The Not-So-Evils of High Rep Weightlifting


The Not-So-Evils of High Rep Weightlifting

Since the dawn of man – or at least since the popularization of CrossFit – the intranets has been ablaze with coaches vilifying high rep weightlifting.

“The snatch and clean & jerk are meant to be done at low reps.”

“Doing the snatch and clean & jerk for high reps is dangerous.”

“The snatch and clean & jerk are not effective conditioning tools.”

Though there are variations, these are probably the three most common arguments against high rep weightlifting. I’m here to help you understand why they’re all wrong. And why high rep weightlifting is actually a tremendously valuable training tool.

Let’s first define high rep: I don’t mean sets of five. The Russians routinely do sets of four to five reps. So do some of the best weightlifting coaches in the U.S., including Glenn Pendlay, who is fond of having his lifters hang snatch sets of five from below the knee, and Kyle Pierce of LSU Shreveport, whose programming often includes snatch and clean five rep maxes from various hang positions.

No, I’m talking about things like “Grace” (30 clean & jerks for time with 135lbs, usually scaled to 95lbs for women,) and other workouts where the load is relatively light compared to the athletes 1RM, and the goal is to get through the reps quickly enough to elicit a conditioning effect.

Further, I’m not just saying they’re useful for those athletes looking to compete in the CrossFit Games. In fact, I’m not going to bother addressing the idea that those athletes shouldn’t be doing high rep weightlifting. If you are of the opinion that an athlete should ignore an integral component of their sport because you don’t like that it’s an integral component of their sport, you are, frankly, too stupid to bother with. I think all of baseball is dumb, but I don’t tell baseball players not to practice.

No, I’m here to convince you that high rep weightlifting, properly taught and applied, can be valuable for almost any trainee, and to give you some ideas on how to implement it safely and effectively in your gym.

Let’s start by debunking these bogus claims against it.

1. The snatch and clean & jerk are meant to be done for 1-3 reps/to build explosive power

I literally do not even know what this means. The snatch and clean & jerk aren’t “meant” for anything, because we made them up. Through trial and error, weightlifters figured out that these were the best ways to get weight overhead by the rules specified by the IWF. The sport of weightlifting does not have a monopoly on the use of the snatch and clean & jerk. Powerlifters compete one rep at a time, but no one complains about sets of 20 in the squat (well, people complain about sets of 20 in the squat, but not in the same way.)

The point is, no matter how much someone wants to call them “functional” or “natural,” the snatch and clean & jerk are man made. We can do whatever the hell we want with them. They were originally utilized for competition. Then people outside of weightlifting figured out that they could use those same lifts to get stronger and more explosive for their sport. And then people started to realize that they can get you in great shape, too. Deal with it, bro.

2. Doing the snatch and clean & jerk for high reps is dangerous.

Credit where it is due for this first part of my defense with this item: it was first pointed out to me by my good friend and former training partner (and nefarious troll) Russ Greene.

When we evaluate the statement “the snatch and clean & jerk for high reps are dangerous,” the statement we are actually evaluating is “the snatch and clean & jerk done in a state of fatigue cause mechanics to break down and injuries to occur.”

Change “in a state of fatigue” for “at near maximal loads” and tell me what changes?

(Nothing changes.)

What does change the situation, in either case, is the athlete knowing how to perform the lifts correctly. With good coaching, neither scenario – max loads, or submaximal loads in a fatigued state – will be inherently dangerous. If anyone has actual data to invalidate that claim, I would love to see it. However, I have owned a CrossFit gym where we regularly do high rep weightlifting for over five years, I can confidently tell you that the injury rate is really fucking low. But then, we’re good at teaching the snatch and clean & jerk. Maybe you’re not?

There are issues with brand new athletes doing the lifts for high reps in a fatigued state, but they have little to do with injury – more on this later.

3. Doing the snatch and clean & jerk for conditioning doesn’t provide anything you can’t get elsewhere

Apparently we should use dumbbells or kettlebells instead. I’ve never understood this argument, but I want you to understand something about why kettlebells are so popular: while they’re a nice training tool in and of themselves, they’re also an amazingly effective way to trick women into lifting weights.

