Ditching the Donkey Kick

By Bob Takano

In Olympic Lifts

October 28, 2011

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Hall-of-fame Oly coach Bob Takano addresses Oly form errors common to the CrossFit community.

For the last two years, I’ve been an instructor/coach in the Crossfit Olympic Lifting Seminar program under the management of Coach Mike Burgener. Those experiences plus the several USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach certifications I’ve conducted at several different CrossFit boxes have provided me with the chance to observe CrossFitters and their approach to the Olympic lifts. Furthermore, I’ve been coaching my own weightlifting programs within two other CrossFit boxes.

All this has provided me with a perspective on the phenomenon of Crossfitters’ involvement and struggles with the O-lifts. What I’ve encountered is a panorama of situations.

I’m going to break this discussion up into two large categories: technical errors and training errors. I’ll run through the problems I’ve seen and then offer some exercises that might remediate each problem.

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22 Comments on “Ditching the Donkey Kick”


wrote …

Thank you Coach.

I do have really tight shoulders and middle back, thanks for including another stretch for me to work on.

I have taken the usaw cert and this weekend I'll be taking the crossfit olympic cert in okc.

I am really looking forward to the excellenct coaching.


wrote …

Awesome article. I have lots to work on. This line about the donkey kick gave me a chuckle:
"This phenomenon occurs when athletes lift their feet off the ground prematurely in order to increase the volume of the sound of their feet striking the floor..."



wrote …

Great article. Really appreciate the thought that Olympic Lifts in high volume or in combination with certain movements can lead to a degradation of form and possibly injury due to primary movers becoming fatigued. I've been seeing this happen among CFers. We're about to start an Oly focus in the coming months of programming and one of the rules going forth will be "no missed lifts". I want to keep people focused on doing the right things with proficiency before tackling huge weights or reps.


wrote …

Thank you for this article. Some great gems of info in there. I like Bob's down to earth and common sense approach to his trade.

My personal favourite section in there is: "Placing the athlete in a position where unnecessary injury is a possibility, or employing exercises improperly, might have some appeal to those coaching to expect the unexpected. Using the proper exercise for the explicit purpose for which it is being employed, however, is the best way to prepare the body for a variety of conditions". This needs careful rereading and absorbing by all involved in strength and conditioning and CrossFit coaches in particular.

I posted a comment after a ridiculously shallow/fluffy article a few weeks back about increasing quality and decreasing quantity of articles in the CFJ. This kind of article is the quality I hope for from the CFJ.


wrote …

Thank you for the wonderful instructive article. One of the things I have thought of as an older athlete (63) is the degree in which age challenges the movements inherent in the oly lifts and the best remedies to reach optimal performance? I simply don't have the speed, strength or explosiveness that I use to have. Does age change the training strategy?


wrote …

Tony, couldn't agree more with your observations and comments. There have been some pretty weak articles published recently. I also often worried about the lack of importance sometimes placed on proper technique. Not only does proper technique avoid injury but also gives you better gains in the specific area being targeted. It's not always about the most number of reps completed in the shortest amount of time but the quality of those reps. Loved this article Mr. Takano!


Johnny Di Gregorio wrote …

So Lucky to have Bob at our box!

If you want to train with him, he is at CrossFit Pasadena Monday - Friday from 4pm - 8pm.


wrote …

Thank you very much for the compliment in your journal! I've learned from the best!
James Lee
Team CrossFit


wrote …

Thank you very much for the compliment in your journal! I've learned from the best!
James Lee
Team CrossFit


wrote …

Like the previous posters, I just want to say what a great article this is. My favorite part of CF are the Oly lifts, but due to sciatica, I struggle with the lifts. My coach/trainer recently said to me that I will always be slow and an arm puller,that's just the way some people are. I have since started looking elsewhere for Oly coaching, and hired a non CF trainer to concentrate soley on core/hip strengthing. After reading this article I've decided there may be hope for me yet.


wrote …

Great tips throughout on how to improve form and movement.

"The Olympic
lifts need to be employed
for the function for which
they are most appropriate—
the development of speed
and power."

Power and speed are developed early in the WOD when energy are still high. Endurance and stamina are developed at the end when fatigue is setting in, but Oly lifts are not endurance and stamina exercises. My programming should reflect this. *wheels turning*


wrote …

With all due respect, saying the Olympic lifts are for developing speed and power and should only be used in low rep training for that purpose is like telling your wife you can't pick her up for dinner in your 1-ton pickup because the truck is made for hauling and towing.

