High Rep Weightlifting Will Lead to Human Extinction

By t. | In Articles, Training | on September 4, 2013


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to Tony, CrossFit Wilmington’s owner. They mostly reflect CrossFit Wilmington’s institutional views as whole.  They are meant to provide emotionally unattached perspectives to the good, and bad, aspects of CrossFit, both at CFW and the community as a whole. While no one likes to be told when they suck, it is essential to the betterment of our community we entertain ideas that will lead to such betterment. In contrast, when narrow minded coaches from other disciplines attack CrossFit with kindergarten level arguments, they can too be informed of their ignorance… for their betterment, of course.

If anything in this article offends you, you are in luck. You have options. You can do what most passive aggressive punks do: post “na-na, na-na boo boo” type arguments anonymously to comments, unlike or unfriend us on Facebook (our new fav!), and in this case, avoid USAW Sanctioned meets and any events that will display your mediocre ways. Another option you have is to not be a sheep. You can educate yourself, dismiss mediocrity, and only accept the best from yourself and others you associate with. Either way, we are unattached emotionally and enjoy a good conversation on all fitness topics.

Obviously neither part of this article’s title is true, but oddly, some folks are so passionate about their training methods, they have become, along with their arguments, pretty ridiculous.  Can we not have a realistic, thoughtful debate in Strength and Conditioning?  I mean, at the end of the day, it is all just moving heavy things for enjoyment.

In the past few weeks there’s been an uptick in conversation about high repetition weightlifting.  I actually thought this topic, along with the kipping pull up vs. deadhang pull up topic, was done and over with.  Even in the past, opponents of  high rep work with the barbell did not even get my attention.  I decided a long time ago to focus on teaching excellent Olympic lifting at CFW and not even worrying over the idea that high rep oly lifts will hurt someone.  We don’t worry because our coaching methods give us that luxury.  It is a crazy idea, but we actually watch our members for form and do not allow them to use dangerously heavy weights on any movement.  It is the safeguard that keeps our members risk of injury relatively low.

Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength and formerly the CrossFit Powerlifting cert coach, recently wrote The Fallacy of High Rep Weightlifting.  In it he basically reiterates the same old, tired-assed arguments against high rep oly lifting (HROL… I just made up an acronym! Feel free to use it. ha).  I am sure Rip believes what he is saying to be true, but seriously, I stopped caring about his opinions on Olympic lifting when he began purveying a start position for the clean that put the lifter in basically a deadlift position for the first pull.  It was then I knew he should keep his focus on powerlifting…  like Jordan should have stuck with basketball.  Think about it, his technique of beginning the first pull with the ass in the air and knees behind the bar is actually one of the things we all consider to be bad Olympic lifting technique an athlete displays when attempting to do high rep and high speed Oly lifts and/or fatigue sets in.  I feel like I could end this article right there.  Not to mention on his forum he posts the link to T-Nation and wrote “This should get interesting”.  So obviously he his hoping to still the pot.  That’s cool, I’ll take the bait…  it’ll be a good time.

High reps = bad technique?  No, bad coaching = bad technique.

High reps = bad technique? No, bad coaching = bad technique.

However, Rip’s article is not entirely wrong.  He points out many of the problems with Olympic Lifting.  But the problems are the same whether you are lifting at high reps with low weight or low reps with “relatively” high weight.

Before I go on, let me make two things clear.  I think high rep, one rep, or a million reps done poorly of anything, is wrong and can cause injury.  So I am against high rep olympic weightlifting with bad technique.  I also think CrossFit has this reputation of allowing, sometimes even promoting, bad technique because we allow it in our sport.  Yes, CrossFit promotes bad lifting by allowing crappy lifting.  Acceptance is as good as promotion.  It is like legalizing marijuana.  At CFW,  and all the top CrossFit affiliates, if an athlete presses out a snatch or a jerk, they get corrected.  If an athlete praises another athlete for pressing out with “yeah!” or “nice” they get corrected.  World class gyms do not promote mediocrity.  It sets a mindset and it helps members hold each other to high standards.

