At Lift Lab, we have been lucky enough to work with a lot of Crossfitters that wanted to get a deeper taste of the sport of Weightlifting. Honestly, Crossfit gets somewhat of a bad reputation in the Weightlifting community, but there are a lot of benefits in having a background in Crossfit.
Today I want to discuss where Crossfitters tend to have some strengths that will help them in Weightlifting, and where some of their weaknesses tend to lie. Hopefully, if you are someone with a Crossfit background that wants to make the switch to Weightlifting, this will help you.
Disclaimer: I will use "Weightlifting and Olympic lifting here interchangeably, but I am talking about the same thing.
So, what are some strengths that Crossfitters tend to have?
One thing is for certain is that most of them have incredible work capacity. Crossfit is centered around getting a ton of work done in as little amount of time as possible. This capacity helps a lot from an Olympic lifting standpoint because it will prepare them to handle a lot of training volume. Being able to handle a lot of training volume means more time to practice technique and get a lot of reps in.
A Crossfit background also gives a lot of people a decent base of strength to start with. I don't think anyone would compare Crossfitters to very strong Powerlifters, but they do have a good foundation of strength. This means when they start a Weightlifting program not as much time needs to be spent on developing strength, and that excess time can be spent on developing technique related to the Olympic lifts.
I will branch off and be a bit more specific about the last quality, and say that a lot of Crossfitters have pretty good overhead strength. A lot of movements in Crossfit are overhead movements so they have pretty good strength developed in this area. This is huge in Weightlifting because the snatch and clean and jerk are overhead movements, and you need to be competent in that area. Again, that is just one less thing that has to be developed when starting a Weightlifting program.
Now for the weaknesses, which I am sure everyones loves...
While Crossfitters have very good work capacity, this actually limits them in some areas. A lot of training in Crossfit is around the 60-80% range for higher reps. Not a whole lot of training gets done at heavier weights and less reps. This is great if you want to get bigger muscles and good conditioning, but not the best if you want to get strong at specific lifts. We find that a lot of technique from Crossfitters really breaks down once they get above this 75-80% threshold.
I'm sure I am not the first one to say this, but Crossfitters don't typically have the best Olympic lifting technique. And, they don't really have to. A lot of Crossfit is done under fatigue and how fast you can muster up a bunch of reps. They need to just be efficient as they need to be to complete a certain amount of reps in a given amount of time. However, this doesn't help them much if they want to get stronger Olympic lifts.
Lastly, I will get a bit more specific on the technique part. We tend to see a trend in technique weaknesses when we assess many athletes from a Crossfit background. Most of them like to shift the weight and pressure to the front of their foot throughout the lift, which results in swinging the bar forward, and they also tend to not be the best split jerkers. I think this is because the former allows them to complete reps a bit faster in a WOD, and the latter is simply that they don't practice split jerks that much. One could say that you can just get really good at power or push jerks, but I come from the opinion that one will almost always be stronger in a split. Which is why most of the best Olympic lifters in the world split jerk.
What to work on?
So, how does one take this information and make it practical?
Well, first of all you have to decide if you want to really get better at Olympic lifting or not. If you don't, then keep doing Crossfit, and most of what I say next won't apply to you. If you want to get better at Olympic lifting then below are some things I think you may benefit from working on.
I don't necessarily think you have to stop doing Crossfit, but depending on how much you do it, one less day/week might be beneficial.
I think Crossfitters will benefit from doing less reps. Yes, you read that right....less reps. This doesn't necessarily mean less reps totally, but less reps in a given set. If you want to get better at snatch and clean and jerk I think it would be wise to work on them at heavier weights than you might in a Crossfit WOD, with a lot more rest built in. This will give you more practice at heavier weights, and will give you more time to work on technique when you aren't tired. No matter how hard you want to or try, you simply can't really focus on technique if you are exhausted.
Crossfitters will also benefit from general strength work at higher percentages and less reps. I think this is the area that generally gets neglected in Crossfit. Like I said, a lot of work is done from 60-80%. I think they should work on developing at higher percentages.
Like I mentioned above, many would also be better served to work on split jerk a lot more as over time you will be able to do more weight this way.
Lastly, it is probably a good idea to find a good Weightlifting coach and start getting some coaching a couple days a week. This is the only way you can really fine-tune your technique over time. I know a lot of people think they can coach themselves, but it simply isn't the best long-term solution.
Fortunately, we can definitely help you out with that last part. If you are interested in bettering you Olympic lifting technique, please reach out to me at Justin@liftlabco.com and I would love to get you set up for an assessment!