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Why Crossfit is a Good Foundation for Olympic Lifting
People see the Olympic lifts and don't know where to start. We see quite a bit of people at Lift Lab that are interested in Olympic lifting and have never tried it. Some people are starting it from an extensive athletic background and some people no real experience lifting weights at all. While we will work with anybody and can get virtually anybody to improve at the sport there are certain backgrounds that make it much easier to get better at Olympic lifting. One, perhaps contrary to popular belief, is Crossfit. We see a good amount of Crossfitters come through our doors that want to put the Crossift away for awhile and just focus on Olympic lifting. While Crossfit has got a bad reputation for installing bad technical habits (some of it is warranted), it has also done a great job at developing qualities that sort of go unnoticed when developing a beginner Weightlifter. Weightlifting coaches have a tendency to only focus on things from a technical lens. This makes sense since they've spent a lot of time understanding the technique of the Olympic lifts and coaching it. However, to get a newer lifter better at the sport, you have to focus on qualities that come outside the technical scope. And this is one thing that Crossift has done a great job at. Crossfit is built around doing a lot of work. Pretty much any Crossift workout will leave you feeling very gassed. I'm not one for making people feel like their throwing up just for the sake of it, but one thing Weightlifting centric programs don't have is a lot of things focused on work capacity. If you're a veteran lifter you most likely don't need to work on this and just need to keep doing snatch and clean and jerk. Newer lifters, especially ones that don't have an extensive training background need a good base of work capacity. If you are only focused on developing technique, you are not going to develop the work capacity and general strength necessary to improve someone's efficiency at the lifts. I've worked with a ton of Crossfitters turned Weightlifters, and one thing they all had in common, technical issues aside, is they all were very strong and fit relative to their Olympic lifts. This is a good thing, because then all you need to focus on is technique and you know they can handle high volume training loads. This makes it fairly easy as a coach because you can just focus on the quality of technical development rather than technique AND strength and conditioning. This is all a long winded way to say, if you are coaching new Weightlifters, it is important to make sure you increase general physical qualities and not jus the near-sighted on technical improvements. Because in the long run, this isn't going to be in the lifter's best interest.
Thoughts on Staying "Tight" During the Olympic Lifts
It is important to stay tight, but not too tight. It is important to stay tight enough that you hold the correct positions throughout the lift to ensure the bar gets to the right spot. On the flip side, you don't want to stay too tight. This isn't Powerlifting so you don't need to breathe and squeeze to the point where you're eyeballs look like they're going to pop out. The reason for this is because Weightlifting is a change of direction sport and about generating velocity on the barbell. What this means is that in order to accelerate the bar appropriately we need a release in tension. If we don't get this release in tension, then the bar isn't going to change speeds and we aren't going to be able to change directions either. Just like a pitcher has to know how to release tension at the perfect moment so the ball zips out of his hand, a Weightlifter needs to know how to release tension so he or she can accelerate the bar and get under at the same moment. It is that feeling of weightlessness, and you can't get it if you are too "tight." This is why "stay tight' isn't the best cue in Olympic lifting and we should be more focused on cueing someone to get in the right positions at the right time.
"New Year, New Me." Some Thoughts on Goals and Mockery Of.
