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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Yes, my CrossFit friends,Technique, it matters


Those of you who know me, know that there are many things I LOVE about Crossfit , yet there are something's that just completely irk me. The CrossFit community has done some pretty novel stuff with competitions involving weightlifting- the ideas are good, and I just wish we that would further improve the execution.

Ths article points out both positives and improvement opportunities with CrossFit competitions and is meant as constructive criticism as I love CrossFitters, work with them, and am, at times, hired by these athletes to help them grow and improve.

I will give you my visceral reactions to the last regionals, positives, myths to change, and recommended solutions.

CrossFit people are tough so , please, accept the gift of feedback and use it to get even better.

First, take a look at this video from Crossfit games South regional Event 5- max snatch:

https://www.facebook.com/CrossFitGames/videos/911809868860872/ or find it on the CrossFit Games page, it looks something like this:

The Visceral reaction: ( please be open minded, the goal is amelioration, improvement)

Personally, I was completely  shocked with how poor and UNSAFE most of the technique was for a REGIONAL LEVEL competition- ie these athletes could actually qualify for the CrossFit Games.  It looked like one of the athletes  split snatches so they can touch one knee to the ground to help them stand up with the weight. Another athlete drops to their knees and tries to stand-up. Another tries to do almost a snatch grip power clean and press.  

We have taken an otherwise very safe lift, called a snatch, and bastardized it to the point that these lifters can be doing significant spine damage.

How does any of this even qualify as remotely being a snatch? In thrusters, no foot movement is allowed when thrusting the bar overhead . How can we let people fall to the ground and stand-up with a "lift" and call that a "snatch". 

 The best analogy I can make is : It's almost like watching a baseball game and a pitcher throwing under hand and hitting the batter in the head each pitch. It's the Wrong movement and disregards safety.

The CrossFit community is ultra-supportive, in this case, to a fault, as many are cheering-on potentially spine-breaking fails.  This is false bravado.

And - this false bravado doesn't pay:
Notice, that the athlete that won the snatch competition, Jenn Jones, had better technique than maybe all but one other competitor in the video. As you may have read in my previous articles, good Olympic weightliftingshoes  technique is not a "nice to have" to succeed in CrossFit , it's mandatory . It will reduce your WOD times and reduce your injury rates.

There are some many simple good things that CF can do to advance both the Crossfit and weightlifting, that it pains me to see some of its improvement opportunities being celebrated as wins.


I am an optimist, there are some positive things we can talk about first.


Positive things:
ON one hand, I applaud Crossfit for eliminating some of the stuffiness and subjectivity in Olympic weightlifting judging. For example at US Natiional meets, lifters who bobble their lats or wiggle their arms might get called for a pressout, even though lateral are motion, shoulder motion, lat motion, etc.. are not considered press outa. I have even experienced this myself. I happen to be blessed with incredible flexibility and mobility. As a French orthopedist told me, my genetic constitution is “hyper lax” (baby, I was born this way) -- my ligaments enable me to hit difficult positions like racking the bar , bottom position, or save lifts(I’ve abused this talent with my American Open injury).  In the past, I had saved lifts turned down ( I’m feeling this trend is changing looking at some of the butt-ugly lifts that passed in the American Open W69kg A session I lifted in last December, at least my saves look good).

In summary, crosffit competitions don't penalize you if you have a little arm movement, which makes the game more fair and more exciting.

But, has CrossFits relaxation of snatch standards gone too far? Yes.

Change the Mythology -The opportunity to improve:
The relaxation of snatch standards is related to the cultural identity of the CrossFit community. The behaviors and beliefs that are prevalent in the CrossFit community help support the acceptance of unnecessary risks.

Many people in the community make excuses for the poor technique citing time constraints, fatigue, and efficiency.  The community has created mythology surrounding weightlifting technique. Let's bust some these myths.

MYTH 1: CF athletes are more fatigued by the time they get to a snatch ladder, therefore their technique will be worse
REAL Olympic Weightlifters train in Fatigue conditions. We train to get better as we get tired. If you take one of our Risto Sports seminars, you'll understand exactly why. And to summarize, you need to train when you're tired so your lifts become like reflex reactions, just like Chuck Norris doing a round-house kick. 

In conclusion, someone doing a CrossFit WOD should actually have better technique as they get tired.

Perhaps, if they competed in snatch events in actual weightlifting shoes, they would also feel less fatigued. I just watched Abigail Guerrero of CrossFit Guerriers , who placed 4th at last years Canada East Regionals , do a WOD involving rowing and thrusters in her wood heel weightlifting shoes. 

MYTH 2: CF athletes don't have enough time between reps in a max snatch event
A decent snatch takes less than 3 seconds. A well trained athlete should rest less than 90seconds between sets. In Crossfit, they have about 30seconds to do the rep? That is plenty of time to set-up and lift.

