Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit are pretty different from one another, but they actually have a lot of the same benefits. In this article, we’ll have a closer look at some of the most important among them.
What are benefits of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit? The benefits of Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit are increased strength, increased balance and agility, developing functional strength, and improving general wellbeing.
Whereas CrossFit involves a lot of different types of exercise, Olympic weightlifting relies almost entirely on a very limited series of moves. Yet, both sports are greatly beneficial for athletes and sports enthusiasts alike.
More importantly, the two can be combined to maximize the amount of benefits that can be gained from them. Let’s dive deeper into the specific benefits (and potential pitfalls) of each discipline, and how they can be used to improve athletes’ fitness…
Benefits of Olympic lifting for athletes
While everyone stands to benefit from practicing Olympic weightlifting, it doesn’t have to be just for those athletes that have made it their primary sport. Other athletes like runners, football players, or swimmers have a lot to gain from learning the main Olympic lifts—and practicing them regularly.
One of the best things about Olympic weightlifting, especially as compared to other disciplines like powerlifting, is that it uses compound exercises. If you look at the classic Olympic lifts: the snatch, the clean, and the jerk, they all involve a whole lot of different muscles.
Not only do they target many different muscles, the movement from one pose to the next uses different joints, and really mobilizes core strength. As a result, those who perform these more complex movements gain not just strength, but also speed, and stability.
Sports scientists argue that Olympic lifts are great for athletes of other sports because…they’re very similar! – Reference.
While it may not be obvious how an Olympic snatch is similar to running or jumping, there are actually more similarities than you might expect. For starters, Olympic lifts use something called triple extension.
This term refers to what happens in the body when the hips, knees, and ankles are extended all at the same time during a move. This is what happens during an Olympic clean for example, but also when running, climbing or swimming. Still, think Olympic weightlifting has no relevance to your preferred sport? Think again!
Finally, Olympic weightlifting is great for athletes of all sports because it really develops…your brain! When performing an Olympic lift, you have to contract lots of different muscles in a quick sequence for maximum efficiency. And this is not always easy at first.
But the more you practice, the more you get used to using different muscles in quick succession, the faster and more efficient you’ll become. And regardless of what sport you practice, this will give you a steady advantage over others.
Benefits of Olympic weightlifting for strength
The first reason to start training with Olympic weightlifting is that it promotes strength. It makes sense: you lift heavier and heavier weights and, as a result, your muscles develop, and you can lift more. What’s important here is that the kind of movement that Olympic lifting makes you do is a whole body, standing moves that have a real impact on your ability to practice other sports.
While practicing moves like bench pressing can be beneficial to strength, they are not directly applicable to the sport that you train for. After all, do you lay down on a bench when you run, shoot arrows or climb walls? Olympic lifting gives you strength by making you practice moves that have direct relevance to most other sports.
In Olympic lifting, the strength that you develop also comes with a greater understanding of your muscles, how they work, and what each one of them does. To perform a successful Olympic lift, you’ll need to engage a lot of different muscles. That means knowing where they are, and what activating them feels like.
This comes with practice, and gives you the kind of strength that is intentional and smart, not just brute strength! And indeed, those athletes that regularly train with Olympic lifts report gaining a better understanding of their bodies, and a better appreciation for different muscle groups.
Finally, Olympic lifts can help you improve your range of motion. This means being able to use your muscles in a variety of different ways, and extending them further. The more range of motion that you have, the more positions you can use to develop strength, and gain in power.
After only a few months of Olympic lifting, you can expect not only to use your muscles more, but also to use more of them, and to an extent, you may not have considered before.
Benefits of Olympic weightlifting for balance and posture
Balance and posture are two things that athletes don’t tend to consider enough. But when it comes to sport performance, they can often be more important than strength itself. Any exercise that requires a lot of strength will generally tend to improve balance as well, but Olympic lifting does it especially well.
To lift very heavy weights in many different positions, Olympic lifters develop a sense of stability that extends way past their lifting practice. That stability can be useful in almost any sport, and is something that will remain as an advantage, especially as you age.
Another thing to note about Olympic lifters is that they tend to have back muscles that are much better developed than those of other athletes. And as a result? Great posture in any sport, which really translates in terms of performance levels. There are actually quite a few different muscles in the back, and most sports only develop some of them.
With Olympic lifting, it’s the whole deal: you’re targeting the lats, the traps, the lumbar muscles, and all others. As a result, Olympic lifters are less likely to experience injury, being much more stable in their core, and their back muscles.
