Tag Archives: crossfit

Size verses Strength

On the podcast this morning, we got on the topic of how muscle size relates to strength.  Many do not realize this, but size of a muscle is very, very closely related to the strength of the muscle or amount of tension that muscle can produce.  So why aren’t the biggest bodybuilders the strongest athletes?  Well, strongest at what?


This is an interesting question and the answer is part physiology, and part physics.  The physics part is pretty straightforward.  The human body applies strength through a system of levers, or bones.  The arrangement of these levers is just as important to how much force can be applied in any movement as the amount of tension the muscles involved can generate.


Let’s look at an example.  Donny Shankle is a pretty strong guy.  He also has an extremely long spine as a proportion of his height.  For a lifter proportioned like Donny, flexion/extension of the torso is always going to be difficult.  If you have trouble imagining why this would be, imagine you tried to hold a 1 meter stick with a 10 pounds attached to the end perfectly vertical.  Not too hard, but now imagine you tried to hold it at a 10 degree angle.  What about a 45 degree angle?  The 1 meter stick represents Donny’s spine, or the spine of anyone built like him.  Imagine how much easier it would be to hold the stick either at either angle if it was a 1 FOOT stick instead of 1 meter.


This is why Donny is a superior front squatter, where the torso is kept very close to vertical, a reasonable back squatter where the torso has a moderate forward lean, and a terrible deadlifter where the torso developes lots of forward lean.  Do you ever wonder why the world record holder in the squat rarely also holds the record in the deadlift?  Same reason.


Luckily for Donny, he chose a sport (weightlifting) that utilizes the body God gave him very well.  But the reason why the biggest muscle isn’t always the strongest has a physiological basis as well as a physics basis.  The weightlifting snatch and the powerlifting deadlift at first glance would seem to be very similar lifts.  Yet one regularly leads to the development of pretty big muscles, and one rarely does.  Now I love Weightlifting as much as anyone, and more than most, but let’s be honest.  A big snatch doesn’t automatically mean big muscles.  Developing a big snatch is as much about speed as it is about strength.  Applying force at high rates of speed is a neural adaptation more than a muscular one, and developing motor patterns is more important to snatching big than big muscles are.


Bodybuilding and weightlifting are two activities at opposite ends of the spectrum, and powerlifting is somewhere in the middle.  But just as you will never see a 500 pound bench press and a 5 minute mile done by the same person, you will never see a 20 inch arm and a 200kg snatch by the same person either..   Some things are just mutually exclusive.

CrossFit Pi

CrossFit Pi in Exeter is  the most spacious and well equipped gym I have seen in a long time.  The owner Martin Uttley studied at Brunel University and was a high level rugby player before opening his gym.  I am not sure what I like best about this facility, the coffee dispenser, or the platforms!  But I do know that it is far nicer than most CrossFit facilities in the USA and both Martin and his staff seem to be great coaches and totally dedicated to making this facility the best that it can possibly be.

Look on the Bright Side.

IMG_0194So you were not designed by God specifically to break world records in weightlifting.  Yes, that is a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is.  So you probably can’t simply max out on the competitive lifts  your whole career.  You will have to find a way to fix yourself.  Your future probably holds various exercises like squats, push presses, and deadlifts or pulls.  But look on the bright side, if you are like most people reading this you have two working hands to grip the bar and a body that works well enough to actually do a snatch or clean and jerk.  Some people are not so lucky.

But there remains the question, how to make the things we have to so beside snatch and clean and jerk carry over to snatch and clean and jerk as much as possible?  As I sit here writing this, I am watching Rachael Davis do push presses.  I have told her and told her to separate each rep with a pause on the shoulders.  Yet when she gets a little tired and finishing the set is in doubt she still lowers the bar straight into the dip portion of the dip and drive.  This makes the set a little easier to finish.  For most people anyway.  It is not really cheating, and the difference is slight, but there is a difference.
But, for an exercise to carry over, it not only has to work the same muscle or muscle group as the movement you want to affect, it has to use the same movement speed, the same basic force curve, and the same range of motion.  The more similar the two movements are, the more the carry over.  So if you want your push press to help the jerk, separate each rep with a pause.  Make most of your reps fast, as fast or almost as fast as a jerk.  Avoid ‘grinding’, or any reps with a noticeable slowing of the bar.  Dip to the same depth on every rep.