"New Year, New Me." "New Year, Same Me." It seems like this is a part of the year where everyone makes goals while simultaneously everyone mocks people for making goals. Some people need to change and some people think they are okay right where they are at. They are going to keep doing the same thing they did last year because that's who they are and who they want to be. However, we all need to change, and sometimes the start of a new year is the perfect time to start making changes. We all need to change because we are not perfect. It is impossible to be perfect and there are things where most of us probably want to be more perfect at. There are just degrees of becoming better or worse at something. These things may change, but to say you are perfectly fine with the way you are just means you are settling, or the most enlightened individual of all time. I'll let you make that decision, but I know I am definitely not the latter. I think adopting the "new year, same me" mindset is really just part of living in fear. It is too scary and uncomfortable to change. It requires us to acknowledge and feel some very uncomfortable things and that is no easy task. A much easier task is to say you don't want to change and mock people who set New Year's resolutions. So, the only person that really knows that you need to change and what to change is you. The key is to not fool yourself because your mind is going to try to convince you that you are okay with where you're at. But, it is perfectly okay with not feeling okay with where you're at and all the very hard feelings that come with that. Maybe you need to lose weight, maybe you need to eat healthier, maybe you need to be a better spouse, etc. The first step in becoming better in any of these areas is to first admit that you need to be better. That honestly might be the toughest part for most people. Once you can feel the negative feelings you can start to align with what needs to be done in order to accomplish those goals. This may even lead to some positive feelings. Making a plan and the thought of sticking to it and making progress can start to feel good. I think there are two things that drastically effect whether or not you achieve your goals. One, is obviously doing the work necessary to reach those goals, but everyone knows that. I think what is harder for most people is letting themselves not feel like shit when they screw up the plan or don't temporarily do the work. Life is a long journey and there really isn't any failure. There is just learning and refusing to learn. The key is giving yourself some grace in the process while also ruthlessly pursuing your goals. These two things combined can become very lethal. I know this isn't a very comprehensive and practical guide to achieving your goals, but it also seems the common ideas thrown around aren't working to well either. I think the relationships we have with our goals and also therefore ourselves can play a much bigger part than we think. If you wanted to get started on your journey this year and think you need some help. Email me at email@example.com to set up an assessment!
Squatting First in an Olympic Lifting Program. Why You Should
Squatting before the Olympic lifts I think gets hated on a bit too much in the Olympic lifting community. That, or I am just talking to the wrong people. I think squatting before doing the competition lifts or variations of can be quite useful for some people. First, it allows you to push the squats harder because you simply have more energy in the tank. The downside of this would be that your Olympic lifts may suffer because you have less energy in the tank. However, I think this can be mitigated if you pick the right variations of the Olympic lifts. If you try to do all your lifts from the floor after squatting you may be in for a bit of trouble as that is more taxing than say a snatch or clean from blocks. So, if you are going to squat before your Olympic lifts it is best to pick variations of the lifts that aren't as taxing as your typical competition lifts. Things like blocks, powers, hangs, etc. might be a better bet. Secondly, speaking from a purely theoretical standpoint I think squatting first can provide some unique adaptations. Obviously if you're squatting heavy before anything else your force production is going to drop off. But, I think this provides an opportunity to recruit motor units that might usually go un-recruited because you are much more fatigued and your body essentially has to find ways to keep producing more force. Trying to produce a lot of fore when you are fatigued can go badly if you take it too far, but there is probably a middle ground when you are tired and still getting quality adaptation by recruiting motor unit that are usually untapped when not as fatigued from squatting. The idea would be that those units become primary after adaptation and you can produce more force. Lastly, squatting first lets you shut your brain off during the lifts because you are simply too tired to overthink technique or have anxiety about a specific attempt. Fatigue an be a good thing to tap into so don't shy away from it. I think there is a productive way to add squatting first to a program if you understand the effects of specific load/volume of various exercises. And remember, this is something you would only do two, MAYBE three times/week during a training block.
Why Bodybuilding is the Best General Fitness Training
This post first deserves a disclaimer as to what I mean by bodybuilding training. When I say bodybuilding I am not talking specifically about the physiques most people would associate with bodybuilding. Those such as Arnold and others who seem to possess muscle mass that most don’t think is possible. Because it usually isn’t possible without the aid of performance enhancing substances.
Instead, what I am talking about when I use the term “bodybuilding” is a style of training which puts focus on gaining muscle mass and losing body fat.
If you polled most people as to what they would like an exercise program to change about their body they would say something along the lines of getting more “defined” or more “toned.” Meaning, more muscle and less body fat.
The disconnection comes when people think the best way to achieve this goal of becoming more defined is by doing more cardio. More running, more treadmill work, more minutes spent on the elliptical, etc, etc. There is nothing against these forms of exercise, but they are not the best option to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. I will argue that bodybuilding style training is the best option for that.