Because that’s what they’re doing. Lifting weights. Except somehow, it’s okay to do kettlebell snatches with light weight and high reps, but not barbell snatches. I’m not sure why. Supposedly it’s “more technical” with a barbell, but you know what? I can get someone to safely snatch a barbell under fatigue more quickly than I can get them to do the same with a kettlebell, because I’m a weightlifting coach and not a kettlebell coach. Funny how it comes back to good coaching.

However, it is crucial to understand that the barbell affords us some opportunities which kettlebells or dumbbells simply do not.

The dumbbell and kettlebell are not as well suited for developing maximal strength as the barbell. This is not merely due to the larger size of the barbell allowing us to load more weight on it. The design of the barbell also allows the lifter to keep the load closer to the center of mass, and thus to engage more musculature to effectively deliver force to the implement.

This is as valuable a trait when doing conditioning as it is when trying to get stronger. Just like the barbell allows us to use heavier loads in the pursuit of greater maximal strength, it also allows us to use heavier loads to improve both general and specific fitness. It lets us move more mass, more quickly, whether we are trying to improve our 1RM clean & jerk, or our ability to do 20 reps with 75% as quickly as possible. Apart from developing the useful quality of being able to work with relatively heavy loads in semi-technical movements while in a fatigued state, the training effect of conditioning with such methods is significant.

This is a sport specific case, but enlightening with regards to the benefits of using weightlifting for conditioning: it is perhaps the single best training tool for grappling athletes.

I come from an extensive background in martial arts, and before opening my own gym, my job was primarily working with competitive MMA fighters and jiu-jitsu players. A crucial component of these sports is being able to complete semi-technical, relatively powerful movements, while under load and in a state of oxygen deprivation and muscular fatigue. Nothing gets as close to an effective mimicry of these conditions as high rep snatches and clean & jerks with a barbell with relatively heavy weight, which not only teach the athlete how to breathe under another body, but also ingrain in the athlete an understanding that especially when tired, they need to let their hips do the work.

Now that those of you who cannot be convinced are busy bashing me to your buddies, those of you who are actually interested in learning how to properly implement high rep weightlifting can read on in peace.


Making it Work

You’ve probably realized by now that what I’m saying is, you have to be able to coach the lifts correctly if you want people to do them correctly, and that holds true for one rep, three reps, or thirty reps. If you cannot teach someone how to clean correctly for high reps, you cannot teach them how to clean correctly for low reps either. Get off your high horse and just acknowledge that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Now, on to the practicum.

Firstly, it is important to understand that optimal mechanics for the lifts differ when focusing on high reps versus maximal load. The basics of safety and efficiency stay the same: the back should be neutral, the hips and legs should be the prime movers, and the athlete should avoid common faults like pulling early with the arms.

Perhaps the single most important difference is in the pull from the floor – as Rudy Nielsen once put it “the lift looks exactly the same, once the bar is above the knees.” From the floor, it is common to see the athlete use a much higher hip and straighter knee than would be optimal for max loads. By keeping the knees out of the way and not loading the quads at the start of the movement, the athlete reduces the cycle time of the lift, as well as the metabolic cost incurred by each repetition.

1. Beginners

Folks who are just learning the lifts do not need to do them with barbells for conditioning. Not because there is some massive risk of injury inherent to the practice. No, the issue is ingraining motor patterns. While they’re learning to snatch and clean & jerk with a barbell, doing it for conditioning is going to interfere with the process. During this phase (at our gym, on average, it lasts 5-6 months,) I recommend the use of dumbbells in place of barbells. We replace snatches with single arm hang power snatches, cleans with hang power cleans with the dumbbells held at the athletes sides, and jerks with push presses or power jerks.

It is worth noting that at this stage of training, the athlete is not going for max loads either. They are using variations to learn the lifts with weights which are light enough for them to be consistent, but heavy enough for them to feel the difference between a good lift and a bad lift. In other words, we are avoiding factors which could lead to the athlete learning improper movement patterns, whether that factor be load or fatigue.

