CF Games Back Squat | Mat Fraser Grinds
I recently watched the 2020 video of the back squat competition from the CrossFit Games. Mat Fraser, in his last competition, Tia-Clair Toomey, Noah Ohlsen, and Justin Medeiros (before becoming the champ) were a few athletes to compete. All of them are absolute-machines.
One of the most interesting things about this event and competition is that there is basically no crowd present. This took place in 2020 at essentially the peak of covid. The lockdown was in full effect.
I watched the video with the goal of analyzing the movements patterns, seeing their technique, noticing their mistakes, and, maybe more importantly, what can be pulled out of the event for the world of weightlifting, powerlifting, and sports performance. Why? Because in my belief, CrossFit is typically more ahead of the times regarding entertainment. And even, to a very small point, they are ahead with their practical application of strength and conditioning.
The first athlete I watched squat in the video was Noah Ohlsen. I immediately noticed his super, super-wide back squat foot position. One thing I immediately thought about, if I was coaching somebody in this competition, leading into the games I would interchange low bar and high bar back squat. I would do this because if the athlete got thrown a competition like a back squat challenge, the low bar (still training full depth) plays into the test better. The test is who can squat the most and the low bar squat helps with squatting more weight.
Next up, I got to see Justin Medeiros, as a rookie, take his first attempt. I think the guy is going to be a dominant force going forward (just want to put that out there). I noticed Medeiros has a good squat technique. He demonstrated an upright posture and the ability to drive right up out of the hole.
Then came Sam Kwant succeeding at the weight of 405 lbs. Sam appeared to be taller and longer limbed than the other athletes. At this time, one thing that blows me away, and I think people are figuring this out because of Fraser, these professional athletes weighing around 205 lbs need to be able to smash 500 lbs. At Garage Strength, we have athletes who walk around at 150 lbs and can squat 465 to 485 lbs weighing a quarter less than professional CrossFit athletes. Everyone knows the transfer of training with the squat is tremendous. I’m a little perplexed that these guys aren’t coming in squatting around 440 lbs from the jump.
This brings me to a critique I have for CrossFit training. Some of the stuff I watch is okay. But I also think the training is made very complicated and doesn’t have to be. Yes, the sport is complicated and hard. And to me, it is very similar to training a wrestler. There are a lot of movements and skills needed. Either way, the transfer of training of the back squat will payoff.
Then came Jeffrey Adler squatting 425 lbs. He had great movement, nice depth, and didn’t even bother to pull up his knee sleeves.
Here is another thing I want to point out. It blows me away that sports like powerlifting and weightlifting exist in the time there is CrossFit. In the video I watched, you can see how CrossFit has everything set up. They roll the camera around from platform to platform. I can’t believe powerlifting and weightlifting don’t copy this format of the competition. Just take CrossFit’s presentation of the sport and make the changes! Anyone who has ever been to a powerlifting competition knows it is horribly boring. It is like watching paint dry. The CrossFit format is boom, boom, boom, action-packed, and SO MUCH more fun. Why aren’t these other sports doing this?
Watching Noah’s second attempt, I noticed his bar was slightly low. I’d have him put the bar even lower. Medieros went next and smacked 455 lbs, right around 208 kilos. Then Kwant came in at 425 lbs.
Here I found it necessary to point out how strategic the athletes need to be. They can’t come in and just go for broke. They have to come in at an 80-82%, jump to 90%, and then go for broke on the third attempt depending on what everyone else is doing. Being that this squat competition was a part of a larger event, the Crossfit Total, which included the overhead strict press and deadlift as well.
Fraser’s second attempt he hammered 455 lbs. As we all know, he has a weightlifting background and is a shorter-limbed individual. He squats with a super narrow stance too. This made me want to point out to take note of how the athletes’ hips move. For instance, Noah Ohlsen looks like he has very mobile hips; I also think it may not necessarily be the mobility of his hips but actually how his socket moves.
Coming back around, Adler squatted 450 lbs very well. Which got me wondering: why hasn’t CrossFit switched to kilos? The sport is becoming way more international. Heck, it will make things easier for Rogue! Kilos are also just more universal. Make the switch.
Then came Ohlsen’s 3rd attempt at 435 lbs. His chest comes down a bit in the squat but the attempt is successful. I don’t like how he does this little hop-up as he braces before sinking into the squat. I also noticed he has a few ankle issues because his knees don’t travel over his toes. Noah Ohlsen almost squats like me. Which is bad.
Medeiros for his 3rd attempt took 465 lbs. I like him as a competitor. I don’t know him as a human being, but he brings the intensity. All white lights on that attempt. This attempt also makes me want to restate that these athletes need to push their squats up even higher with their body weight. I know they have to run a lot, but it is so easy to improve their strength.
This may come across as an aside, but I have to point it out at this moment. CrossFit makes the athletes squat through a full range of motion. There is no denying the depth in the squats being performed in this competition.