Bodybuilding style training consists mostly of free weight, barbell, and cable/machine training. That is because these tools allow an individual to best stimulate the muscle in a way to promote an increase in size. That is because you can use a heavy enough load and stimulate specific muscles directly. This would be the different between choosing a leg press over a front squat for instance. The leg press specifically targets the legs and someone can use way more load on a leg press than a front squat. Allowing them to promote more hypertrophy of the legs. The front squat also has a steep learning curve that the leg press doesn’t.
Bodybuilding style training has gotten a little bit of a bad rep over the years because people have claimed it isn’t “functional.” Using machines or barbell and dumbbells only will prevent moving in a semi-unathletic way. Arguing these claims would take another article, but I will just say that this type of training won’t if you balance it with other athletic activities, and most people really don’t want to be super athletic at the end of the day. They want to look good.
If you are a normal person and by normal I mean someone not trying to train to the absolute extremes in the gym it may to help get a different perception of bodybuilding in your mind. Don’t think of the extremely muscle bound people that are taking steroids, eating only chicken and broccoli, and getting up on stage with a spray tan. Simply think, weight training. And, if you do want to remain a little more athletic with age, you can add some medicine ball plyometric circuits at the end of your bodybuilding workout.
How to Avoid Surgery and Get Back to Living the Life You Want to Live
You injured yourself. This time it’s actually pretty bad. You go to the doctor they tell you to try rehab, but you will likely need surgery. But, you don’t want surgery because you still want to do the things you love to do. Whether that be Jiu-Jitsu, Weightlifting, fishing, etc. Surgery will take away a lot of time from doing these things and in the extreme cases sometimes it will prevent you from ever doing them again. You politely tell the doctor to fuck off. But, what’s next?
After I left high school people told me the new wrestling coach power cleaned 300lbs while having no functioning ACL’s. I personally rehabbed someone back from an ACL tear in the gym without having surgery. Many athletes perform at the highest levels while having a crucial ligament torn. You don’t NEED to get surgery to function.
How we train in the gym following an injury can be crucial in the rehab process and long-term development of an athlete/client.
There are two crucial variables that I think heavily determine how effective your rehab process is. That is load management and exercise selection.
The site of an injury is fairly sensitive to load. A 30lbs dumbbell now “aggravates” the shoulder. It is appropriate to only use loads that the site of injury can tolerate and gradually increase the load so the site can gradually adapt to the stressor and send the biological resources necessary to grow “stronger.”
Secondly, exercise selection is crucial so as to not place any unnecessary load/force onto the site of injury. This is where a 1-arm cable lat pulldown might be a much better option after a shoulder injury than a pull-up because the pulldown you are getting nothing but muscular tension rather than stress on the joint/ligaments.
If you can really dial in these two variables I think you can have massive success in avoiding surgery and getting clients back to living the lives they want to live. The more experience you have the better you are going to be at this process.
How Much Squatting Do You Need in Olympic Lifting?
A common question in Weightlifting circles is, "how much squatting do you need to get better at the snatch and clean and jerk?” This question can largely depend on the needs of each individual lifter, but I think it also has a largely general answer.
The goal of Weightlifting is to have the highest snatch and clean and jerk. These are literally the only two lifts that matter. You never get tested for your squat strength on meet day. The best lifters are the ones who are great at the snatch and clean and jerk—not necessarily the squat.
Yes, squatting can give you the increase in leg strength that might allow you to lift more weight on the bar in the snatch and clean and jerk, but I think this has largely been overestimated by coaches.
For a newer lifter I don’t think they need to squat very much at all. They may need to front squat to get the mobility and movement of the front rack down, but their limiting factor is largely going to be their technique. No amount of squatting and increasing their strength is going to get them more technically sound.
For intermediate and advanced lifters you can make the argument that they need more squatting because they aren’t as limited from a technical perspective. Especially advanced lifters.
It all comes down to how you want to spend most of your time in the gym. You only have so much time to train and only a few things you can really focus on getting better at. One thing that squatting a lot will do is increase fatigue, which will allow you to put less energy into the snatch and clean and jerk.
