I hear it all the time as a coach, “I would be so much better at CrossFit, if I could just get stronger!” My response is always the same – What’s your training look like?
That first answer tells me everything I need to know. “Well, I come in and build up to a tough set of squats about 3 times a week. Then, I’ll do a short, hard metcon to help with building strength faster.” Another example might be, “I follow a weightlifting specific program! I snatch, clean & jerk every day, then I hit whatever WOD is on the whiteboard.”
I hate to burst your bubble, but if this is what your training looks like, you’ll never perform as well as you could. To reach your full strength potential there are 3 specific programming issues we need to fix now:
1. Too much strength work is devoted to highly technical lifts.
2. There is not enough prescribed tempo and pause work.
3. The “metcon” training is typically too intense, which makes it impossible to fully recover from heavy barbell work.
Learn more about how to program strength work and metcons.
1. Strength and the technical lifts.
Let’s say we have someone that can squat 300-pounds, but they can only snatch 100-pounds or so due to some basic technique and mobility limitations. That’s not at all uncommon for new Crossfitters.
If the prescribed strength work consists mostly of snatch, clean and jerk, then none of the reps will actually be heavy enough to cause a strength adaptation. Their poor weightlifting skills won’t allow them to lift a challenging and progressive load, so the only training outcome is wasted time and effort.
It’s essential to work your snatch technique, but that alone is not enough. You have to include some assistance movements in the mix to help encourage strength adaptations. And no, these shouldn’t be automatically lumped into your metcon rounds.
As an example, heavy overhead squats are a great way to increase loading and strengthen the snatch early on. Also, if I were you, I would spend a lot more time performing lunges and single-leg squats of all kinds. Together with your heavy squats, that balanced approach to building strength and skill is sure to boost your performance quickly.
2. Increase the tempo and pause work.
You could be lifting too light, even though your technique is great. But the total time spent under tension is another important consideration.
If you want to get really strong in all key body positions, then you MUST practice being strong at every joint angle. You need plenty of static holds and slow eccentric efforts built into your programming.
Think about the typical set of squats. You probably work up to a heavy set of 1, 3 or 5 reps, right? That’s great, but the total time spent under tension during that set might only be 10 seconds, max. That’s just not enough stimulus for new strength athletes. You need to accumulate more time under load to stoke the adaptations.
The next time you squat, take about 3-5 seconds to lower each one of your reps. Sit in the very bottom for 1-3 seconds, motionless and upright, then explode up! Work the load up weekly, just as you would with a regular squat.
Even though you won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight, you will no doubt feel the difference. An additional 30-60 seconds of tension is all the difference in the world.
For a program specifically designed to increase your strength AND your conditioning, check out the Shrugged Strength Challenge. You can sample a FREE week here.
3. Condition hard, but skip the damage.
There’s a common misconception out there – If you want to maintain strength, then you need to do short, heavy and max effort metcons. This is flat out wrong for a couple of reasons.
First, you have to think about recovery. A brutal metcon is going to drain the energy that you could otherwise put into your next strength training session. That’s fine if you’re after general fitness, but it’s disastrous if strength is actually the real goal. Whatever you do, don’t sabotage yourself. There’s no time for that.
Second, you need to consider the types of movements that you include in your metcon. You need to be careful with exercises that include a heavy eccentric component. I mentioned spending more time lowering loads because that’s a great way to increase muscular tension and your rate of adaptation. But too much of this can be a bad thing. Condition hard, just include movements that minimize muscle damage and recovery demand.
Instead of crushing 5 rounds of thrusters and muscle-ups for time, why not perform handstand holds against a wall, coupled with alternating step-ups and side bridges, all at a moderate pace? You can get as smoked as you like doing that kind of metcon, but you’ll also build skills that will transfer over to your lifts and make you much stronger.
Doesn’t that make a lot more sense?
Ask us anything!
If you have a training question, just leave it in the comments below. We’d love to help you get stronger.
Also, if you’re in need of a better strength program you’re in luck. We’ve got an all-new program designed to add 50 pounds to your squat while reducing your “Helen” time by three minutes. Sample a free week of workouts and the testing you’ll see from the Shrugged Strength Challenge program here.
Train hard, train smart,