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You Can Get Strong Doing CrossFit

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I still blame the 2012 Regionals. This is where Regionals got heavy and everyone was like “holy shit I need to get strong”, ignoring that while you need to get strong you need everything else too in this sport!

There’s a tendency to want to take a break from metcons to focus on strength. Or Olympic Lifting. The common belief being that you can’t get strong and develop other areas simultaneously. Even in CrossFit, which is famous for blurring the lines between strength and endurance and power and speed etc etc, this belief prevails.

You might hear the argument that the elite level (Regionals/Games) are focusing less on metcons and hitting up more strength in their off season. While it’s a good idea to cycle in and out of focus areas in your training, they’re not dropping these completely. They’ve probably gone from 4-6 metcons plus a day when peaking for The Games to 2 or so.

You’ve potentially also ignored the others who said they’ve done a lot more cardio and/or gymnastics too. Rich knew his running was a big weakness and put the extra work in (5:10 in).

What this means is that in addition to their regular CrossFit workouts, they’re hitting some extra distance work or like Brent Fikowski making sure you don’t let two days go by without some strict handstand push up work.

Taking a look at these stats,the level of absolute strength for Male CrossFitters is plateauing to a degree. So now we can say that we know how strong an athlete has to be for CrossFit. (Of course, now that we’ve established that, it will change) BUT, and here’s the thing, you need to be strong and fast and have endurance and have epic gymnastics! Strength alone can’t buy your way out of every other aspect.

An issue with CrossFit is that at times you can feel weak as a result of it. Whereas if you start into a barbell programme, you can feel a lot stronger. Here’s where it can feel very attractive, and you may gain a few kilos in your lifts. The issue is you may have achieved the same result (or more) by carrying on CrossFit. You may have hit that PR in your snatch just as easily by maxing out on Saturday than by following a pure percentage program for 8 weeks with no maxes.

Unfortunately in my time I have seen people leave CrossFit to focus on their Olympic Lifts (which are behind what they “need” them to be) and then leave Olympic Lifts to focus on strength building. It can be a vicious cycle. (Checkout this Cheesecake & Barbells blog that goes into greater depth on the allure of exclusive strength work.)

Yes, you may need more work on your Olympic Lifts than your running and burpees. Certain movements need more work than others, as they’ve a higher technical component and greater carryover to the sport. Credit Jacob Tsypkin on the hierarchy of movements. What’s often overlooked is the power of an extra few minutes before/after class where you can work on your lifting. OR your engine. OR your handstands. (This is why we’ve developed our quick pull up and handstand programmes for our members if it’s an area that needs development)

Done right, anything can be accessory work. This is the key to how you can get stronger doing CrossFit. We’ll concede that if all you do are long, slow, bodyweight only chippers or go from zero to exceptionally high volume of running, strength adaptations are going to slow down your gainz. If every workout is a hardcore, super long, gruelling beatdown you won’t improve. But really, who programmes like that anymore?

If you treat each workout as an ability to strengthen some aspect of your movement, or just improve your conditioning overall, you’re onto a winner. Want to get stronger? Make sure the barbell piece is heavy for you and treat it as sets of 3-5 with short rest. Improve positioning? Make sure you’re hitting absolute full depth in your wall balls rather than breaking parallel. Improve the strength in your overhead? Hit up those Handstand Push Ups.

An incredibly over simplified view is that barbell work will improve your muscular strength, and gymnastics will help strengthen your joints. Again, I feel the need to point out this is overly simplified. In our opinion you really need both for health and longevity in your training.

Just hitting barbell piece after barbell piece can and does take it’s toll on the body. The break by busting a sweat, working on some gymnastics, or speeding through some “light” weights can also give the body much needed rest. Remember CrossFit’s aim is to increase your work capacity. Being able to do more means you’ll be able to hit more sets at higher percentages too, as you’ve developed your body’s ability to handle a bigger workload.

CrossFit, programmed and coached correctly, can and does get you stronger. The real keys are having a well thought out programme (where the strength work and conditioning work are complementary, not antagonistic), a smart approach to training (knowing the purpose of the workout FOR YOU), and the patience and believe to let the programme do it’s magic.

Finally, you don’t need any level of strength to start CrossFit. Here’s Julie Foucher beginning CrossFit…

And a few years later…

Amazing what you can achieve isn’t it? ?

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