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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

The Strength Showdown: Comparing CrossFit, Powerlifting, and Olympic Weightlifting

Welcome to the world of resistance training, where lifting heavy becomes a beautiful symphony of strength, determination, and gains. If you've ever wondered about the different forms of resistance training and how they can transform your physique and fitness levels, you've come to the right place. In this blog post, we'll embark on a journey through the iron-clad realms of CrossFit, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting. Consider this your ultimate guide to understanding and navigating the diverse landscapes of resistance training.

Weightlifting Woman

Let's clarify what exactly we mean by "resistance training." In simple terms, it's a type of exercise that involves working against an external force to build strength, increase muscle mass, and improve overall physical performance.

Resistance training isn't just about mindlessly pumping iron or grinding out repetitions. It's an art that demands technique, strategy, and unwavering dedication. Each discipline we explore possesses its own unique flair, attracting individuals with different goals, preferences, and inclinations. Whether you're seeking functional fitness, raw power or Olympic prowess, there's a form of resistance training that's tailor-made for you.

So, dust off your lifting straps, tighten your belt, and get ready to embark on a journey that will challenge your limits, push your boundaries, and transform you into the best version of yourself.


Table of Contents:


CrossFit: The Ultimate High-Intensity Training Program

When it comes to pushing your limits and testing your mental game, CrossFit takes center stage.

At its core, CrossFit is a high-intensity training program that embraces the philosophy of constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity.

In other words, it's all about shaking up your routine, challenging your body with diverse exercises, and pushing yourself. CrossFit prides itself on preparing you for any physical challenge that life throws your way, be it lifting heavy objects, running a marathon, or simply tackling everyday activities with gusto.

Functional Movements and Varied Workouts: Breaking the Monotony

One of the defining features of CrossFit is its emphasis on functional movements. Unlike traditional weightlifting that may isolate specific muscle groups, CrossFit workouts incorporate movements that mimic real-life activities, making you stronger and more efficient in your daily tasks. From lifting, pushing, and pulling to running, jumping, and climbing, CrossFit engages your entire body in a symphony of functional fitness.

"The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation, and the fun is in the community." - Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit

But what truly sets CrossFit apart is its dedication to constantly varied workouts. Say goodbye to mundane routines and monotonous sessions.

CrossFit keeps you on your toes by introducing new exercises, combinations, and challenges every day.

You might find yourself swinging kettlebells one day, performing handstand push-ups the next. The element of surprise ensures that you're always adapting, improving, and never plateauing. I was dedicated to CrossFit for many years in my life and loved the diversity of movements!

CrossFit Community
CrossFit Community

Benefits of CrossFit Training

CrossFit offers a myriad of benefits for those willing to embrace its intensity. First and foremost, it's a fantastic way to build strength, power, endurance, and agility, all within a single training regimen. The constantly varied workouts keep your body guessing, preventing boredom and stimulating continuous progress.

I also love the inclusive community CrossFit fosters. Working out with a tribe is always more fun than alone! Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete, you'll find yourself surrounded by like-minded individuals who cheer you on, celebrate your victories, and help you overcome challenges. The camaraderie and friendly competition create an environment that fuels motivation and keeps you coming back for more.

While the rewards are abundant, it's important to consider a few factors before diving headfirst into CrossFit. The high-intensity nature of the program means that proper form and technique are paramount to prevent injuries. It's essential to receive guidance from certified trainers who can ensure your safety and help you progress at a pace suitable for your fitness level.

CrossFit Workouts: A Journey of Hero WODs and Girl WODs

CrossFit workouts, often referred to as WODs (Workout of the Day), and every day will be different. The WODs are designed to challenge your body and push you to your limits. Sprinkled into your programming will be the famed Hero and Girl WODs.

Hero WODs: Paying Tribute to the Brave

Hero WODs are workouts created in honor of fallen military, law enforcement, and first responder heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country or community. These workouts are designed to be particularly challenging, reflecting the courage and resilience exemplified by these remarkable individuals. Participating in a Hero WOD allows CrossFit athletes to pay tribute and show gratitude for their sacrifices.

