Snatch vs Clean & Jerk Part 2: Men vs Women

The Olympic lifts have always been a staple in the CrossFit community. Thousands of CrossFit Affiliates around the world teach the classic lifts to a full spectrum of members both young and old, fit and unfit. BTWB is in a unique position to be able to capture weightlifting data from a wide variety of casual athletes who do CrossFit but may never participate in an actual Olympic Weightlifting meet. In this series of data-driven articles looking at different aspects of the Snatch and Clean & Jerks we will break down the lifts by gender, age, bodyweight, etc. using data from over 100k athletes. Read Part 1 here!

In Part 2 we compare max lifts for men and women and discuss what this might mean for prescribing optimal female weights.

Looking at the ratio between female and male max lifts at different percentiles, we see similar trends between the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. At the upper end we see women’s to men’s lift ratios in the low 60s while at the lower end we see mid-to-high 50s. This suggests that there is a larger difference in ability between the top female lifters and the average female lifters compared to their male counterparts. The top female lifters are also closer in weight to the top male lifters than the average females are to the average males.

Snatch - M vs W.png

Clean & Jerk - M vs W.png

Are we prescribing the right weights for females?

Deciding the right weight for females can be a challenge. CrossFit.com WODs do not normally prescribe weights based on gender- in fact all of the original Girls lack gender-based prescriptions. Over the years the community has adopted common scaling weights, normally ~67-73% of the male Rx’d weights, rounded to the nearest 5 lb increment (with apologies to our metric brothers and sisters). Some common pairings we see are 135/95 lb, 95/65 lb and 225/155 lb. With the advent of the CrossFit Games, CrossFit HQ began “officially” sanctioning male and female weights.  While normally in line with the traditional pairings  sometimes the Games will vary the prescribed pairings based on equipment and other concerns.

Are these the right weights to be using for high rep metcons? Looking at the 1RM charts, it seems like prescribing 60% of the male weights for females would make a lot more sense. With currently prescribed weights women are expected to lift a higher percentage of their 1RM compared to men on average.

In order to explore this further with data, we decided to identify some popular CrossFit benchmarks that include only Snatch or only Clean & Jerk. Ignoring possible physiological differences between the sexes, we would expect women to take longer on average for a workout where they are lifting higher percentages of their 1RM.

In the following table we’ve included the average times for men and women as well as the percentage of athletes who scaled down the workout. For these workouts the main reason for scaling would be because the prescribed weight is too heavy for that athlete (either too heavy to complete, or too heavy to preserve the intended stimulus).

Oly Benchmarks - M vs W.png

Given that these workouts have female weights at around 70% of male weights, we would expect the average finish times to be longer along with a higher percentage of athletes who chose to scale the workout. This is precisely what we see in the table above.

What Do You Think?

Would a 60% prescribed weight for females make distributions match up a little better between genders?  What would Grace or Isabel with 135/80 lb and Randy with 75/45 lb look like for women, men, and their respective times?  Do you think other factors- physiological, psychological, or something else- explain the mismatch in times and scale percentages?  Comment below and join the discussion!

Here are some thoughts from veteran CrossFit Games competitor Christy Adkins regarding the gender differences at the Games level:

“When I saw the numbers and the difference in average times for RX benchmarks like Grace and Randy, I was surprised. I thought the men’s and women’s time would be closer, even with the women’s RX weight being 70% of the men’s. I thought this based on how close many of the scores/times are for the men’s and women’s events at the CrossFit Games.

But taking a closer look at the games weights for 2016, we can see that the exclusively barbell events of the deadlift ladder, the clean ladder and Double DT all have the women using 67% of the men’s weight. For the clean and deadlift ladders, the women’s scores were comparable to the men’s, meaning similar percentages got through the ladder or got as far through in the ladder. For Double DT, the top 20 women’s scores blew the top 20 men’s scores out of the water and the same scaling was used, men at 155# and women at 67% of that: 105#.

What this says to me is that:

  • Maybe 67% is the sweet spot for scaling. Not 60% but not quite 70% either. So maybe it’s Grace at 135/90 and Randy at 75/50.
  • There is a requisite strength for both men and women to be able to do CrossFit benchmarks “as RX”. I think that many women my age (31) and older may not have have the exposure to weightlifting in high school that many men who participated in HS sports did so there is this catching up that is going on for us. So right now, the general population in gyms may not have a high percentage of women doing the “RX” weight. But with more women and girls being introduced to weightlifting and starting earlier, that will change. And the times on the workouts will as well.”

Our Other Data Based Research

Jonathan Kinnick is a Co-Founder of BTWB as well as the owner of CrossFit Kinnick. He’s a Board Member on the CrossFit Trainer (CCFT) Certification Board and a CrossFit CF-L3 Trainer. He’s also completed the CrossFit Coaches Prep, CrossFit Competitor’s, CrossFit Olympic Lifting, CrossFit Endurance, CrossFit Mobility and CrossFit Nutrition courses. He is also a USAW Sports Performance Coach.

Filed under: SnatchVsClean

About the Author

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CF-L3 Trainer and CCFT Board Member. Owner of CrossFit Kinnick in Upland, CA (est. 2007). Co-founder of beyond the whiteboard(@btwb). Lecturer in Economics at Cal Poly Pomona.