In Powerlifting

February 15, 2009

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Russell Berger writes about his experience at Coach Rippetoe’s Basic Barbell Cert at CrossFit Wichita Falls.

Nothing about this place was pretty, new, or comfortable. The interior was worn and garnished with photos of handlebar-mustached power-lifters, trophies, and odd objects that must have held some meaning to those who trained here. Well-used equipment was packed wall-to-wall, and long racks of aged barbells lined the room like spears. I felt like I was touring a medieval torture chamber—an even better sign. Because this seemed like the kind of place where real work was done.

The man behind this facility is Mark Rippetoe, CrossFit’s resident strength expert and a walking stereotype of a strong, gruff Texan. I was here for his “Basic Barbell Certification,” a course Rip designed to teach participants what he refers to as “weighted human movement:” the Squat, Press, Bench Press, Deadlift, and Power Clean.

Even if you don’t agree with all of Rip’s opinions, he is good at what he does. Anyone can claim to coach the lifts Rip teaches, but his mastery of these movements makes the quality and clarity of his instruction invaluable. Guided by practical application and common sense, he manages to deliver this instruction in a way that benefits everyone from CrossFit beginners to veteran affiliates. General Physical Preparedness requires the kind of brute strength that can only be developed through maximal efforts. These efforts are only truly maximal when proper form, technique, and programming come together for those few seconds of suffering. This single weekend gives participants the knowledge to make this possible. The Basic Barbell Certification is more than just an analysis of movements; it is a window into a world many people misunderstand.



24 Comments on “The Straight-Talk Strength Express”


wrote …

You ask some questions that should be asked. My full response to them would leave the scope of this post, but I've been working on something that will fit nicely as a response to your article. I'll make it available if the CF Journal decides not to run it.

Keep the thinking gears turning!


Russell Berger wrote …

I'm looking forward to that Justin.
I've really got to send in another picture for my profile at the bottom of the article... I promise my face isn't stuck in that position.


Herm Blancaflor wrote …


Thank you for such a well-written article! I am rehabbing a shoulder injury, and plan to come back to Starting Strength when I get cleared (sometime in the summer)

One thing in the article is an "oops":

On the deadlift sidebar, your article mentions "two distinctly different yet equally correct Deadlift start positions. In
the accompany pair of photos," with Gina and Karen. There is only one girl.


I saw that you were a Batt boy. Thank you for your service. I made it through RGR as a 1LT, but was never part of a BN (class 06-03). At 27, I was one of the guys that were "over the hill". With the advent of CF, I think we'll see more 30+ year old guys going to Benning and getting tabbed.


replied to comment from Russell Berger

Russell, don't lie, you look like that all the time.

Or maybe I need to work a little harder.


Russell Berger wrote …

must be an editing error. I did take two different photos.


Ned Ferguson wrote …

Where is Gina (left)?


wrote …

I play the trumpet, Russell. The saxophone is an idiot's instrument.



wrote …

Rips cert is the first I want to go to if I ever get over to the States from AUS. Or maybe Rip could come here? You could crash at my place coach.


wrote …

A couple of comments: 1. I did not, nor have I ever said, that the best CF athletes come from a strength training background. I said that people who come into CF from a strength training background do better than people who come into CF from an endurance background, meaning that strength athletes adapt more quickly to CF than endurance athletes. This is a rather important, if subtle to Russell, distinction. 2. The pictures of the chick doing our barbell exercises barefoot are pretty funny, and anybody who's been to the cert knows that I spend about 15 minutes bitching about lifting barefoot or in inappropriate footwear. Probably another editing error. But on the whole it was a very good and unnecessarily flattering article. Russell is welcome at my gym anytime.



I apologize for the instrument confusion. The Saxophone makes you sound like Bill Clinton. Terrible error in note-taking.
As for the Strength arguments, I do remember you phrasing it in our discussion exactly as I wrote it in the article. Also, I'm remembering the guy in our class you used as an example. who said he used "Starting Strength" for a few months and then returned to CrossFit with an improved Fran time. This guy was an Army NCO and certainly wasn't in terrible shape before he started CrossFit, and It seemed to me that you were saying strength is the most important aspect of GPP training For anyone who doesn't come from a strength background.

Perhaps there was some confusion there, But I won't disagree with the fact that most strength athletes do far better than endurance athletes beginning CrossFit.

