2017 CrossFit Open Prep: Barbell Cycling

Mike Tromello


Agoura Hills, California, United States

CrossFit, Children's Fitness, Olympic Weightlifting


In 2017 CrossFit Open Prep: Weightlifting Movements I took you through the wide range of barbell movements you need to know to compete in CrossFit. Now, it's time to talk about barbell cycling and how those weightlifting and powerlifting movements must be executed to succeed in CrossFit competition.


Barbell cycling is perhaps the most fundamental skill needed to compete effectively in CrossFit competitions. Let’s put aside any controversy over high-rep barbell movements and accept, for now, that success in competition is virtually impossible without mastering high reps at a fast pace for such movements as clean, clean and jerk, press, push press, and jerk.



In addition, we’ll have to also acknowledge that many times CrossFit does not follow the distinctions of weightlifting or powerlifting and instead will use terms like ground-to-overhead, or shoulder-to-overhead to describe barbell movements.


So let’s break it down and go over some critical movements and how to address them in terms of barbell cycling.


The main thing to take away is that for each cycle of a barbell rep, you’ll be doing two movements. Think of this as basically doing two snatches for every snatch rep, two jerks for each jerk movement, and so on.


The reason for thinking of each rep as two lifts is footwork. You’ll be using one set of footwork for bringing the weight up, and another set of footwork when lowering the weight. In a nutshell, the footwork for lifting ends on the heels, and the footwork for lowering is starts on the toes.


As you’ll see in the video, shifting the footwork to toe-to-heel when lowering the weight helps bring the hips to the bar and keeps that bar path close to the body. And that’s both more efficient and safer.



Just like any lifting, bar path is critical, and building up solid technique is key. In CrossFit competitions, you’ll inevitably be asked to cycle barbell lifts to the point of extreme fatigue. The precise repetition of excellent form is the key to efficiency, allowing you to not only compete effectively, but safely.


When cycling the clean, you want to avoid pausing the bar at the hips on the way down. At the same time, you want the bar path to be as close when lowering and when lifting, so it’s not a bad idea to think about scraping by the hips on the way down. Again, shifting your footwork from toe-to-heel when lowering the weight will allow you to more easily bring hips to bar and help dial-in a perfect bar path.


For shoulder-to-overhead movements, you’ll want to follow some of the basic concepts for the clean, but you don’t need to over-emphasize toes-to-heel on the way down. This is because the lift stops at the shoulders, so there’s no need to focus on bringing hips to the bar. Plus, the natural acceleration of the lift shifts one’s weight to the toes.



But there’s another area to focus in with footwork here. When cycling shoulder-to-overhead movements, I recommend taking a wider stance than typically taught in weightlifting. This wider base is more stable, and that will make it easier to keep a good, consistent bar path, even as you fatigue.


While perhaps less complex that other lifts, you won’t want to skimp on practicing and perfecting shoulder-to-overhead movements in all the variations. Efficient shoulder-to-overhead barbell cycling can be a huge difference maker in competition.


Last, for squat snatch, you’ll want to emphasize initiating the downward part of the cycle from the toes, and end up with heels firmly planted. You’ll always want to have a close bar path and consistent mechanics as well.


As you can see in the squat snatch example toward the end of the video, shifting weight to the toes at the start of the lowering phase is highly efficient and effectively initiates bringing hips to the bar on the way down. This of course applies also to squat cleans and clean-and-jerk.


No matter the rhetoric around high-rep barbell movements, they are a fact of life in CrossFit competitions. They have been from the beginning, and there’s no sign of that changing. I suggest simply looking at it as a completely separate sport and set of movements.


Powerlifters and weightlifters ("Olyimpic" lifters) have their own distinct ways of moving barbells and judging those movements. So let’s just think of barbell cycling as a third thing, also with it’s own ways of moving the barbell and it’s own ways of judging the lifts. Because, let’s face it, barbell cycling is here to stay.



Learn more about competing in CrossFit

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