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CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting exercises with a high number of repetitions

CrossFit und olympische Gewichtheberübungen mit hohen Wiederholungszahlen

Here is a short summary...

  1. Any exercise that is performed poorly is dangerous.
  2. There are better conditioning tools than high repetition Olympic weightlifting exercises like pulling or pushing a weightlifting sled.
  3. They're not the best way to get strong, but if you carefully control the speed of the bar and schedule enough maximum effort training with them, they can help you develop strength.

You can read it in big and bold letters in many places: the Olympic

weightlifting exercises will make you strong and explosive and help you build a monstrous trapezius, but they should not be performed with high repetitions. Any trainer or fitness system that claims otherwise is misinformed. Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps will ultimately hurt you and will never make you strong, but is this really a fair assessment? You can walk into any CrossFit gym anywhere in America or Europe and you'll see some variation of Olympic weightlifting exercises performed with high reps and terrible technique, but you'll probably also see some high repetition, high quality training - not to mention some very well toned bodies.

And it's not like Golds Gym is a prime example of exceptional training technique. Look around you. What's the ratio of people performing squats with ego weights compared to exercisers performing squats through the full range of motion? Ten to one?

Is it really that clear and simple?

Instead of rhetorically preaching from our strength training and bodybuilding ivory tower, we decided to let both sides give their honest opinions on the subject so that you can form your own opinion on this contentious topic.

Beat 1

Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions are dangerous

Exercises such as snatches, high pulls ( and deadlifts are very technical exercises and as such require significantly more practice and athletic ability than barbell curls. These exercises are not inherently dangerous, but in an exhausted state - such as after 10 repetitions with a demanding weight - it can start to get dicey, which is especially true for beginners and recreational athletes. "If an experienced Olympic weightlifter wants to use snatching or deadlifting to improve his conditioning or as a test of courage, then this is not a problem," says Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength. "He's had the proper back position and technique hammered into him long enough that these factors won't diminish as much when he gets tired."

Olympic weightlifting coach Will Fleming agrees, saying that context is key when watching CrossFit athletes master impressive sets. "Watch the CrossFit Games and you'll see dozens of athletes who have no problem completing 30 reps of deadlifts or 30 reps of snatches in an amazing amount of time," he says. "However, these same athletes can probably do 150+ kilos on a single repetition clean and jerk. These guys are strong, so 70 kilos is not much more than an extended warm-up for them in these exercises," says Fleming.


Any heavy exercise that is performed poorly is dangerous

A highly technical exercise performed poorly is obviously dangerous, but that's true of any heavy exercise in the weight room, not just Olympic weightlifting exercises. "Bad technique comes from a bad coach regardless of the exercise itself," says Chris Matsui of Fusion Performance Training. "Take squats as an example. If an exerciser is using poor exercise execution form and performing a max repetition, then it's obviously dangerous. It doesn't matter if you do one max repetition, 3 repetitions, 5 repetitions or 15+ repetitions. It's ultimately about the right posture," says Matsui. "Because the weights are light, what we see most often in Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps is a lapse in technique and not necessarily an injury," he says. "It's like squats, deadlifts, presses or any other exercise where the reps increase. You need good instruction and a good technical base."

Jacob Tsypkin of CrossFit Monterey likes to use a gradual progression of exercises so beginners don't try to do too much too soon. For example, new clients don't perform Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps at all, but instead spend their time learning how to snatch and clean and jerk properly. Other modifications include using push presses (standing shoulder presses with momentum from the legs) instead of power thrusts. "As they become more competent, then they can incorporate some snatching and pushing into their workouts, but usually from a hanging position," says Tsypkin. "They don't perform full Olympic weightlifting exercises during their training sessions until they are sufficiently competent at these exercises."

Stroke 2

Performing Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions promotes poor motor movement patterns

As correct form of exercise execution tends to diminish in the presence of fatigue, the body is forced to recruit other muscles or develop other compensatory mechanisms to complete the set. This promotes a faulty motor pattern, which is similar to getting into a bad habit, and leads to progressively worse exercise technique. "With each lapse in technique that occurs in Olympic weightlifting exercises, there will be a compensatory pattern that rears its ugly head," says Will Fleming. "In this case, perhaps the legs are fatigued and instead of recruiting the quadriceps when lifting the bar off the ground, the athlete begins a pulling motion that starts in the lower back. Spinal flexion like this against a weight - especially a weight that is not directly against the body - means more gravitational forces acting on the spine, which can quickly become problematic."