The Hero WODs in CrossFit are a testament to the courage and sacrifice of our military heroes. They remind us that we can always push harder and overcome any challenge in front of us." - Rich Froning Jr., CrossFit Games Champion

CrossFit Hero WODs Murph, DT, Loredo
CrossFit Hero WODs

Girl WODs: Testaments of Fitness

Girl WODs are a series of benchmark workouts named after women. These workouts serve as benchmarks to track progress and measure improvements over time. Each Girl WOD presents a unique combination of exercises and rep schemes, testing different aspects of an athlete's fitness, such as strength, endurance, or metabolic capacity. I personally LOVE girl WODs!

"Girl WODs are named after storms for a reason. They may seem daunting and relentless, but when you weather the storm, you emerge stronger, more resilient, and ready to take on anything." - Katrin Davidsdottir, CrossFit Games Champion

CrossFit Girl WODs Fran, Cindy, Grace
CrossFit Girl WODs

These workouts represent just a fraction of the extensive library of CrossFit workouts. Each WOD is carefully designed to challenge athletes physically and mentally, fostering growth, resilience, and a sense of accomplishment.

Powerlifting: Unleashing the Strength Within

Powerlifting, the sport of true strength and unadulterated power! It shines the spotlight on the power trio lifts: the squat, bench press and deadlift.

Squat: The squat is a compound exercise that targets the lower body, primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It's a foundational exercise with limitless benefits, is great for functional fitness.

Bench Press: The bench press focuses on developing upper body strength, particularly the chest, shoulders, and triceps and is also a compound lift. It is a core and foundational exercise for the push movement.

Deadlift: The deadlift is a fundamental compound exercise in strength training and powerlifting that targets multiple muscle groups, particularly the posterior chain, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and muscles of the upper back. The deadlift is named for the fact that the weight starts from a "dead" stop on the ground, and it requires a significant amount of total-body strength, stability, and coordination. It is considered one of the most effective exercises for building overall strength, developing powerful hips and posterior chain.

Woman performing a bench press

Heavy Weights and Low Repetitions: Building Raw Power

In powerlifting, the training philosophy revolves around lifting heavy weights for low repetitions. This approach maximizes strength gains and builds explosive power. By focusing on near-maximal or maximal loads, powerlifters aim to progressively increase their strength over time. Some of the training techniques and strategies used include:

1. Progressive Overload

Gradually increasing the weights lifted to continually challenge the muscles and promote strength gains.

2. Periodization

Structuring training into distinct phases to optimize progress, balance recovery, and peak for competitions.

3. Assistance Exercises

Incorporating specific exercises that target weaker muscle groups or address individual weaknesses within the three main lifts.

4. Technique Refinement

Paying meticulous attention to lifting form and employing cues and corrections to optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury.

5. De-loading and Recovery

Implementing planned periods of reduced intensity or complete rest to allow the body to recover and prevent overtraining.

Powerlifting demands not only physical strength but also mental fortitude, discipline, and a drive to continually push boundaries. It's a sport that celebrates the triumph of human strength and the pursuit of personal records.

Man performing a deadlift

Strong Lifts 5x5 Program

Strong Lifts is popular powerlifting program that has been around for over 60 years. The beauty in the program is it's simple yet effective approach, focusing on compound exercises and progressive overload. It is suitable for everyone - from beginners to experienced lifters. I'm currently running through a Strong Lifts cycle. I'm loving how easy it is to fit in my week, and I still have time to supplement with other interests of mine!

The StrongLifts 5×5 workout program consists of two workouts, performing five sets and five repetitions from these core lifts.

  • Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row

  • Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift

Three workouts are performed a week. You never train two days in a row or do two workouts in a day to allow your body to rest and recover. Workout A and B are alternated during the week.

The main principle of the StrongLifts 5x5 program is progressive overload, which means gradually increasing the weight lifted over time to continually challenge the muscles and stimulate growth. The program starts with relatively light weights to ensure proper form and technique, then gradually adds weight in each session. Once you reach this plateau, the program advises implementing de-loads, reducing the weight slightly to allow for recovery and then continuing to progress.

Olympic Weightlifting: Harnessing Speed, Power, and Technique

Olympic weightlifting stands tall as a captivating and time-honored competitive sport that showcases the epitome of strength, speed, and technical mastery. Rooted in the ancient Greek Olympic Games, this discipline has evolved into a pinnacle of human performance. With its rich heritage and global following, Olympic weightlifting captivates both athletes and spectators alike with its awe-inspiring displays of power and grace.