2. Intermediate

At this stage, the athlete has a physical “understanding” of the lifts, and we begin introducing the snatch and clean & jerk with a barbell into the athlete’s conditioning work. We generally keep snatches and cleans from the hang, and will typically prescribe power snatch + overhead squat instead of a full snatch. Our athletes are allowed to power or split jerk the weight for their conditioning workouts, and most by far choose to power jerk.

3. Advanced

The athlete is now competent with the snatch and clean & jerk at maximal loads, and his technique is ingrained enough that he can perform the lifts for high reps without changing the way he will lift when attempting PRs. We no longer scale the use of of the classic lifts in conditioning pieces for athletes at this level.

For those of you who are interested in learning to use the lifts to improve your conditioning, I hope I have provided some insight into how best do it. Those of you who were against high rep weightlifting before reading this article, are likely still against it now. But I will leave you with a quote on the subject of high rep weightlifting for conditioning from a weightlifting coach with far more experience, knowledge, and accolades than I:

“If you’re a competitive weightlifter, why would you do it? If you’re not, why does it matter?” -Glenn Pendlay

The snatch and clean & jerk are invaluable training tools. Unless you’re a competitive weightlifter, it is foolish to limit your use of the lifts to only building strength and power, when they are capable of improving so much more.

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Jacob Tsypkin

Jacob Tsypkin is the founder of TZ Strength, a company dedicated to providing coaching, programming, and resources for athletes competing in the sport of CrossFit.

Jacob has been involved with CrossFit for nearly a decade, and has been working with competitors since 2009, helping both teams and individuals achieve high levels of competition in multiple regions. He has also been mentored by some of the top weightlifting coaches in the United States, and helped athletes reach the podium at national meets in both USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting.

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    • Samuel

      I have no opinion on the matter but the main thing I’ve been taught from my various coaches is: its that matter of you ‘cannot’ do the Olympic movements for high reps, its that you ‘should not.’

      The reason being is that they are such precise movements that they require a lower volume to train correctly (insofar as technique, bar path, tempo, etc.). As lifters fatigue often times hip drive falls by the wayside and the bar is jerked, pulled or reverse curled up.

      Typical weightlifting programs graduate from 4 to 6 days per week for multiple sessions per day. This helps mitigate fatigue and allows for the proper application of technique.

      I think the biggest argument against high-rep training of the Olympic lifts is neural adaptation/ ‘muscle memory’. We get better and stronger at doing things a lot; when we do a bazillion snatches per week we may be snatching but we might not be performing them correctly. So in the pursuit of a top level total in these movements this may NOT be optimal. However if just used for cardio, crossfit and ‘fun’/’jackassery on a bosu ball then there’s no reason it cannot/ should not be done.

      • john

        So you didn’t read the article did you?

  • Giles Greenwood

    A pedantic point but the techniques of the snatch and clean & jerk are definitely “for” something and that something is definitely to lift the heaviest weight possible for one repetition on a barbell within the rules of weightlifting. It is precisely because they are made up, designed, developed, that we can say what they were designed for. It is also why there’s a subtle change in the optimal technique for high reps, because it wasn’t really designed for that so has been adapted.
    Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with doing snatches and clean & jerks for high reps though. Just because they were designed for one thing doesn’t mean you can’t use them for something else. It’s a good thing that the Olympic lifts have found a wider user base. They’re great lifts and the more people enjoying them the better as far as I’m concerned. In the gym I used to train at the blocks were designed to be railway sleepers but we used them as blocks to lift weights off of. No-one got their knickers in a twist about that and insisted they only get used on a railway line.
    You cover the whole injury thing well. Any of the weight training, weightlifting or powerlifting movements are dangerous if you do them wrong. Probably more dangerous to do them wrongly with heavy weights than light. To minimise the risk of injury you can not do them at all or you can do them correctly. Either way is fine with me!