According to Dan Trink of Peak Performance NYC, this doesn't just apply to beginners. "Even for high-level strength athletes who have already internalized the correct movement patterns through thousands of repetitions, the form of the exercise execution deteriorates when they perform these exercises with high repetitions," he says. "If it's important to you to develop and maintain good training form, then high repetition workouts are a bad idea."


Bad movement patterns? The ability to perform technically demanding exercises with heavy weights is a valuable skill.

The counter-argument goes along the lines that the ability to perform technically demanding exercises with relatively heavy weights when fatigued is also a valuable skill - a skill that can be improved very effectively through Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions. "The barbell allows us to use more weight and activate more muscles than any other piece of training equipment, inducing a stronger training effect," says Jacon Tsypkin. "This is just as true for really improving conditioning as it is for building maximum strength."

CrossFit coach Ron Turner of CrossFit V02 Max emphasizes that the whole concept of motor movement patterns can be avoided through simple coaching. "Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps don't make you a lousy strength athlete - poor technique and a bad coach make you a lousy strength athlete," he says. "I wouldn't dispute the general observation that there is a decline in form during Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions, but it is the responsibility of the trainer to choose the weight correctly so that the trainee can maintain proper form."

One way to achieve this is to have an experienced trainer on hand to monitor exercise execution and, perhaps more importantly, to develop a culture where proper form comes before anything else. "For example, when performing the Grace WOD, don't allow your form to go down the drain. Stiffen your spine, lower your hips and perform a good pull from the floor," explains Fleming. "I believe that if the ego is left at the checkroom and it's not about getting to a sub 1:30 time, then this workout can be done in a relatively safe way."

Stroke 3

Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps are a poor conditioning tool

Performing a ton of reps on the snatch and clean and jerk with high reps and light weights will send your heart rate into the stratosphere. While this may seem like a great thing for athletes who care about their conditioning, there are criticisms. The first is the improvement in fitness itself. According to coaches like Rippetoe, you shouldn't try to get strong and improve your conditioning at the same time - at least not if you want optimal results - because conditioning training interferes with strength development.

"If improving your conditioning is important to you, being strong should be more important and getting strong will take longer if you're trying to improve your conditioning," says Rip. "You'll have time to improve your fitness later. After you get strong." The solution, according to Rippetoe, is to not use the Olympic weightlifting exercises at all to improve conditioning. "Push the weight sled, run up some hills or do some sprints," says Rip. "These exercises are easier to dose accurately and they won't make you look like an inexperienced fool."


And who cares if Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps are a poor conditioning tool? There are safer and more effective conditioning tools - so what? The average exerciser wants to lose fat and get a little stronger, which is why improving conditioning is a higher priority. "Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions can be very effective for improving conditioning in the normal population," Tsypkin says. Few people enjoy pushing or pulling a weight sled, and most working people don't have the time for multiple daily workouts or a variety of athletic activities. In addition, people like this type of workout - as evidenced by the popularity of fitness systems like CrossFit among average citizens - even if they know it's not ideal.

"Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps are somewhat inferior to pulling a weight sled," Turner says. "As boring as they may be, weight sleds allow for safe, undemanding hard work that elicits a strong metabolic response."

Beat 4

It won't make you a better Olympic weightlifter

Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions are counterproductive if your goal is to compete in Olympic weightlifting competitions. Performing these exercises well enough to compete requires perfect training and any repetition performed with less than perfect form will be detrimental to this goal.

The fact is that a strength athlete with excellent technique can typically beat a stronger and more explosive strength athlete with poorer technique. So if your goal is to compete, any type of training that doesn't improve your technique is a waste of time.

And remember this: Weightlifting is a specific sport in which an athlete performs two exercises - snatches and deadlifts - and tries to move the greatest amount of weight possible for each repetition. So Olympic weightlifting with high repetitions is not really weightlifting.

