Crossfit and weightlifting, an objective critique

It’s been a while since my last entry, it was a long one, so apologies if you’re only finally finishing it now.

There’s something that’s been playing on my mind, and it again centres on preconceived notions. Mostly the at the extremes:

crossfitter mentality – Crossfit is epic; we’ve the strongest, fastest athletes etc     Vs       Strength athletes, Crossfit will actually kill you, they’re weak, technique is awful, lets mock them at every opportunity, and so on.

Let me start by putting off basically my entire audience by saying; I’m a strength coach. Specifically a weightlifting coach. I’ve been training for a decade and a half, coaching for almost a decade. The odd thing is… I love crossfit.

The idea of it, the very notion of brining Olympic lifts to the masses and getting some excitement away from the dusty barns and books of yesteryear; It’s awesome to see such excitement, enthusiasm and love for the sport, it’s humbling to think of just how many people now share what has been a massive part of my life, with something that has taken up more than half of my lifetime.

That said, there are dangers with this new found enthusiasm; that being the danger of extremely complicated exercises, being taught by other amateur performers of the lifts.

The snatch as well as clean and jerk, involve some of, if not the highest amount of motor neuron incorporation of any exercises. The amount of muscle that has to be used in a very specific order to get the best effect is staggering.

The main thing that beginners say to me, is how surprisingly difficult the lifts are to perform. Even with light bars and weights, it’s surprising to them just how out of breath they are, and how much there is to get right for the lift to be a success. My usual answer is simply… that’s why we do them.

A weightlifter is an athlete who revels in both the physical challenge of shifting heavy weights, but more than that. It requires technique, finesse, flexibility and a level of control you simply don’t get with other exercises.

We weren’t satisfied that the weights were heavy, they had to be hard to do. In both mental and very real terms, the bar had to be high, or we didn’t want to know.

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

Crossfit shares this mentality… The WOD’s are often times brutal, their results are extreme transformations in both physical and mental strength, speed, power, endurance.  The weekly challenge has been both excruciating and mesmerising every Thursday throwdown @Asylum where we take on the local crossfit, resulting in a weekly festival of sweat and tears. We’ve gotten our asses kicked and kept coming back for more.

Like certain countries that won’t let that one victory of yesteryear fade from memory in search of the next big thing, I’ve been heard uttering the phrase, “yea we beat them at fran!” and more than once.

This competitive spirit for exercise is not lost on me, I embrace it. At this point you probably think I’m a convert, I almost did myself, but in actuality, a competitive instinct to be great at something I enjoyed is what brought me to weightlifting in the first place. Through 7 years on a rugby pitch, loving every second of brutal contact, being beaten and broken, I found weightlifting. It was a new challenge, and I threw myself into its world, and before I knew it I was a part of it.

It is this same eager participation I feel when working with crossfitters, they love the sport, not holding it in the sacred halls of austerity; but getting stuck in, training hard and reaping the rewards.

Yes there are a million things going wrong,

Case in point

Case in point

It is at times wreckless with the definitions, performance, and frankly safety of something we hold so close to our hearts.

Weightlifters really care about our sport (don’t tell anyone they’ll think we’re wusses)

it’s like saving up all your hard earned cash, or in our case hours in the gym, to achieve this wonderful thing. Like buying that car you’ve always dreamed of, only now some reckless teenager has borrowed the keys, and you’re petrified they’re going to cock it up for everyone.

Thing is it was never yours to begin with. The exercises are just exercises, they’re fun, challenging, and everyone deserves the opportunity to learn, practice and love them as much as we do.

Like crossfit, weightlifting has its good and bad coaches; with awful technique not limited to the crossfit hall of fame, but littered around each bad coach from weightlifting or crossfit. It’s not the sports fault, we have great programs and great lifters… so does crossfit. A bad coach is a bad coach, I personally can’t blame the sport for that, it’s not the athletes fault they were given dangerous loads too early, by someone who wasn’t competent, that happens no matter where you go, or what sport you do.

Thing is, crossfit was a victim of its success at this early stage. It’s apparent to everyone that it is an absolute publicity and marketing machine.

