Diaries of a Coach || 015 – Barbell Cycling

Hey CFA, Coach Erica here. Wanted to give you a little recap from the skills session this past weekend on barbell cycling. For those of you that couldn’t make it, here are some quick tips with the ol’ barbell as we approach The Open… fo’ free!

First things first. Before we can talk about positioning, variations of a lift and cues to save you time and energy, we have to accurately (and humbly) assess the work ahead of us. For the sake of this discussion, because we are specifically talking about barbell cycling, lets assume the priority is speed through a determined number of reps. The first assessment must be the recommended weight as it relates to personal work capacity. Depending on that, we then prioritize speed, under a relatively manageable load, or efficiency, focusing on maintaining heavier loads while preserving effort, grip and overall fatigue. We must also keep in mind the rep scheme and how it will relate to grip and to other movements that may be included in the workout. An accurate and honest assessment of the workout is crucial.

From there, let’s breakdown the discussion into various barbell movements that you’ll see in classic CrossFit workouts as well as The Open: the Snatch, Ground to Overhead and Shoulder to Overhead, all in their various forms.


When it comes to the Snatch, we have three acceptable variations. First up is the Muscle Snatch. This catch position allows the most efficient use of time because the lift finishes in the achieved standard – knees, hips and elbows extended with the barbell overhead. However, this particular lift is expensive in regards to strength and exertion. Be prepared to transition to a power snatch when necessary.

Tips: Keep the bar close on both the ascending and descending portions of this lift. As the bar descends, shoot the hips back and get the elbows over the bar quick, ready for your next pull. When weight is light, go straight down without a touch point at the thighs, almost vertical shins and weight in the heels.

When weight or rep scheme exceeds what we can consistently muscle, the Power Snatch becomes the most efficient variation. When cycling power snatches, adjust to a wider stance to save time (rather than jumping and landing every rep) and reduce range of motion from floor to overhead.

Tips: Again, keep the bar nice and close with an aggressive turnover to lock out at the top of the lift. Slightly push the hips back to reach the power position faster. As the bar comes down, same cues apply from the muscle snatch. However, a touch point at the thighs may be optimal, with weight as the determining factor. Touching the bar slows the bar down and keeps it close, ensuring a better position over the bar for the next rep. It also reduces tension in the back.

Finally, the Squat Snatch. Ideally, the squat snatch is used only when specified in the standard of a workout. If weight is relatively heavy, we may utilize the squat snatch out of necessity. Again, start with a wider stance when cycling, to avoid replacing the feet with each rep. Because we are speaking specifically in the context of CrossFit workouts, rather than Olympic Weightlifting, a slight cut to the hip extension may also save time as you pull yourself under the bar to achieve the standard of this particular lift. (If you know me, you know it pains me slightly to say that because this is NOT optimal in competitive Olympic Weightlifting.)

Tips: Keep the bar close. (Seeing a theme with that one? The closer the bar the more control as we cycle.) Be aggressive turning the bar over and locking out. Pull under the bar to reach appropriate depth, below parallel. Again, adjust the need for touch points as the bar descends based on weight.

Shoulder To Overhead

Next up are our Shoulder to Overhead movements. Options here include the Push Press and the Push (or Power) Jerk. (Strict Press and Split Jerk have been omitted for the sake of this particular discussion as it relates to barbell cycling.) Upon first glance there is an advantage to the push press because we end the lift meeting it’s standard, hips and knees extended. However, weight is our variable here. Opting for the push jerk will allow heavier weight and higher volumes.

Tips: In both lifts, sit the hips back with an upright torso and explode from the shoulders. Think about punching the bar into your overhead, rather than pressing (this was a game changer for me). Squeeze that booty and lock out your knees to finish. Then, pull the barbell back down and reload into the bottom of the dip, the explosion point of the next rep. With the push jerk specifically, take that wider stance again, to save time. Drive with the legs and then sneak under the bar to save those arms! Another tip for both, breathe (simple, right?), but often overlooked. Exhale as you punch overhead and inhale as the bar returns to the shoulders. Lastly, practice hand positions that might give you an advantage in regard to range of motion. If mobility allows, you may be able to adapt an advantageous wider grip.

Ground to Overhead

Finally, your Ground to Overhead. Let’s assume all Shoulder to Overhead assessments and variation techniques apply. From the ground, we then focus on the Clean, where the Power Clean is primarily most effective. Just as with the power snatch, starting in a wider stance will save time and reduce range of motion. No matter which overhead variation you establish as preference for the given workout, you are already in your dip position at the end of your power clean, so immediately drive overhead.

From the top down, touch point options include, straight to the ground, a touch point at the shoulders or straight to the thighs. Your choice should depend on the degree of difficulty for the weight required.

And there you have it folks. While it’s a lot of info, hopefully you found one tip or trick that you can try out to increase efficiency. So get out there, lift that barbell well and don’t forget to give me coaching cred when you’re named Fittest on Earth!

-Coach E

*Adapted from CrossFitInvictus.com. Click the link for full articles.