The Why of Weightlifting

POSTED ON October 19th, 2015 BY jeff 0 Comments

As we pass the midpoint of Olympic Lifting Month, the holiest of all months here at Fearless Athletics (at least in my eyes), it is instructive to review why we take so much time on improving our proficiency at the holy trinity of lifts: the Snatch, the Clean and the Jerk.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. They look super cool and they scare all of your non-CrossFit friends on social media.



Slightly more useful, however, are the physical effects of training the lifts. First and foremost, they help to develop power output. The Olympic lifts have been developed through decades of experiment to do just that. They are the most effective and fastest ways to move large loads vertical distances. If there were more efficient ways to get weight overhead, we’d be doing those movements instead.

Why is this important to us? If you go to a CrossFit Level 1 certification, they will pound into your head over and over again that CrossFit seeks to exert the most force over distance in the shortest amount of time, i.e., “power.” This should be obvious from looking at the whiteboard everyday, where we perform most, if not all, of our workouts “for time.” Improving our maximal power output should allow us to improve our power output when we do a WOD, for reasons that are hopefully obvious. If not, it’s anecdote time!

from the writer: Skip the next paragraph if you hate evidence that has absolutely no backing in science.

Two and a half years ago, I started to focus on Olympic lifting in my own training. When I come back and do a WOD at this point, the prescribed weights are silly to me. My best clean and jerk is 315 lbs. Fran’s prescribed thruster weight is 95 lbs. That is less than a third of my best lift. Two and a half years ago, when my best clean and jerk was 235 lbs., that 95 lbs. thruster weight was about 40% of my best effort. Of course it was harder to get over my head, and that slowed me way down. Now that my maximal power output has increased, that weight is a lot easier to handle, and it’s only my own horrible conditioning that holds me back.


Despite my plaintive wishes, the Oxidative energy pathway is not improved via donuts and pizza. But it SHOULD be…

Less obviously, the lifts help to develop coordination, core strength, balance and flexibility, all things that I think we would all agree are important to not only CrossFit, but to a quality life. Being coordinated enough to manipulate and control your body in these three compound and complex movements will carry over into pretty much any athletic thing you do outside of the gym. You absolutely must have a strong core (front, side and back!) to clean or jerk effectively. I’m also willing to be that if you can keep a 150 lbs. weight over your head in a full squat, you probably have developed a darn good sense of balance. Heck, if you are able to do a full overhead squat with an empty barbell, you probably have better flexibility than 95% of the US population!

Finally, it may surprise you to learn that though it can look scary, weightlifting has the lowest incidence of injury than almost any sport. It’s true! I even have science on my side on this one! According to a study done in 1994 examining over 168,000 hours of weightlifting, there were .0017 injuries per 100 hours spent training. That rate is on par with tennis and 29 TIMES LESS than that of badminton.

sssssss saina-ground300

Yes, you can rightly tell your friends that weightlifting is far, far less dangerous than badminton

In sum, there is a huge amount of carryover from the Olympic lifts to CrossFit and to being a better human being in general. Coupling that with the fact that the risk of injury while training the lifts is very, very low, you can see why we choose to spend a couple of months out of the year getting better at this stuff. Now, the question becomes, how do we get better?

Oh, my friends. I have so much more to say…

written by Lee Koontz, head trainer of Fearless Athletics



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