Crossfit barbell movements : The basics and more

By Krystal Dollery
Sep 23 2022
Crossfit barbell movements

Crossfit barbell movements : The basics and more

Often referred to as functional fitness, Crossfit workouts are known for a diversity of movements that promote strength, power, agility, speed, and muscular endurance. Crossfit exercises can be expected to have some combination of jump rope, squats, pull ups, box jumps, medicine ball movements, and ring muscle movements, combined with any number of barbell exercises.

But let’s be honest, for most of us, Crossfit barbell movements are the sole reason we drag ourselves back to the box day after day bruised and battered–everything else is just background noise (that usually accompanies a groan).

Crossfit barbell exercises are among the most effective barbell exercises by executing olympic lifts that engage several muscle groups and core muscles while building muscular endurance and strengthening the posterior chain.

Because Crossfit barbell exercises are so varied, they can be easily done in a home gym with little more equipment than a barbell, bumper plates, and clips.

woman with Crossfit barbell

How to Grip the Barbell During Barbell Exercises

Overhand grip

Overhand grip: your hands grasp the bar with your palms  facing inward toward your body.

Hook grip

Hook grip: your palms are facing inward, with your thumb tucked underneath the other fingers. This grip is very beneficial as it allows the thumb to wrap more around the bar and be secured by the other fingers to prevent slippage and promote grip strength.

Mixed grip

Mixed grip: one palm faces inward and the other faces outward at shoulder width. Most commonly seen in the deadlift, this grip allows you to lift more when moving heavy loads.

Conventional Deadlift

Routine Crossfit training enhances athletic performance by building both lower body and upper body strength by engaging multiple muscles across several movements. The most basic of these movements, and probably the most common, is the deadlift as the majority of barbell movements begin by deadlifting the barbell off of the floor.

What is a Conventional deadlift?

Begin at the starting position with your feet hip width apart, your feet should be halfway under the bar. Your hips should be back, your knees slightly bent, and you should hinge at the waist while maintaining a tight core, flat back, and neutral neck then pull, pull, pull!

Sumo Deadlift and Sumo Deadlift High Pull

The sumo deadlift in Crossfit  is a variation of deadlift with a stance greater than feet hip width apart and your grip should be stacked under the shoulders to engage a nice strong pull for the shoulders. This is a great Crossfit barbell movement as it teaches a strong hip drive needed for other movements. You want to keep your wrists straight, shoulders engaged, a tightened core, your neck and back in a straight line, with straight arms as you pull up to a standing position.

In addition to the sumo deadlift, is the sumo deadlift high pull (SDLHP as seen written in crossfit workouts). The SDLHP is executed in the same manner as the sumo deadlift with the exception of the pull up and arm position. Where the sumo deadlift maintains a grip shoulder width apart, the sumo deadlift high pull requires a closer grip, just inside shoulder width. Rather than stopping the pull up at the hips, the sumo deadlift high pull requires a high pull up to the shoulders–elbows flared, shoulder blades flat, upper back engaged. 

Slowly lower the barbell to the ground to avoid injury.

Barbell Clean and Jerks

Some variation of jerks can be found in most crossfit exercises as they employ explosive movements and generate power needed for a heavy one rep max.

Beginning with a barbell clean, you should start with your feet shoulder width apart, back flat, core tight, neck in a neutral position, and straight arms. As you rise from the starting position, your knees should slightly bend, hips should sit back, and the barbell should graze the thighs.

Barbell Clean and Jerks

Split Jerk

The split jerk is a powerful crossfit movement typically done by more advanced Crossfitters as you need to be able to manage the weight safely overhead. 

You should position your feet hip width apart, arms should be shoulder width apart, explode from the hips (engaging the hip flexors) and drive the barbell overhead in a straight line. 

As the barbell drives upward, your body drops under the barbell, and you catch the barbell with legs split, with one leg forward and the opposite leg extended back as if in a lunge position. The split jerk allows lifters to lift heavier weight by covering less distance while dropping under the barbell.

Squat Jerk 

From the front rack position, slightly dip then jerk the bar overhead in a rapid, explosive manner and lower yourself into an overhead squat. The squat jerk improves lower body and upper body strength by engaging muscles from both. 

