On Tuesday, April 11th, 2017, I stopped CrossFitting.
After just completing a weekend of CrossFit competition at the Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Challenge (affectionately referred to as “The MAAC”), I chose to shift my focus for a little while & “see how strong I could get” in 6 months.
Starting April 11th, I began only following a CrossFit weightlifting program (crossfitweightlifting.com), which consisted of nothing but Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Front Squat, Back Squat and assorted accessory work. Cardio? Nah, none of that.
Weighing in at 170lbs, my numbers at the time were as follows:
- Front Squat: 275lbs
- Back Squat: 300lbs
- Snatch: 200lbs (stuck for 2 years)
- Clean & Jerk: 255lbs (stuck for 3 years)
For those keeping track on BTWB, that was good for an “Olympic Weightlifting” score of 80.
The CrossFit weightlifting program for these 6 months was pretty routine. On Mondays, we did snatch work, usually consisting of lots of position work (high hang, hang, etc.), followed by heavy pulls, and some accessory work (snatch grip push press, snatch balance, etc.). Tuesdays were front squats. Always 3 reps, but with the weights getting progressively heavier each week. Wednesdays were clean and jerks, but formatted just like Mondays. Thursdays we rested, and Fridays were back squats (formatted just like Tuesday). Despite the 2 cycles I got through being similar by day, their volume (and lessons within) were drastically different.
Cycle 1: 12 weeks – April to June
This was a perfect cycle to start with. Light skill work & moderate squats during the week, heavier tests on the weekends.
The Olympic Lifts
Mondays & Wednesdays were often filled with 3 position lifts (high hang, hang, floor) below 70%, really allowing you to dial in technique & begin to understand causality between movement & lift result. Bring the hips forward too quickly in the snatch, loop the bar around and miss behind. Dip the slightest bit forward in the jerk & spend the rest of the movement chasing the barbell. The list goes on, and while at lighter weights you can get away with some of the above mistakes, it’s just enough feedback to help you prepare for heavier Saturdays.
After your position work, you focused in on some heavy (110%+ pulls). Moral of the story, if you can hold positions at these loads, you can hold those positions in your 90%+ range easily.
After the pulls, you often got to play with some complexes we don’t come across in CrossFit very often. Things like: power snatch + 3 snatch grip push press + 3 snatch balance + 3 overhead squats. In none of these particular exercises are you breaking any records with load, but you do practice and learn massive amounts of stability & body control.
Tuesdays and Fridays were pretty straight forward. In this particular cycle we always performed 5 sets of 3 reps. The catch was on week 1, we began with 65%. Week 2 was 70%, then 72%, 75%, 78%, 80%, 82%, 85%, 88%, 90% (doubles), 95% (singles), finishing with a 1RM test.
Each week was a little bit harder than the last, but it was so gradual, that you grew accustomed to the loads as to not shock the system.
In beyond the whiteboard world, my “Olympic Lifting” score went from my starting point of 80 all the way up to 87.
Some of that, had to do with a few PRs that happened along the way.
Naturally, I’m stoked. Like. Really stoked. I felt like I made a small investment (3 months) and got 5, 5, 25, and 35lb returns.. needless to say, I was ready to immediately begin cycle number 2.
Cycle 2: 12 weeks – July – September
Unlike the first cycle.. this one, was not for the faint of heart. More volume, heavier weights, literally 0 deload weeks, it’s almost like Mike Burgener (programmer for CrossFitWeightlifting.com) was just pissed off for 3 months. But none the less, I had survived for 3 months prior to this.. what was a little extra volume?
The Olympic Lifts
Just like Cycle 1, Mondays & Wednesdays were often filled with 3 position lifts (high hang, hang, floor). The difference this time around though was we’d get all the way up to 85% (15% more than before, which in my case equated to 30lbs on the snatch, and 40lbs on the clean and jerk).
Other than the weights though, the program followed a very similar pattern: position work, heavy pulls, accessory strength.
During this particular cycle, I PRed some accessory lifts like my snatch balance, and probably some things like hang triples (not really sure.. but they were really hard.. so.. sure, PRs).
This is where it got real. Like, really real.
Unlike the first cycle where we consistently did 5 sets of 3 reps, welp, angry Mike B. decided to double that to consistently programming 10 sets of 3 (followed by 3 sets of 3 of whatever squat wasn’t being prioritized that day).
There were many weeks in a row where the thought “there’s no way we’re going to have to do 10 sets again this week” rang through my ears only to be quickly squashed when the programming updated and said “10×3″… damn.
All the way up to 85% (300lbs) which, let me tell you. You wanna know what fighting for survival is like? It’s somewhere between reps 2 & 3 on set 10 of 300lb 10×3. That’s where you can find out what fighting for survival is like.
Here’s where some excitement, disappointment, and the need for added perspective kicked in.
I had several PRs through out the second cycle too.. but nothing like the first.
I increased my snatch 5lbs (to 210lbs), my clean & jerk another 5lbs (to 265lbs), my clean (which wasn’t really part of the crossfitweightlifting.com program.. but had a bum shoulder one day so just went for it) up 5lbs (to 280lbs), and the previously mentioned snatch balance.
No major squat PRs (honestly didn’t even try this time), and not quite the jumps I had hoped for.
All that said, I had increased my “Olympic Lifting” score on BTWB from an 80 at the beginning to a 91.
What I Learned
After 6 months of beating each of these lifts into my head (and body), I came away with more than a few 10lb PRs.
More Volume Doesn’t Equal More PRs
I’ll admit, when I originally saw that cycle 2 consisted of a bunch of 10×3 squat days, I was (stupidly) excited. I figured hey.. if I made massive jumps from a bunch of 5×3 days, doubling it should be even better!
I was wrong.
The toll those extra 30 reps a week took on my legs likely made me less productive and actually hindered my performance both on future sets of squats, but also on coming out of snatches & cleans on those heavy days.
I would have been better served knocking that back to 5 sets just like cycle 1, focusing on that strong core stability & solid movement pattern instead of saying “hold on body, don’t die” twice a week for 3 months.
PRs Aren’t As Important As Consistency
No, I didn’t hit my original goals of 215lbs+ snatch and 275lbs+ C&J at the end of cycle 2, and yes, that was disappointing.
That said, going into my last max out day, after 6 months of beating myself up, generally feeling like garbage.. I hit a 93% snatch and a 96% clean & jerk easily (and honestly, without doubt).
That helped me to realize (or rather, remember) that PRs come when there’s a perfect storm of just the right amount of sleep, food, coffee (cause duh), and emotion hit in the 10 seconds it takes for you to lift the bar. If all of those don’t come together.. you probably aren’t going to have a PR type day. But if you can feel almost at your worst and hit 95% of your best? Yeah, that’s worth the last 6 months of only sticking with crossfitweightlifting.com programming.
- Front Squat: 315lbs
- Back Squat: 350lbs
- Snatch: 210lbs
- Clean & Jerk: 265lbs
- *Clean: 280lbs
*Not part of the program.. just kinda happened.
Like anything, if you stop practicing, your skills (and in this case strength) will deteriorate.
My intentions in my immediate future are to dive head first back into CrossFit. See what this new found strength will bring, and still commit to lifting heavy at least once a week to keep the rust away.
It’s been a really fun 6 months, I’ve learned a lot about the lifts & my body’s ability to handle them. I’ve had great training partners in Krista and D, and an awesome gym to work in (Push511).
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