CrossFitters: 5 Steps to Immediately Improve Your Weightlifting

Most of the time, we’re physically able to shift the metal. We fail because we psych ourselves out.

You know the drill all too well. You go in and warm up with an empty bar. You hit your warm up, you load your plates on your bar on your platform. Same as always.

55lbs feels alright, as usual. Then 65lbs, then 75lbs, then 85lbs. Now it’s time to move to 5 pound jumps. But then it happens. It’s always, ALWAYS around 95-100lbs you start to miss. Why?

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra (though he was talking about baseball), this game is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical. Sure, there could be a technical aspect of your lift you need to address. But a lot of the time we’re physically able to shift metal. We fail because we psych ourselves out. Here are some strategies to overcome this.

Don’t think or analyze. Just go.

1. Take Odd Jumps

Instead of always following the same progression, for example:

75 – 80 – 95 – 100lbs

Try this:

65 – 75 – 80 – 88 – 94 – 101 – 108 – 115lbs

BOOM – sneaky PR!

How It Works:

The human brain is a funny thing. We can only wrap our head around simple concepts. If something is complex, we simplify it. So you “know” that 100lbs is heavy. But you have no frame of reference for 94lbs or 101lbs. We can take advantage of this tendency by taking odd jumps.

Another advantage of odd jumps is that your body adapts very quickly, so it knows what 85lbs feels like. By forcing it to be able to lift at weights a pound either side, you train the body to lift any weight. Some technical issues that were hidden at 85lbs may show themselves at 83lbs or 92lbs. These small weight adjustments make you more mindful of the technique of the lift, rather than allowing you to fall into the “Oh yeah I know what this feels like” autopilot mode.

For this to work, I suggest constantly changing up weight increments between jumps. You might go up by 5lbs some days, then change it to 3lb or 1lb jumps as you get on higher percentages. Some days, it will be beneficial to make large jumps (15-25lb) as well. Keep changing the pattern so your body gets used to lifting any weight, any jump.

Lifting under fatigue is another way to expose issues in your lifts.

Make small weight adjustments to train the body to lift any weight.

2. Lift Under Fatigue

After all, this is CrossFit, right? I’ll assume most of you reading aren’t just weightlifters, and may enter a few local throwdowns. Lifting under fatigue is another way to expose issues in your lifts and work on improving them. At my affiliate, we’ve found twelve-minute increments work best. Here are some examples:

In a 12-minute window:

  • Run 800m
  • Establish a 1RM snatch in the remaining time.

In a 12-minute window:

  • 50 bar facing burpees
  • Establish a 1RM clean and jerk in the remaining time.

In a 12-minute window:

  • 75 wall balls
  • Establish a 1RM power snatch in the remaining time.

In a 12-minute window:

  • 50 calorie row
  • Establish a 1RM power clean and push jerk in the remaining time.

How It Works:

We can often talk ourselves out of a lift. Sure, tradition tells us that we need two-plus minutes rest between max effort lifts, and the Olympic lifts aren’t to be done under high fatigue or rushed. But how many things has CrossFit turned on its head? By switching off our brains to what we feel we need, we can just go for the lifts. We’ve had quite a number of experienced CrossFitters and lifters hit PRs under these circumstances.

You will also be able to lift under a number of different conditions, because we never know when or how our 1RM lifts will be tested in CrossFit. Watch Oxana Slivenko (at 9 minutes 7 seconds) attempting a 210lb snatch at the 2015 Meridian Regional just moments after missing it. No time to think or analyze, just go.

3. Perform EMOM Work

Building volume at high percentages is crucial to making big lifts consistently. A protocol that has worked really well for us is EMOM (every minute on the minute) work. Start at 80-85 percent, and add just 2lbs each minute. If you miss 3 times, drop back 10lbs and start again.

How It Works:

Because you’ve only got a minute, and you need to change plates, you don’t have overly long to analyze your lifts. (See how I’m getting you out of your own way again?)

With the shorter time domain, you have to reduce to just one cue. “Right, Colm, pull back from the floor”, which ends up becoming the word “back.” I simply don’t have the time to say to myself, “Tight set up, drift forward, arch my back, drive the knees back, roll the weight to the heels, stay over the bar, hit the power position, accelerate vertically, elbows high, pull under, land flat footed, and push up into the bar.”

4. Hit Multiple Reps

Percentage work and max out sessions aren’t the only way to develop strength in the lifts. And particularly if you’re lifting for CrossFit, you need to be able to hit multiple reps, touch and go, at heavy weights.

How It Works:

I have poor set up in the snatch. I just don’t like being down there, so I tend to rush it. I have a weak upper back, too. By doing max effort touch-and-go lifts at 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90 percent, I’ve been able to develop my metcon capacity for barbell pieces at a range of weights. Consistency of set up and my pull have come on immensely, too.

At my affiliate, we’ve found this works best for power and hang lifts.

5. Lift With Flat Feet

It’s a simple one, but drop the lifting shoes every now and again.

How It Works:

We get awfully used to the feel of our lifting shoes, and can become over-reliant on them. Lifting in flat shoes rather than your lifting shoes can enable to develop extra sensitivity in your weight distribution and body awareness. It will also force you to develop greater flexibility. Nothing like a little brute force mobility.

Try each of these tips and let me know what works for you.

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Photos courtesy of CrossFit Ireland.