It’s hard to emphasize the importance of proper posture enough. In fact, proper posture doesn’t make you a better athlete…but the wrong posture definitely makes you a worse one! By practicing lifts or other exercises with the wrong posture, you are putting unnecessary strain on certain muscle groups or joints, while completely neglecting others.
In time, this translates in poorer performance, but also pain and injury. So the more you focus on posture with exercises like Olympic lifts that develop the proper “posture muscles,” the better you will become at whatever sport you train for, and the more painless the process will be.
Benefits of Olympic weightlifting for mood and wellbeing
There are countless benefits of Olympic weightlifting for the body, but did you know it could also do wonders to improve your mood and general wellbeing? Of course, most forms of exercise do tend to create positive feelings, just think of runner’s high, or of the way that you feel after an intense yoga class. But according to scientists, there is something about lifting weights that is particularly effective when it comes to lifting your spirits. Source
A recent study conducted on almost 2000 people showed that lifting weights had powerful antidepressant effects on almost all participants. And you don’t need to be clinically depressed to experience those benefits either: more feelings of positivity, greater wellbeing, and lower levels of stress hormones were observed on all participants, regardless of their original state of mental health.
Olympic weightlifting also has significant benefits for your mental health because it can help you get better sleep. Studies have shown that doing intense exercise like lifting heavy weight promotes a deeper, more restorative sleep. Experiencing issues with insomnia or broken up sleep? Why not try out Olympic weightlifting!
When you know that getting a good amount of restorative sleep is crucial not only to feeling awake but also feeling happy and fulfilled, it’s no wonder that making you sleep better can improve your overall wellbeing, and make you feel like a whole different person.
What are Olympic lifts good for?
Olympic lifts are good for a large variety of reasons. Let’s have a look at some of the best ones: giving you a better-looking body, increasing your overall tonicity, strengthening the core and giving you stronger bones.
One of the first reasons why people try Olympic lifting is to get a better-looking body. Of course, everyone’s definition of a beautiful body is different, but Olympic lifts to tend to give everyone a tighter, leaner body that is generally appealing. People who practice Olympic lifts regularly tend to have a much higher muscle percentage, and less fat.
Olympic lifts are also great for targeting all of your muscles. Compared to many other forms of exercise, an Olympic weightlifting workout is a lot more of a whole-body workout. It will work your arms, your core, your back, your legs, your shoulders…And all of this in the space of a relatively short session. With Olympic lifting training, you can expect to give a serious workout to a lot of your different muscles, all without spending hours upon hours in the gym like body-builders.
Olympic lifts are also great for building a strong core. When training with weights, you’ll find that your core is constantly mobilized to keep you stable when lifting the bar in different positions. So even if you are not consciously training the core, you’ll probably find that it gets much stronger over time, simply by practicing Olympic weights training.
Finally, Olympic lifts are good for your bones. Not only do your muscles get stronger with every lift, but your bones will also thank you. Studies have shown that those who regularly practice Olympic lifts have a higher bone density, meaning that their bones are stronger and less breakable. What this also means is that Olympic lifters are at a lower risk of breaking a bone, or suffering from an injury in general.
Who is Olympic lifting for?
With so many benefits, Olympic lifting has something to offer to everyone. But who can benefit the most from it? Well, it’s hard to say. In general, Olympic lifting attracts men and women in their 20s and 30s, particularly those with a background in fitness. But the truth is, anyone can lift weights.
Olympic lifters usually start in their teenage years, around the age of 15 or 16. Of course, this changes on the person, and some very accomplished athletes got started much later on in their lives. Lifting at an early age is not necessarily dangerous, as was believed by the previous generation, but it does require a bit more caution.
When the body is still developing, pushing the muscles too hard or practicing lifts with improper posture can result in life-long damage. This is why it’s generally recommended that children and teenagers only practice under careful supervision by a trained coach or trainer.
And for those older, Olympic lifting is also possible. As with children, the elderly may be at a higher risk of injury, meaning that they have to be especially careful when training. But just like there are very successful young weightlifters, you can also find accomplished Olympic lifters in their 70s and 80s! For those older people just starting out with weightlifting, they’ll have to be careful to start with lower weights first, and move their way up very slowly.
And when it comes to gender, of course, Olympic lifting has long stopped being men-only sports. In many clubs, there are as many female artists as there are males, and women consistently achieve great results in sports.
So who is Olympic lifting for? Well, pretty much, everyone. It’s a difficult sport to learn and one in which technique is very important, but as long as they are trained with the correct supervision, people from all backgrounds, genders, and ages can train Olympic lifts.
What are the benefits of Olympic lifting for CrossFit athletes?
