So I have been getting a lot of questions regarding strength training in the box lately. People have been asking why we don’t do much strength training. The answer is we still do. Let me explain as there is this thing called “periodization training”.
Periodization Makes Me Better
Periodization training is the process of using cycles to accomplish specific goals while simultaneously alleviating the chances of injury. We do this in CrossFit by going through various cycles throughout the year. We use focused strength cycles which utilize traditional and Olympic lifts to build power and strength. We utilize technique and gymnastics cycles to focus on working on development of motor control, neuromuscular communication, and kinesthetic awareness. Finally we use cardiovascular cycles to aid in the development of heart, lung and VO2 capacity. All of these things are important to overall health and wellness for the long term. During any given cycle however there are pieces of the others. For instance lately we have been focusing programming on movement, cardiovascular health, and improvement of joint well being and mobility. All of this is vital to the improvement of lifts and in getting stronger. It is also critical in developing long term joint health and the avoidance of things like knee, ankle, shoulder, and spinal problems which are often closely associated with consistent strength training.
There Is Still Strength Building In Them There WODs
Even during times where we focus more on the building of cardiovascular health and the improvement of technique and movement we still include a pretty decent amount of strength building, just in different ways which are beneficial to your bodies longevity. For instance in the last two weeks we have done the following strength training in classes:
Sept 11th – Clean Waves (this is heavy lifting and very time demanding, a regular tool used by Olympic weightlifters to get stronger)
Sept 15th – 5min EMOM Clean Complex + 5min EMOM Power Clean Heavy Find
Sept 16th – 3RM Sumo Deadlift
Sept 17th – Accessory Work
Sept 18th – Box Squats
Sept 20th – Deadlifts
Sept 23rd – Heavy Front Squats
Sept 25th – 10min To find a heavy Clean Single
As you can see we have been spending a considerable amount of time developing the clean across various ways, while also working on pulls (sumo deadlifts), and squats (box squats & heavy front squats). It all ties in to making the clean a stronger movement. Something a lot of people need to develop and work on. There are even true “heavy” days in there. Of course weight moved in volume is dependent upon the individual and how strong they are within a movement. The goal in focusing on something like this is to develop explosive power through and Olympic lift while simultaneously improving form, something that Olympic lifters don’t really dial in until multiple years of regular and consistent training
“But Coach we do so much cardio! There isn’t enough strength training there.”
Ok so lets talk about the amount of high intensity cardio that is being done. This is important because this develops aerobic and anaerobic fitness. It aids in the improvement of VO2 max, and aids in overall cardio vascular health. This is what will help you to live longer. Did you know though that you are still getting stronger? How? Because we sneak in weights within the WODs.
During a large number of these “cardio based” workouts there are lifts of various rep, weight and intensity. Of course the amount of weight you move is dependent on if you have the skill and technique to move properly. If you find you can’t go as heavy as you’d like odds are that you still have some strength to build sure, but much more likely you may run into conditioning and technique issues that are the limiter for how heavy you can go. Within the last few weeks we have seen the following movements in WODs that are “strength” movements:
KB Swings & Snatches
Sumo Deadlift High Pulls
Shoulder to Overhead
Now if you looked at any of those movements and thought “yeah but I don’t like ____________” or “yeah but I’m not good at ______________ so I don’t come on those days” then you are cherry picking workouts and need to stop. We should be facing the things we have an opportunity to get better at and turn them into strengths. If you are thinking “but I lack the mobility to do ______________ the right way” then you probably lack the mobility to do any vast number of movements the right way and should really think about that before trying to lift heavy or pushing weight. Because if you are showing up on days some of those movements you don’t have the mobility for when they are programmed for strength and trying to get better at them by lifting more, you are going to hurt yourself, period.
Ok, But I Want To Be Stronger
Welcome to the club. A lot of us want to be stronger, and through smart periodization training that shifts the focus through out cycles you will get stronger. You will also improve your overall health and longevity. See most people have mobility issues. Those same people don’t mobilize either. Yet they still come in and try to move a lot of weight. Over time that lack of mobility in the ankles, which causes the knees to shoot forward to far during a squat, resulting in the hips not being set properly, and weight shifting into the toes which means the spine is loaded wrong, will result in long term problems in any one of, if not all, the joints I just mentioned.
When we have a class that the workout ends early and the coach has you do a cooldown to stretch and mobilize it’s to help in increasing your range of motion (ROM) which is best accomplished when muscles are warm. You know who has incredible ROM? Olympic weightlifters and competitive CrossFit athletes. They spend time working on it so that their joints and connective tissues can be under tension the right way, and can lift with perfect form. While this doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get injured or develop a knee issue, the likelihood of that happening is decreased dramatically.