We all know the lifters who can barely front squat more than their best clean and jerk. This is because they are extremely technically competent and their is very little energy being lost in unwanted movement during the lifts. We also know the lifters who are insanely strong, but can’t snatch very much because their movement isn’t great.
I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but there is also a lot of truth in the statement: “the best way to get better at snatch and clean and jerk is to snatch and clean and jerk.” Everyone loves squatting and being able to increase their strength on the squat. I do just as much as anyone else, but don’t forget the only two lifts that matter in Weightlifting are the snatch and clean and jerk. And to truly get better at these lifts we likely need to spend the majority of our time mastering these movements at appropriate levels of difficulty.
"Extend," But Not Too Much
There was a time when I first got super into Olympic lifting that I excessively fixated on the “triple extension” of the lift. I thought this was by far the most important part of the lift. Plus, I thought it was the coolest part of the lift as well.
There is something I think that is important to note about this extension of the lift. As you see in the picture here the hips and knees are about as fully extended as they can be during the lift. What is important is that in this moment there is virtually no force continuing to be applied into the floor. This position is the result of the lifter’s peak force/velocity, which occurs right before this position, and not the cause of peak force/velocity.
When lifters fixate too much on trying to find this extremely extended position what you might find is that they are trying to push into the ground too long and/or are delaying getting under the bar. Usually as a result of trying to extend for too long.
You might find that extremely successful lifters might not ever reach full knee extension. This is because they have figured out how to produce maximum or “enough” velocity on the bar while simultaneously accelerating themselves under the bar.
Weightlifting isn’t just a sport about velocity, but change of direction as well. Due to this, it is important to get a crucial understanding and experience of the physics of the lift. If your body is continuing to move vertical while peak velocity has already been achieved on the bar, you might be losing a few kilos on your lifts.
A Case for Bottom-Up Weightlifting
In complex systems theory there is this idea that small stressors to a system magnify over time. While something may not seem catastrophic to a system in the near-term, and perhaps it is even beneficial to the system, over time it can have catastrophic effects. This idea is also called the “law of unintended consequences.” But, what does this have to do with Weightlifting?
A lot of Olympic lifting is taught from the top down. Meaning, when a lifter first starts to learn the lifts, they might learn the overhead position first, then they learn the position at the hip, then the knee, and then finally the floor. This is a pretty popular way in which many coaches decide to first teach the Olympic lifts to someone. There is nothing inherently wrong with this way, but I believe an approach from the bottom up is actually better.
Just like I mentioned with complex systems, how small mistakes magnify over time, as to with Weightlifting, this same idea applies. If a lifter doesn’t have a good position off the floor, a tiny mistake here can result in an even bigger mistake when the bar gets to the hip. So, at Lift Lab, we decide to first teach the lifter a good starting position, and then a good position bringing the bar off the floor to the knee. The only reason as to why we do this is because we feel it sets the lifter up much better when they start to drill positions at the hip.
We believe that lifters might have made a bunch of technical progress at the hip, but then when you move them to the floor they can’t even get into a good position at the hip, because they screwed up in some way off the floor. So, in order to limit this magnitude of mistakes we try to keep mistakes very small or negligible at the beginning of the lift to set the lifter up for success to finish the lift.
This might have been a mistake of mine during my first 3-4 years coaching the Olympic lifts. I was so worried about good position and execution at the hip and when the lifter finishes their “pull,” that I was setting the lifter up for optimal success when they had to do the full lift from the floor. I now see and truly believe that learning an ideal start position and push off the floor is extremely crucial in the rest of the lifter’s learning and development as time goes on.
Just as something can look sweet early on there may be unintended consequences to this. Cookies taste sweet in the present, but if you eat too many you can quickly gain weight. Dial in a quality position off the floor so you can limit mistakes the rest of the lift.
If you have any technical questions in regards to Weightlifting, or how you can get started in the sport, please feel free to contact me at Justin@liftlabco.com. We would love to help in your journey.
A Comprehensive Approach to Nutrition
I am reading Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" right now and he mentions looking for secrets in certain areas as a place for innovation. What is nature keeping a secret and what are people keeping a secret? One place he mentions secrecy is in academia, and believe it or not he points to nutrition. Physics has been around as an established science forever and we know more about the physics of the stars than we do about our own nutrition. Hence, nutrition may be holding some secrets.
