Boyle: Olympic lifts are only for the Elite


If your relationship with CrossFit goes back further than a few years, you might know the name Mike Boyle. Boyle is a professional strength and conditioning coach who publicly criticized CrossFit in 2008, claiming CrossFit workouts would “traumatize” shoulders and “destroy lumbar disks.” He compared CrossFit training to beating a client with a baseball bat and “trying to pass that off as training” (The Strength Coach Podcast, episode 19.5). He is also infamous for coming out against the barbell squat. Recently, he was interviewed for a piece in Golf Digest in which he argues that training the Olympic lifts (such as the clean, jerk, and snatch) are inappropriate or even dangerous for anyone other than the very fit.

A few years ago, I might have put together a detailed response to Boyle’s claims, or debated him in the comments section of his article (as I’ve done before). But it’s 2016. Everyone knows lower-carb, higher-fat diets are safe and healthy, everyone knows the professional triathlete isn’t the model of elite fitness, and everyone knows that the Olympic lifts can be safely and effectively taught to anyone. This includes children, pregnant women, the elderly, and amputees.

With the unprecedented success of the CrossFit program over the last decade, Boyle’s opinion on training has grown less and less relevant. The testimonies to the safety and efficacy of CrossFit from people such as General Abrams make his claims easy to dismiss. The ubiquity of the CrossFit methodology means nearly everyone has a grasp of how essential, natural and safe the Olympic lifts are when they are taught with a PVC pipe and medicine ball.

By claiming the opposite, Boyle is only betraying his own effectiveness as a coach. He admittedly avoids the clean, jerk and snatch to escape the challenge of working with weak and inflexible joints. This is a reasonable solution for a first-time workout, but any coach worth his or her salt should be targeting these limitations, not avoiding them.

The value of addressing Boyle’s article is not in defending the CrossFit methodology in the face of cogent criticism–his article never achieves that level. Rather, we should recognize Boyle’s ideas as a sort of historical artifact from the fitness industry’s past. Like the fear of squatting, step-aerobics, and the low-fat diet, Boyle’s training philosophy is now fading into a long list of fitness-industry mistakes. These mistakes might be obvious to us for the moment, but history repeats itself. It is good to occasionally reflect on these ideas, both to shake our heads and laugh, and to prevent what was old from becoming new again.




  1. I’ve been waiting the last 5 years of my life for this article. I spent a lot of my time as a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning coach arguing with Boyle’s acolytes. Being in CT, tons of my athletes had been directly exposed to him, and a few even refused to squat a barbell. These were athletes who, when tested, could not squat their bodyweight for even a single rep, who suffered from horrifying movement deficiencies that could have been totally avoided if they had simply been taught to squat properly.

  2. Great links provided.. I just got done listening to the CF Radio episode 3.5.. My favorite take away from this is that there were only 750 affiliates when this episode was recorded.. I would tend to think that the market has made is decision since 2008. It was also fun to listen to Rob Wolff and Mark Rippatoe in that era.

    I can’t get much understanding of Boyle’s philosophy due his continued vagueness. I think the major flaw in his program is his protection/pampering of the back. We use the posterior chain as the centerpiece of athleticism and he sees it as something that needs protection. The attacks of the mainsite WOD are based on their dislike of anyone giving away programming for free. Boyle and Cook have spent the last 20 years with a corner on the market and then CF comes along and pulls back the curtain.. Our local HS football team’s S&C was trusted to a team of their acolytes for a solid 6 months. This was a dream scenario for any strength coach. The results were catastrophic. 3 losses attributed to lack of both strength and conditioning. (winning at halftime then losing by 14+) The total record was 1-9, but those were the only 3 games where we were competitive.

    Boyle just can’t get the WOD “Grace” out of his head.. Almost 10 years later and it still haunts him. I wonder if he has one athlete that could complete Heavy DT from the 2015 Games.

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