Cycling Barbells And Why We Love It

CrossFit gets a lot of flack for encouraging olympic lifting movements within a CrossFit style workout. “Doing a snatch or clean and jerk for multiple reps, when fatigued, is going to create bad habits for an athlete”.

What if I told you that cycling barbells, or moving barbells fast, for a lot of reps can actually HELP your olympic weightlifting technique if done properly! 

When an athlete is able to cycle barbells efficiently, or perform a clean and jerk the EXACT same way, multiple times, tells me that they actually understand the snatch and clean and jerk. 

For example:

Athletes who cycle barbells well understand the importance of balance on their feet. They know that they can not let the bar pull them forward on their toes and they can not sit too far back on the heels. Allowing either of those things to happen results in the inability to string more than one or two reps together. Balance through the WHOLE movement is KEY. 

Second, athletes who cycle barbells efficiently understand that with fatigue comes a decrease in leg drive… so the shrug under and depth in which the athlete receives the bar needs to change often and on the fly. Throwing the feet out wide to get depth or trying to receive the bar at the same heigh regardless of how fatigued the athlete is, results in, again, the inability to string more than one or two reps together. 

Last, athletes who cycle barbells well understand that if they want to be able to move as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible, exerting the least amount of energy as possible, they MUST stay fluid with their movement. Their focus needs to be on moving their body around the bar, rather than trying to manipulate the barbell around their body…like pulling the bar up with their arms, for example. Muscling the bar up for 10+ reps exerts the body to the point where trying to do any sort of movement (gymnastic movements especially!) afterwards is much harder than it needs to be. 

Instead of blaming CrossFit for “encouraging improper technique”, lets take responsibility for our movement by learning the proper technique when cycling barbells. Let’s educate ourselves so that we can understand the lifts in their entirety. This will make it so we can perform the olympic lifts for multiple reps, fast… looking EXACTLY like Mat Fraser when doing so. 

When The Pan Is Hot…

While there is definitely a time and a place for percentages, it’s important to understand that percentages, much like stop signs, are merely suggestions. 

My dad always says, “when the pan is hot, do the cooking”. And while this also applies to the culinary arts, he’s moreso referring to an athlete’s job of being in tune with their body. 

In our sport, there are days when we should be feeling great, but we feel like death. And then there are days when we should be feeling like death, but we feel like we just finished a cycle of Anavar.

*Let it be noted that we do not condone usage of steroids, but believe in talking about them to help provide some comic relief for longer than necessary blog posts *  

Because of this, following percentages to a T can be frustrating and/ or detrimental to progress. 

The frustration comes in when life throws unexpected stressors into our life and keeps our body from being able to perform at 100%. When we’re fixated on hitting certain percentages, it’s easy to get frustrated if we’re unable to hit specific numbers. Negativity or distrust in a program creeps in and this will cause unproductive training sessions. 

A delay in progress can occur when the weightlifting gods decide to bless us with ache-free joints and snappy movement, BUT the program only calls for 70% of our max for the day. It’s important to have the flexibility to take advantage of the days when we feel amazing and go for those bigger weights! Again… “when the pan is hot, do the cooking”.

Of course all of this is on a case by case basis and completely dependent on where you’re at in your cycle or what your goals are for each cycle. So, be honest with yourself as an athlete and have a trusting relationship with your coach… that way the two of you can work together to determine when to stick with percentages and when it’s safe to stray. 

The Starting Position: Points of Performance

There are a lot of different theories about the best, most efficient start position on the snatch and clean and jerk. 

We know that different body types will call for some individual tweaks here and there, but we have found that the following points of performance are best for THE MAJORITY of the weightlifting population…especially beginners:

#1. The whole foot should be gripping the floor with an emphasis on weight sitting on the ball of foot.

This will bring your shins slightly forward. If you’re sitting too far back on your heels, the shins will be straight. We do not want this!

#2. The bar placement is directly above the middle of the foot.

For people who are taller or have longer shins, it’s ok to move the bar A LITTLE BIT off the shins. This tends to make it easier for that bar to move SLIGHTLY back off the ground. 

#3. The hip crease is SIGHTLY above the knees.

You should feel tension equally in the quads, hamstrings and glutes… not one without the others. 

#4. Shoulders sit directly above the toes or bar. 

