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 teach 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

Editor’s Note: Zack Serrano, Weightlifting Coach/Co-owner at Rail Splitter CrossFit, had the following to add after reading this article. The views expressed below are his and not necessarily those of the author.

“Often times when we see barbell cycling show up in WODs or MetCons, the load is light to moderate. In these instances, it’s not necessary to use 100% power output to move the bar. Once your feet move to their catch position after your first rep, leave them there for the remainder of your set. Over the course of a few sets, this will save you precious seconds from not having to adjust your stance every rep.”