The Olympic lifts have long been a fantastic way to build strength, explosive power, and improve overall athleticism. We typically see these lifts performed and trained at very low rep ranges – i.e. five and under. More and more, ‘high-rep’ Olympic lifting is making its way into ‘mainstream’ workout routines. But is high-rep Olympic lifting really a good idea?
CrossFit is one place where we see a lot of high-rep Olympic lifts, particularly in their ‘met-con’ workouts. Having done most of the CrossFit ‘benchmark’ WOD’s myself, I can tell you that those which include high-rep O-lifts are very tough indeed. The metabolic demand of ‘Elizabeth’, for example – Squat Cleans at 135 pounds and Ring Dips for three sets of 21,15, and 9 reps of each, performed for time – is very high. In fact, the first time I did that particular workout – which takes less than ten minutes to complete, by the way – I found myself on the floor in the fetal position, parked in front of a giant fan, for about fifteen minutes afterwards. No joke.
However, having seen a lot of these workouts performed with half-hazard form – in person and on workout videos in various places around the Internet – has started to make me question the concept and programming goal a little. If your technique isn’t on point, you’re in trouble – everything gets amplified when you get fatigued.
The main case against high rep O-lifting is that as you fatigue, your form deteriorates and things get sloppy, highly increasing your injury risk. I think that for a lot of people, form isn’t tight enough to perform high reps safely, especially in the context they are typically being done in.
If you have a resonable level of mastery of the lifts, high-rep training can be okay. The problem lies in the fact that as high-rep Olympic lifting gains popularity (i.e. CrossFit gains popularity), there’s going to be a lot of people out there doing some sloppy and potentially harmful stuff.
Now, a perfect tool to perform high-repetition ballistic lifts with is the kettlebell. The kb clean and press, push press, snatch, etc. are arguably a lot easier to learn than the classical o-lifts, as well as safer – the load used is typically less, among other things. For a little more info on how to integrate kettlebells into your training program, here is a link to a post I wrote about the versatility of the kettlebell as a training tool.
I’ve personally been doing a huge volume of kb snatching using the MV02 protocol from Viking Warrior Conditioning by Kenneth Jay and have been seeing remarkable improvements in fitness and even body composition in just a three week period. You end up doing hundreds of kettlebell snatches in a workout, which you would have a really hard time doing safely with a barbell.
In summary, I think high-rep olympic lifting can be a tool for conditioning, for increasing metabolic demand, etc. during workouts, but must absolutely be approached with caution. Make sure your form is on point and you’ve trained the lifts and refined your technique outside of your high-rep workouts.
P.S. I found a great article that goes into depth on high-rep O-lifting and how to train for and incorporate the Olympic lifts properly and safely into a CrossFit programming structure: Integrating the Olympic Lifts with CrossFit. Enjoy!