    • Jacob Tsypkin

      Giles, thanks for your response. It’s fair to say that the snatch and C&J have been developed in a certain way to improve results in the sport of weightlifting. I meant the more general concept of the movements.

  • kristian

    very well said

  • JJ

    If the author is trying to demonstrate a case that high rep olympic lifting can be done safely through proper instruction and coaching, then I think this article works. IF this is a response to Rippetoe’s article the other day, then it missed the point completely…

    Rip made a pretty compelling case that most people that want to get in better condition have much better options. That’s all.

    Outside of the narrow edge case presented (grappling athletes), I still don’t see evidence of a greater benefit to high rep oly lifts compared to any other form of conditioning. With the steep learning curve identified by the author himself (beginner phase of 5-6 months), if someone has the goal of getting in better condition, there are better options.

    Please don’t take this as an attack – my point is that this article makes the case for how these lifts can be programmed safely. This was the author’s second goal, however, as an argument (or rebuttal?) I still don’t see enough evidence that “high rep weightlifting, properly taught and applied, can be valuable for almost any trainee.”

  • Fernando

    “Change “in a state of fatigue” for “at near maximal loads” and tell me what changes?”

    With fatigue, muscle coordination drastically decrease(1), thus probability of injury increases with fatigue. With near maximal loads, repetitions must be kept in a minumum range. Thus, the negative effects associated with fatigue in muscle coordination wont be as significant. There’s a risk associated with bigger loads, yes, but the body is in the best condition to coordinate the movement.
    Also, high reps have another source of injury potential, because more reps increase the risk of doing repetitive motions of the spine (2), a risk that’s diminished with low reps.


    • Jacob Tsypkin

      I appreciate your response, but neither of the experiments cited actually tested criteria relevant to the argument.

      • Fernando

        Thanks. True, none of the studies have a direct relation with oly lifting. I cited them because the support my two points.
        1-Fatigue cause change in movement coordination, in complex movements like oly lifting this can increase injury potential. “with fatigue, movement coordination was modified in order to maintain a good motor performance in terms of spatial accuracy”(…)”The purpose of this experiment was to investigate the nature and significance of the adaptation to fatigue in a
        multijoint movement. Our results showed that the number of successful trials significantly decreased in the condition of fatigue, suggesting that the fatigue consistently affected
        movement organization”
        2-Movements done with low reps are less affected by fatigue, even if the load is high. I dont have a study to prove this. I got to this conclusion given that muscular fatigue increses with movement repetition.
        3- A movement with more repetitions has a higher probability of flexing and extending the spine, oly lifts included. “intervertebral disc herniation may be more linked to repeated flexion extension motions than applied joint compression”

        Anyways, i liked the article. I have to say that this is jsut my opinion and i dont mean this as an attack, rather as a point.

        • Jacob Tsypkin

          I know you’re not attacking me, but thanks for clarifying. I’ll address these as well as I can.

          Several points to consider here:
          -Does the experiment in any way show that the change in movement patterns lead to higher rate of injury? That’s an honest question, by the way, could be I’m missing it.
          -Were the athletes used in the experiment trained to be resistant to high repetition, relatively low power work?
          -Is it actually reasonable to compare a snatch or clean & jerk to throwing a ball at a target? The latter requires more accuracy, more fine motor control, and involves smaller muscles (the rotator cuff of the shoulder) in a very direct way.
          -Were the test subjects trained to throw a ball at a target? If not, would the results have differed had they been trained for the task, and better yet, trained to do it under fatigue?

          To be clear, none of these are rhetorical questions. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Stuart

    “high rep weightlifting, properly taught and applied” This is the issue in a nutshell. In the majority of cases it is not being properly taught or applied.