The Dynamic Duo: Snatch and Clean and Jerk

At the heart of Olympic weightlifting lie two lifts that reign supreme: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

Snatch: The snatch is a dynamic and explosive lift that involves lifting a barbell from the ground to an overhead position in one fluid motion. The snatch requires exceptional speed, strength, and coordination, as well as precise technique to maintain balance and stability throughout the lift.

Clean and Jerk: The clean and jerk is a two-part lift that involves lifting a barbell from the ground to the shoulders (clean) and then driving it overhead (jerk). The clean and jerk showcases remarkable strength, speed, and technique, as well as the ability to generate power in both the lower and upper body.

"The snatch and the clean and jerk are not just lifts, they are expressions of power, grace, and the relentless pursuit of excellence." - Dmitry Klokov, Olympic weightlifter

Snatch set-up

Speed, Power, and Technique: The Holy Trinity

Olympic weightlifting places an exceptional emphasis on the triumvirate of speed, power, and technique. Athletes must master the art of generating explosive power from the ground up, channeling it through their bodies with flawless execution. The snatch and clean and jerk demand a remarkable combination of strength, speed, flexibility, and coordination. Athletes harness their inner forces, perfecting the intricate dance between mind and muscle, to conquer the gravitational challenges that lie before them.

Training Methods and Exercises: Forging Olympic-Caliber Skill

Training for Olympic weightlifting requires a meticulous blend of strength development, technical refinement, and specialized exercises. Athletes focus on enhancing explosive power, improving mobility, and perfecting the intricate movement patterns specific to the snatch and clean and jerk. Training sessions often involve high repetitions with submaximal loads to develop neural pathways and enhance muscle memory. Additional exercises, such as front squats, overhead squats, and accessory movements, further complement the development of strength and stability in key lifting positions.

Coaches play a pivotal role in guiding athletes through progressive training programs, emphasizing technique mastery and gradual increases in load. They provide valuable feedback and employ various methodologies, such as segment lifts, complexes, and variations of the lifts, to address specific weaknesses and enhance overall performance. A harmonious balance of strength, speed, and technical precision forms the foundation of Olympic weightlifting.

Additional Training Exercises

In Olympic weightlifting, the snatch and clean and jerk are the only two lifts that are officially contested in Olympic competitions. However, there are additional exercises and variations that are commonly practiced by weightlifters during training to enhance their overall strength, technique, and performance. These exercises are not part of the official competition lifts but are still valuable in the development of an Olympic weightlifter. Some of these exercises include:

1. Front Squat: The front squat is a squat variation where the lifter holds the barbell in a front rack position, across the front of the shoulders. It strengthens the quadriceps, glutes, and core muscles, which are important for the clean portion of the clean and jerk.

2. Overhead Squat: The overhead squat involves holding the barbell in a wide grip overhead while performing a full-depth squat. It improves stability, mobility, and strength in the shoulders, upper back, and core, which are crucial for maintaining an overhead position in the snatch and jerk.

3. Push Press: The push press is a weightlifting exercise where the lifter starts with the barbell at the shoulders, performs a slight dip, and then explosively drives the barbell overhead using the legs and upper body. It helps develop the leg drive and pressing power required in the jerk portion of the clean and jerk.

4. Snatch Pull: The snatch pull is a pulling exercise where the lifter performs the first part of the snatch movement (from the floor to the knees or hips) without transitioning into the full snatch. It strengthens the pulling muscles (such as the back, hamstrings, and glutes) and reinforces proper bar path and timing.

5. Clean Pull: Similar to the snatch pull, the clean pull focuses on the pulling portion of the clean movement. It develops explosive power and strength in the posterior chain muscles involved in the clean, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

Differences Decoded in Focus, Training and Competition Methods

Primary Differences Between CrossFit, Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting PDF
Primary Differences Between CrossFit, Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting

I hope this helped demystify some of the different resistance training styles, and maybe inspired you to pick up a barbell as we explored the different realms of CrossFit, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting, gaining insights into each discipline's unique attributes and benefits.

Resistance training goes beyond physical transformation. It builds strength, increases muscle mass, and enhances overall physical performance, while also yielding numerous health benefits. It is a path of self-discovery and personal growth, where you can challenge your limits, surpass your boundaries, and unlock the incredible potential that lies within you.

So, grab your lifting straps, fasten your belt, and embrace the journey that awaits you!


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