Frankly I think most were just pissed off that crossfit captured the imagination of the public in a way weightlifting never could. We were too old, a dusty relic of days gone by, mumbling to whoever would listen in our dank and dusty caves where iron, wood and rubber ruled. Suddenly there’s new life in the sport, and more people than ever before dragging us kicking and screaming into the light, and to be honest the fresh air is doing us all the world of good.

Say you do weightlifting or sports conditioning circuits; horrendous visions of sweaty men indoors with med balls and pools of murky sweat you’d need a mop for jump to mind. Call it crossfit, and all the skimpy clothes, great bums and fantastic figures spring out like a bright summers morning (and I never said that wasn’t still the men… perverts)

This same ability to grab the right attention, ensured it grabbed the wrong attention. You only have to google crossfit fail compilation and you’ll see where the snide comments come from.

However, crossfit is fast maturing and accelerating up a steep learning curve.

Weighltifting is not purist, elite and only for strength atheltes. They are high energy, explosive, taxing exercises, something I’ve used to great effect in my personal training for years. The exercises are just that, exercises.

How you use the exercise determines its effect. You want cardio-fitness? higher reps, lower weight (%1RM). You want strong, competitive athletes? more rest, less reps, bigger weights. It’s not set in stone, use them the way you want to benefit most, but please, don’t call yourself strong for doing 50 reps with a light weight, that’s endurance. Most weightlifters joke about their lack of fitness… funny that it’s true, but also a sign they could be missing a trick. A good tolerance to lactic never hurt any weightlifter during a conditioning phase.

When I took the time to step back and really look; the single biggest fault I could see, was how the athletes embrace each other but the coaches didn’t. I decided it was up to me to take the first step, if I didn’t I was only part of the problem.

Crossfit coaches are a fairly open minded bunch if you get the right ones, there are those who are really defensive after enduring a lot of abuse from outside; they’ve every right to be, something they hold dear was getting abused by someone who didn’t know as much as they did (sound familiar?).

The thing is, when it comes to the technique of weightlifting, it takes years of dedication to come to grips with even the basic concepts; that’s where this creeps in…

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But I truly believe it’s becoming less and less common, the more time that better and better crossfitters demonstrate what is possible when you practice good form, and become efficient in how you move. If you move like a weightlifter, you move more efficiently when moving the biggest weights possible. If you move in the same way for lighter weights… you use up less energy, and can move more of them.

I was lucky enough to do my crossfit cert under Mike Burgner, an awesome coach, and an awesome person. He’s forgotten more about the lifts than I’ll probably ever learn; and also happy to call it like it is.

I loved listening to him, the no nonsense approach to weightlifting, the skill and discipline required shone through, and this was a crossfit certification.

So what does this mean for me?

I stepped into the world of crossfit, and I came out loving it. I’m still a weightlifter, I still train for strength, but I’m more than happy to help guide, coach and hone the skills of anyone, and everyone who wants to share in that same love for the exercises I hold so close to my heart.

It’s not that you have to train for strength because “that’s what the exercises are for”… they’re not. They’re exercises, that’s all. It’s just that you have to respect the weightlifter for the time dedication and energy they’ve spent into perfecting how they move, to accelerate a heavy object, into a small window overhead, with such a small margin for error. The tens, hundreds and thousands of hours teaching themselves how to move does in my book earn respect for your own endeavours. What it doesn’t earn you is the right to belittle someone doing the same thing for a different effect.

So how do we solve it… simple, learn from each other. Weightlifting has been a minority for so long that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be interesting, sexy and fun. The midlife crisis is over, and it’s time for the sport to shake off the old, embrace the new and let them learn from us, rather than ridicule.

If we don’t it’s simple, they’ll get better, and soon they’ll be teaching us…. Ok maybe not, but you get the idea.

If weightlifters can embrace the amazing attributes crossfit can bring to an aging sport, teamwork, excitement, fun, we can have better, stronger and amazing athletes handed to us right on our doorstep, all we have to do is open ourselves up to it.

If crossfit can keep those same ego’s in check, embrace the knowledge, time and expertise that weightlifters have to offer in the technical, movement and strength training aspects of crossfit, we’ll both have much better athletes at the end, and everyone who joins in will find they’ve got a much bigger family to be a part of.

A family I’m proud to say I’m part of.

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