To advise an athlete to snatch, clean and jerk, and squat more is not to impart some new, unknown knowledge to the community – in fact, it is well-known that the sport of functional fitness and that of weightlifting intersect heavily.
But, something that may not be emphasized as much is that following a weightlifting program more exclusively may help athletes to develop better overall strength, fitness, technique, and athleticism. Weightlifting coach Randy Hauer discusses the benefits and carry-over of the weight room to the box in this interview.
What are the benefits of weightlifting for athletes?
CrossFit is all GPP (general physical preparedness) all the time. If you look at the ten things that define fitness for CrossFit, those things are also all available in Olympic weightlifting.
I think the better your grasp of how the lifts are actually performed, the more efficient you’ll be. Olympic lifters don’t lift inefficiently, by definition that is a bad lift, a miss. Athletes need to become accustomed to the idea that weightlifting is a kind of GPP for their sport.
If you want to get good at functional fitness, you have to be strong. There is no way around it. If you can’t snatch or deadlift a particular prescribed weight, you’re done. A good way to get strong is to, at least, squat and pull, but you may as well learn the Olympic lifts and get proficient at them. It’ll improve your workouts, and your enjoyment of the sport especially when those lifts come up. You’ll also be a better athlete if you just devote some time to practice the movements. The strength and technique of weightlifting are a mutually rising phenomenon.
The definition of not being strong enough in weightlifting is an inability to hold technique together with a given weight (a miss). When technique breaks down in a muscle-up, you’re done. If it breaks down in Isabelle, you have to take a rest. It’s a useful way to approach both activities as a practice.
How does an athlete approach a WOD that contains weightlifting movements?
When I guest coach a WOD and there’s an Olympic lift in it, like Grace, for example. I ask people what their max is, and that helps me to determine how to scale for an individual. An athlete should scale the movements with weight such that they can get a good time. (A time that an elite person would get at prescribed.) If it takes too long to complete a workout at prescribed, then the athlete loses the goal that the workout is trying to provide (the power-speed endurance component).
Technique is also different in the weight room and in a fitness competition. You can’t use your best weightlifting technique in a race-type setting and be competitive. If you bring Isabelle into the weight room that isn’t going to work, but if you take your weightlifting technique to Isabelle, that’ll help. You’ll know how to keep the bar close, you’ll know how to keep it close on the pull, and you’ll make an appropriate weight selection.
When you engage with the practice of weightlifting and then you go over to the competitive fitness side, now you have a choice, or a style. You can say, “This is how I race,” versus, “This is how I train.”
When should an athlete hit the weight room?
We just got through with the Open. The winnowing of talent from the Open to the Regionals, and the Regionals to the Games makes for a long break between seasons. So, why not take this break to do a month of Olympic weightlifting, or a 12-week program? Lift three days per week and maybe only do METCONS two days per week. And, as you get closer to Open time you can shift that focus around. Four weeks out, WOD four times per week and only lift two times per week, for example, just enough to keep your hand in.
If you look at people who are just competitive fitness athletes, even at the higher-levels, guys like Rich Froning and Matt Chan, these guys spend a ton of time in the weight room. The goal is to optimize the amount of strength that you need, and balance that with the amount of mass that you need to complete movements efficiently.
The strength takes longer to develop, so focusing on it in the off-season will really help when the open comes around.
Photo above:Photo by Colleen Baz, courtesy of Flatirons CrossFit
About the authors:
Randy Hauer is a USAW national and club certified coach. He has 15 years of experience in weightlifting, first as a master’s competitor, and 10 years as a coach. Randy has an extensive background in fitness from powerlifting to cycling and is the head weightlifting coach at Flatirons CrossFit of Boulder, Colorado.
About Alexis: Alexis Bennett is a graduate of The College of Idaho. As a college freshman, she competed as a sprinter for Willamette University and qualified for the 2010 NWC championships in three events. Her appreciation for CrossFit began in high school when a local firefighter introduced her to CrossFit.com as a way to recoup from an injury and a means to stay in shape in the off-season. Alexis punished herself and her friends with workouts from the site until she finally joined a box in 2013. Through several journalism and editorial internships, one with online supplement company Bodybuilding.com and another with the American Quarter Horse Association, Alexis has found a love for writing, and is eager to share athlete stories and other information with the CrossFit community through the open season. Alexis is an Assistant Editor for Horse&Rider magazine, and when she is not at a horse show, squatting or shamelessly indulging in a “pastries for PRs” cheat meal she enjoys to read, cook, and ride horses. She is a part of Flatirons CrossFit and Weightlifting Club in Boulder, CO.
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