One type of athlete in particular who stand to benefit from incorporating some Olympic lifts into their training schedule are CrossFit athletes. As a general rule, cross-fitters have a little bit of everything in their training: cardio, jumps, calisthenics…
They even sometimes include some weightlifting, using a combination of moves from powerlifting, bodybuilding, and Olympic lifting. So why bother to learn the specific Olympic lifts? Well, for starters, these moves can develop a lot of strength in an athlete when performed correctly.
Learn to do a proper Olympic snatch for example, and you’ll develop more strength and power than you could with almost any calisthenics move. Generally, any athlete can benefit from learning Olympic lifting, and CrossFit athletes are no exception. So, what do cross-fitters need to know before they can get started with Olympic lifting?
Well, the first thing to know about Olympic lifts is that you can’t get away with bad form. Simple as that. Sure, you can get through a workout without injuring yourself significantly, but you really can’t get the full benefits of an Olympic lift if you aren’t doing it properly. And form is something that cross-fitters often struggle with.
They’ll usually find that they’re aiming for speed, and want to push their bodies to the limits by increasing the amount of reps. All of this often comes at the detriment of proper form. So for cross-fitters, spending a few hours outside of a CrossFit session to learn about how to safely and effectively perform Olympic lifts is crucial.
CrossFit also tends to encourage a spirit of competition, which, while it is great for boosting morale, also sometimes comes with some real, physical risks. For example, pushing your body to the limits and trying to perform more reps of an Olympic lift than your body can handle could result in injury or overtraining, which overtime won’t give you the results you’re after.
For cross-fitters, Olympic lifts have a wealth of benefits that can help them see progress in their daily CrossFit practice. But be aware—learning proper technique and going slowly but steadily is more important than impressing your gym buddies. So go slow, be safe, and don’t put too much pressure on those lifts, especially at the beginning!
Disadvantages of Olympic lifting
While Olympic lifting boasts a lot of benefits for all athletes—and even non-athletes, it’s not a sport without its disadvantages. Here is a closer look at three of them:
First, Olympic lifting is very technical, and you can’t teach yourself. Unlike other sports where some self-taught athletes really rival with their formally-trained colleagues, Olympic lifting requires that you have at the very least a bit of coaching.
You will need a coach to teach you the moves. You will need someone to watch you do the lifts and correct your posture and positioning, constantly, and not just once and for all. This is a considerable investment.
So if you’re unsure about whether you want to pursue Olympic lifting, it can seem like a waste of money. Whether you go through with it is entirely up to you but remember—you can’t learn Olympic lifting without the teaching of a trained professional.
The second reason is similar to the first: you’ll need special equipment to practice Olympic lifting. In other words, it’s not a workout you can do at home, or even in any local gym. If you want to give Olympic lifting a try, you’ll have to find a gym that has the necessary equipment, and even allows the activity.
Because Olympic lifting usually involves dropping the weight onto the floor once you’ve finished with them, it requires particularly resistant weights—and floors! So if you don’t find the right gym for it, it’s a definite disadvantage.
Finally, Olympic lifting takes time. Or to be more exact, you can’t get really, really good at it without hours upon hours of training every week. As a general rule, competitive Olympic lifters have training sessions that last for longer than two hours.
Of course, you could also achieve good results working out for under that time, but don’t expect to be in and out of the gym in a matter of minutes. If you want to dedicate yourself to Olympic lifting, you’re going to have to put in the time.
Benefits of CrossFit for athletes
CrossFit has known a bit of a craze over recent years: from young professionals to college students to housewives, everyone seems to be giving it a try. What’s not discussed as often are the benefits of CrossFit for those people who are already athletes: those that practice a competitive sport seriously.
To them, CrossFit has benefits that extend outside the gym: it can help them perform better in their sport, and give them an extra boost of confidence that can make all the difference during competitions, here’s how:
First of all, CrossFit develops some very well-rounded strength. CrossFit enthusiasts perform well on all sorts of levels: they have strength, power, speed, flexibility, range of motion, good posture…This is because CrossFit trains a lot of different areas of fitness, and aims to be a real whole-body workout.
In the space of a CrossFit session, you can expect to see some calisthenics and gymnastics moves, weight-lifting, rope jumping, some running, and even some acrobatics. In a way, CrossFit gives you a very thorough form of cross-training: training with different sports to improve your fitness level and become a better overall athlete.
Besides the physical benefits of CrossFit, some well-known psychological benefits can make a big difference in an athlete’s ability. CrossFit is all about community and having fun: you go to the gym, meet the same people there, train together, keep smiling through the pain together, and celebrate victories together.
Even for the people that aren’t particularly sporty, this can create a huge boost in morale, and encourage them to spend more time exercising. So think about the benefits to athletes!
