Taking Time to get Strong


My trainees are about to undertake a solid month of strength training. Outside of a weekly organized runs, daily bouts of Burpees, double-unders, and warm-ups, we will not be focusing much on “cardio or met-cons.” I’ve been reviewing a growing list of articles and stories from some of the CrossFit communities most respected coaches and trainers concerning the over emphasis on met-cons in many boxes and gyms these days and how it’s negatively impacting performance and competition placing. Long story short as CrossFit’s popularity and reputation for delivering quick results spreads the number of people joining up for weightloss reasons is growing right along with it. There’s no denying CrossFit’s ability to help people shed body-fat, but too many newbies are equating that result to lung bursting met-cons and cardio. They’ve transferred the old notions of steady cardio being the fastest way to weightloss onto their new routines at the box and are seriously neglecting dedicated skill work with the barbell and heavier weights. They struggle with lifting WODs and freak out under anything heavier than an empty Barbell.

Added to this are an abundance of trainers and instructors who believe the ultimate measure of fitness is aerobic endurance and length of training time. An hour of working out may be great value for the price some are charging but there just is no way the average athlete can keep up a solid hour of high intensity training. Even professional athletes take breaks and are asked to perform for no more than 5-8 minutes at one stretch. There’s a very legitimate reason for this; your blood can only fuel 10-90 seconds of all out max effort and only another 3-8 minutes of high intensity effort before your energy stores are burnt out and used up. Sure you could soldier on for another few hours burning body fat if needed but only at an intensity that’s well below your max ability. Think about it, endurance runners aren’t sprinting for 50 miles; their cruising at a steady slower pace that they can maintain for hours. Ask them to sprint and you’ll see that race end a lot sooner. In the same way, power lifters aren’t doing sets of 30-40 reps to grow strength; they do 1-5 reps max of maximum intensity before taking up to 10 minutes to recharge their muscle stores of glycogen and ATP.

What this has to do with focusing on strength training is simple. If you’re struggling to make Rx weight for your CrossFit workouts; it’s probably time to take a step back from group workouts and spend a dedicated training cycle improving your strength and technique with weights. It’s really hard to go balls out on the barbell after you just spent 20 minutes getting thrashed in a met-con. Likewise it’s really hard to recover from max effort lifts (the best way to build strength fast) when that recovery time is being spent on bodyweight high rep moves. Don’t get me wrong you will get stronger from just doing CrossFit workouts, if however you’re serious about hitting those big numbers or even competing it would help you to spend some time getting strong first and getting comfortable under a loaded barbell. Then step back into the group WODs.

If you decide to step back from WODs for a while don’t feel like you’re taking a step backwards. In fact you’re moving forward by being honest about your own ability. Diagnosing a weakness and taking action to correct it is all about humility and maturity. If you’re worried about being able to stay lean trust me you shouldn’t  Stick with a good diet and get in at least 4 days a week of heavy lifting practice and you’ll be shocked just how lean you get as your muscles grow and consume fat for fuel. You’ll also be amazed by how great you feel after your workouts; energized and strong, not beat down and devastated.

I see a lot of trainees in my classes that could use some dedicated lifting work but it’s so hard to get them to understand why no matter how many times we explain it. Despite my experience and the results I’ve helped them achieve the influence of TV and advertising is hard to overcome. They see the athletes at the Games and they want to be like them. Unfortunately they don’t see the hours every week those champion level athletes dedicate just to improving their strength and technique with lifts. Ironically many who need to work on strength the most in my group classes are women, who idolize the CrossFit ladies on TV but are afraid lifting will make them bulky and unmanly.  They get so dejected and demoralized when they can’t make headway with the lifting portion of the WODs but are unwilling to step away from their cardio addictions to focus on strength training. It’s an uphill battle for sure but one I hope you are willing to fight. The WODs will still be there after 6-8 weeks of serious strength training so do yourself a favor and shore of this weak spot in most people’s game. I promise you the result is worth the effort and being able to handle the Rx weight for CrossFit workouts make them so much more enjoyable and fun to complete.

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