When looking at the position from the side, you should be able to draw a straight line from the end of the bar up into the shoulder).

#5. Lats engaged. Braced Midline. 

Breathe in and hold. Brace Midline. Engage Lats. Push the floor STRAIGHT DOWN away from you as you stand. 

When To Use A Belt

When first starting the olympic lifts, it’s hard to know when you should or should not use a weightlifting belt. 

All coaches have different opinions on the matter so we thought we’d share ours since it’s the only opinion that is actually fact (kidding) ( kind of). 

As a beginner, there needs to be a clear understanding that if one wants to become proficient in the olympc lifts, they MUST develop strength in their midline. This is a process that takes time and lots of accessory work, but keeping a belt out of the picture in the beginning stages of an athlete’s career is an easy, quick way to teach their midline how to fire on it’s own. It also allows the athlete to build confidence in their body, rather than feeling dependent on a piece of equipment. 

With that being said, we’re (fairly) reasonable people and we KNOW that there is a time and a place for the belt! The belt is a great tool and a great tactile reminder for athletes to brace HARD during a lift. The minute we go to tighten our belt, it’s as if it’s telling us “Hey! Feel this area I’m squeezing? Brace there!”.

So, our rule of thumb is: athletes are allowed to use their belt at 85% or above. 

The “85% rule” seems to offer enough volume at lighter weights to really make our midline work, but it also allows us to use the belt with the weights where we tend to need a little more support and confidence. 

In short, don’t feel dependent on your belt. You should know that you won’t actually die in a training session if you forget your belt at home. BUT, don’t feel guilty if the belt brings you a little comfort with heavier loads. 

Side note: When dealing with back injuries, belts can typically be used a little before 85% to protect the athlete from further irritating the area. 

Meet the Bar!

A common mistake in our sport is when an athlete allows the bar to CRASH on them. Whether it’s overhead when they receive the snatch, or in the front rack when they receive a clean, the bar comes down AFTER the athlete hits the bottom of the lift.

Solution? Power snatches and power cleans!

Coaches need to get their athletes used to receiving the bar at different heights (2″ squat, 4 ” squat, at parallel).

Depending on how light or how heavy a weight is, when an athlete goes to jump a barbell up, it is going to elevate to different levels and an athletes needs to learn to control the descent of their hips in order to receive it at each level.

For example, when the weight is light, an athlete will drive against the ground and because there is less resistance on the bar, the barbell will travel high. So, the athlete must meet it high (yes… even when performing a full snatch!).

When the barbell is loaded to a medium weight, the bar has a little more resistance now, so it will travel up a few inches less.. forcing the athlete to meet it a few inches deeper in their squat. 

Last, when a barbell is loaded with an athlete’s one rep max, the barbell has a ton of resistance on it! So, the weight will only travel up slightly before the athlete must pull his or herself down and around the weight HARD and FAST into their full squat.

You CANNOT take a light weight, jump as hard as you can, and then dive to the bottom of your squat. This is what causes that crash. That disconnect, or lack of tension kept on the barbell when pulling yourself down, inhibits you from learning that there must be CONSTANT awareness of where that barbell is in space.


Brush Up, Don’t Bang Out

In our sport, there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the hips and what their exact role is in our lifts. 

It is very common for people to be hip dominant lifters. They think that in order to create acceleration on the bar, they need to BANG the bar off their hips. 

While there is absolutely contact of the barbell and the hips, we want to think about the contact being more of a BRUSH UP rather than a BANG OUT.

If our focus is on brushing the bar UP off the hips, that will help to create more of a VERTICAL acceleration on the bar rather than a horizontal one… which is generally the path the bar will travel when we think “bang”. 

In addition to a more vertical bar path, thinking “brush” rather than “bang” naturally forces lifters to turn to their legs as their source of power. And when we’re using our legs as our source of power, we’re pushing STRAIGHT down through the floor with a ton of force. That straight down push creates an increase in elevation on the barbell…making the pull under and turn over SIGNIFICANTLY easier. 

So, the next time you think about banging the bar aggressively off your hips…don’t. 

Instead, pay respect to your legs, and the amount of work you’ve put into making them as strong as possible, and let THEM do the work! And, as a result, watch your elevation and acceleration of the barbell (in a vertical fashion) increase as brush the barbell up off your hips. 

