The Isabel CrossFit Workout

woman performing isabel crossfit workout

We’re nearing the end of an Olympic weightlifting cycle at 26, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by doing Isabel–a benchmark CrossFit workout.

I first did Isabel just weeks into my CrossFit journey. I remember standing at the whiteboard, thinking, “How can I possibly get a good workout when Isabel is just a couple minutes long?” Let’s just say I was humbled and leave it at that. LOL.

In this post, I’ll share some tips on how to approach Isabel so you’re ready to attack the next time you attempt it–whether this week at 26 or down the road. But first, a little background on the Isabel CrossFit workout.

What is the Isabel CrossFit Workout?

Isabel consists of one movement and one movement only—snatches. To be more specific, Isabel has 30 snatches performed as quickly as possible.

You can technically power or squat snatch the bar, although I’d strongly urge you to stick with the power snatch. Each rep starts from the ground and finishes with the hips and knees fully extended and the bar locked out overhead.

You can also perform 60 alternating dumbbell power snatches if barbell snatch isn’t your jam.

Isabel became a CrossFit benchmark workout in 2004, and the current record holder is Eddie Hall, a World’s Strongest Man champion, with a time of 50.9 seconds.

How to Approach the Isabel CrossFit Workout

If you’re freaking out about trying to do Isabel in less than one minute…don’t.

Most athletes should aim for 3-5 minutes. It’s okay to go slightly over that target time, but if you’re much over that 5-minute mark, you should consider a lighter weight next time (and there’s no shame in that—it’s a tough workout!).

Going in with a strategy will make you more likely to hit that time domain. Here are a few tips.

Don’t Skip the Warm-Up

Isabel is a full-body burner, and warming up is absolutely essential (that is, if you want to perform it safely and efficiently).

I usually start my classes with a couple of minutes of easy rowing, biking, or other cardio to get the blood pumping.

Then, we do a bit of mobility. I usually prep for snatches with 2-3 sets of 10 PVC pass-throughs, 6-8 reps of scorpion stretch, and 0:30 Samson stretch on each side.

From there, I recommend a few reps of each position in the Burgener snatch warm-up with a PVC or an empty barbell.

Once you feel ready, you can start building up to the weight you’ll use for Isabel.

Pick the Right Weight

The prescribed weight for Isabel is 135 pounds for guys and 95 pounds for ladies. However, that’s not the right weight for all (or even most) people.

Choose a light to moderate weight (no more than 60 percent of your one-rep snatch) that allows you to complete all 30 reps with great form.

Still unsure which weight to use? Look for one that allows for five touch-and-go reps with good form but feels challenging by rep five. Test this out in the warm-up, then take a few minutes to recover before you start the workout clock.

Go in With a Plan

If I’ve learned ANYTHING from my multiple Isabel experiences, it’s the importance of going in with a plan.

At some point, you’ll want to stop. Thirty reps don’t seem like a lot during the whiteboard, but that number starts to feel pretty daunting after just a few reps.

You’ll need to average 8-12 reps per minute to hit the 3-5 minute target time. Start the workout with five touch-and-go reps if you can, then take a couple of breaths and do it again (and again). Don’t think about number 30–just focus on performing your next few reps with great form.

At some point, you might need to decrease to three touch-and-go reps and maybe even singles. That’s okay, but don’t walk away from the bar! Embrace the suck and keep the rest to a minimum.

Focus on Form

When the going gets rough, stay focused on form. This will help keep you safe and also give you something to think about other than, “How in the world 30 little reps can feel so tough?!”

Start with the barbell near your shins, just over the top of your shoelaces, with a proud chest. Now, drive with your legs, explode through the hips, and pull yourself under the bar every single rep.

Avoid swinging the barbell away from your body as you move from your deadlift into your high pull. You want to keep it close to your body!

Use the Hook Grip

Isabel is challenging enough without worrying about the barbell flying out of your hand! This is where the hook grip comes in handy.

The hook grip prevents the barbell from rolling toward your fingertips in rotational movements. It also gives you a sturdier hold on the barbell, making your forearms less likely to fatigue.

To get into a hook grip, start by wrapping your hand around the barbell. Then, tuck the top of your thumb under your first and middle fingers. You’ll want to cover the area from the base of your thumbnail to the top of your first knuckle.

This will feel awkward at first, so it’s best to practice it at a very low weight before attempting to use it in Isabel. Ask your coach to check your grip if you have any questions about how it should look and feel.

Remember: It’s Just a Couple of Minutes

You can do ANYTHING for 3-5 minutes. Go fast and take some chances (as long as you have great form)!

Ready to Try the Isabel Crossfit Workout?

Ready to take on this benchmark CrossFit workout?

Heck yeah, you are!

Two Sixers, we’ll see you tomorrow for some fun and fitness. If you’re trying it elsewhere, let us know how it went in the comments!

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