If you try to do this it still won’t make your push press carry over perfectly to your jerk.  But it will make it carry over a hell of a lot more than if you do them sloppy and slow.

An example that is a little more obvious is the deadlift.  In the past I have not been a proponent of deadlifts for weightlifters.  But after coaching enough lifters with a long torso/short leg body type I have softened by stance.  I am still not a big fan of pulls, feeling that the deadlift can be done heavier and at least in theory should lead to faster strength gains.  But if you have a strength deficit on the pull and are going to deadlift you sitll need to not only keep the same joint angles as when you do the weightlifting movements, you need to keep the same bar speed when possible.  So there should be very few pulls when the bar is just crawling up your leg.  When possible,  the bar should be moving at roughly the same speed as it does in the snatch or clean.  If the start position is the same, and the bar moves at roughly 2 meters per second, there should be a lot of carry over.
In my next blog in this series I will talk about how Caleb Ward made sets of 5 in the back squat as specific to the clean and jerk as possible.

Specificity vs Adaptation



Everyone knows how to make the body adapt.  Simply do an exercise that you have not done before.  Or do several sets in a rep range that is outside the norm.  You will get sore, but over the next few days the soreness will go away, and when you repeat the exercise again and again, you will have less soreness each time.  Eventually you will have none.  The body has adapted.

But as weightlifters, we do the same exercises over and over gain.  Not exactly ideal for adaptation.  But if all you do is snatch and clean and jerk with near maximal weights, it is ideal for SPECIFICITY.   Every adaptation that your body makes will be perfectly suited to the task of heavy snatches and clean and jerks.

If you add heavy squats to the mix, it will surely help make your legs strong.  But, the increased leg strength will not be perfectly suited to the snatch and clean and jerk.  Squats do not occur at the same speed as the snatch, the force curve you need to apply with your legs is not the same as the force curve in a snatch, and the range of motion in the squat is not the same as in a snatch.  It is the same with every assistance exercise that we do.  Doing things other than heavy singles in the competition lifts allows us to greatly increase the adaptations in our bodies, but those assistance exercises also cause the adaptations to be less than perfectly suited to the of maximal lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk.  So there is a trade off between adaptation and specificity.  What is great for one, is bad for the other.
Abajiev was a proponent of training with a short list of exercises.  He pared down the 50 or 60 exercises used by the Russians until he was left with only the competition lifts, front squats, and the power versions of the competitive lifts.  But even that was not as far as he wanted to go.  He theorized that the PERFECT training system sould be maximal singles in the snatch and clean and jerk, and nothing else.  No squats, no front squats, no pulls.  He wanted to try this but he said the people who were paying him were paying for a proven system and he was not sure that a system without squats would work.  His system WITH squats definitely worked, so to make sure he kept producing he continued with the proven system.

My next blog will cover the REAL reasons we do assistance exercises!

Jenny Arthur


Jenny Arthur is from Gainsville, Georgia, and she was introduced to weightlifting while in high school.  Her first coach was Stan Lutrell who was a football coach at the high school Jenny attended.  Matt Mayes also assisted with her early training, which she performed at 6:30 AM along with the football team.  Jenny recalls that there was not a lot of emphasis on using proper technique in her early training, and that training was most often performed with multiple sets of 3 and multiple sets of 5 with around 60 to 70% intensity.

Jenny ran track in high school as well as playing softball  and competing in weightlifting.  she thinks her mental strength is her best quality as a lifter and she credits her parents with that.  She told me that her parents were strong people and they passed that determination on to her

One of her biggest goals as a young lifter was to get to the OTC, and she never even considered any other college program.  Jenny got accepted to the OTC immediately out of high school, but she did start taking college courses at UCCS as soon as she got Colorado Springs.  She is not currently enrolled but she does plan on going back to finish her degree after the 2016 Olympics.

When Jenny got to the training center she says there was a huge increase in training intensity as well as an increased focus on technique.  When she started at the OTC she did experience a few injuries, and she has since learned to hold back in training sometimes, and that you don’t always have to make PR’s.  She learned to, as she calls it “pick her battles”.