There is no doubt that great gains can be made by training the Oly lifts in low volume and by optimizing technical proficiency. There is also no doubt that training the Oly lifts at high volume (as we do in CrossFit) contributes to gains in fitness across many modalities.


wrote …

tony, just being funny.

but what if your spouse is as big as a house? then the truck would be used as what it was intended for.

just saying :)


Tony, I feel that the point that he is making is completely in line with the Mechanics/Consistency/Intensity paradigm as well as Virtuosity.

I don't have much of a problem with ground to overhead anyhows with potentially dangerous form during competitions, but encouraging athletes to push into repeated poor form while chasing numbers during training is just begging for trouble in the long run. Better to scale and keep the quality decent and maybe put up with form breakdowns only during the last bit of a WOD than to encourage a level of loading and intensity that guarantees form breakdowns well before the halfway mark.


wrote …

My guess (and it is only that) is that Mr. Takano would probably not "outlaw" high volume Oly lifting, or he wouldn't be coaching at CrossFit facilities and writing for the CFJ. My second guess is that he would provide at least one risk management caveat for use of high volume Oly lifts: that athlete's have excellent mobility and technique for the lift versions attempted. Unfortunately that is the minority of CrossFitters, esp for the more complex moves.

Mr. Takano is just injecting a much needed & healthy dose of common sense into the discussion and reminding CrossFitters what the primary use of Oly lifting is: to develop speed and power.

I'll take the Hall of Fame Oly lifting coach's opinion any day of the week.


replied to comment from Tony Webster

I'll take the Hall of Fame Oly lifting coach's opinion about Oly lifting also. Coach Takano has a lot we can learn from. But you (and others) are misunderstanding fitness (and misrepresenting my point).

Fitness is being able to handle whatever life throws at you. Sometimes life throws high volume complex activities. CrossFit workouts are tasks to be completed. Collectively, they are designed to prepare you for the unpredictable nature of life. CrossFit does not ascribe specific functions to a given movement. Sure, Oly lifts can be used to develop speed and power. But to say that's all they should be used for is silly.

Also, for a CrossFitter to wait for perfect form to train heavier or longer is really just an excuse for not going hard. Year after year in all levels of the Games, there is little to no correlation between perfection of technique and finishing order. Training technique is absolutely essential (as but one set of examples, look back through this Journal and see how involved I've been in bringing technique instruction here). But the goal is not perfect technique. Fitness is not technique and technique is not fitness. Technique is a tool for improving efficiency and thus output (it's a means, not an end). Same with mobility.

Furthermore, to say that "CrossFitters" have issues with these lifts is funny. More people are doing the Oly lifts today than ever before because of CrossFit. They are complex lifts worthy of study and practice. But it is more important to do them than to not do them.

Dane says that the poor form causes injury, but what do you say about all the world class Oly lifters who have great form and get injured? Or what about the hundreds of thousands of CrossFitters who train the lifts without perfect form but never get injured?


wrote …

No I am not misunderstanding fitness (as defined by yourself & CrossFit) or "misrepresenting your point". I just happen to take a more conservative stance/opinion on the topic. FYI I happen to agree with essentially all your points! You write eloquently and make your point forcefully, as always. And I have followed the CFJ for many years and am fully aware of the impressive contributions you have made to CF and Oly lifting in particular. Also I am fully aware of the incredible effect of CF on Oly lifting participation and interest.

My point is really this: I think any reasonable CrossFit or strength and conditioning coach should understand that certain athletic movements carry higher risk than others, especially when loaded and especially to those who are still learning correct form. I would place full ROM loaded Oly lifts in that category due to their significant skill & mobility demands. Just because someone CAN do 30 reps of a full snatch (for example) as fast as possible doesn't mean they SHOULD, esp if they are flailing. It's up to a sensible CF or S&C coach to determine what is appropriate for the athlete in front of them. If a coach is encouraging an athlete to do a high volume "heavy" Oly lifting workout just because that is the WOD and anything less is an "excuse for not going hard" then that is just a crap/negligent coach.

An increased risk of injury is a fact ANY athlete must accept to excel in their sport, CrossFitters being no exception. Oly lifters are no different. Their injuries probably have something to do with high training volumes and the high loads used used during training! That's a no brainer. And of course statistically the majority of people who train the lifts will not get injured (the human body is resilient, at least for a period of time). So I think one has to be careful with statements like those in your last paragraph.

