What do powerlifters do that a CrossFit athlete could benefit from?
Lifting in CrossFit often gets disregarded as 'just a strength thing', but when you look at your lifts as skills - like you would a muscle up or toes to bar - it starts to pay off in a big way.
CrossFitters can benefit from a few lessons that powerlifters really focus on.
In this article, I'll cover the 3 best tips we can take from powerlifters to create efficient lifting without burning out.
Tip 1: Think of Your Squats and Deadlifts as Skills
With most CrossFit athletes, we talk about ring muscle ups or handstand push-ups as very high-skill focused.
But we often just overlook the squat and deadlift.
Those are so skill-focused that if we can approach them similar to our golf swings, or like how we hit a baseball, and approach them with a high technical eye for just the overall skill components of those, CrossFitters will benefit across the board.
Now obviously, we're training those skills differently in the context of the different sports.
But the moment you change that lens from just being exercises to literal skills that need constant fine-tuning and improvement.
It changes the game for how they will be performed efficiently across the board at lighter, moderate and heavy loads.
Rather than focus on these strength movements as pure strength, try thinking about the skills behind the actions.
When we treat them like a skill and refine the positioning, we refine the setup; we refine the way that we're lifting the weight in the deadlift, in the squat, or on the bench.
When that skill improves, our strength might not improve, but the amount of weight we move does improve, right?
Let's say kipping pull-ups. If I teach someone the proper technique and skill of a kipping pull-up in a given seminar, they might go from being able to do five unbroken to 15 unbroken.
Did they get any stronger?
No, but they did get more skilled, which thus creates more output.
But this is just a mindset that you need to start to understand.
And that will help you treat it like a skill and start developing those movements like a skill, which naturally will help you increase your weight.
When you start to increase the weight, you can move. Guess what? Metcons become easier.
If I can deadlift 600 pounds, then deadlifting 225 21 times is much easier than if I can only deadlift 400.
And then 225 is a lot heavier. So take that all into account.
Tip 2: Know your Breaking Point
Now what I mean by knowing our breaking point is in the course of a CrossFit workout, whether it's the strength portion or a Metcon where we're doing lots of reps, we need to know what points our form starts to degrade.
If you've ever seen a powerlifter, their form for one rep max deadlift looks identical from their starting weight up to their finishing weight.
The only thing you could tell that was different was the stress on their face or, obviously, the weight on the bar.
So what we need to learn from this as a community of CrossFitters is it's sometimes about more than just getting the rep done.
Sure, in competition, get the rep done. But too often, I see athletes allow themselves to completely throw their form and mechanics out the window and push through it to get the reps and the workout done.
So what is the fix for that?
For CrossFitters, we have such a wide range of area reps. Therefore, identifying and getting ahead of where things typically go south for your performance can be beneficial.
So a great example is understanding how your body physically accommodates different tasks.
Suppose you are somebody whose body automatically wants to start shooting their hips up and muscling through with the back muscles when you hit that certain load threshold. Then a good thing to focus on here is, like, this could affect my overall CrossFit workout performance. So I'm going to spend a little extra time outside my regular CrossFit training to focus on adding pauses and tempos around this threshold.'
That often causes this significant form deviation because, with lighter, moderate, and heavy loads, we're always going to have some variation in form.
That's how we move; it's how our body sequences to be efficient.
But we could limit how much deviation is physically happening. In that case, that's going to carry over to the grander scheme of one of us being more efficient and performing at a much higher output for CrossFit-style workouts.
Whether it's the light reps or the heavy reps, it looks the same. It seems the same if it's the first or last rep of the workout.
And that's something that powerlifters in the offseason develop that capacity to always look the same by doing tempos.
If it's like a form issue, we can add pauses in tempo to that specific range of motion, if it's actually like a muscular and just overall function issue.
If it's getting your glutes to extend at the right time and timing it correctly with your knee extension, focus a bit more on training the glutes in a shortened range. Then lengthen the range to ensure they're strong enough to handle that load relatively easily if people are struggling with the bottom of that pool.
The tool I like to use for technique work during deadlifting is doing and pulling a mid-shin or just below the knee. Pause, hold that for a second two seconds, focus on the awareness of where your body, your hips, your knees, what everything is doing, put that weight back down, reset for a second and then do a complete rep.
And that will help grease the groove where you usually meet that threshold, whether it's due to load, fatigue, etc.
And now you've identified that you're going to be hyper-aware and give extra thought to the overall technique.
You're being mindful of your position, like, 'did my butt shoot up? Oh, it is, how can I reposition?' or 'Oh, it didn't; this time, I'm going to hang out here for a few seconds, put the weight back down and then try to stand up.'
You are eliminating the faults that you've identified.
It's adding constraints to areas where you usually have form breakdown.
We grease the groove, practice going through the range of motion, and try to make it look as perfect as possible.
Before we increase the weight or the load and make you do an entire-blown movement, bring muscle up right where it's like you're practicing looking as perfect as possible through the range of motion and the entire range of motion.
And then, you can add extra stressors by adding weight, adding pauses, and adding things that expose you to your points of failure so that you don't fail when you compete.
That's the goal, right?
But this is the perfect example: if we take the lessons from other fitness domains like powerlifting, we can apply them to various aspects of our sports.
Tip 3: Train the Appropriate Range of Motion
In the last part of this article, I will talk about training in the appropriate range of motion that you need for fitness.
In powerlifting, the range of motion is particular; with squatting, you only have to barely get below parallel.
But for the case of a CrossFit athlete, the ass to grass is a little more applicable to doing a full clean, deeper front squats and thrusters.
So understanding the ranges of motion that you need to train is essential to getting great at them.
And being very conscious of where your individual breakdowns might be happening is incredibly vital.
I wasn't training squats to adapt to the full range of motion I needed for my CrossFit. So for snatches, overhead squats, thrusters, and cleans, I lacked that bottom.
Many athletes struggle with this. They can't catch a clean at the bottom or catch a snatch at the bottom and sit there. Then, they bail it immediately because they're not comfortable in the proper ass-to-grass position.
So what I started doing was programming for myself.
The 10-second ass-to-grass overhead squat holds miserable but is highly effective. It exposed me and developed stability and strength in the absolute end ranges of the range of motion I needed to snatch more weight.
To tie this into a bow, one thing we can learn from powerlifters is to make sure that we're practicing the range of motion we need for our sport.
It would be silly to compare the one rep max of a powerlifter to the one rep max of a cross fitter. But, again, this is because we have different domains that we're training in.
When in CrossFit, it is beneficial if you can do that full range of motion or weightlifting.
So to wrap it all together.
Remember, try to treat these strength movements as skills. Make sure you understand when and where you tend to break down. We want to make sure we're training the full range of motion.
To work on these tips when squatting, then check out our FREE 6-week squat programme designed for CrossFitters to improve your forms.
OR why not check out our specific supplementary powerlifting, strength program that can be added onto any training that you may currently be doing.
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Awesome video, love the content. I’ve Crossfit for 12 years and started competing in powerlifting meets 3-4 years ago (held a few all-time world records for my age/weight & division (55-60, 165/181, Raw with Wraps).
Personal Best in Competition (165/181 Weight Class-Bill Gifford) Openpowerlifting.org
I think Crossfit athletes would benefit from learning, breathing, bracing and proper technique with Squats/Deads & even Bench (Elbows tucked and shoulder in girdle to prevent injuries). Although low bar Squats or Sumo Deads don’t have a huge carryover to Crossfit, they can add value by teaching proper mechanics/form (spine angle, bracing, etc…) IMO…