Why do you choose olympic weightlifting to be your sport?

Why do you choose olympic weightlifting to be your sport?

Do you do it for the gram? Do you do it to stay in shape?  Do you do it because lifting heavy steel over your head, fast,  makes you feel like a badass? 

Any one of these reasons is fine and great! There is not one reason that is better than the other. However, I do believe, no matter what your reason is…it needs to be paired with a love for the sport. 

Olympic lifting is physically, mentally and emotionally exhilarating, yet exhausting. Day in and day out we put our bodies through tedious, strenuous work all while challenging our minds to try and comprehend the most minuscule technical details of a EXTREMELY difficult movement.  

Knowing these challenges, if there is no love and passion for the sport, how can we find the motivation to get our butts in the gym day after day?

That’s where love and passion come in. 

If you want to cut it as an olympic weightlifter, you need to possess unyielding, unconditional love for this sport and all that it entails: the excitement of peaks, the depression of plateaus, the stress of meets, the tedious years of training, the perfect training cycles that end with a bomb out in competition, the worst training cycles ever that lead to PR lifts, the injuries, the surgeries, the tears of heartache and the tears of joy. 

If you have that, paired with the kind of passion that makes you CRAVE uncomfortable lessons that propel you into a life full of complete understanding of who you are as an athlete, then you’re doing this sport for all the right reasons. And I can’t wait to see where you go. 

Tips and Tricks for 18.5

I like to make it a habit of making everything about me and/or olympic weightlifting, so let us just pretend for a second that the thruster is a clean and jerk and talk about some points of performance when tackling 18.5

We’re (hopefully) going to be doing a ton of thrusters in this workout, so efficiency of movement will be imperative if we hope to maintain a steady tempo. In my opinion, efficiency of our movement will come down to these three things: stability through our feet, proper rack positioning and bar path.

Stability through the feet:

Your feet are your base. They set the stage for the whole rest of the movement, so don’t take foot placement and weight distribution lightly. Wherever your feet are in your back squat and front squat movements are where your feet should be placed in your thruster. This is where you’re strongest and this is where your body likes to squat from.

Because the weight is placed in front of you, maintaining balance through the whole foot (maybe even more slightly back towards the back of the foot) will be key for ensuring that weight does not pull you forward onto your toes. When we get tired.. being pulled forward happens quite easily. Feel your feet against the floor and make sure you’re not sitting too far forward or too far back.

Proper rack positioning:

A proper rack position can be tricky for a thruster. Across the board, I tend to see two different kinds of thrusters. One, an athlete tries to mimic a clean and places the bar all the way back on the finger tips as they descend into their squat. While this is great for keeping the weight on their whole body as they squat, it does create some struggle as they try to fluidly transition into their press. This is because the bar continues to sit too far back on the fingers. If you’ve ever tried to press or jerk off your finger tips, it’s extremely awkward..for everyone involved.

On the other hand, some athletes focus too much on the pressing motion of a thruster and they keep the bar all the way in their hands…causing the elbows to point down as they descend into their squat. This places too much weight forward on their arms which makes the weight feel 100#’s heavier than it needs to.

So, lets find some sort of balance. Try and keep the bar more towards the center of your hand. Not on the finger tips and not all the way in the palms. This will allow for your elbows to stay slightly up on the squat, but also a little more in your hands for when you go to drive and press the bar overhead.

Also, keeping your hands as relaxed as possible while doing this will help that bar rotate as you fluidly transition from squat to press and then back down to squat.

Bar path:

Last, we must understand the best, most efficient bar path. So, I leave you with this:

“The fastest distance between two points is a straight line”. -Sage Burgener (Blogger, coach, physicist).

Don’t fall into the habit of looping the bar around your face in order to avoid potentially damaging your money maker. Visualize a straight line off to the side of you as you move through your thrusters and keep the ends of the bar in line with that straight line through your whole movement. The less that bar moves out of it’s most efficient path, the quicker and more fluid you will move through this movement that was surely invented by the devil himself (not referring to Dave Castro).


Tips on 18.4

It’s easy to assume that 18.4 has nothing to do with olympic weightlifting, but we all know what they say about assuming….