The terms Ground to Overhead (G2O) and Ground to Shoulder to Overhead (G2S2O) have become excuses for allowing horrible form in CrossFit on the lifts.  I was recently at a local CrossFit competition where one of the events was max G2H.  I watched as all kinds of horrible lifts happen.  Judges gave “good lift” calls to athletes who didn’t lock out, show stability, and in some cases didn’t even stand up from the split. People celebrated and yelled positive encouragement when someone set a new “PR” in what barely resembled a Clean and Jerk.  I’m not picking on the gym really, the lifters were not only from there, nor were the judges, but the rules, or lack thereof, promoted the junk lifting.  It has been the same at every CrossFit competition where the event was Max G2O.  Allowing athletes to get it overhead by any means, no matter how ugly or dangerous, needs to go away.  If we, as CrossFit, adhered to the sport of weightlifting’s rules for the lifts, it would improve our sport by forcing us all to learn, teach, and judge the lifts properly.

The best lifts, at CrossFit competitions and Weightlifting meets, come from the lifters with the best technique.  It only behooves us to teach good form from the beginning.  If as a CrossFit coach you are going to advertise that your gym incorporates the Olympic lifts into your programming, you should teach the lifts per the rules of weightlifting.

Here’s what Rip, and most all the other anti-HROLs, are missing…  ALL BEGINNERS HAVE CRAP FORM.  I don’t care if it is in the deadlift, the snatch or a biceps curl, when something is new to a person, they have to learn it to master it.  So the exact same argument against HROL can be made against repping out the press or deads or running or Kettle Bell swings.

It is funny, many of the same coaches that are anit-HROL are ok with junk form on an oly platform while the athlete is learning to oly lift if the coach

Experienced lifters can get injured too.  The only way to eliminate the dangers of Olympic Weightlifting entirely would be to do no reps.

Experienced lifters can get injured too. The only way to eliminate the dangers of Olympic Weightlifting entirely would be to do no reps.

is an oly coach and the program is an oly program.  Those same coaches are ok with high volume, heavy singles.  Most weightlifting coaches I know love to program days that look like Snatch x 80% x 15 / C&J x 80% x 15 / Front Squat x 85% x 3 x 10, I know I do.  This workout is perfectly acceptable by all the anti-HROLs.

But put that lift into CrossFit and it changes everything.  Now, because it is in a CrossFit program, learning the oly lifts mean certain death.  It is absurd.  I go to Weightlifting meets and see athletes lift with horrid technique…  athletes from Weightlifting gyms, not CrossFits.  I’ve seen some of the worst technique I have ever seen at USAW sanctioned events.  Again, that is technique taught to Weightlifters, by Weightlifting coaches at Weightlifting gyms.  So which is worse, taking someone to a meet and having them hit 1 rep maxes or repping out with light weight?

That is the bottom line… high reps means light weight.  Light weights means less risk of injury.  Even if the coaches do not give two cents of a sh*t about teaching Olympic style weightlifting form, the light weight is what keeps the trainee from getting hurt.

Anti-HROLs also like to remind us that the Olympic Style Lifts are for getting the most weight overhead in 1 rep max effort.  Why?  What if the originators of weightlifting had said it was 5 repetitions?  Olympic lifts are manmade.  We made them up and we made up the sport.  Unlike the javelin or the throws which came from combat, the olympic lifts are purely sport.  If CrossFit wants to do multiple rep weightlifting, it is probably not going to end the world.  If everyone thought high rep weightlifting was bad, then CrossFit would not be growing at its current rate.  Markets correct and markets clear… just like the CrossFit market cleared itself of Rippetoe.