  • Dustin W

    I am not a fan of reps over 5 for olympic lifts or powerlifts, YET I love your comment of “Good Coaching” for one reason. I see too many bad coaches, or coaches that stop with the level 1 cert and go no further.
    Pounding reps for time the form will change. Video tape a novice, intermediate and elite level lifter the form will change (especially if you slow it down). Even with low % of max. Slowing it down you will start to notice lack of of explosion in second pull and more upright rowing. Not so much in snatch because the goal is to propel above your head, but you will a see a change in arc because the littler weight allows for more outward curve vis to vertical. Put the weight on and they can’t do the same form.
    With the clean the upright row would be more noticeable since there is the catch. They have to explode, but slow or the weight will go all the way up to jerk position.
    I do believe that olympic lifts are the best way to develop athleticism. Especially grapplers.
    I really like your passion, and I have no doubt that you develop great athletes.
    I would like you to try something if you don’t mind? Perform one set of 20 reps snatch or cleans as-fast-as-possible at 40-50% max. Rest for 3 minutes then 2-3 reps with 75% max. Rest for 3 minutes then 1-2 reps with 85-90% max. Check if the form changes. I would test beginner, intermediate and elite athletes. Honestly I have no clue what will happen! Just curious if the form changes. If you could video tape it and then slow it down that would be awesome. Optimally that would be the workout, or WOD after. You will want them warmed up, but not too fatigued since the first set will be a burner. But the 3 or even 5 minute rest should be enough to get back in.
    Note I keep the dbs and kbs between 5-10 reps and push more bodyweight for higher reps.

    • Jacob Tsypkin


      That would be an interesting test, to be sure, and one I’m more than willing to implement. However, I do address in the article that form for high reps does and SHOULD be different from form for maxes, and this is one of the reasons that dedicated weightlifters should not train in this fashion.

      Nonetheless, I like your test, and may well try it. Thanks!

  • Robbie

    I think you make some great points. I like Oly lifts for moderate conditioning work, like On the Minute stuff for 8-12min. Or power variations + sprints/jumps, etc. It is effective and fun for the clients. I think your Progression method is solid, vs Scaling. I’m not a big fan of the Grace style workouts. But when done by experienced athletes, it’s not the end of humanity like some say. The problem lies in the kool aid gulper “coach” who doesn’t know what they are doing. And there are tons of those. But they are dangerous with a burpee, let alone a snatch! Rip likes to draw hard lines, and he is a great coach, but doesn’t seem to mind holding his pricey seminars at CF gyms or the money made off people who use SS coming from CF. I think a KB snatch is possibly more dangerous than a barbell one with the loaded dynamic eccentric and the unilateral nature of the movement. Thanks for a good post

  • Dustin W

    On your 3rd comment to Fernando’s response I feel addresses the issue. The fine motor skills of throwing the ball at the target.
    Olympic lifting and training to compete in olympic lifting is different than Crossfit Olympic Lifting. HOLD ON-CALM DOWN!
    If I clean an atlas stone, cement block, log, db, kb, axle, or barbell the form is different. You wondered why it is different performing high reps with db or kbs. Adaptation. You have to change in the movement, or adapt to what you are attempting to do. If you clean a cement block or log the same way you clean a barbell you won’t get it. Maybe on a few attempts with the log, but you will still need to change form.
    Do you flip a 400# tire the same as a 1000# tire? Probably not! Unless you always use the same form and to that you are losing out and developing the explosiveness of training the tire in one movement. Without the knee assist.
    It is an argument with no point. Crossfit has olympic “like” lifts which to the novice seem to be the same, but with the higher repetitions the adaptation is different. Now you can have someone that is elite have the same form at 20 reps as the first, but their neuro muscular system has adapted to always lift that way. That is why it looks no different.
    It is the same for deadlifting and squatting. Many forms look the same, but when you breakdown what is going on you realize they are slightly different.
    Pull ups. Traditional and Crossfit (or Kip). Right or wrong?! Don’t care!
    I don’t care if you want to do 100reps with the cleans at 25% of max. It isn’t the competitive form of the lift. Is it dangerous! That is where a good coach comes in. Knowing when to pull the plug on an athlete or session before they get hurt. Injuries while doing this high repetition will occur with coaches that lack experience.
    If you want to get better at Crossfit competitions you train the Crossfit way. If you want to improve your olympic lifts you train the olympic lifting way. Simple. If you look at everyone’s argument towards your claim all that is needed to pacify everyone is add Crossfit. I really think your argument is “Are Crossfit Olympic lifts performed with high repetitions dangerous?” To that I would say “NO”. Only if you are trained by an experienced lifter.
    To your other comment about “Why is it Ok to do 20 reps with squat, but not olympic lifts?” It is form differences, but your claim is similar to a claim that I have without ever getting an answer. In lifting you have coefficients. Weights based on the weight of an individual. Therefore a lighter lifter could be strong “Relative” to a larger athlete. I hate that! Absolute! They who lifts more is stronger! Why then when I run a 5k don’t I have a coefficient? I have to carry more mass! If the same reason that is a fault against me in lifting should be an advantage in running. HA! Hopefully that simmers you down!