Jenny feels like at this point in her career she still needs a lot of technical work.  She is still getting stronger, but not nearly as fast as when she first got to the OTC.  Wile I was at the World Team Camp I watched her break a squat PR that she had set almost 2 years ago, a back squat of 126kg.

Jenny is one of the favorites to make the Olympic team next year, and I wish her the best.

The following is an excerpt from her training log that will help give you an idea of what she does in training.


Snatch balance + squat     35 2/1 50 5/1 65 4/1 75 5/1 85 3/1 90 2/1 95 2/1

Snatch     35/2 45/2 55/2 60/2 65/1

Snatch pulls    45 55 65 75 2 for 2, 3 85 1 for 1

Front Squat     3 95/1 ( 3 singles with 95)

Sots Press in snatch     15/6 25/4 35/4 40/4

Snatch     40/2 50/2 60/2 65/2 65/2 70/2 75/2 80/2   3 83/1

Press in split     30/4 35/4 40/4 45/4

jerks     55 2/2 65 2/2 75 2/2 85 2/2 95 2/2 103 1/1   3 108 1/1   (I believe this means she did 2 sets of 2 with 55, 2 sets if 2 with 65, etc)

Pulls clean     115 3 for 2, 120 2 for 2, 125 1 for 1 (I believe 3 sets of 2 with 115, 2 sets of 2 with 120, and 125 for 1 set of 1)


Back Squat     55/6 75/5 85/4 110/3 125/3 140/2 155/1 165/1 169/1

Power Clean     45/3 60/3 70/3 80/2 90/2 100/1

Power Jerk     45//2 60/2 70/2 80/2 90/2 100/1 105/1 110/1

Jump UP   10X3


Push snatch + squat    35 4+1 45 3+1 55 2+1 65 2+1

Snatch     40/2 50/2 60/2 65/2 70/2 75/2 3 78/1

Snatch pulls   45 2/2 60 2/2 70 2/2 80 2/2 90 2/2 97 2/2 3 102 1/1

Clean pulls   110/2 117/2 122/2 125/2


Front squat    55/3 70/3 85/3 100/3 115/3 125/3 136/1 143/1 148/1

Push press   35/6 45/6 55/4 65/2 70/1

Jump Up     10X3


Drop sn + OHS     30 40 50 60 64 all 2 + 1

Snatch     30/2 40/2 50/2 60/2 64/1

Clean pulls     45 60 70 80 2 for 2, 84 1 for 1

Front squat     3 95/1


Front Squat     65/6 80/5 95/4 110/3 122/3 132/2 142/1

Power Clean   45/2 55/2 65/2 75/2 85/2

Power Jerk     45/2 55/2 65/2 75/2 85/2

Pulls  50/2 60/2 70/2 80/2 90/2 95/2 100/2

Jump Up     10X3

Rowing and more rowing.



After my 5k run on Sunday, I woke up Monday morning and decided to give a 5k row another shot.  I managed to do it in 20 min and 12 seconds, a pretty decent PR and very close to my goal of 20 minutes flat.  I believe that I am going to have to do some intervals this week, because it would be very hard mentally to keep doing hard 5k’s every day.  I think 10ea 500 meter intervals might work!

Another 5k.

I ran my second 5k this morning.  My time was 34 minutes and 22 seconds, which is a little slower than what I wanted.  It is a little faster than my last race, but I was aiming for something a little closer to 32 minutes.  Oh well, it is about a minute and a half faster than I have done before, and in a few weeks I am sure my next one will be better.

The race was in Uptown Charlotte, and started right in front of the Nascar hall of fame,as you can see in the picture.  That is Kasey Kahne’s car behind me, and the race raised raised money for Novant Health Hemby Childrens Hospital.

I need to focus more on my rowing for the next couple of weeks anyway.  I challenged Veronica (Jared Flemings girlfriend) to a 2k rowing contest last night.  I plan to continue running 2.5 miles every afternoon, but for the next couple of weeks I am going to row a 5k each morning before work.  The race is supposed to happen on Halloween day.

I really, REALLY want to beat Veronica.