MYTH 3: CF athletes have invented new techniques to do reps faster
Sorry, there are thousands of studies going back to the Soviets on optimal weightlifting technique . With heavier weights, you will need to do a real snatch to maximize you're lifting potential. Some of the women in the regionals video were jacked-up and huge- like could press me over their head with 1 pinky-and I could still out snatch them.

Myth 4: these athletes know the risks, if they are risking injury with bad technique they know it and accept it

Repetitive stress injuries are interesting . Sometimes athletes will have a serious catastrophic injury with little or no onset. Our bodies joints, bones, tendons, ligament, are analogous to trusses and building joints in civil engineering. You can stress a joint below its ultimate strength over and over again, and one day it can just fail.  Don't you think it's a little odd that someone whose body looks as amazing shape as Julie Foucher snapped her Achilles just doing a box jump?  Or that Kevin Ogars spine broke in a sub maximal lift.   
 
Doing a little bit of bad technique over and over again over long periods of time can lead to sudden failure. The athletes with ugly snatches  in the CF regionals video, above, are , in the long term, sacrificing their spine. 

The injuries in Crossfit are much different than in Olympic weightlifting. Most of the catastrophic ( ie needs surgery) weightlifting injuries are after near maximal 1rep efforts, especially when a lifter is trying to save a lift. And, most of these injuries happen to joints like knees, wrists, and elbows -- NOT the spine.  There are very few spine injuries in Olympic weightlifting , particularly among the Olympic medalist level. ( see my article discussing the Ogars injury versus Olympic Gold medalist , Matthias Steiner, who walked away, unharmed from dropping 200kg on his neck.

In other words, since many of these catastrophic injuries are happening overtime, athletes might not realize what they are sacrificing.  More education is needed.

MYTH 5: Weightlfitng technique takes years to master, so this is the best these athletes can do given how long they've been in the sport

That is both true and untrue. Having perfect technique like Ilya Ilyin takes years. Having good technique , for people with CF regional level of conditioning, takes weeks or months .

Most of the great CrossFitters have done other sports before CrossFit, they are athletic enough to do a muscle up , an overhead squat, or hand stand walk, they should be athletic enough to do an ok snatch. If regionals athletes are serious about getting to the CrossFit games, then they need to be able to do a nice snatch-- Not necessarily an Ilya Ilyin level snatch, but something that is not going to break their spine.


Recommendations ---solutions:
There are some pretty simple things we can do to make the CF world a better place.

1. Get a real  weightlifting coach to teach you technique
Start with someone whose lifter has medaled at a national competition, and , preferably, has  worked with countries that have great technical lifters.  You may need to try several coaches or find a distance coach depending on where you live.

2. Any WOD involving snatches, cleans, jerks, thrusters, or squats should be done in weightlifting shoes that have good stability, not lifters and especially not nanos 
Wood heel. Do not get shoes with a rubber and small plastic heel. Avoid brands where people look like they are hopping around in the shoe, because the shoes are so unstable. There are enough YouTube videos of people in neony-plasticy-vinyl-y shoes to see that people wearing these have way more foot movement and ankle wobble in their Olympic lifts. 

3. Master your technique before doing any lift for time
In general, learn how to snatch with the bar as close to you as possible, with the least amount of swinging before venturing on to more than 5 repetitions in a row. 

4. Use the same definition as a snatch as the IWF, AND add specific guidelines for press outs
The IWF has been around for almost 100yrs and has one of the lowest injury rates in Olympic sport. They might know something, ehhh?  If we can set clear rules on what a thruster is, then we can do the same in the snatch.

Perhaps, CF can make positive change in the weightlifting world by using the same guidelines , with the added bonus of clarifying level of press out that is acceptable. For example, allow any subtle arm movement, and turn down lifts for presses from bars caught at a 90 degree elbow angle or less.

In closing,  please Take this article as positive feedback on how to make the world a better place for crossfit and weightlifting.

Wouldn't you rather take the time to learn how to do a real snatch than break your spine?

7 comments:

DirtyDave said...

I have to agree with you 100%. Too many CrossFitters disregard weightlifting technique because of the culture of CrossFit. Unless HQ really starts to push the standards, there will be bad technique used. I am considering buying a pair of your shoes by the way. I have a pair of Rogue Do-Wins and they are falling apart. I was never fully satisfied with the performance that I got from them.

Gwen Sisto said...

Thanks for the note. Let me know if you need any help with shoes. Best,Gwen

Nick said...

I could never get behind CrossFit because of the blatant disregard for proper form. I'm sure some gyms for it are better than others, but it was never in line with my goals anyways. Solid advice regarding shoes as well, really applies to everyone doing lifting.

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