    • Jacob Tsypkin

      I think my other comment to you addressed this – I agree that weightlifting for high reps is not the same as weightlifting for maxes. And, I said so in the article.

      I’m not sure I understand the second part of your post – or rather, how it’s relevant. Can you clarify?

      • Dustin W

        About the running? Ah just a joke I like to throw out when I get hit with “Relatively speaking I am stronger since I have less muscle.” Which I reply,” I am a better runner since I have to carry more muscle. At least according to the marathon coefficient.” Mind game and joke. Thought I would lighten up the atmosphere. No reply needed Brother! Great stuff!

        • Jacob Tsypkin

          Gotcha. Thanks for your comments!

  • Eric

    I’ve read some shitty defenses of high rep olympic lifting, and this is not one of them. You’ve actually convinced me to alter my opinion.

    Still though, while I agree completely with your “making it work” section, I think its hard to deny that your suggestion for beginners (which again, I agree with) somewhat contradicts your argument (although maybe not if you’re referring to efficacy rather than safety, I could be misunderstanding):

    “We replace snatches with single arm hang power snatches, cleans with hang power cleans with the dumbbells held at the athletes sides, and jerks with push presses or power jerks.”

    An addition I think it has to be pointed out that what your suggesting there (which again, i agree with for beginners), is not only an exception but a departure, from CrossFit principals, and what takes place in practice in most crossfit facilities. If this were not the case, I believe less people would find fault with crossfit. It’s all about the stupid shit crossfit gyms (apparently not all, and not yours, but probably 9 out of 10) have beginners doing.

    Even the well run affiliate I sometimes go to (they follow outlaw and are usaw certified, and have helped me a lot in my lifts) has beginners doing snatches and C&J’s on day one in a metcon. Albeit with lower weights, but i guess i have to side with Mark Rippetoe in thinking its such an inefficient, silly use of time for beginners.

    Go figure that i smoke everybody in metcons and out lift them by large amounts (im not that strong theyre just weak)… because i did 6 months of starting strength and a year of texas method, with very little if any conditioning at all let alone high rep olympic lifting. I just feel frustrated for the beginners who don’t know any better.

    I do now agree with you that it’s not categorically silly, and is in fact potentially useful for intermediate and advanced athletes. Its just a really important distinction to make.

    Great article overall. Very well thought out.

    • Jacob Tsypkin

      I’m glad I was able to be part of changing your mind. And don’t worry, we spend plenty of time making people strong, too.

  • Matt

    This article just looks like a massive defence for crossfit and all the horrible videos on the net.

    While I think crossfit is a great idea and people getting fit is great, a lot of crossfit (that I have seen) teaches pretty bad form.
    At least you guys are starting to get pro oly lifters to go around and give classes, but they are so over priced as well.

    High rep for oly lifts is very bad if you are using poor form, as soon as form degrades.. it shouldn’t be performed. Any video on youtube from searching “crossfit fail” is what i’m referring to.
    As long as someone is keeping good form for 30 reps, that’s fine.. but it’s also highly doubtful. I’ve watched crossfit games and they do not keep good form, they don’t even have good technique for the most of it.

    They typically perform sloppy snatch and C&J.
    Occasionally my gym competes against crossfit gyms and they can’t even lock out, they’re noob.