For many of them, CrossFit is a welcome alternative to their regular training, providing a way of exercising that is more sociable, more diverse, and more fun. In time, this can make an athlete more motivated to train more, meaning that they’ll eventually become better at their sport.
Benefits of CrossFit on fitness
With so many adepts, it’s no wonder that CrossFit boasts an impressive record of fitness benefits. From improving your strength to your cardiac abilities and your agility, here are the things that make CrossFit great at improving fitness:
If you look at people in a CrossFit gym, they’re usually very strong. They may not be the burly, bodybuilding type, but they have the power to lift heavy things and use their body weight to perform exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. This is owing in large part to the fact that CrossFit training involves a lot of strength training, particularly multi-joint movements.
Doing exercises like squats, jumps or pull-ups activates different muscle groups, resulting in strength not just in certain muscles, but practical, usable strength. Add that to the fact that exercises are switched up every day in CrossFit gym, and you’ll find that it’s a sport that builds up strength in an athlete.
The second main benefit of CrossFit for fitness is that it improves aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness refers to the amount of oxygen that the heart can take in and transport to the muscles through the blood. Ever heard about how athletes have much larger hearts than the average person? It’s because their aerobic fitness is much better, meaning that their heart can pump a lot more oxygen into the blood every minute.
Aerobic fitness is developed over time, particularly by performing exercises that are high-intensity, and involve a lot of cardio. And this is what CrossFit is all about: running, rowing, jumping, lifting heavy weights; all of this improves heart capacities and overall aerobic fitness.
Finally, CrossFit can help you become a more versatile athlete, meaning it can make you not just strong in your muscles and your heart, but also flexible, stable and agile. CrossFit involves a lot of pretty difficult gymnastics and acrobatics exercises that work balance and flexibility.
Although people usually get into CrossFit training to gain strength, they tend to be surprised to find that other areas of fitness have also improved, areas that people usually have to do special stretches or yoga to develop!
Benefits of CrossFit for mental health and wellbeing
CrossFit defines itself as a holistic discipline: it’s not about training special muscle groups, or a certain kind of strength or agility, but about becoming better on all levels of fitness. Likewise, CrossFit is not just about the physical. It’s a sport that also targets other areas of wellbeing like mental health and social wellbeing. Indeed, joining a CrossFit gym can make you feel better in more ways than one! Here’s how:
CrossFit workouts are meant to be fun. Whenever you enter the CrossFit gym, you’ll find the workout of the day, always different from that of previous days. In itself, that creates a bit of excitement that gets people motivated to go to the gym. The workout itself is meant to leave you exhausted…but also energized.
The combination of high-intensity exercise with things like jumps and runs pumps a lot of energy into your system, and a whole lot of endorphins too. This kind of vigorous exercise has been shown time and again to improve mental health by releasing feel-good hormones and chemicals into the body and lowering your stress hormones.
And then, there’s the social aspect. You can never be alone when you do CrossFit. From the coach to the people that you practice with, new cross-fitters are generally impressed by how fast they can make friends in the gym. Not only does this social aspect make you more motivated to keep on training day after day, but it can also have a very positive impact on mental health.
Studies show that sharing meaningful moments with other people, like exercising together, creates a feeling of connection that can help fight off depression or anxiety. So whether or not you are struggling with mental health issues, CrossFit can generally help to make you feel happier, more relaxed and more connected to the world around.
Who is CrossFit good for?
CrossFit adepts claim that anyone can do CrossFit. The reality looks a bit different, but CrossFit remains a sport that is accessible to different fitness levels. People usually start training in CrossFit gym as young as 15 or 16 years old, but it isn’t generally recommended to start much younger than that.
This is because young people often do not know their limits, and can be tempted to push past the point of what their bodies can handle. Combined with the community feeling that encourages people to push their bodies to the limit, this can prove to be pretty dangerous to children or teenagers who risk injuring themselves in trying to prove their strength.
On the other end of the spectrum, older adults are often scared to do CrossFit because they don’t have the necessary strength to make many of the motions. While the popular image that people have of CrossFit is burly athletes flipping truck tires or muscular women doing dozens of pull-ups in a row, the truth is that CrossFit can also look like people in their 70s doing a few push-ups, or using a rowing machine.
CrossFit is about doing the best that you can, not about doing lifting a certain amount of weight, or doing a certain number of push-ups. In general, people with lower fitness abilities have a lot to benefit from doing CrossFit, which can be a very adaptable exercise when practiced with a patient coach.
Should all athletes do CrossFit?
