Barbell Cycling Strategies

In this article we will discuss barbell cycling, a method of moving a barbell with precision, speed, and efficiency during high skilled movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk (as well as a few other barbell exercises).

What Is Barbell Cycling?

Barbell cycling is a method of moving a barbell through the complete range of motion that requires degrees of technique, body control, speed, and movement efficiency to allow multiple repetitions to be performed.

Benefits of Barbell Cycling

Below are four (4) reasons why athletes and coaches can benefit from learning and implementing the below barbell cycling strategies into workouts and competitive settings.

Greater Barbell Efficiency

Technique plays a huge role in the success an athlete has moving heavy (and light) snatches, cleans, and jerks (not to mention strength). When we look deeper into the ability to move a barbell with technique, for long periods of time, we often find lapses in body position, muscle fatigue, and/or general mental mistakes. When performing barbell cycling, whether for a few reps (3-5) or longer sets, we often see improved body awareness and fluidity between the moving barbell an a lifter. Note, that proper lifting technique must first be learned in a non-cycling fashion (in most cases) so that coaches and athletes can properly progress and monitor any faults that may arise. Once an athlete has begun to demonstrate a proper understanding and competence for the skilled movements like a snatch, clean, and jerk; he/she can begin to learn barbell cycling in smaller sets using the tactics at the end of this piece.

Increased Technique

When done correctly (this is the key) barbell cycling can be a great way to increase a lifter’s competency and movement patterning during lifts like the clean, snatch, and press. While this may not apply 100% to the sport of Olympic weightlifting (as cycling may actually change proper lifting technique for heavy lift, see snatch cycling strategy below), we do actually find many high level athletes who perform 3-5 repetitions of the former Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, and jerk) using a cyclical, tap and go format. This can help them not only tech the nervous system and muscle units how to control the load in the concentric phase, but also learn how to move the load eccentrically, which can further increase the learning of the proper bar path. In relationship to the body.

Increased Training Volume

Increased time under tension and eccentric loading (lowering the barbell, even with the aid of gravity) are two training benefits of cycling a barbell. Typically, loads are liftered and then drops (snatch, clean, jerk) which is completely fine for heavier loads and/or sports where this is needed for safety reasons (heavy Olympic weightlifting). Sometimes, however, barbell cycling can be used (at more moderate to conservative loads, such as 30-60%) to increase repetitions, loading, and training volume of a specific lift. This can come in handing during off season volume phases, beginner and intermediate phases, and/or basic competitive fitness workout programs geared for muscular endurance.

Mental Fitness

Long sets of snatches, cleans, presses, and more can be very taxing mentally on a lifter, which is exactly why it must be trained for those athletes involved in competitive fitness sports. While the need for mental clarity during taxing sets of high rep barbell lifts is pretty sport specific to CrossFit and other functional fitness athletes, it can still help most individuals grasp a better understanding of their rhythm and breathing during training. Increasing mental fitness can help lifters pace properly, split up sets in strategic ways, and have the proper skills to perform better in workouts and competition where mental and physical endurance is a must.

Barbell Cycling Strategies

Due to the complicated nature of barbell cycling, we will move through a few videos that uncover many common faults and issues lifters have when performing barbell cycling with three popular barbell lifts; the snatch, clean, and shoulder to overhead (press, push press, or jerk). Below are a few strategies to keep in mind when performing any movement discussed above using the barbell cycling method.

Keeping the Barbell Moving

We will assume that your snatch and/or clean technique is correct when lifting the bar from the floor to overhead/in the front rack. Once you have secured the bar in this position, you must begin the “cycling” aspect of the lift. To do so, you must lower the load in a way that returns it to the natural bar path it came up at so that when it hits the ground you can initiate proper pulling technique to perform another reception without having to correct any balance/technique faults. To do so, many lifters find it helpful to lower the barbell to the hip first, then blowing it to the floor. While this can help beginners grasp greater control of a barbell as it is lowered, it can drastically cut momentum and waste energy.

Clean and Jerk Barbell Cycling Strategy

In the below video the legend himself, Rich Froning, shares his secrets on how to properly perform longer sets of clean and jerks using the barbell cycling method. Note, how Rich Froning manipulates grip on the barbell and breathing to help maximize fluidity and control.

Snatch Barbell Cycling Strategy

In this video Dan Bailey shares his barbell cycling strategies for the barbell snatch. Note, how he differentiates between the hip height on the first rep and the successive repetitions (which have the hips higher in the air). While this method may not be the exact way to snatch heavier loads, many athletes can still get away with such technique due to the strength of the posterior chain.

Hang Clean Barbell Cycling Strategy

In the below video the barbell hang clean is demonstrated using the barbell cycling method. Note the alignment of the elbows and body as the lifter prepares to lower the load into the power position.

Thruster Barbell Cycling Strategy

In this below video, barbell cycling with the thruster (front squat into push press) is demonstrated. The key things to remember here are to use you legs and hips to powerfully drive the barbell upwards off the body, rather than using the upper body to press the load overhead. Pay attention to breathing rates and cadences during longer sets of thrusters to ensure proper oxygen intake to allow for longer sets.

Olympic Weightlifting Technique

Take a look at the below exercise guides and articles to boost your technique and strength in the Olympic lifts!

Featured Image: @guillecummings on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.