For years many coaches in CrossFit circles assert that conditioning should take precedence over strength work; some of the biggest names in the biz follow promote this mantra.
This is clear in anyone’s programming that follows a traditional CrossFit model or CrossFit.com where “strength” days are seldom.
And don’t expect to see single-joint hypertrophy work that aims at improving performance and what you look like naked as the cornerstone of group program design either albeit this work is a corollary to all things your clients strive for with their fitness.
For the record, I’m not writing this article to bash CrossFit; I’m writing this to present an alternative way of doing things while STILL utilizing the best aspects of CrossFit.
More importantly, I’m writing this to inform more coaches about the advantages of prioritizing a multitude of special strength measures and how that will translate to improving your clients’ fitness and longevity.
Conditioning > Strength?
Let’s take a closer look at the month of September from CrossFit.com. The ENTIRE month had a total of FOUR “strength-only” days.
(For the record, August had 5 Strength Days, July had 4, and June had 4 respectively.)
Split Jerk 1-1-1-1-1-1-1
Deficit Deadlift 5-5-5-5-5
1 Rep of the following complex for max load:
Deadlift + Hang Clean + Hang Clean and Jerk
Let’s examine this a bit further and discuss WHO is going to incur a strength adaptation if this was there only exposure to strength work over the course of a month.
3 of the 4 days involve complex movement patterns and you’d need to be very efficient with to actually use an appreciable load.
Second, even those that DO use an appreciable load, Olympic Lifting work is quite simply a speed-strength movement that one needs to be proficient with to actually facilitate improvements in the rate of force development (RFD.)
This may come as a shock to you, but Olympic Lifting is not the best way to make athletes more explosive, but a better question should be in group programming who really gives a shit about becoming more explosive anyway!?
Additionally, you’d need to be using appropriate loading/volume prescriptions as well if the goal was an RFD adaptation (75-85% of 1RM) for all sets/reps (between 15-20 total reps).
Again, not many of your athletes are actually going to derive actual benefits here other than the lifts are fun to perform. This is a major reason why we recommend that boxes run specialty courses for Olympic lifting for those that really want to focus on the lifts can do so in a controlled environment.
With that said, I’m not saying don’t EVER program the Olympic Lifts, just DON’T build your program around them.
Who are your clients and what are their goals?
Consider the context first before making your judgment whether or not strength is the most important aspect of fitness. Generally speaking, boxes work with:
- Average general population client that has limited exposure to strength & conditioning
- Their goals initially revolve around body-composition and simply “feeling good.”
- Having the energy to enhance their lives outside of the gym
- Doesn’t care about competing in CrossFit
All things considered, these facts should be the driving force in our group program design. If we’re being honest, where does Olympic lifting or ring muscle-up transitions fit into helping people reach the above goals?
Strength training is connected to other aspects of fitness
“A pyramid is only as big as it’s base” – Louie Simmons
STRENGTH training needs to be a made TOP PRIORITY in group programming as the carryover to health, performance, body-composition is too great to ignore.
It’s been proven that resistance training is more effective at improving body-composition than cardio alone and there various studies that go into more depth on this.
I’m not just talking about with a barbell either.
- Unilateral movements lend themselves to improvements in body composition as well as improving the big lifts like the squat, press, and pull-up
- Loaded carries that promote aerobic capacity, core control, and grip strength.
- Sledwork allows us to train strength and conditioning simultaneously with no axial loading.
- Band-work can improve the quality of ligaments/tendons as well as increase mind-muscle connection.
Most importantly, all of the aforementioned measures are EASY to teach and execute; you don’t need to be an ex D1 athlete to perform this work.
All of these things can help folks reach their goals of looking better & feeling better while still hitting PR’s along the way on the classic lifts.
If you’re going to tell me that a bicep curl cannot influence someones ability to perform a strict pull-up then stop reading now and save your time.
What is “strength training?”
“Muscle hypertrophy gives the lifter a potential advantage for producing greater force” (Fleck & Kramer, 2014).