Although CrossFit can have benefits for all sorts of athletes, from swimmers to runners to tennis players, it is also very time and energy-consuming activity that some prefer not to do. Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of getting involved with CrossFit as an athlete:
On the plus side, doing CrossFit can boost your performance in your other sport, making you faster, stronger, better. If you are going through a bit of a rut, CrossFit can give you the motivation to stick with a steady exercise regime, and to keep up with it every single day.
The community feeling that it offers is a welcome alternative to training along with or with the same teammates all the time, and some athletes find that it helps them go to their sports training feeling fresher and more motivated.
On the downside, CrossFit takes a long time. Most cross-fitters aim to be at their CrossFit gym at the very least a few times a week, and for a few hours each time. Depending on your pre-established training schedule, this could be too much for you.
CrossFit also takes a toll on you physically: you can’t get out of CrossFit training and have a normal swimming or tennis session straight after. It’s a high-intensity exercise that requires you to rest for a bit afterward. So should you do CrossFit as an athlete? By all means, yes, but only if you manage to fit it into your schedule.
Disadvantages of CrossFit
The same things that make CrossFit great: the variety of exercises, the community feeling, the fun of the workout can also make it potentially dangerous. In recent years, CrossFit has been under attack quite a bit for promoting an unhealthy attitude to fitness, and encouraging practitioners to disregard proper form in favor of increasing the number of reps. There is some ground to these claims, though some are overstated. Let’s have a closer look:
One of the main criticisms of CrossFit is that it encourages a cult-like mentality, pushing people to do extreme things under peer pressure. There is some truth to the statement. The community feeling in a CrossFit gym is powerful, and it isn’t rare to see people push their bodies past the limits to be able to complete their workout of the day like others. Sometimes this looks like fainting or becoming dehydrated; it can also look like throwing up or even getting injured.
Even when the signs are not as clear, over time, people can overtrain their bodies, resulting in a decrease of energy and appetite, difficult sleep and irritability. New cross-fitters are encouraged to be aware of the potential pitfalls of that “community feeling,” and to listen to their bodies before they listen to the encouragements of their gym buds.
The second criticism of CrossFit that comes back a lot is that it encourages people to perform an exercise without the proper form. And indeed, it’s not rare for athletes to make fun of the way that cross-fitters perform pull-ups or use a rowing machine.
While it’s important to understand that a so-called CrossFit pull-up looks a bit different from a regular pull-up, there is also some truth to the claim that CrossFit can encourage people to perform moves with improper form.
After all, to complete the workout of the day in the given amount of time, it’s tempting to neglect form and perform exercises quickly—but sloppily. In time, this can lead to learning and getting used to bad form, but also muscle strain, joint strain, or injury.
So if you’re thinking of trying out CrossFit or you already go to your CrossFit gym regularly, keep in mind that form is crucial, and should never be abandoned, not even to complete a workout faster.
Should certain types of athletes stay away from CrossFit or Olympic lifting?
A: No, almost all types of athletes can benefit from practicing these sports. It’s a common misconception that people who need to stay light, like dancers or figure skaters cannot lift weights. In actuality, getting some Olympic lifting training is unlikely to result in a bodybuilder-like physique. Instead, you can expect to become leaner and stronger, making you better at whatever sport you are already practicing.
Is it easier to get started with Olympic lifting or CrossFit?
A: It’s generally easier to get started with CrossFit. Finding a CrossFit gym (or “box) tends to be easier than finding a gym that will let you do Olympic lifting, and finding a CrossFit coach is generally easier too. While you’ll generally have to see a one-on-one coach to do Olympic lifting, you can attend a communal CrossFit session to get the coaching that you need. In turn, this helps to keep the costs of CrossFit down compared to Olympic lifting.
I’ve never lifted weights before, can I get started with Olympic lifting or CrossFit straight away?
A: Yes! It’s a common misconception that you already need to be strong before you can start CrossFit or Olympic lifting. If you are patient and willing to take the time to develop the strength you’ll need, then there is no need to wait before getting started with the practice.
Find a good coach who will be attuned to your specific needs as a non-athletic person or complete beginner, and don’t expect to see results within a week. But if you keep on practicing, you may well be impressed with the level of strength that you are eventually able to develop!
Although very different in the types of exercise that they involve, CrossFit and Olympic lifting have a lot of the same benefits. They promote a healthy, strong body, good overall fitness, power, flexibility, and better mental health. They are both disciplines that are inclusive, and relatively easy to get involved with, regardless of age, gender, or athletic abilities.
Nevertheless, they both have their pitfalls that you should also be aware of. We hope that this article has given you a better idea of the many benefits of Olympic lifting and CrossFit, what they can do for your body, and your athletic performance.
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