It seems quite obvious that no one can agree upon a comprehensive approach to nutrition. No one in the sciences can and no one in the public domain can either. Each new week there is a new diet being branded as the best way to do (insert something that can be achieved easily). All of these diets seem to miss the mark. How can people make reasonable nutrition decisions when they get contradictory info everywhere they look?
It doesn’t need to be that way. We can take a principled approach to make informed decisions and not leave us victim to the newest set of fraudulent marketing schemes.
When it really comes down to it nutrition is all about energy. Consuming energy in the form of food to keep us alive. Thousands of years ago it used to be hard to get food, which is why most humans were skinny relative to today, because they simply couldn’t eat all the time. We have the opposite problem these days. We have no shortage of food and the most easily available forms of food are extremely calorie dense.
Nutrition can easily be understood from a simple energy balance equation. If you consume more energy (in the form of food) than you expend (in the form of exercise, regular bodily processes to keep you alive, etc.) then you will store excess energy (in the form of fat, or even muscle in some circumstances). This is your typical weight gain scenario. However, most advice I see in the nutrition sphere seems to distract people from this simple truth. Yes, there is more to healthy nutrition, but to me this seems like the most principled starting point. You have to understand this.
When talking about healthy nutrition decisions I think we have to first focus on body weight and composition. Most unwanted effects of poor health can be largely attributed to being overweight and lack of exercise. The focus of this post is the former. Directly influencing your body composition to keep you at a healthy weight (different for each individual) will solve a large portion of health related problems. So, it stands to reason that are biggest focus should be on improving our body composition.
A lot of nutrition advice tends to focus on what you are eating. I think this is important, but not as important as how much you are eating. You can still overeat on all the “ right” things, and therefore you are still overweight. If you control how much you eat in relation to how much energy you tend to expend you can start to specifically make positive body composition changes. Some will say, "yeah you can lose weight by only eating sugar, but that’s not healthy.” While this is partially true, I am only concerned about calorie consumption as the first order of business. Also, it will likely be super hard to eat the appropriate amount of calories only from sugar, or only from fat, or only from protein for that matter. Your biology and environment are a self-regulating process to this in a sense.
Once, and only once you start to find the appropriate energy balance equation to get and keep you at a healthy body composition, can you really start to worry about what you eat. Most people, and no attack on them because they are being conditioned to, focus on the reverse. You can consume all the Vitamin D, CBD oil, or micronutrients you want, but if your energy balance isn’t right you will still be overweight, and still have to face the negative consequences of that.
There is a lot more that can be said in regards to nutrition, but that’s where I think our problem begins, and this lets people sell advice that have no business selling advice. What we need is a comprehensive and universal approach that can work for most people most of the time. That is what I attempted to lay out here. Finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is going to do more for your health than any nutrition program telling you what to eat. The biggest part of finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is to find the right balance between how much energy you are consuming to how much you are expending. Most people, because most people are overweight, need to error on the side of consuming less and expending more.
The matter of best nutrition practices really comes down to this equation of energy balance. Yes, some other things have their place, but let’s make sure we’re not missing the forest from the trees. Interested in contacting a coach? Click HERE
Transferring From Crossfit to Olympic Lifting
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. Strengths 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. Weaknesses 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!
Any session over 90% is a roll of the dice . High performance is a physical, mental, and technical combination. Some days go better than others. This lift by lift progression shows a heavy session finishing in a PR for both lifts! During warm up larger jumps are made. Above 90% decreasing incremental jumps are made to and beyond 100%. Remember. Above 100% the athlete is going to a place they have never been. If you hit PR, move on. Contact a Coach HERE! #liftlab #liftlabathlete #weightlifting #olympiclifting #olympicweightlifting #indy #indydowntown #indiana #cleanandjerk #nikeweightlifting #usaweightlifting #usaw #indyfitness #rogue #ryourogue #snatch #indianaweightlifting