As for the chick without shoes, you are absolutely right. I used who I had available, and she didn't have shoes at the time. Because I'm largely focusing on the anatomical position in these images, I figured that at least you can get a true sense of "middle of the foot"...

And At least she isn't wearing damn running shoes.

Thanks Rip,


wrote …

I have read and even studied both "Starting Strength" and "Practical Programming". I have found both books to be excellent. With Starting Strength, you get very indepth analysis of the movements. By using the wisdom of the programming in Practical Programming, I have been able to set prs in all my lifts and have been able to help my athletes as well. With my novice athletes, I do emphasize strength building, with a 5 to 10 minute metcon blast at the end of the session. I have seen tremendous strength gains in the novice and a commensurate level of confidence and enthusism. I do believe strength gains will improve one's crossfit benchmarks faster than just about anything else.



wrote …

Great article! I loved the part about the Emo-Rexic high school boys wearing girls jeans. That made my day!


wrote …


When are you coming to Miami, FL?


Jeff Martin wrote …

Nice article, and does capture the feeling of a Barbell cert. I have to take expand on the to the authors statement "Even if you don’t agree with all of Rip’s opinions, he is good at what he does." Yes he is good at what he does, and yes you can disagree with Rip' s opinion on things like barbeque, but he goes to great length to explain that what he is teaching at the cert regarding the five movements is not opinion. It is a point he makes strongly throughout the cert.


wrote …

Damn it! I thought those barefoot pics meant Rip was finally coming over to the barefoot lifting camp! I know how Rip feels about lifting barefoot, but its just a fact that you can't complete some of the WOD's in weightlifting shoes, so you choose: barefoot or vibram fivefingers, tennis shoes including chucks, or weightlifting shoes and take them off for things like running (which would further kill my already slow times).

I have looked and I cannot find any studies or evidence that barefoot lifting has a higher injury rate, or has a lower rate of strength increase when compared to training in weightlifting shoes. I don't think it exists. My hunch is that you wouldn't see any higher injury, you'd see just as much strength increase, and possibly see higher flexibility and greater increase in usable, athletic strength (but of course that's just an unproven theory). I think that the bias to weightlifting shoes is probably from years of practice and its a matter of doing things as they've been done, I've read Rip's SS, and about the small heel in the shoes making the knee angle more acute to let the quads contribute more to coming out of the bottom of a squat, but I have never seen any studies comparing lifting in shoes vs. barefoot and showing that training weightlifting shoes increases strength better than barefoot. And I continue to have the burning question "if I'm squatting why would I want quads to contribute more rather than try to get my glutes and hams to kick in more, because isn't the posterior chain strength going to be a better indicator and contributor to my overall fitness and athleticism than quad strength?" I would love to see a real study of barefoot lifting get published.

I doubt I'll see this anytime soon, although Vibram is working on some studies with Harvard, apparently the study is about running, not lifting. I think Rip is a weightlifting and communicative genius, and I would love to see him indulge those of us who are going to have to continue to lift barefoot (so we can do the WOD's) in an analysis of the lifts (angles etc) so that we can mentally go through what is happening without a heel lift. I've done this some myself, but the fact is that I am not and probably never will be as gifted at doing this as Rip is.

There is at least some epidemiological evidence that wearing shoes (tennis or other common shoes) leads to a greater rate of degenerative diseases, and I think this leads to a compelling extrapolation that perhaps lifting and performing natural human movements like deadlifts and squats is something that our body is perfectly capable of without any additional equipment. This is one of the reasons some people hold pretty firmly to the idea of training barefoot. Another, is, as stated above, you can't do some WOD's in weightlifting shoes, so you gotta come with a workable solution.

The other side of this, is that some advances and some technologies do make improvements on human anatomy and function (my glasses for instance), so I don't believe something is bad just because its not part of our natural anatomy. I just don't think we know the real answer as to whether or not any of the things that are really important to athletes (like injury and strength, speed, flexibility improvement) are any better in weightlifting shoes than barefoot.

