CrossFit defines fitness in 10 ways, most of which you should be familiar with. How many of them do you know offhand? List as many of them as you can in your head or on a piece of paper (I’m listing them in the next sentence, so don’t cheat and read ahead). They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Get them all? Now pick one movement that encompasses every one of those elements. You can cheat and use the title of the article for a hint.
Maybe you agree with me and maybe you’re wondering how in the hell an Olympic lift (clean/jerk and snatch) can be defined by each of those elements. In any case, read on!
Let’s talk about the obvious qualities first. In order to clean and jerk or snatch something heavy, you have to be strong, powerful, coordinated, and balanced at a bare minimum. If you have any experience with Olympic lifting, you know that it’s a violent, but controlled movement that requires all your limbs and body to be synchronized. You also need to have good body awareness and balance to stop yourself from falling down. And unless you are horrendously strong, you’ve got to be technically sound and coordinated to put a body weight snatch overhead. We have well over 100 members at the gym now, how many do you think can do this? You can count them on one hand. I admit that I omitted some elements that you may feel are crucial for Olympic lifting, but for the sake of article flow, let’s say that those 4 are imperative.
Moving on, have you ever seen a successful Olympic lift that looked slow? No. I’m telling you that you haven’t. These lifts require speed, and the faster you are, the better. If you think you’ve seen a good lift that was slow, you were watching a slow-motion video. Keep thinking and you’ll realize that an Olympic lift is over before you have time to think of your first and last name. If you try to say your first and last name in your head while you’re Olympic lifting just to prove me wrong, you aren’t focused on your lift and you’re going to get punished with burpees. You gotta have speed!
Agility ties in nicely with speed. CrossFit defines it as the ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another. Olympic lifts are a series of movement patterns smashed into a sexy amalgamation of body control. Be agile like a puma. That’s 2 more elements bringing our total to 6 for everyone counting at home.
Flexibility. Necessary or not? Necessary. Duh. In Olympic lifting, we want to keep the barbell as close to our center of gravity as possible. If you catch a clean in front of your center due to lack of flexibility in the front squat, you’re likely dumping it forward. You’ve got to have enough flexibility through your hips and torso (lower extremities too) to keep that bar right over your center of gravity. The same applies to the snatch, but with greater importance. The overhead squat is the hardest of of the squat complexes that we use due to the demanding nature of keeping a barbell centered overhead. If the barbell starts on the floor and we have to get it to an overhead squat position as quick as possible, you better believe that snatching it and keeping it close to your body is the way to go. As an addendum, if you don’t have flexibility in your wrists, it makes it awfully hard to catch a clean on the deltoids in good front squat position. Flexibility for the win. That’s 7.
First pull, second pull, third pull, get under the bar, catch it with a tight core. What happens if you miss a position? You miss the lift. Your ability to control movement in a given direction and at a given intensity is your ability to be accurate. Similar to coordination, but more about moving the body into precise positions. 80%. We’re creeping into B territory.
The two physical skills that have been yet undiscussed are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance and stamina. How could we possibly improve these skills via Olympic lifting? Put 135# on a barbell (95# for ladies). Clean and jerk it 30 times as fast as you can. I’ll wait, you can tell me how you feel when you catch your breath. By loading a barbell with moderately heavy weight and moving it in a distinct movement pattern as fast as possible, we necessarily tax our hearts and lungs. Stamina is the ability of your body to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy. Without it, you would only be able to clean and jerk the bar 4 or 5 times before cashing out. Stamina is important and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Obviously, lifting like this all the time is not going to make you technically proficient at Olympic lifting, but it will tax your systems in other ways, and that’s what we’re looking for. That’s 10 out of 10, right?
Olympic lifting requires technical skill along with raw power. It’s a fantastic hybrid and that’s why we like the two lifts so much. It requires plenty practice and drilling technique. You can practice at the gym with PVC or at home with a broomstick. Oh come on, it’s not that weird to practice at home with a broomstick, you wear toe shoes for God’s sake. Ultimately, we utilize Olympic lifting in our workouts because it fulfills all 10 of the general physical skills that CrossFit uses to define fitness. You might not like it, but that’s probably because you need to practice more. Clean and jerks and snatches get an A from us.