  • Natural Nate

    Come on, man! Just call Rippetoe out directly!

  • AdamnGdamn

    Yeah but will I get bulky doin’ these high reps
    ’cause I don’t wanna get bulky I just wanna lean and tone

    Well done.

  • Rossco

    Fernando, you address the muscular fatigue, but neglect the CNS fatigue imposed by either high Rep light load or low Rep high load. At near maximal loads CNS fatigue is the limiting factor. At moderate loads, not so much.

    The argument could probably be made that the coordination lost from CNS fatigue at maximal loads is a greater danger than coordination lost from muscular fatigue at moderate load.

  • Kai

    The author talks like across the board athletes keep good form in the high rep world, but has he been to a “throwdown” lately? Yes at the HIGHEST level the form is pretty good throughout the high-rep scheme, but even at a “regional” event level, not to mention all these “throwdown” competitions that happen, the form degrades immensely. I remember seeing even some of the sport’s prized females performing high-rep, light-weight snatches in a way that made them look like jumping jacks with a barbell. It was ridiculous.

    Maybe the author’s gym teaches it well enough, but his is definitely in the minority. Rippetoe is right…stick to less technical movements for conditioning. Yeah, the snatch and C&J are man made and you can do whatever you want with them, but the real question is … should you when there are better options available???

    • JJ

      “Yeah, the snatch and C&J are man made and you can do whatever you want with them, but the real question is … should you when there are better options available???”

      Thank you Kai! This is exactly my point (and Rips, for anyone that truly understands the actual topic of discussion): What is the compelling reason to choose high rep oly lifting over any other form of conditioning? Do they offer any benefits that other forms of conditioning do not?

      Personally, I don’t think so, so I don’t choose to do them, but I subscribe to “training economy” and have a very limited repertoire of exercises that I’ll typically do. However, I try very hard to consider all schools of thought (the reason I read JTS, EliteFTS, T-Nation, and a few others in the first place) and love to learn.

      So, I would really like to know…why choose high rep snatches / C&J over any other type of conditioning? And, if it’s simply because you think they’re fun, that’s perfectly acceptable in my book!

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  • Darren Roberts

    I thought this was one of the most well thought out, balanced and objective pieces I’ve seen on high rep lifting. There is two sides to every argument, equally there is likely science and data to support both points of view – whether we admit it or not, it invariably comes down to what we choose to believe because of how we feel about it.

    Risk is inherent with all ‘training’ – adaptation is brought about by asking your body to do something it can’t. I can injure myself doing a 3 rep C+J as easily as 30 reps – the only thing that is a problem is bad technique, coaching and ego.

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  • Erik

    My time is limited. What is the most effective way to
    1. Get strong ?
    2. Condition?

    My gut says they are not the same thing.

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  • Kim Kelley

    Jacob, You were my 1st CF and strength coach in 2011 right when you moved into the bigger space!! Your blogs, articles and knowledge has help me pass any goal I have dreamed and become a better trainee/ athlete! I am not the strongest; nor the best coach out here. I am awaiting my cert date and trust and appreciate your experience to help me train more efficiently and train others.

    Maybe a month of leave next summer and back under your eye will be worth the time away from Texas! ?

  • Leonard Washington

    I like the authors point about ‘good coaching’. I still don’t agree barbell oly lifts should be done for high reps. Of the thousands of Level 1 crossfit coaches out there, I know all of them are NOT qualified to teach Olympic weightlifting. Just because they pay their $1000 and pass headquarters test does not make them a subject matter expert. I trained at a box for almost two years and I made little improvement on my oly lifts. I’m a former powerlifter so strength wasn’t an issue. I needed the tips and tricks that only come from a seasoned and experienced coach. I needed a coach. I now do olympic lifts with odd objects like atlas stones, kegs, and sand bags. I got the idea from Rob Orlando talking about ‘return on investment’. It was directed towards gym and box owners. He can take weeks to teach traditional barbell olympic lifting to a student, or spend a day with odd objects to get results.

  • Craig Massey

    Liked that very much.