"It would be like calling a set of squats with 10 to 12 reps powerlifting or a marathon a sprint," says Trink. "Just because the exercises look the same doesn't mean they're the same sport."


It doesn't matter that Olympic weightlifting exercises with high reps don't make you better at Olympic weightlifting - it's a sport! The notion that Olympic weightlifting exercises don't make you a better Olympic weightlifter is pretty much the weakest argument against CrossFit. High repetition Olympic weightlifting exercises are an absolute necessity for CrossFit competitive athletes because they are essential to their sport. CrossFit is not a weightlifting competition - it's about performing the most reps, or a given number of reps, as quickly as possible. That is the sport. Not training for it would violate the law of specificity - not to mention it would make absolutely no sense.

"If you're a CrossFitter, then CrossFit is your sport and you should prepare for it like any sport," says Matsui. The bottom line is that the goal should dictate the training method. Train with high reps to excel at CrossFit WODs or conditioning sports and train with standard Olympic weightlifting parameters if you want to excel at Olympic weightlifting.

"If you want to be a competitive-level weightlifter, snatching and deadlifting with 30 reps and 65 kilos is obviously not going to help you," says Tsypkin.

Stroke 5

Olympic weightlifting with high reps won't make you strong Olympic weightlifting with high reps might get you in shape and burn some fat, but it won't make you strong. This goes back to the basic theory of weightlifting. "The key to the strength quality of weightlifting is the maximal release of power - not something you're going to achieve with sets of low weights and high reps where you're not moving a large amount of weight and where the speed decreases as you fatigue," says Trink.

Coach Fleming agrees. "Olympic weightlifting exercises are about releasing force, whereas sets that are 6 reps or more are less about releasing force and more about controlling energy systems. Control of the energy systems is something that experienced Olympic weightlifters are not inherently good at, and people who are good at controlling their energy systems are typically not people who are extremely strong," he says.


Strength isn't always the goal, which is why it's okay if Olympic weightlifting won't make you strong

"This is a dead issue," Turner says. "I've never heard any expert claim that Olympic weightlifting with high reps is better than single reps at max weight when it comes to building strength." "However, if you achieve the correct speed of the bar, the correct weight on the bar and maintain the correct position, then you can get stronger even with high reps - if this training is combined with the right volume of training with maximum effort."

"I see Olympic weightlifting with high reps as a dynamic component of strength training when used correctly," says Turner. "But no matter how fast you perform snatches with a 65 kilo barbell, you're not going to magically snatch 130 kilos." But as Tsypkin points out, there are many very strong CrossFitters. "Rich Froning (the three-time CrossFit Games winner) deadlifts 170 kilos and snatches 140 kilos at a bodyweight of 98 kilos - and most people talk nonsense about CrossFitters not being strong."

The summary

Summing it all up for those who are still undecided:

  • If you're competing in CrossFit competitions or high repetition Olympic weightlifting competitions, train with high repetition Olympic weightlifting exercises.
  • The Olympic weightlifting exercises are not inherently dangerous for exercisers who have good technique. However, they are terrible for exercisers with poor technique and at some point even very good weightlifters will forget about good technique.
  • Doing anything half-heartedly or in a severely fatigued state is dangerous. So stop hating on those who choose to train this way and stop playing the know-it-all who has to constantly emphasize how dangerous it is.
  • The best approach would be to work with a qualified Olympic weightlifting coach to learn proper form of exercise execution. You should be fanatical about good technique and not even think about performing these exercises with high reps until your technique is solid.
  • If you aspire to compete in Olympic weightlifting, do not perform Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions at all.
  • You can get strong with Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions, but this is not the ideal method. The best of both worlds would be a periodized or mixed approach that combines high reps and maximum effort training.
  • Unless you are a competitive CrossFitter, you should stop using Olympic weightlifting exercises with high repetitions to improve your conditioning. This is not worth the risk and there are many other safer and more effective alternatives.
  • If you really want to use Olympic weightlifting exercises as part of your conditioning program, another alternative preferred by Will Fleming is to perform these exercises in the form of complexes. Perform the exercises with the highest technical demands first and finish the complex with something simple like squats or lunges.

tBy Bryan Krahn

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