Why People Leave CrossFit for Weightlifting

CrossFit is a gateway drug for Weightlifting. It really is.

A lot of people start CF, discover they’ve a passion for lifting and/or they’re actually stronger than they thought they were, and eventually stop doing metcons in favour of lifting.

Wow, someone went ahead and made that poster.

Wow, someone went ahead and made that poster.

Why is this?

First, lifts are popular. They really are. It’s so easy to post a 10 second video of your backsquat PR or snatch on Instagram than it is to post a 12 minute “Helen” video. Sure, you can put up a post run selfie and say you beasted your 5K time, but still an above parallel round back squat will still get you the likes. That’s just the way it is. Lifts look cool.

This is gonna get me ALL the likes! #followmeifollowback

This is gonna get me ALL the likes! #followmeifollowback

Lifts are also easier to track. You put 15Kg on your deadlift this year, but are you a better CrossFitter? It’s hard to track given the wide range of movements in this crazy sport, and the only way you’re going to know is The Open. Even at that, does coming 2013rd in one year versus 3209th the next mean you’re worse? Or the competition got better? Or it was a bad year? These are regular ups and downs that happen every year in sport, but can be quite detrimental to a recreational CrossFitter’s ego.

Your handstands may have gotten better, or you can now do 12 strict pull ups instead of 9, but the numbers on the lifts are easier to track. Having an “easy” metric to track means we’re more likely to chase it. It’s kind of the same as comparing jobs. We all know that hours, commute, satisfaction, co-workers, etc. etc. are important, but we tend to reduce it down to salary. Our brains like to reduce complex things down to simple things.

Now, when you’re in year one of CrossFit, you make progress just by hanging around. Eventually, you need to put in more work. But more work where, and more work generally means doing the kind of things that aren’t as intrinsically enjoyable as slamming bars.

This shit hurts!

This shit hurts!

Weightlifting becomes an easier goal for most people. Easier is an insulting term, really it should be “simpler”. It’s far easier for your brain to wrap it’s head around “get a 2Kg Snatch PR” than “get better at metcons.” Metcons are this nebulous thing whereas Snatch is a concrete, easily measurable goal.

It’s in the same vein that people are attracted to 6 and 12 week transformations. These are easier to wrap your head around than “well, continuously work hard 3-4 times a week for the rest of your life to stay in shape.”

Because the goal itself is easier defined, it becomes easier in your head too. This isn’t necessarily true, but in your head it’s easier to concentrate on snatch, clean & jerk, squat, than ALL of CrossFit.

Okay, so if I just concentrate on these I'll be better.

Okay, so if I just concentrate on these I’ll be better. (Source, beyondthewhiteboard.com)

So the chasing of those sweet, uplifting PRs is one reason why they move. The other is that lifting doesn’t beat you up as much as CrossFit does. Because of CrossFit’s mixed modal nature, it’s hard for us to stay in a proper training zone. Particularly if we’re in the middle of a metcon, we don’t have a good pacing strategy, the music is blaring and everyone is screaming at us. You go alactic brah, and that beats you up. It’s harder to beat yourself up in a program that prescribes exact percentages, exact reps, and exact rest.

You went out too hard, bro!

You went out too hard, bro!

A PR in Fran requires you to put yourself under a lot of pain and then stay there until you’re done. Then you get to squirm around on the floor for the next hour and dry cough for the rest of day. A PR Snatch requires you to pick up the bar, snap and hold! You slam it! You run around getting high fives and then enjoy all the Facebook likes and comments for the rest of the day. In short, weightlifting definitely appeals to our desire for mastery and also our natural tendency to avoid pain!

Occasionally, you see people who’ve moved from CrossFit to Weightlifting start to mock their former love. We’ll delightfully call this the lifting smugness. It’s fine if you’ve moved on, and train for whatever goal you want, whatever makes you happy. Just please don’t knock CF because you’re in love with the barbell instead of the burpee now.

Just to finish up, I’ll point out that Fraser PR’d his snatch doing CrossFit:

There’s reasons behind why that would happen, but I’m not smart enough to write about that now 🙂

34 thoughts on “Why People Leave CrossFit for Weightlifting

  1. I could have sworn that CrossFit has repeatable, well known metcons that can be easily measured (though often painfully). For instance, knocking 30 seconds off your Fran is a pretty darn good sign that you are improving.

    I love this piece though. This is also the reason that many people don’t do HIIT even with all the science and results that are out there. Because it’s painful to dip down, be out of breath, and have to do more for the sake of fitness. It’s not easy. It’s often agonizing. Yet it lasts only a few seconds and has observable measurements that should rapidly improve.

    CrossFit managed to mask that by surrounding you with a community of people that do it with you. And add a competitive, and dare I say fun, edge to it.

