Speed and Strength of course:

Most of us begin our CrossFit journey with an idea of losing some body fat, gaining some muscle, and improving our metabolic conditioning. Getting strong just happens to be one of the side effects of being CrossFit- not necessarily the primary goal. As time carries on, confidence begins to grow. Our original goals are met and we start looking at increasing skill/strength levels.

Barbell movements tend to become a big favorite; especially as we start noticing the higher skill gymnastic movements, like Muscle-ups, Handstand Pushups, and Pistols, might take a bit longer to perfect.

Because of this, some of us might think “well, I guess I’ll just get as strong as possible in the meantime” and so you start searching for maximal strength on the Barbell lifts: the Deadlift, Press, and Squat. This slowly turns into athletes attempting maximal, or near maximal loads, on a weekly basis. This can be detrimental to the Olympic Lifts.

Here is a very cool spreadsheet highlighting your strengths and weaknesses on some of the more complex movements that require speed, like Snatch, Clean, and Jerk:


Some of you… most of you, may have noticed that the spreadsheet pointed out a glaring weakness in Speed movements versus the basic strength movements. If this is the case, then the data is suggesting that you are either:

  1. A) Going too heavy, too often- which is causing your nervous system to be over taxed. This also causes normal muscle sequencing patterns to go awry, which ultimately means you aren’t moving correctly (we’ll say “efficiently” for you CF’ers who LOVE that word). This is why Deadlifting heavy doesn’t necessarily translate to a good (read: safe) Power Clean.

(NOTE: this is usually a problem for more experienced CF’ers)

  1. B) Lacking Technical Proficiency- which is why positions feel “weird” or “painful”. Practicing just Snatch and Clean doesn’t guarantee you will see your greatest potential.

(NOTE: this is more of an issue with beginners, but can also result from lifting TOO heavy)

Both are relatively easy fixes, but both also require discipline….and TIME!

If example A is your problem, try focusing on movement integrity over maximal exertion. Instead of adding weight or getting near maximal loads, see if you can move faster with moderate weights while maintaining the integrity of the exercise. Try coming up faster from your squats, pulling faster on your deadlifts, and pressing the weight overhead with more SPEED.

If example B is your problem, try introducing some new movement patterns that mimic the exercise you need more proficiency at. Sometimes this means going slower and heavier, through a shorter range of motion.

I’ll use the second pull of the Snatch and Clean as an example. If your knees keep caving in during the pull of either movement, then it means your body has not figured out how to connect to the muscle properly at the speed you are demanding. I would suggest getting involved with heavier (90-105%) percentages of your Snatch, but only work the 2nd pull. Again, focus on movement integrity and remember SPEED is the last requirement here. Balance and Positioning are the most important.

Safety Tip: Please refrain from asking other members for advice. Although they are helpful, an experienced coach will give you a much better analysis. A great athlete hack is to video yourself and find some time to sit with a coach and go over your work. By all means use your friends to help you video your work, but ultimately – if you want to get better, engage your coaches for feedback. That’s what we are here for!

The Olympic Lifts (Snatch and Clean and Jerk) are the backbone of functional movement. Time spent learning the complexities of these two lifts will pay HUGE dividends in your training and performance – whether you are pursuing CrossFit or general fitness.

Grab a video camera or better yet, set up some training time with a coach. Your body will thank you for it!

See you in the gym!

  • Coach Jason Philyaw