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  • julius

    I’m a little confused, you mention doing these with weight that is “relatively heavy” but for a set of 30 does not make me think of a weight that I would consider “relatively heavy” without significant deviation from good form, thus I fail to see how form won’t break down on these high rep sets. I understand what your saying in point 1 and can agree because in point 1 a very light weight is cited and I can agree that light weights done for high reps will never cause problems with form from fatigue. Also heavy weight for general conditioning???

    • Jacob Tsypkin


      Relative to weights which we can use with other implements. Even a workout utilizing 135lbs, which is pretty light (consider that 2012 and 2013 Regionals both had events with 225lb cleans for reps) is still nearly twice as heavy as the heaviest standard kettlebell (70lbs.)

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  • Grant Botfield

    Debunking your ‘myths’
    ‘The snatch and clean & jerk are meant to be done for 1-3 reps/to build explosive power’ – you said you don’t know what this means….Which part?
    If you put a tendo machine on the bar and measure velocity of the bar you will see that by rep 3 you will generally peak and rep 4,5,6 tend to decline. Hence why if you’re training for power and trying to be efficient with time then why would you do more reps if you don’t train at optimal speed?

    ‘Change “in a state of fatigue” for “at near maximal loads” and tell me what changes?’ Big difference. If you have participated in any form or sport you will see that when you are fatigued performance and skill levels drop (end of a training session doing rugby tends to have more dropped balls) Whether that is a mental fatigue or physical it has the same effect on the skill of oylmpic lifting. No matter your coaching when your fatigued your not going to be as technically sound and risk of injury. If the load is maximal your energy systems are replenished and ready for the lift and mentally the time of focus is only very short less than 5 secs which IS CLEARLY DIFFERENT!

    Crossfit games showed it doesn’t matter how many reps of Olympic lifts you can perform it won’t condition you for swimming or running. This showed some of the poor times and performances. To say that Olympic lifitng is the single best tool for conditioning grappling athletes I would have to Strongly disagree. Their training of actual grappling conditioning would be the best tool.

    Don’t make assumptions I agree you can train for them with high reps but take my points for what they are. I’m not arguing there isn’t a place for them especially when it comes to crossfit but get your facts right and analys objectively.

  • Karlos

    Nice article, coming from an Oly Lifting background, getting into crossfit, and now merging that with strongman, I am all for high rep Oly lifting training. Hell I would even advocate it for a longer term Oly Lifter, based purely on the principle of “Mixing things up” to help break through plateaus from time to time!

    Anything who believes the Snatch and Clean and Jerk are any more or less technical than a bench press, squat, deadlift, bicep curl, box jump, walk, run or whatever really need a reality check… ANY movement performed incorrectly opens a user up to risk. Any movement performed under fatigue or near max capacity reduces movement patterns, and thus increases risk.

    Sub out snatch and C&J for just about any movement out there, and you would have the same response. The problem I believe is with the old fashioned elite mindset many have with the sport, and perhaps their lack of support for crossfitters gaining on their territory. Crossfit has probably done more to ignite the sport of Oly Lifting than anything else for some time in some countries. That should be celebrated!

    Yes there are bad coaches out there teaching these movements without a clue. Throwing beginners into heavy lifts without the functional background. Yes the internet is full of bad crossfit videos, just as it is with bad deadlift videos and a whole bunch of bench pressors dropping heavy ass weight on their sturnum. A bad coach creates bad athletes in all sport, a good coach does the opposite!


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  • Dana

    Still kind of surprised that nobody has quoted Rippetoe’s passionate defense of Grace and high rep snatches/C&J from back when Crossfit was paying his bills. It’s still archived online via good old Crossfit Radio special #35 from ancient times (5 years ago).

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  • Brett Fforde

    Great Article Jacob- Thank you.

    I will often read one of the anti CF or anti high rep articles or discussions on the net and and get frustrated at the repetition of the obvious statement which is basically

    “Poorly executed movement carries with it a higher risk of injury and this risk is further exacerbated the more times the movements are executed.”

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