    Love lifting. Love CrossFit. May they all live on happily.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re right, CrossFit metcons are repeatable. In Weightlifting there’s two measurements, Snatch and Clean & Jerk. In CrossFit there’s so many different metcons that it can become overwhelming to try and improve in all areas, or certainly seem that way. Because of this it appears very complicated. The human brain likes to boil things down to simple parts so because WL only has 2 goals, it equates simpler with easier. Which isn’t the case.

      I love both sports too.

  2. I disagree.

    I’ve been CrossFitting for 7 years. I’ve been weightlifting for 4 months competitively. I’ve never been this beat up in my life.

    I spend more time out of the gym recovering, stretching, mobilizing, rolling out, getting massaged, than I ever did during CrossFit. Weightlifting is not easier, it’s just different. I’ve made the switch, at least temporarily, because 1) I wanted something different and 2) perfecting the Olympic lifts at maximal weight is both extremely challenging and rewarding.

    Yeah, a snatch lasts all of 2 seconds, but you have to be perfect (or close to it), execution being everything. In weightlifting, your strength, speed, power, flexibility, body awareness, balance, and mental focus all have to work in concert to accomplish the objective.

    People do not move to weightlifting because it is easier but because it challenges them in a new way. Hard work isn’t enough. It has to be highly focused output.

    • Hey Rafael,

      Thanks for your comment. I really do appreciate how difficult weightlifting is, and I love nothing more than trying to perfect the snatch.

      I should have made it clearer that the perception that weightlifting is an easier goal to define and pursue is an attraction. At a high level, the less movements there are in a sport the more precision increases in importance. In CrossFit, you can be slightly off in a 75lb power snatch as there’s a high volume, and it’s one component of a workout. In a competition snatch, you’re at 1RM levels and have only three attempts, the precision/timing becomes more important.

      As you stated, it’s a different challenge.

      I’d also argue the the degree of in activity suffering (in terms of ‘severity’ and duration) is different between the training of the sports. For a casual/novice in both, there’ll be a higher level of suffering in CF than WL, as it’s easier to over-exert yourself in the former. The latter, given it’s high reliance on precision, makes it harder to over exert yourself (although not impossible.)

      As you develop in the sport, it could be argued the level of ‘suffering’ balances out between the two, as it would the higher you develop in any sport. Of course, suffering is difficult to measure as it’s highly subjective.

      Thanks again for your comment. Really appreciate the time you took to read and respond.

  3. HEY! I made that poster! 😉
    http://www.winetoweightlifting.com/crossfit-gateway-drug/

    I like Crossfit a ton of reasons.. I can talk all day about it and why everyone should sign up.. but for me, personally, I LOVE Oly lifting.. As one of the commenters said above, it is a lot of work and can take up a ridiculous amount of time and effort, but for me, I often get a better feeling doing one max lift than a ten minute metcon.

    I’ll probably still Crossfit every so often, but my heart is with the snatch. <3

    • Hey Jennifer!

      Thanks for the image and the article link!

      I LOVE Weightlifting, it is cool, and a lot of my coaching is purely weightlifters as well. To me, CrossFit has exposed me to so much more so it’s got first place in my heart, even though it hurts me so much 😉

  4. “There’s reasons behind why that would happen, but I’m not smart enough to write about that now :)”
    Mat Fraser was a former junior athlete at the OTC in Colorado. Back when US coaches tried to implement the Russian/Bulgarian systems without the use of “restoratives” (which is how these countries were able to sustain such high level of training), therefore, this led to many young and talented US athletes getting hurt (Mat being one of them). Anyways, Mat’s foundation had been laid already, technique ironed out for the most part, strength was the thing he was lacking (only because of age). So when he recovered and found CrossFit, got his man-strength from training (not doing random wods, which is what some elite CrossFitters may tell you), he became to who you know now. So did he become a better WLifter going from WL to CrossFit, absolutely, but it was because his nervous system and neural patterns from doing the lifts at a young age were already developed.

    • Hey! Thanks for that! Really appreciate it!

      Totally agree. I know it’s a combination of Mat being a phenomenal athlete, coupled with his smart training.

      As I understand it, “cardio” can help the muscle fibres relax which means they can ‘fire’ stronger when needs be, so there’s a place for “conditioning” work in strength athletes as well.

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  7. I love how your first argument is “Lifting is popular”. Do you realize ” The Cross fit Games” are shown on ESPN during prime hours?

    The pinnacle of body building is Mr Olympia, and it’s streamed online. ESPN does show Strongman contests…at 2am on a Wednesday. I don’t think lifting has near the visibility or popularity crossfit does. I’ve never gone to a sports store with the picture of an athlete and a weightlifting shoe…unless it’s a picture of Rich Froning on an Adidas ad for a crossfit shoe.