Good coaches engage their brains and understand the limitations and best applications of the exercises they prescribe to their athletes. Can the rules be bent? Of course! But, like life, it depends.


replied to comment from Tony Webster

Thanks Tony. CrossFit training requires intelligence. Always has, always will. Scaling load and rep schemes when appropriate is essential for long term success. Functional movements are high-skill movements, even the air squat. Training proper mechanics for all moves is essential. These have been part of the CF approach since the very beginning and will forever.

That said, it is not intelligence or technique training that bring results. It is doing the workouts. Anything that is used as an excuse not to train constantly varied functional movements at (relatively) high intensity is an impediment to success. In this example, saying "I can't do CF workouts with high volume oly lifts" either because "I don't have the proper technique perfected" or because "Oly lits are only supposed to be low volume for power and speed" is missing the boat and a cause for inferior results.

We say CF requires intelligence because there is a paradox and a subtlety in the above concepts. It's not black and white, all or nothing. Playing in the gray areas is much harder. It's also more true.


wrote …

Thanks for the great article, lots of useful information, fixes, and cues I can apply when working the Olympic lifts with my clients.

I agree with this point from Tony B: "Sure, Oly lifts can be used to develop speed and power. But to say that's all they should be used for is silly." I believe that establishing rules for programming that limits the number of reps or the placement of Olympic lifts within workouts takes away from the "constantly varied" element in CrossFit's methodology. In situations where the reps are higher or the lifts are being performed at a stage where the athlete is fatigued, coaches should choose a weight that allows the specific athlete to maintain, not necessarily perfect, but at least safe technique. I find that as people's met-con improves so does their ability to maintain optimum mechanics and technique, this goes for all movements not just the olympic lifts. Being able to perform complex movements at "optimum speed" even when fatigued would seem like a favorable skill set to possess in life and in most sports.


wrote …

Some of my breakthroughs in correctly perceiving where a movement flaw is happening when I'm doing moderate weights at high fatigue levels. I get too tired to do it wrong. I all of a sudden do it right, notice how much better it is to do it right, and keep doing it "right" (really, better). You could be master of time and space and you still couldn't convince me via your heartfelt expert opinion that it is wrong to do Oly lifts in high reps. I know better, I lived it.

The 'technique has to be perfect' argument is also paper thin. "doing Oly lifts is better than not doing them" is right on the money. My clients love the lifts, they love getting better, and NO ONE starts with good technique.

Tony Webter's argument about how the coach has to be responsible for the athlete may be true in some gyms or some settings, but in my world, each athlete is responsible for their own body and their own well being. They are entitled to my opinion and advice about what they should/shouldn't do, but it's their body at stake, not mine. Under no circumstances can I make their risk/reward choices for them. I tell them the risks and make sure they know I expect them to use their judgement. This is a pet peeve for me - we're not coaching college athletes or kids, we're coaching adults, adults who choose to take the risk to train CrossFit.

If it's too dangerous to Oly Lift when tired, it's too dangerous to punch when tired, too dangerous to attempt a takedown when tired, too dangerous to rope climb when tired, too dangerous to muscle up when tired, too dangerous to round kick when tired, and we should never do marathons or triathlons.

Which isn't to say I don't like everything else Coach Tokano offers, I absolutely do, gold mine of help for helping my athletes get more work done, faster.


wrote …

Well said Paul. I've experienced the same. Fatigue, like heavy load, exposes inefficiencies.


wrote …

Technique is never perfect, even for the most elite athletes. So I agree the "technique has to be perfect" argument is indeed paper thin. But technique needs to be good enough. Mechanics, consistency, then intensity.

As a CrossFit coach I always argued that the ultimate responsibility for what is done lies with the athlete. Of course! But as a coach if you see the athlete making a clearly bad choice or demonstrating grossly incorrect form then you should intervene. The point where you intervene of course is somewhat grey. That's where good judgement comes in. Most people pay $100-$150 a month to attend a CrossFit gym to learn from people who know better than they do!! ie. the coaches!! They don't pay to have a coach sit back and say "well I told you so". If you are a coach, do your job and coach. Do no harm, and do not allow your athletes to do themselves harm. I felt really shitty when someone hurt themselves on my shift when I was coaching. It didn't happen often thankfully, but I always felt like I could have done a better job to prevent it.

Most (or at least many) people who take up CrossFit are simply not knowledgeable enough to know what is or what is not safe especially with the more complex movements like the Oly lifts. That's what a coach is there for! As Steve Irwin would have said: "crikey"!

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