Kwant’s 3rd attempt at 445 lbs looked great. His technique was excellent as well. Fraser took 482 lbs on his third attempt. He performed a nice, champion grind there.
Brooke Wells went first at 290 lbs. The squat was solid.
I immediately thought of female athletes I have at the gym. For instance, Hayley Reichardt, who competes as a 49-kilo lifter, about 105 to 110 lbs, has squatted 150 kilos or 330 lbs. Most CrossFit women competing at the games walk around at 150-165 lbs, so 65 kilos all the way up to 75 kilos. I think female athletes can push 150 to 160 kilos pretty easily, especially for professional athletes who are this coordinated and capable of holding a solid posture.
Then I got to watch Katrin Davidsdottir. It looked like she had 265 lbs on the bar. Her stance came across as typical. She collapsed a little bit in the bottom but the lift wasn’t terrible.
When we start to think about the back squat, we know it can improve dynamic trunk control, improve the weightlifting movements of the snatch, jerk, and clean, improve the deadlift, improve speed, and enhance the posterior chain. It is a simpler movement with a great transfer to other movements and lifts.
Halye Adams came in next. She is typically not a super-strong CrossFitter with strength movements. I think cleaning up her lifting technique can go a long way. I also think putting her on a program that focuses and biases the training to increase her max strength will come with immediate results.
And then up stepped Tia-Clair. Her first attempt looked like it was about 330 lbs. The first thought I had is everybody noticing her valgus knees and being upset she does this. Clearly, it doesn’t bother her or in any way limit her ability to squat a lot of weight, especially relative to her competition.
Looking at the ticker listing the weights being squatting, I noticed 5th place’s squat was at 235 lbs. You hear some CrossFit coaches going on and on about all this theory and you have people squatting these bogus weights? Come on! These girls need to be squatting more weight. I don’t think it is as challenging as it is made out to be.
Back to the competition. Brooke Wells hit what I think was 310 lbs. It was solid, maybe some valgus issues. Ehh. People might say it is quads related, glutes related, or hips related. Valgus knees may be related to genetics. There are some people who just tend to do it. People will say to squat with bands on or work the glutes. The only time I have ever seen valgus knees go away was by holding a med ball between the knees so that when the tactile cue of hitting the medball occurred, the athlete was forced to drive the knees out.
Kari Pierce then came in and smacked her attempt.
To be fair, I know these were their first attempts, so the attempts should be around 80-82%. I know I was roasting the athletes, but whatever, 80% of 150 kilos is still 120 kilos or 265 lbs. Yes, I know they have to swim and they have to run, but these numbers aren’t phenomenally challenging.
Davidsdottir’s second attempt looked technically better than her first attempt. Again, watching this is so much fun to watch as a viewer! Why does weightlifting continue to want to be so boring?
Haley Adams came in for her second attempt. She had a little collapse, looking like she had a little bit of a strength issue coming out of the bottom. She does have long legs. With that said, it is clear to me that she should be squatting low-bar in a test like this.
Tia just smacked her next attempt with easy and good movement. Her weightlifting background, multiple CrossFit Games champion, and is a 2016 Olympic athlete all showcase her abilities.
From here we headed into the third attempt. The winner to be was clear (Tia). The other athletes still needed to compete. Brooke Wells came out and squatted 320 lbs. The bar moved quickly. Which is another thing. When training for a big back squat, especially going full depth, it is the speed of the bar out of the bottom, catching that stretch-shortening cycle while squeezing in the trunk and driving the chest up.
Kari Pierce then came in at 272 lbs.
I’m still disappointed in CrossFit coaches. Put them on full blast: step up max strength work and figure out how to contrast it with everything else. Heck, I train Kim Stambaugh, who got 4th at the Master’s event, who can squat 240 lbs at 59 years old!
Katrin’s last attempt looked solid technique-wise. Watching her take this attempt made me want to have these athletes squat using pauses. Some of the athletes just don’t look comfortable in the bottom.
Haley Adams on her third attempt grinded her way to a successful third attempt for a good, solid lift at 120 kilos. My recommendation? Go low bar in a competition like this!
Toomey, on cue, hit her third attempt and won the competition.
My big takeaway is that CrossFit knows how to present their sport really, really well. Older sports, older heads, boom babies, all need to take notes to figure out how to make weightlifting and powerlifting more entertaining. It’s easy; the blueprint is right there.
My next takeaway is that CrossFit coaches need to step up what they’re doing with max strength work and how they piece it all together within the programming. Sometimes I think the coaches go way overboard. I would look at it from the perspective of the transfer of training, techniques that can be used in the test, and how well it can carry over to other movements.
I love watching CrossFit. It is super entertaining and the athletes are explosive, competitive, and phenomenal. So please, please, please! Weightlifting and powerlifting, takes notes, figure it out, and make it exciting!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.