    And your examples are dumb, I’ve seen PLENTY of Crossfit buddy’s post a picture or video of them getting a new PR of an Olympic lift(see the end of your article for an example) and never an entire WOD because they know no one is going through sit through a 10+ minute video of someone doing the same movement 12,000 times.

    To think someone chooses one exercise over another simply because they think others will like it more or because popularity is idiotic. Then no one would do the other random crap we never see….Zumba, Spin, random boxing group classes.

    It’s funny, you say you love both sports but you’re claiming people leave crossfit for weightlifting only because it’s more popular and easier on the mind and body. Then you have the nerve to tell people who lift not to knock crossfit when you’ve demonstrated THE main reason why people do: Crossfitters tend to be arrogent people who think their sport is the best. If you say you don’t, re-read your article. It’s full of backhanded slaps to people who weightlifting. I mean look at the picture of the “weightlifter” you showed vs the crossfitter video you chose to show.

    You’ve essentially written an article that says weightlifting is for the masses who are in it to look cool and have an easy time in the gym….and you have the nerve to mention “lifting smugness”. Maybe you should spend some time reading books on logic over doing exercises so complex you can’t quantify or measure progress. It seems Crossfit has broken science….

    • Thanks for your comment Jaime. It’s obvious you’re very passionate about it and took the time to read and write a comment.

      If I miss any points to respond to its because I can’t read your comment while in the app and writing a reply.

      I should be clearer in my piece that the aim thrust is for the casual trainer who ill define as someone who trains outside of work hours. CrossFit as a spectator sport and participant sport is immensely popular, and there’s a great photo comparing the 2013 Games versus the 2013 US Nationals.

      I’m referring also to popularity within the confines of those who’ve been introduced to weight training through CrossFit and CF style boxes. In the 2013 Games, and most CF events, the lifting workouts tend to be the most popular. Crowds are on their feet for the Clean & Jerk ladder for example.

      (Interesting aside, a friend took her sister to the 2013 Games, and the sister was bored during the C&J event, as she couldn’t comprehend how difficult a feat the weightlifting was because she’d no frame of reference.)

      Again my article was that the perception of one being easier to excel at, or simpler to comprehend, is a big draw. The further one goes into a highly focused modality the harder incremental gains become. He notion behind my argument is based on “Thinking Fast & Slow”, essentially the human brain doesn’t like thinking of complex things so it boils them down to ‘simpler’ concepts and focuses on them. One lift is a simpler focus point than a multitude of movements in a virtually inexhaustible series of combinations. It’s “easier” to train for a weightlifting meet only in the sense we know exactly what’s required of us, versus the moving and often flawed goalposts of competitive exercise.

      If I’ve missed anything let me know. Also, please do send on any book recommendations you have.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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  9. My question is: have you left CrossFit for weightlifting and experienced how much easier WL is?

    Because I left CrossFit for WL because of injury, and nothing, I mean nothing, has challenged me more mentally, physically and emotionally than WL. This is the hardest thing I have ever done, and many days I wistfully think of the easy days of CrossFit, when I could improve my wallballs, pullups, squats, pushups, box jumps, thrusters, and run times simply by dedication and practice.

    Weightlifting is a highly technical sport that demands that you move your body in multiple planes simultaneously under load. It is not linear like the above mentioned movements. It is really, really hard.

    So, this is a long way of saying that I could not disagree more, being one of those people who left CF for WL.

    • Hi Eileen,

      Thanks for your comment. I haven’t left CF for WL.

      We’re now talking about the definition of challenge here, and I can see your point. The more specific you make a sport (i.e. the number of variables you reduce) the more technical it becomes. To use a bad analogy, take golf versus field hockey, both club based sports. In hockey, you may strike a ball hundreds of times. In golf, this number is around the 70-85 mark. The level of precision required in golf is higher than that of hockey. Similarly, the level of precision required in Isabel versus a 1RM snatch is different. (Remember, imperfect analogy)

      With regards suffering, the duration of suffering in CrossFit is arguably longer in duration than in WL training. I’m hazarding a guess that humans would prefer less pain overall, or less perceived pain. Now, the point of emotional and mental focus required in WL is arguably far higher than CF. Even taking into the ‘game’ of playing the platform in a meet meaning you could think you’ve 3 minutes before your next lift and all of a sudden you’re called onto the platform requires a rapid shift from relaxed to focused, which isn’t generally seen in CF. Also, the “cost of failure” in WL is higher than that in CF. (E.g. you miss a snatch in Isabel and it’s no big deal, you miss a snatch in a meet and it’s a very big deal), leading to a higher mental focus. I don’t have a way of measuring the variables you’ve mentioned.

      The article concerned itself primarily with the casual, non competitive practitioner who moves from one discipline to another because of the perception of ease.

      In terms of my experience, I’ve competed at both sports, medaling at National Level in Ireland, and coached at both the CF Games and the American Open.