There is much confusion to what strength training actually is the difference between a variety of special strengths.
Although by definition strength is “the ability to exert maximal force” we are going to look a strength from more of a wholelistic approach encompassing all tools that improve it. directly and indirectly.
With that said, in our model of “strength training” hypertrophy work is a mainstay and allows us to accomplish:
- Improve body composition
- Improve muscular imbalance and posture
- Improve the strength of smaller muscle groups that assist in complex movements which then allows our athletes to perform complex movements with less risk of injury.
- Improve neuromuscular efficiency allowing your athletes to actually use more muscle fibers to generate more force.
This allows us to consistently assess where our clients are lacking and give them the tools to succeed. Additionally, they are able to CLEARLY see where they are weak and take ownership of their limiting factors.
They’ll also be less likely of getting injured because we’ve prioritized building their base of fitness. Not to mention getting a “pump” is pretty damn cool!
Box Programming Training Plan
Now that we know that “strength training” is going to encompass work other than compound movements of 1-5 reps we can start to think about how to put this work into context.
Other things that fit into this plan are things like a variety of loaded carries and sledwork. This allows us to improve strength qualities, train the aerobic system, but because there is no axial loading we don’t run the risk of piling too much work on our clients.
Not mention this work is critical in building work-capacity so when we do program an arduous hero workout on a holiday, your clients will be more capable of handling higher doses of work.
Some things that we want to make sure happen:
- We train all planes of motion.
- We couple our strength and conditioning work so the latter does not impair the former
- Include single-joint special exercises to develop key musculature DAILY (in our programming the upper-back, glutes, triceps, biceps, and hamstrings get a lot of attention.)
- Use unconventional, low-skill methods such as sleds, loaded carries, or lower effort aerobic work to bridge the gap between hard training sessions
Our system has been refined over the last 10 years. I did not come up with it overnight and a countless amount of hours went in (and are still going in) to its development.
This template prioritizes multiple forms of strength work in a concurrent (Conjugate) manner, as well as a balance of energy systems, work to complement our strength systems.
In our group programming, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few so we want to assume people are going to train at our facility more than twice a week.
Here’s a closer look:
Max Effort Lower-Body
– Rotate between a variety of squats and pulls such as Back and Front Squats Variations, Box Squats, Overhead Squats, Sumo Deadlifts, Rack Deadlifts, Power Clean or Power Snatch, Squat Snatch, Squat Clean, Goodmornings.
– Train MAXIMALLY 1-5 rep maxes. With the more taxing movements like deadlift variations, maxes tend to be 1-3 rep maxes with full recovery between sets.
– Training MAXIMALLY is a relative term in which your beginner to intermediate folks may simply be working on technique or building to a moderate load.
– Conditioning work is higher-threshold, shorter duration typically with opposing movement patterns ie. if we trained a heavy posterior chain for strength work and the conditioning will likely have more anterior dominance.
– 1 Accessory movement to train the abs or posterior chain. This is done for HIGH volume.
An Example of A training Day:
1) Wide Stance Parallel Box Squat: 3RM. Rest 2:00
2) 10 Rounds of:
200 Ft. Sledpull Powerwalk. Rest 60-90s.
3) Standing Abs: 4 x 25. Rest 60s.
Repetition Upper-body or Dynamic Effort Upper
– Rotate between straight strength-hypertrophy work for the upper-body or speed variation.
– Train sub-maximally for rep work 8-15 rep range, multi-joint coupled with single-joint work
– For DE work ranges from 75-85% OF 1RM for 6-8 sets of 2-3 reps done every 60-90s.
– Dynamic Effort work also acts as a teaching tool for newer athletes.
– Conditioning work is slower today, more aerobic system, aerobic power work.
– 1 Accessory movement for either the abs, biceps, triceps, or upper-back
An example of a training day:
1a) DB Bench Press, Neutral Grip: 4 x 8-10. Rest 30s.
1b) 1-Arm KB Rows: 4 x 8-10 each. Rest 30s.
