Teaching Weightlifting in CrossFit

It’s no secret that teaching the Olympic Lifts to the general population can be a bit frustrating — monkey see monkey do right? Unfortunately that’s not the case, especially when in a group setting or a CrossFit class.  As a new coach, it’s slightly overwhelming, a bit intimidating and very easy to get ahead of yourself. You have all this knowledge in your head, but how do you communicate this to someone still learning the verbiage of what an Air Squat is? 

If I think back to when I started teaching & coaching, I would expect everyone to just “understand the words coming out of my mouth”… yes that’s a Rush Hour reference. It didn’t take long to figure out that doesn’t go over too well. We have to take into account 4 key points when teaching: Position, Movement, Speed & Weight. We have to focus on the fundamentals before we expect someone to grasp the complexity of the Olympic Lifts.

No elite athlete just happened onto a bar and became a master of the sport. If you want proof of that, just watch some CrossFit Games footage from 2008-2010.. I’ll say It, their lifts were down right cringe worthy. Fast forward 10 years they’ve refined their technique and improved their lifts, some athletes, like Tia-Clair Toomey represented her country competing in Weightlifting during the Olympics. With that said, it took time, patience and dedication. This is her full time job and it took years! Imagine how long it will take you to teach someone walking off the street the bare minimum in the 1 hour you see them 2-3 times per week.




I would say this is the most important one, but it’s really the tip of the iceberg in the learning process. Can your athlete/member even get into the proper positions, not with a barbell, with their body or a PVC pipe. Starting position, receiving position, these are the building blocks for any successful lift.


Movement requires proper positions or building blocks, starting to see a trend? Now we have smart phones and apps that you can slow down, track bar path, etc. When coaching a class you don’t have time for this — you have to be able to pin point proper movement in motion. We always want to learn new things slowly, that way we understand the basic principles before we start linking all this positions together in one fluid motion.


Once athletes/members start to grasp the concept of the movement then we can enforce a change of speed. In the power clean for example, they’re making contact, they're dropping their hips to a proper power position but the elbows are a bit behind. In the grand scheme of things, not a huge issue (well it kind of is) but now we can address or add in some more cues to further get your athlete/member moving a little better and a little faster.


Now that we have most of the pieces of the puzzle together, weight can be increased. Its important to keep the increase in weight relative to the level of progress. If form starts to break down, don’t be afraid to have them take a step back and work at a comfortable weight.



Now lets figure out how to teach in a large format. Todays Strength is 15 Minutes to find a Heavy Single Snatch and you have a wide range of athletes.  Remember this.. NO ONE, is too good for a proper warmup or a movement breakdown.

Step 1: Command the floor. Have the members in lines, this will be helpful when looking for their positions. The lines should be where you want them, be clear and authoritative. Speak clearly and loud, you'll notice they respect and listen a lot more. 

Step 2: Have your drills pre planned, this will help the flow of the specific warmup. I have 2 warmups for each lift, a quicker one, and a longer two part one. Both incorporate 3 of our 4 topic points — positions, movement, speed.

Lets take the long one, let your athletes know you will let them know when the bar should be placed back on the ground:

1x Through (call out each movement - do 2 reps with them - observe the other 3)

5 Hinge to Hang Position

5 Full Snatch Grip Deadlifts

5 Snatch Grip High Pulls

5 BTN Snatch Grip Press

5 Back Squats

-slight break, bar down, shake out arms & legs

2x Through (call out each movement - do 1 rep with them - observe and call out next round)

3 High Hang Muscle Snatches

3 Hang Power Snatches

3 Overhead Squats

3 Low Hang Snatches

-slight break after 1x

*Through this warmup you will be able see positions, their movement and their speed. THREE of our FOUR key points in teaching & learning the olympic lifts.

Step 3: Address a proper weighted warmup. Instruct your athletes to load the bar with a “light” weight, something that 5 reps can be performed with minimal fatigue. If you have a percentage driven class we’re looking for 35-50% of the 1 Rep Max.

You will now be able to see how they react to weight or load and can pin point faults through the multiple reps they are doing — always encourage reset reps / not touch and go.

After their set of 5, have them increase weight for a comfortable set of 3 (45-60%).

Step 4: Clarify the goal of the Heavy Single time frame. The time frame of 15 Minutes is a lot of time in a CrossFit class, especially for those who like to load weight as fast a possible and tap out in 5 minutes. Your class should be taught to rest in between sets, the more you teach the more they will learn.

“Rule of Thumb Rest”

60-75% - 1 Minute rest

75-85% - 90 Seconds rest

90%+    - 2 Minutes rest

Step 5: Weight loading/percentage instruction is the final step, when working towards a Heavy single you don’t want them to burn out by lifting in 3’s and 2’s up to 90%. A great marker to give is that any lift above 80% should be a single rep. If you have athletes/members that are new who don’t have percentages, they purely work off of feel — adjusting weight as they feel comfortable.


Barbell to 50% - these sets serve a purpose, don't move the barbell just to move the barbell. Perform extra warmup sets in this rep range to build movement pattern and get your body/joints warm.

50-70% - keep the rep range between 3-5 for these sets with a max of 3 sets.

70-80% - we're working our way into singles or sets of 2 reps. Being careful not to over do it with a max of 2 sets.

85%-90% - 1 Rep

95% - 1 Rep

Heavy Single Attempts - 2-3 attempts. If you PR, that's great! If you hit 98% that's also great. Any day you can hit 95%+ is a good day! Make sure to take 2-3 minutes between attempts if not more.



Have your sh*t together, command and encourage.  Remember, they are here to learn! Groups A, B & C should all get the same attention.. you know what I mean by “groups”. Don’t ignore the veterans, and don’t leave the newbies alone because they look “helpless”. No one learns in a day, explain the process and encourage them when a change is made in movement pattern or technique.

And lastly be mindful to not overcorrect, focus on the one key issue at hand for said athlete. Your members should walk away with one cue, not 4 or 5. It’s okay to ask them, “what are we taking away from today?.. move the body around the bar, don’t move the bar around the body.” Keep it simple, keep it fun!

It's our job to not only DO better, but BE better. 


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