This week, we’ll keep our workout tips short and to the point as we basically had to get a permit for the length of last week’s post.

Luckily, our community is filled with STRONG individuals. This makes the deadlift segment of the workout extremely appealing to most. However, handstand push ups create a different sort of fatigue.. even if we’re not necessarily lacking in shoulder strength and stability.

Dave Castro secretly loves us, so kipping handstand push ups are allowed. This means that we can use timing and momentum to our advantage!

We talk a lot about the importance of positioning and tempo on our dip and drive for a push press, push jerk, jerks, etc. The descent is smooth and controlled, which allows us to be extremely explosive as we drive the bar up over our head (slow is smooth, smooth is fast).

A kipping handstand push up is really no different from a push press! The hand placement is much like a proper rack position with our elbows in more of a 45 degrees angle, but in a handstand push up, the head and hands make more of a triangle. However,  the timing of the kip is almost identical to the timing of our dip and drive!

Think of the knees coming down on your handstand push ups as being the equivalent of your dip on your push press…the build up of energy and momentum. And then, as soon as your knees hit proper depth, you aggressively drive with the legs and hips… allowing all of that momentum to lead you into a fast punching/pressing of the arms.

If your knees come down too fast, or your midline is loose through the kip, or your timing of the down into the up is off, the movement will feel choppy and difficult.

But if your focus is on fluidity and timing and engagement of your midline, you’ll propel your head off the floor much like you propel a barbell off your shoulders.

Good luck on this one, guys!!

Tips and Tricks for 18.3

When looking at 18.3, I can’t help but block out every word that doesn’t rhyme with “shmatch” or “shmosher shed shquat”.

Maybe I’m biased, maybe I’m just obsessed with olympic lifting (definitely both), or maybe I just know better than to offer advice on double unders when I can’t do more than 15 without peeing myself a little.

Here are your tips of the week for 18.3:

Overhead Squats

Your shoulders are going to feel smoked, so a proper overhead position needs to be a priority if you’re going to be able to hold the bar overhead for any length of time.

The two main points I would like for you to focus on in your overhead position (especially when you’re feeling fatigued) are: bar placement and shoulder position.

#1. Bar Placement:

The barbell needs to be placed directly above your hips and heels regardless of where you are in your squat. As you descend into your squat, understand that however far your torso comes forward, that’s how far the bar needs to go back. And then, as you stand and begin to sit more upright, the bar needs to come forward again..returning to it’s original place. Aka counterbalance

A quick way to achieve this is: as you are moving through your overhead squat, envision a straight line off to the side of you. The end of the bar should stay DIRECTLY in line with that imaginary straight line through your whole entire movement.

Focusing on this will also help distract you from the feeling that someone is taking a blow torch to your shoulders. #yourewelcome.

#2. Shoulder Position:

Unfortunately, despite any selfless acts we may have committed in a past life, we don’t all possess the mobility of a fourteen year old Chinese World Champion. So, it is normal for there to be some rotation in our shoulders as we descend into our squat.

Understanding this, I would like for your focus to be on staying away from any extremes. Meaning…do your best to not be excessively internally or externally rotated.

Keep your chest up as much as you can, reach up through your lats and into the barbell and try to keep your body position AND the bar path as vertical as possible.

Even if our body mechanics and mobility do not allow for us to stay completely upright and vertical, visualizing and understanding where we’re SUPPOSED to be, will naturally help us to be more successful.

Dumbbell Snatch:

I’ll keep this one short since I’ve already reached my character count quota for the next 4 years…

When fatigued, it’s natural for a dumbbell snatch to start looking less like a snatch and more like an overly dramatic “bend and snap” (most of the snapping being vertebras shooting out of one’s spine).

So, in the midst of your exhaustion, do your best to remember that “the fastest distance between two points is a straight line”. In other words, keep that dumbbell as close to you as possible.

Last, we are SO LUCKY in that our shoulders are being used way more than our legs in this workout! So, let’s give our shoulders a break on these DB snatches and focus on JUMPING the dumbbells up with our legs, rather than pulling them up with our arms.

Good luck on 18.3! Have fun and remember the wise words from Kenny Powers, “I play real sports.. I’m not trying to be the best at exercising” (except that CrossFit is a sport and you ARE trying to be the best at exercising).