“Every Day is Gains Day!”

Why weightlifting makes you stronger…and better at METCONs

Pyrros Dimas — The Most Decorated Olympic Weightlifter in History. (Courtesy of Glenn Pendlay)

The Rush

We all love it. It’s the reason we started CrossFit. Nothing gives you that feeling like finishing a MECTON (Metabolic Conditioning) with sweat pouring from your face and that penny taste in your throat — a.k.a. “Fran Lung.” CrossFitters have become comfortable in the METCON everyday cycle. If we’re being honest, who hasn’t logged on to WODIFY and decided “today is a good rest-day” after spotting a running or strength workout? But, the truth is without dedicated strength and technique focused sessions, MECON times will simply not improve.

Check out this interesting read: ‘The Dangers of a Metcon Addict’ from The Rx Review.

Weightlifting and CrossFit

Olympic Weightlifting is an integral part of CrossFit programming. Seven of the nine CrossFit Foundational Movements are weightlifting centric. If you view a month-long sample of CrossFit main site programming, I would argue that over a quarter of the prescribed workouts contain one or more Olympic Weightlifting or Power Lifting movements. Not to mention — Wall-Ball, Dumbbell and Kettle-bell variations usually involve a movement analogous to barbell Olympic Weightlifting or Power Lifting movements. So, if almost every workout we encounter likely contains one or more elements of weightlifting, then why do we shy away from dedicated Oly-work? That’s where our individual bias comes in.

“Weightlifting is boring. It takes too long to achieve a PR. It’s hard. It’s going to make me too bulky.”

For a lot of us, this is the perception of weightlifting. Unfortunately, these are common misconceptions that limit talented athletes from achieving their full potential. As for the fear of bulking up: unless you are drastically changing your diet and fully dedicating yourself to a heavy weightlifting focus — have no fear. Kellie Edit: Ladies — take heart! It would seriously take a LOT to look like Brooke, here. Kudos to anyone that has her dedication. For the rest of us, LET’S JUST BE STRONG!!!

For most of us, life is not consumed with training. It is consumed with kids, careers, jobs and responsibilities. In a [my] perfect world, we could train several times a day for five-to-six days a week. This flexible training cycle would accommodate several strength and MECTON workouts per-day or — more reasonably — during your training week.

However, with limited freedom to train only once a day perhaps three times a week, a METCON seems like the best option to maintain our General Physical Preparedness. In CrossFit gyms across the world, strength sessions are crammed into ten-minute increments at the beginning of a CrossFit class. We blast through our 3–3–3 Front Squats and then on to the METCON. Sound familiar? What we are missing is dedicated technique work and a focus on improving our lifts.

Camille Leblanc Bazinet: 2014 Fittest Woman on Earth and Competitive Weightlifter.

A Case for Weightlifting

Greg Everett from Catalyst Athletics provides a comprehensive article on the necessity to include dedicated weightlifting into any CrossFit program. Everett is a renowned Olympic Weightlifting coach and is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Olympic Weightlifting (check out his site and YouTube channel). Admittedly, he is biased toward a weightlifting focus, but he presents several good points. CrossFit is comprised of gymnastics, body weight movements, running, rowing, weightlifting, and a variety of other tasks sprinkled in from time-to-time. He argues that no other movement in CrossFit requires athletes to gain the technical competence such as that which is required of the Olympic Weightlifting movements. In truth, as complicated as kipping pull-ups and muscle-ups are, these movements are only parts or portions of larger gymnastics routines — just ask anyone who participated in competitive gymnastics. However, the Olympic Weightlifting elements of CrossFit workouts demand a complete understanding of the movement in its entirety if done properly — and safely.

Everett further breaks CrossFitters into three categories: CrossFitter, Weightlifting CrossFitter, and CrossFitting Weightlifter. The CrossFitter focuses on pure CrossFit programming. The Weightlifting CrossFitter is like most of us — focused on CrossFit, but also improving Olympic Lifts. The CrossFitting Weightlifter is — you guessed it — focused on Olympic Lifts, but participates in CrossFit to remain well rounded. I would argue that the best fit for most of us would be the Weightlifting CrossFitter.

