the other hand, it’s impossible to get away with mistakes in the snatch when the bar is heavy. We will often see very strong CNJ in comparison to snatch which is why I work so much on the snatch with crossfiters. 

Consider the fact that most crossfiters I have worked with have done way too many regular deadlifts, squats, and push press. Just like I explained here, people will do what they already know (or what they are comfortable with) when they learn new movements or skills. Since these movements are quite slow by nature, the idea of moving fast is novel and it requires a lot of work to get rid of the old habits. For instance, a clean and jerk for many crossfiters I have coached used to be like this : A deadlift, a jump, a front squat, a push press with the legs landing in a split position. It is a collection of movements executed in a slow fashion. Important concepts were missing!

Советский штангист Мазин берёт вес на соревнованиях по тяжёлой атлетике во время проведения XXII Олимпийских игрAlso, being strong when learning the Olympic lifts has other drawbacks too. There is no doubt that crossfiters like their intensity and they are used to work hard. The fact of the matter, however, is that the technique does not match the strength level which is why most can’t  lift heavy enough to feel tired at the end of the workout (and it’s not like this feeling is a must, by the way). It can lead to negative feelings (ie : I feel like i’m not working hard enough). Correcting mistakes requires us to lower the weights and really target these mistakes to get rid of them. It’s hard to grasp this at the beginning but with a proper explanation, trainees understand that it will lead to better results later on.

2. The general approach of Crossfit and weightlifting periodization are two different concepts

Oleksiy+Torokhtiy+Olympics+Day+10+Weightlifting+jLilEImHSeJlThe idea of Crossfit is to prepare for whatever it is life has to throw at you. This translate into very varied workouts where the participants are required to push as hard as possible (”Intensity is king” is something I have heard too often). Well, in weightlifting, we are not just working on basic skills and conditioning. We are in the business of perfecting a skill and this requires a specific approach. This means we have to know when to push and when not to push. For this, we use a periodization model in which we evaluate and plan volume, intensity, exercise selection and overall work load. Every nation has their own way of doing this, but nevertheless, the point is that nobody allows technique or physical preparation to be perfected through randomness. 

I often had to explain to some of my lifters that reaching a PR in this sport is not something you do every day. Sure, at the beginning, it goes fast and Pr can be matched often, but after a while you gotta work hard since matching Prs is not something you will do regularly. That is normal and that is why periodization is used. You want to be able to do your best bars where it matters which is on the plateforme. You will often see elite lifters match their best bars once a year.

3. Weightlifting requires an extreme focus on the task at hand

Russian Andrey Demanov reacts as he liftMany will agree that Crossfit is a great community. People work out together and cheer each other. Group training has made Crossfit a social thing and that’s fine by me. The music is extremely loud, too. Now, sure, going through a wod requires a certain kind of focus (ie : Keep pushing). In weightlifting, the focus is just different, and I would argue, more important because of the technical demand of the sport (Yes, I am biased). Unless you do squats or something, the ”idea” of keeping pushing is non existent. Unlike in most Wods, we have long rest periods. What do social creatures in a social community do during long rest periods? They talk, they laugh, and, of course, some complain. 

I coach four women weightlifters on a regular basis. In their rest period, they will talk about everything but weightlifting and, although they won’t admit it, it affects their focus and ultimately their results. I always tell them to stay focused and talk more at the end of the training or during the general warm up. I always feel like a party breaker, but that is the only way to go from good to amazing in this sport. Most people can’t go from rolling on the floor while laughing to setting a PR. You have to concentrate all your energy on what it is you are trying to accomplish. This sport does not work well with an 80% effort. In fact it requires you to give 110%.

In my interview with Olympian Norik Vardanian, we talked about this a little bit. He stated and I quote : ”I have seen the National coach kick out European Champions from the gym because they were goofing off. ” Now I am not as extreme as this, because I believe in a fun and great atmosphere. I am merely stating the fact that focusing your energy on the task at hand, rather than being social, is a must for success in this sport.

4. Resting means resting

tchigi_lgThis one is quick. Wods have conditioned a lot of crossfiters I have worked with to take as little rest as possible. This type of behavior has its place in conditioning but not so much in weightlifting. You have to rest to make sure muscular fatigue and bad timing does not interfere with the learning and perfecting of the skill. At first people can find the pause very long and feel like they are not accomplishing much. To the contrary, it’s actually important to learn this behavior early on because good habits are easier to learn and unlearning bad habits is just much harder. It sounds obvious but I often have to explain it.

5. Too much power movements and jumping around is one of the reason that your progress is stagnant

Strongest ManI don’t know what crossfit coaches tell crossfiters and I won’t comment on whether or not it is good. However, for some reasons, a lot of crossfiters I coach/have coached literally jump 15 to 30 cm (half a foot to a full foot) high on every lift. Now, I am not telling you to not jump (or to jump), but this is excessive and it is limiting your progress as a weightlifter. On top of that, most of the lifts done in crossfit are, more often than not, power lifts. I don’t have anything against power lifts except when you power clean or power snatch more than you can do in the full lifts. This tells me that you like to pull very high and that you can’t transition under the bar very well. I can’t tell you how many lifts I have fixed just by asking crossfiters to do the lifts without jumping (keeping the whole foot glued to the ground).

6. Final word

These are just some of the things that I have noticed by coaching crossfiters how to lift like weightlifters. For clarity purpose, this article is not against crossfit. A lot of readers are crossfiters and I really think that being aware of those points can make them/you better at weightlifting. There are many other things that I could have said but I will save that for another article. However, I feel that these are very important points to consider when coaching crossfiters since their background is so different than ours, eventhough we all like barbells and bumper plates.

7 comments

  • I’m actually transitioning to the “Dark Side” and this article was perfect… thanks!

  • I never done crossfit in my life. Not new to a barbell but recently became extremely fascinated with the complexities of something that use to seem so simple. My goal is to learn Olympic weightlifting nothing competitive but is your opinion better coming in with zero experience vs starting with cf first then going to Olympic lifting?

    • In my opinion, coming into the sport from any background is good 😉 the hardest part for a coach is often to get athletes… However, that being said, its easier to coach somebody who has never touched a barbell because good habits can be formed right away.

  • JP, new reader here, and I am a CFer. I wanted to say that your attitude and the articles that i have read, in regards to weightlifting vs CF are very refreshing. While there are many, many CFers that aren’t interested in being technically proficient lifters, there are just as many that are very interested in the details, both subtle and not so subtle. Personally, I love the days that we work C&J/snatch skill because they are both beautiful lifts, when done correctly, and a lot of fun to improve on! As you have mentioned, there is definitely a rising interest in the sport of Oly lifting due to the exposure CFers are getting to it. It is quite nice to hear that coaches are receptive to including CF in the discussion occasionally. You have earned yourself a new reader today.

    • Hi Drew,

      Thanks for the kind comments and for reading. It’s great to see people interested in our sport but somehow, people sometimes act like it’s an elite club.
      Hopefully it will change over time!

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