Our friend Mike Tromello at Precision CrossFit posted some good insights and tips re: Barbell cycling for CrossFit.
Barbell cycling is perhaps the most fundamental skill needed to compete effectively in CrossFit competitions. Let’s put aside any controversy over high-rep barbell movements and accept, for now, that success in competition is virtually impossible without mastering high reps at a fast pace for such movements as clean, clean and jerk, press, push press, and jerk.
We recognize that barbell cycling and weightlifting are both important tools for competitive Crossfitters. As discussion of barbell cycling spreads, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Heavier weights favor weightlifting technique
While suited for races and lighter weights, cycling techniques produce less force and explosiveness than weightlifting technique. Cycling techniques may render most of you weaker, slower, and less coordinated when applied to heavier weights. Want to lift heavier? Improve your weightlifting.
2. Cycling limits gains
Efficient weightlifting uniquely develops strength, speed, and coordination. Heavier lifting uniquely improves hormonal factors and your nervous system. Barbell cycling, which according to Mike is a “completely separate sport and set of movements,” develops different qualities. While great for competitive races and cardio, don’t expect barbell cycling to deliver all the benefits of weightlifting. Want to maximize your gains? Improve your weightlifting.
3. Weightlifting improves cycling but not vice versa
In our experience, efficiency and improvements in weightlifting will benefit your cycling, but efficiency and improvements in cycling likely won’t improve your weightlifting. As separate skills, they don’t improve each other equally. Here’s an example:
Say your max clean is 140kg and you can cycle 90kg for ~10 reps/minute. If you improve your max clean to 160kg, your 90kg cycling will likely improve since each rep requires less of your maximal force. But if you improve your cycling speed at 90kg to, say 12 or 15 reps/minute, there’s no reason to expect it will improve your max clean. The carry-over doesn’t work in both directions. Want to improve your cycling speed *and* increase your weights? Don’t neglect your weightlifting.
4. You’re no Rich Froning
In our experience, only the most exceptional and experienced athletes switch back-and-forth between barbell cycling and weightlifting technique without issue. For most others we see, cycling habits bleed into weightlifting technique and cause the latter to suffer. This can happen when you repeatedly practice barbell cycling but rarely practice weightlifting. Want to do both very well? Improve your weightlifting and practice frequently.