The Sweet Spot

Using Everett’s typology, I would like to make an argument for us to become the Weightlifting CrossFitter. The danger in creating any bias in programming is that you will inevitably move farther away from the essence of CrossFit. Greg Glassman (founder of CrossFit) began this fitness movement with an emphasis on not specializing in any single discipline. Specialization looks something like a CrossFitter who begins to focus on the Olympic Weightlifting aspect of the sport and then abandons CrossFit. This dynamic has ironically led to the transformation of several CrossFitters into top USA Weightlifting athletes — but don’t remind weightlifters that CrossFit popularized their sport!

Morghan king: Former CrossFit Regionals Athlete turned USA Weightlifter.

A Weightlifting CrossFitter would be an athlete who works on the Olympic Lifts in their entirety and accessory lifts (Pulls, Dead-Lifts, Squats, Presses) one-to-two days a week, and then transitions to a METCON two-to-three times a week. Based on schedule and life demands, one can manage this alternating cycle as appropriate.

So, let’s talk programming. In the CrossFit level-I manual the author presents a basic programming template. It looks a bit like the schedule discussed above. Look at the CrossFit main site programming. You will find a strength or skill specific workout sandwiched by METCONs the day post and prior, or the other way around. So, in example: METCON-SKILL-METCON, or, SKILL-METCON-SKILL.

“But, I just don’t feel like I get anything from a strength workout.”

Agreed. However, it’s not the workout, it’s the presentation. As previously discussed, strength/skill sessions are often crammed into ten-minute segments at the beginning of a CrossFit class. That’s not a strength session. A true strength or skill focused workout would take — at a minimum — an hour to complete. The intensity you desire comes from the effort exerted toward that specific lift or accessory lift at maximum or sub-maximum levels. Let’s say we are working on Cleans, Jerks, Clean-Pulls and Front Squats over an hour block at 75% of our 1-Rep Max (1-RM). Pretty intense. But it’s a different type of intensity. Strength training places demands on your central nervous system that differ from METCONs. Not to get too technical, but the intensity is similar, yet places different demands on your body. I would compare it to an interval run versus a tempo run (for us recovering runners). Both provide levels of intensity, but vary by type.

Moreover, working at the same level of intensity everyday is actually detrimental to overall fitness. Your body does not have sufficient time to recover, nor are you asking your body to adapt to new or different tasks. Barbell Shrugged provides a compelling argument regarding the effect of intensity on strength training and recovery.

Another advantage to working on strength and technique is the output this produces toward METCONs. Fran sucks — we can all agree on that. It sucks because it is somewhat technical and demands a great deal of anaerobic ability. Plus, it’s 95# or 65# thrusters…right? What if you worked on your thruster technique and heavy thrusters during separate sessions? Technique work outside of METCONs helps your body adapt to that movement without the pressure of the clock or completing a workout. It’s not a good idea to reinforce bad technique during a timed workout — but we’ve all done it. Simply put, “practicing” movements that appear in METCONs separately at heavier weights makes that lower weight METCON more manageable. I would argue that applying this training method will increase your Fran time and make your next meeting with our nemesis less taxing.

The Ferus Solution

Here comes the shameless plug. CrossFit Ferus provides programming that meets the needs of all of our athletes. That will not change. But, in the interest of expanding our programming options, we are creating a barbell focused class. This will be offered as a supplement to your membership. The class will consist of the two Olympic Lifts (Snatch & Clean and Jerk) focusing on technique, breaking the lifts in to complementary portions, and later moving into strength. Our goal is to offer to our athletes the option of becoming Weightlifting CrossFitters. If this is not your goal but you want to get better at your Olympic Lifts feel free to sign up for a barbell class, or approach any of our highly knowledgeable coaches for technique tips and one-on-one coaching. The worst that can happen is you bet better at the the Olympic Lifts.

Feel free to comment, ask questions, or provide feedback below. I look forward to seeing you guys at our first Barbell Club and I can’t wait to get better — and stronger — together!