How to Progress from a CrossFitter to a Weightlifter: Beginner > Intermediate > Advanced

Whether you are just starting out in the world of weightlifting or have been actively pursuing it for years, there is a “basic formula” of how to progress your Olympic lifting.  Each stage builds upon the one before it.  If you lack skills in one, you will struggle when moving on to the next phase.  However, if you take the time to fully develop before entering the next level, your performance will improve greatly.  If this process is carefully followed, there will be no need to spend time breaking bad habits and re-learning correct technique as you advance.  This is seen in cultures that continually produce elite weightlifters, such as China and Russia.  Our time spent with Chinese, Russian, Armenian, and Brazilian Olympians has helped create our strategy that has produced Nationally ranked lifters.

Beginner goals are to establish fundamentally sound technique.  They use general physical training and movement, technical skill training, and supplementary exercises for strength training to help the athlete navigate the movements and build motor proficiency.  Listed below are the most important fundamentals for beginners to master.  More advanced lifters can spend time refining each of these. Research shows it takes 6-8 years to develop an elite lifter, so we don’t need to get into things like bent arm vs straight arm vs catapult.  (You get my point).

a. Start Position  b. Pull  c. Separation  d. Fixing the barbell overhead or in the front rack

a. Start Position b. Pull c. Separation d. Fixing the barbell overhead or in the front rack e. Rising (not pictured)

From CrossFitter to Weightlifter

We will use Kurt as an example.  His background included volleyball, running, cycling, and CrossFit.  He had become proficient in every movement expected of a CrossFit program, had exposure to the lifts, and had a general base of strength & conditioning.  His goal was to increase his proficiency in the Olympic Lifts.

Step 1

Ensure his timing was consistent, sharp, and explosive, and that his footwork and upper body movements were synchronized when receiving the barbell. The initial focus of Kurt’s training was on increasing the quality and density of his lifting sessions. His general physical conditioning was put on maintenance in order to keep it from being a limiting factor in his recovery from weight training sessions.

During this period, his average working weight and number of quality reps per set (typically 2-6) began to slowly and steadily increase.  We used the amount of separation and the ability to accurately fix the barbell in the receiving position as a measurement/feedback tool, rather than percentages of maximum.

As a lifter enters the intermediate stages of weightlifting the template must become more specific to continue to increase lifting capacity. The goal is to reinforce and improve technique, speed, and rhythm.  It becomes more important to develop strength more specifically. The weight on the bar is progressively increasing and training begins reflecting these conditions.  Developing strength that is more specific will allow a lifter to progress based on their individual limitations.

Step 2

Emphasis to increase his absolute strength to be able to tolerate moving explosively with heavier weights (pulls/squats/push presses/good mornings). After the initial training period, Kurt’s clean was rapidly approaching his previous limit squat, and his snatch was rapidly approaching his previous best clean.   He was closing the margin between his explosive strength and his absolute strength.  The relative and absolute intensity of his strength workouts was increased.  The goal was to build up the strength reserves, for continued progress and avoidance of injury.

Step 3


Involves athletes developing a work capacity under NEAR ISOMETRIC conditions, and the need for properly planned and highly individual specific programs and recovery are necessary. For a lifter to progress to an advanced level, they must develop the ability to move explosively with even heavier weights, now exceeding twice/three times their body weight.  Under these conditions, the combination of ideal technique, speed, and specific explosive strength to move efficiently and display force rapidly is paramount.    As Will likes to say, “It is very important to establish a good foundation of movement and lots of high quality reps, but no amount of 95 lb overhead squats will equal a 300 lb snatch.”

Currently, Kurt is working on snatch-grip deadlift, pressing power, core isometrics, and small muscle/joint stabilization exercises to be able to handle heavier loading. He is also accustoming himself to wave loading, in an attempt to define his best intensity-to-recovery ratio.  Because he is no longer a beginner, he is no longer seeing the benefits of linear progressions of volume and intensity.

Bottom line – you must always be evaluating your progress in order to program effectively.  If you have questions about your development or training program, you should sit down with a knowledgeable coach to analyze your progress.

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Posted on February 3, 2015, in Olympic Weightlifting, Training and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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