Great article, thanks for the insight into a great teacher, coach and I imagine a great person. I've never met Rip but I lived out in West Texas last year, training alone in a spare room with no coach and no one with any knowledge to help me, without his books I could have gotten really hurt and I owe alot to him for that. Our coaches give us a lot, maybe sometimes in ways they aren't aware of, and for that I am truly grateful.


wrote …

Smokin' write up Rus, and enjoyable analysis. I think time will tell on the "stregth is the best place to enter CF" conjecture/hypothesis. I look forward to shaking your hand next time I visit family in Huntsville. Paul


I agree with a lot of your assumptions on barefoot training. For the record, I lifted barefoot for years until Rip's certification, and Rip does't care what you wear during metcons.
My disagreement with shoes in general began after I discovered the POSE method a number of years ago. At the same time, I began running barefoot. This combination seems to have fixed all of my previous running-related injuries, and increased efficiency allowed me to crank out out a 17:30 5k, 59:00 15K, and a 1:20 Half marathon in Vibrams without so much as a blister. I am all about doing everything barefoot, but it's important to note that my speed was slightly better in low-profile shoes like Inov8's. Rip's argument, which I agree with, is that lifting shoes benefit maximal efforts for two reasons- increased surface area contacting the platform, and greater stability at the base of your body. Stability is the real inhibiting factor to a strong person's maximal efforts, and putting on some shoes can make that maximal effort feel about ten pounds lighter. I thought this was bogus until I put a pair on and did a set of five at Rip's gym. Turns out I was full of shit. Since then My lifts have at least "felt" stronger, and that strength has carried over to barefoot lifting. The only lift I still do Barefoot is the DL, mainly because I'm not that fond of picking heavy things up any higher than I have to.

If you are lifting to gain an adaptation of increased ankle stability and lower extremity strength, sure, lift barefoot... I did for years and was the only person in my platoon not to get ankle injuries running around in the dark under nods, but If you are lifting purely to improve general strength, (and for GPP you should be) you will be limited by your choice of footwear.


wrote …

Thanks for the response Russell. That's interesting, maybe I'll have to put my weightlifting shoes back on for the 1RM days. You're thinking is correct, in doing WOD's I switched to barefoot (vibrams actually) and when 1RM days come around I don't use the shoes. Just got into the habit of barefoot I guess.
I got some old school, hand-me-down lifting shoes from my brother and I tried them a couple times for squats and deadlifts and they seemed to kill my midfoot (dorsally) and it was sore for days, the bad sore. So I said forget it and just went natural. Maybe I'll have to give them another try (and should probably buy my own).
I'd still like to see a study done comparing weightlifting shoes to barefoot lifting. I think it'd be interesting as hell!

Great article, thanks again!


wrote …

Let us not forget the 1:47 "Grace" put up by "strength-trained" Donny Shankle, National weightlifting champion.

That and if gymnasts don't train for strength, what kind of training do they do?


replied to comment from Garrett Smith

A couple things. Donny's one-time performance in Grace was very impressive for someone who has never done CrossFit before. His range of motion deteriorated, though, so I wouldn't consider that a legit sub-2 Grace. The workout is rare for us in that it's a single exercise, the one in which Donny is one of the country's best. And, Oly lifting is technically not strength. Power, speed, flexibility, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance are all required in substantially greater measure than in the slow lifts. Also, Donny was physically devastated for the rest of the day. The training he had been doing did not prepare him for a broad, general and inclusive capability.

Gymnasts do not train for strength. They are not judged on how much weight they can move. They are extremely strong, of course, but they are training for gymnastics. Again, coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance, combined with the stamina to get through the entire routine, are at least as significant as strength (if not much more) in gymnastics competitions.

Perhaps you should review the What is Fitness article again and try to understand the differences between the ten physiological adaptations to exercise.


wrote …


Excellent article. I've been around Mark for ... Oh God, going on 12 years now. You've done a good job on providing a snapshot into what its like being around him. Frank, honest, and funny with frequent brilliance. Also, nice synopsis of the content of the BBT cert and why its important.

"Emo-rexic" ... Awesome term. I will use that in class lectures now.



Chris Sinagoga wrote …

Did this article get taken down? I can't access this article.


wrote …

Hi, Chris.

It's still available. Please log in to your CrossFit Journal account, and you should be able to read it.



Chris Sinagoga wrote …

Thanks Mike! It was a great read. I find it eerie to read about the license stuff Rip was talking about back then. Judging by the recent videos and articles, it seems like his fears were coming to fruition.

Also the points at the end about strength program vs. just CrossFit is something that comes up at our gym often as of late. We stick with programming (without additional Barbell strength) and as usual the results are good. I wrote a long editorial about the issue called What is Strength? if anyone wants to read it.

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