2) EMOM 20:
MINUTE 1: 200m Run
MINUTE 2: 15 S20H (135, 95)
MINUTE 3: 15 Box Jumps w. step down (24, 20)
MINUTE 4: 15 T2B
3) Banded OH Tricep Extensions: 4 x 25. Rest 60s.
– LONG DURATION AEROBIC WORK
– SKILL WORK
– GPP WORK
– The purpose of today is to either work on the aerobic system that we can do a number of ways, skill-based work that works to reinforce good movement patterns, or recovery to manage the effects of stress.
An example training day:
1) Skill work
ODD Minutes: 30-40s of Gymnastics Skill
EVEN Minutes: 15 Banded Pull-aparts + 10 Hollow Rocks
5 Rounds of:
500 Meter Row
150 Ft. Farmer Carry (AHAP)
60s Active Recovery on Air Bike
3) 5 Minutes of Parasympathetic Breathing
Dynamic Effort Lower-body
– The purpose of this work is submaximal barbell work that serves to develop movement efficiency and/or develop rate of force development.
– Sets range from 8-12 sets x 2-4 reps per set, every 60s with 60-70% of 1RM.
– Variations include all squats and pull variations as well as the Olympic lifts.
– Dynamic Effort work also acts as a teaching tool for newer athletes.
– Conditioning work is higher-threshold, shorter duration OR could be slower/aerobic depending on how Friday is structured.
– 1 Accessory movement to train abs or posterior chain
An example of a training day:
1) Wide Stance Parallel Box Squat: 8 x 3 @70% of Monday’s 3RM, every 60s.
2) 4 Rounds of:
12 Deadlifts (225, 155)
12 Bar Facing Burpees
Rest 3:00 after each round
3) Banded Leg Curl: 3 x 50 each. No rest.
Max Effort Upper-body
– Heavy compound movement up to a 1-5 Rep Max with full recovery between sets.
– Variations include a variety of bench press, floor press, overhead press, pull-up/chin-up, jerks.
– Conditioning threshold dependent on Thursday and could range from shorter/faster to slower/longer.
– 1 Accessory movement for biceps, triceps, abs, or upper-back
An example of a training day:
1) Medium Grip Floor Press: Build to a 1RM. Rest 2:00
2) AMRAP 15:
10 Hang Power Cleans (135, 95)
400 Meter Run
Rest 60s after each round
3) Banded Facepull-aparts: 4 x 30. Rest 60s.
– The goal today is to work with another athlete and have fun!
– This work today will be longer, 25+minutes
– The output of the workout will vary based off the last 72 hours of work
– Recovery Measures for accessory work
An example of training day:
1) For time with a partner:
Wallballs (20, 14)
KBS (53, 35)
Walking Lunges (BW)
Calories on the Rower
*2 Rope Climbs after each round.
**One athlete works at a time. Split as needed.
2) 5 minutes of Parasympathetic Breathing
*For most gyms this is an “open gym” day, but for those that do run programming I typically schedule work that’s a culmination of the past week while still taking into account the upcoming week.
There are NO benchmark workouts done on Sunday’s.
Bringing it all together
If you’re looking for a different way of doing things that allow people to get better with all aspects of their fitness, but NOT leaving anything on the table this method will get them there.
Because of the way the weeks structured regardless of what your clients’ schedule is they will be exposed to work THEY need and whether it’s more hypertrophy work or aerobic work.
Haphazardly programming 5 x 5 Back Squat or 7 x 1 Jerk is NOT going to get people closer to their goals; there are just too many drawbacks to going that route like not being able to accurately control or assess volume/intensity distribution which often results in overtraining.
What we can do is make our clients hour at our facility useful by using methods that will benefit EVERYONE and not just the less than 1%. More folks can benefit from some direct arm work than they can a Snatch.
The “program for the best, scale for the rest” model negates the needs of those that actually pay your bills – it’s time to start putting the majority of your community first.
The best part is that even your higher-level athletes will benefit from this approach and still get better; everyone’s limiting factors need to be addressed regularly regardless of your goals and level of experience.
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