      Thanks again!

      • How many casual practitioners have you consulted with before writing this? Again, I so wholly disagree with you and I think you wrote this based on YOUR perception of ease without having any experience behind your statements.

        CrossFitters go to WL because they fall in love with the sport. It may be a good idea to ask a few.

        Just sayin. Eyeroll.

        • I’ve read two comments to this article. To the author, you show great dignity and class when replying to people coming at you with antagonism. It’s remarkable.
          As for this lady here…”eye roll”? Well don’t forget to stop that, or the door might hit you in the backside on your way out!
          Same to the Jaime guy. Show some semblance of respect, people!

          • Hey Joe,

            Thanks for the comment. I really like Gary Vaynerchuk and he offers good advice on how to respond to people, so that’s how I try to conduct myself.

            As for Eileen, she never did accept my friend request 🙁

  10. I moved to Weightlifting from CrossFit because I kept getting hurt doing CF. I am not saying that CF is in anyway more dangerous or injury prone. I’ve had a knack for getting hurt all my life. I frequently pulled or tweaked things when I played football in high school. I have shitty mobility and quite a few postural issues I’ve been trying to fix. I felt that when doing CF, that I was doing so many reps in bad positions too quickly. Yeah you can scale workouts, but only so much, and it’s hard to hold back. In weightlifting, if anything is bothering me that day, I talk with my coach and adjust or even completely remove certain movements. I say this though sitting here with a strained shoulder from weightlifting…

    • Hey Josh,

      Thanks for commenting. Yeah it’s hard to hold back when you want to push yourself or you’re in a group, and the very nature of CF itself makes it harder to auto-regulate than WL.

      I know all about strained shoulders too. Still nursing an injury I picked up back in October. The worst part, I hurt it stretching!!

  11. I started in weightlifting and found crossfit later. Because I grew up in a powerlifting/oly environment, I find oly lifts and powerlifting much less mentally taxing. I love that crossfit can combine metcon work and lifting so seamlessly. To me lifting exclusively again without the metcon work would feel lazy both mentally and physically. Hey, We’re all different.

  12. Thank you for this article. As a overweight and older lady, it’s hard to quantify my suffering as a beginner cross fitter . I also find myself gravitating towards weightlifting . While it seems hard on a different level. Crossfit can beat you down from all sides! On a bad day at crossfit, you leave knowing you tried your hardest, and you weren’t good enough. With lifting, if your having an off day you can ‘drop down’ to working on basics or form and still end your day with a shred of dignity . Great point and great article. My advice is get your balls out of the ‘comment shredder’. Dust them off … Put them back on( long process here) and then .. Strong on!

    • Hey Lynn,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that it’s easier to change tact with WL. In fact I’m in the process of writing about WL and gymnastics and that’s one of the main points.

      I can assure you my balls are firmly attached. My doctor can attest to this to having just examined them!

      Thanks again!
      Colm

  13. Hey Colm,
    I agree with what your saying, both from my own experience as an athlete and in respect to the athletes that I coach in Crossfit and Weightlifting, WL is far easier to manage mentally, there are only 3 movements and the Snatch+ clean only happen on one axis (x) With the Jerk getting some z displacment. Its easier to manage programming wise (volume-intensity, Meso,macro, cycles) with defined competition rules. Weightlifting also has way less “suck” or as my better half buts it “Feel the burn” which she hates having to do so will always prefer to Lift. From my own sporting experience in Mountain biking which I love, I never race Cross country way too much pain , Dh always needed more skill and bike mastery so that was always the choice, similarly I just compete in Wl these days and barely CF at all. I do agree that people will WL because they love the technical side of the sport otherwise they will just powerlift, and all sports are frikin hard when you train to compete, but as Teddy puts it “Bar up – Kevin down” easy

    • Thanks Kevin!

      The bike analogy is a nice one. There’s those that gravitate towards the burn, those that don’t. A friend of mine compared it to running, lot of people run at a pace well below anything beneficial, but stick to it because they enjoy it. I’m all for doing what you like. I just think it’s important to be honest about the why!

      And yes, all sports are frikin hard when you train to compete. Thanks again!

  14. Interesting article, ive only been doing crossfit for about 7 months and before that weightlifting for a good few years, I love them both and I do them both as I cant let go either of them. I mix my training with weightlifting to improve my traditional compound and oly lifts and Crossfit to improve my skills and metcon, as well as the strength elemant as well as they come up often in WOD, Grace anyone?

    Lot of people I have met and spoken to since starting crossfit only started their fitness journey with crossfit, no previous experience of training at a gym. So they come, they learn in a environment that makes them comfortable, they improve and grow in confidence. Eventually they grow and move on to weightlifting as they have a specific training goal in mind

    One is not better than the other, both equally good, all depends on how you approach the training and what you want out of it

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