The correct form requires a tight core, feet hip width apart, a wide grip, arms extended, and knees driven outward when caught in the squat position with the barbell overhead.

Push Jerk vs Push Press

The push jerk is similar to the push press as it requires grip at shoulder width, feet shoulder width apart, and full extension with the bar overhead. What separates these two movements is the explosive overhead movement that makes the push press into a push jerk, and the position in which the barbell is received. 

In a push press, you keep our knees and hips to full extension, while with the push jerk, you slightly bend into a dip as you catch overhead, and stand back up. Because of this difference, it is faster to cycle through a push press than a push jerk.

Looking for Another Overhead Position?

There is something about throwing a bar overhead that makes us feel powerful and invincible. It’s the ultimate test of core strength and strength of shoulders. 

Overhead squat

Similar to the squat jerk, the overhead squat employs all of the same movements with only minor exceptions. Rather than a rapid drop under the barbell, you take a deep breath and lower yourself slowly  into a squat below parallel with arms extended in a wide grip overhead, and core tight. 

Feet should remain flat, careful not to rock back and forth, as you balance your overhead squat. By maintaining a wide grip (extended beyond shoulder width apart) you are placing the workload on both our shoulders and upper back.


With all of the hate of the burpee and twice the work, comes one of the most dreaded of the crossfit exercises: a thruster with a barbell. Just the thought of it is enough to send a shiver from the shoulders down the posterior chain.  The thruster boasts a combination of several movements including a clean, front squat, up to a push press.

We begin a thruster with either a power clean or a squat clean, with feet under the shoulders, back flat, knees bent, and a neutral neck.

What separates the power clean from the squat clean is the catch. As we drive the bar up, engaging the hip flexors, we thrust the elbows forward and high to a rack position. Where we catch the barbell in a front rack position in both movements, for a power clean, the movement stops there and for a squat clean, we make a rapid drop under the barbell into a squat.

If you need a minute to mentally prep yourself for the tortue of a thruster, the power clean is the way to go, however it is less work to catch the barbell in a squat clean, ready to explode with momentum.  

Shoulder Press

Beginning in the front rack position, the shoulder press takes the barbell up overhead in a smooth muscle up movement with no momentum from the lower muscles. The shoulder press is a strict movement in which the arms are extended overhead at shoulder width.

Crossfit Exercises with the Squat Position

Front Squat

One of the 9 fundamental movements of Crossfit, the front squat helps develop core strength as well as work your lower body. 

The correct form for a front squat is to stand with feet hip width apart, shoulders back, hips engaged, and squat to depth. One of the most important things to remember with a front squat is to keep the elbows high, as this leads the rest of the body and engages your core.

Ways to Hold the Barbell in a Front Squat

Front rack position–elbows are high and forward, with fingers hooked on the barbell as it rests on upward facing palms.

Cross grip–the barbell rests on the shelf of the shoulders with high, forward elbows and hands crossed, touching the opposite shoulder.

Back Squat

crossfit back squat barbell

Whatever your crossfit fitness goals, the back squat should be a staple in your workouts for its ability to build lower body strength and back strength needed for all crossfit workouts. Your feet should be hip width apart, chest high, head in neutral position, and the barbell should rest across your shoulders.

Barbell Position for Back Squat

  • High barbell position–keeps you upright, as with front squats, with the hips down, and knees pushing forward. The barbell will rest across the top of the shoulders for this back squat.
  • Low barbell position–keeps you leaning forward, with the barbell lined up over the midfoot. In Crossfit, a low barbell back squat, the barbell should rest across your shoulder blades.

Bench Press in Crossfit

The bench press in Crossfit serves as a compound exercise that aids in developing the muscles used for pull ups and muscle ups with a push motion. 

Laying on a bench, grip the bar with palms facing away from the body (like pull ups) and unrack from the rig. Slowly lower the barbell as you breathe in and bring the barbell down to your chest in a reverse plank position. From here, explode the barbell up by extending your arms out for a full bench press. It is imperative to keep your feet planted on the ground for maximum effort and support. 

Last Round!

If you have ever set foot in a Crossfit box, chances are you have done one of the above barbell lifts. Barbell movements allow you to exercise greater control of heavier weight while engaging and strengthening several muscle groups simultaneously. Plus they’re just more fun. 

Try one of these powerful movements on your next wod

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