I have one last counter to one of the popular anti-HROL arguments… so popular Rip thought he too should touch on it.  In his article is he writes

“if an experienced Olympic lifter wants to use snatches and C&Js for conditioning or on a dare, sure, go ahead. An experienced lifter actually knows how to do them correctly. And he has had back position and lockout technique hammered into his head enough that these important factors will not erode that much with fatigue – the reps will just be rested longer in between. So, for an experienced lifter, high-rep snatches won’t be a problem”.

So Mark is saying a competitive Weightlifter can rep out Oly lifts with no deterioration of form… as long as they rest more.  Duh.  But then that would not be HROL, it would be a bunch of lightweight singles and there would be no point, no conditioning and no stimuli to adapt to.  To say a weightlifter won’t fall apart under high reps is bullshit… complete bullshit.  I can prove it easily. I would like to take James Tatum and Cody Lambert and have them do 30 Snatches at 185lbs for time.  James is a former coach at Wilmington Strength (CFW’s S&C sister) and is now a competitive weightlifter on Team MDUSA.  Cody is CFW’s lead coach and a Games athlete.  They are within 10lbs of each others bodyweight.  James is stronger on every lift than Cody, including the slow lifts.  He has Cody by 20kg on the Snatch.  But since Cody has experience with HROL and conditioning to it, I bet Cody maintains his form better and completes all 30 Snatches in half the time James can.  This is not a challenge fellas and in no way am I downing on James.  I am giving an example of why Mark and other HROL arguments are ridiculous.  185lbs is light to both of them and 30 reps is high reps.  Of course this is where Rip and others would say Cody is an experienced lifter and they would be correct.  Then they’d loop back to proving my argument that “light” weights are relative to the athlete’s skill level and the two are directly related and the risk of injury is inverse to the combined two (I think I just created a mathematical equation…  hell yeah, writing this article has been fun).

So the argument should not be about the lifts vs. reps.  The argument should be about quality coaching.  If a coach has a lifter, beginner or Games level, it is up to the coach to know when to stop the athlete from hurting themselves.  Form and technique fail as fatigue increases on all lifts.  It is also the coach’s responsibility to know how to teach the lifts… to beginners and to more experienced athletes.


5 Comments to "High Rep Weightlifting Will Lead to Human Extinction"

  • Brock Wilson says:

    September 5, 2013 at 11:16 am -

    Tony, as always, I enjoyed your perspective, and congrats on your new acronym! The disparity on positioning for the first pull vis a vis Rippetoe and the examples of bad coaching from even USAW (ostensibly well qualified) coaches begs the question: is there a coach/gym/online resource whose coaching you find consistently good? Be it Catalyst, Attitude Nation, Glenn Pendlay, this guy, that girl etc etc.

    Thx, Brock

  • t. says:

    September 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm -

    Brock, the folks at rock!

    I look at it like this… I like any coach that realizes he/she isn’t the smartest person on the planet and we are teaching people to pick up heavy sh*t and put it back down. I’ve learned so much from so many different coaches… Wilkes and Sons, Bergener, Everett, Pendlay, McCauley (Both Mr. and Mrs.), Tatum, Abadzhiev, and other greats. I take what I learn from each of them and put it in my coahing “tool box” and use those tools to teach people to lift. Famous coaches are famous for a reason… they tyically have trained at least one champion in at least one sport. I assume they know something I can benefit from… that includes Rippetoe.

  • Brock Wilson says:

    September 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm -

    Tony, Thanks for the response. It seems consistent with what I have found, that , on occasion, even nationally recognized figures in this ,and I suppose most sports, offer contradictory answers to the same question, triple extension vs catapult, for example.

    I’ll have to check the cbathletic development people out; I dont know much about them , I do hear that they’re really good looking!

  • Peter Boby says:

    September 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm -

    Great right up T. I’m looking forward to the Sept 22nd class with that new guy.

  • t. says:

    September 6, 2013 at 8:25 am -

    Me too Pete… our community has struggled with balancing strength and endurance for a long time. Alex is obviously doing something correctly. I’m looking forward to hearing how he programs.