Most people in the gym suffer from mobility issues. Take a look around sometime. Watch for rounded spines, improper set-up in a deadlift, rolling knees and ankles in a squat, or an in ability to get to depth. This isn’t because someone isn’t strong enough. It is because they don’t have the proper ROM to do the movement the right way, and yet they are trying anyway. As coaches we have a responsibility to those people to provide training that works to correct these things through variation in programming.
It Makes Sense, What If I Want To Focus On Lifting?
Well we also offer Olympic lifting classes multiple times a week for those that just want to move some iron. That is a huge part of what we offer, the ability to come in and get directed instruction to improve Olympic lifts without the impact of trying to move against the clock. Instead it is focused on simply moving weight and moving the barbell.
Moving weight is fun, absolutely. It is something that is enjoyable and can be very rewarding. It is also something that if done incorrectly, or without much guidance and thought, can lead to problems. Our Olympic lifting classes provide amazing instruction and strategic development of strength and skill. It’s truly a great way to get stronger.
What About Heavy Lifting
To go heavy all the time isn’t really the healthiest thing for the human body. That is why we go through strength cycles, cycles being the key word here. In the times that we are not in prescribed strength cycles we focus on other things, like movements and doing them the right way. Building cardiovascular health, and utilizing cool down routines to aid in improving mobility.
See it might be really cool to back squat 400lbs but the reality is, its not super healthy for the average human being to do so. Most people lack the requisite mobility to move that kind of weight the right way which will result in serious issues down the line. People that are constantly lifting heavy without taking a break from time to time to focus on other things find themselves developing knee issues, shoulder problems, spinal issues, and a whole slew of other health related problems.
This Is What Coaches Do
I’ve been coaching for a long time, long before CrossFit was around. I’ve seen a lot human movement, it’s been my job. Just like all of you have professions you are great at, I have coaching. Now I don’t claim to know everything and the science is always evolving, but one thing I do know is that you can’t lift heavy all the time. You have to develop other things like skill, cardio, technique, to have true long term health and wellness. That should be the goal. You want to compete in the CrossFit Games? Then yeah you need to jump up your squat and Olympic lifting numbers. You also need to start working on nutrition, mobility, sleep, technique and a whole slew of other things. Most (like 99%) aren’t looking to do that. You also need to know that your shelf life as a functional human being without serious aches, pains, and probably some joint problems is going to be very short. That’s the joy of pushing hard and being an athlete. Most people don’t want to move like their 80 when they are 50 though. Don’t think that is the case? Look at professional power lifters after awhile. Look at the old school guys who pumped iron for years and years and now suffer from hip problems which prevent them from moving properly.
I am not here to scare you into never lifting again. Not even close. What I am here to do is educate you on the proper way to do all of it. CrossFit isn’t about specializing in weightlifting. It’s about “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains,” according to this guy Greg Glassman.
So what is the end result of what I am saying? Trust the process I suppose. Trust that there is strength building in there (you are going to get stronger pushing weight for time by the way, it will happen). Sometimes in a WOD try moving a heavier barbell than you normally would or kettlebell (within the safety of good form always) and be ok with getting a lower score. The only time we as coaches are going to ask you to back down is when we see bad movement that can’t be corrected. Trust that we will do a strength cycle again (soon) and that we have been programming strength in there just not as often in order to give your joints a break. If you looked at that list of strength building we’ve done in the last two weeks and thought “I don’t remember doing all that” then maybe try to attend more classes.
You will see some upcoming 6 week, 8 week, and sometimes 12 week strength bias programming cycles that focus less on cardio and more on strength building. Those times will be followed up with technique and cardio with prescribed cool down stretching periods to help you be healthy and avoid those nasty nagging injuries that come with lifting heavy all the time.
I realize that this still isn’t going to be what some people wanted to hear and that is ok. Our goal is to make you healthier for the long term so that in 10 years you can still run, jump, and play with each other, your kids and even grandkids when the day arrives. If you want something more specialized then you can talk to us about individualized programming options for extra work outside normal classes. We do individualized programming for those that want to supplement their training because they want to compete. If that is your goal we should sit down and talk about what level you are looking to compete at and what that ultimately requires.
In the end if you have specific goals you are trying to accomplish talk to a coach. You want a 400# back squat? Talk to a coach about how to reach that safely and minimize the risk of injury. During that conversation be ready to answer the simple question of “why”, what is important to you about reaching that goal and how does it play into your long term goals of leading a happy healthy life?
Soon we will be entering a pretty lengthy strength focused cycle (though October is focusing on development of proper pull-ups, but don’t worry, there will be some strength building during October as well). So we ask that you trust, as stated before, and believe that our goal is to get you to your goals. We just want to make sure you are safe, healthy, and strong for years to come. We are sure your body will thank us.