Back in the early days of CrossFit it was cool or fancy to have slogans on your shirts. Although a little daggy and “done” now, one particular shirt slogan stuck in my mind, “Stronger people are harder to kill, and more useful in general.” This message resonates with a lot of people and it is portrayed in society everywhere you look: Xmen style movie characters, Hulk, Thor and wolverine. Action figures like Heman (bit old now) and GI Joe. All our sports stars on television are getting bigger stronger faster. Everyone does and will benefit in getting stronger.
Most people get into CrossFit and do the daily WOD at the gym OR follow a blog online. CrossFit, how it is taught as the grassroots (3 days on and 1 day off) does leave a lot of room for a structured strength program. Sometimes it may even be 1-3 weeks between heavy squat sessions. However it doesnt take an athlete long to realise that in the CrossFit arena it pays to be strong.
Common problems I see with CrossFitters and why they don’t get results:
- Can’t give up the metcon. Most people get into CrossFit because they love getting sweaty, love the variation and love the competition/intensity that this style of training brings. They know strength is important BUT they are not willing to let go, even just a little bit of doing conditioning, conditioning and more conditioning. It is possible to get strong whilst maintaining fitness. I would NEVER suggest stopping conditioning. In fact higher levels of GPP will allow you to do move barbell work BUT you simply will not make strength improvements at the rate you want to whilst doing long conditioning efforts day in day out.
- Too much lifting. When someone recognizes that they need to spend more time lifting a barbell they generally go onto a program such as Smolov or something else that is far too advanced for them. There is NOTHING wrong with these programs, however the chances are pretty HIGH that these programs are wrong for YOU. Throwing yourself too far in the deep end by following programs that are too advanced will most likely cause injury because your muscles, tendons and ligaments are not ready for such loads OR you will NOT get gains because you are not allowing for enough recovery. More than likely you are also doing too much conditioning. Refer to point 1.
- Not enough variety in your strength routine. The body is an amazing organism and will adapt to almost any stimulus that is thrown at it. NOT overnight but over time. You probably have experienced this before. The first time you perform a movement or a workout you get sore the next day, the next time, not so much and the time after probably not. Your body has adapted and it does this very well. Before your body will acclimatises to your exercise routine, it needs to change. You will need to change reps, sets, or exercise OR all. Usually by changing one or two aspects of your workout will see you break plateaus .
- Too much variety. Slightly contradictory to the point above BUT not really. As mentioned previously many CrossFitters love the sport because of the variety. When a new CrossFitter starts a new a strength program they think they need to change exercises sets and reps every day. If you are CONSTANTLY changing how do you know what works and what doesn’t? You need to stay with an exercise for JUST enough time to stimulate the body BUT not let the body accommodate to the stimulus. Generally 3 weeks is a good amount of time to stay with an exercise to strengthen a weak area before you will need to find another exercise to strengthen the area differently.
- POOR Fuel……. When lifting and trying to gain strength many people will underestimate the need for carbohydrate. Back in the day and even still, fitness magazines are filled with articles and ads for protein powders and supplements. The fact is our muscles love to use carbohydrate for energy. Carbohydrates help make muscles bigger and fuller. The body can only utilize 20-30gms of protein at once. Have you ever noticed that just about every protein scooper for ANY brand is 30gm serving? Through out a day your body will synthesis the protein that it needs and you will excrete the rest through urine. Body builders would have the most expensive urine on earth. The reasons why CrossFitters MIGHT find some strength gains difficult is because they eat “healthier” or what they have been told to be “healthy”. Many will be on a Paleo diet or similar BUT a bowl or rice or some rolled oats (providing your gut agrees) will be amazing for your strength!
If you are trying to gain strength but can’t it is likely you are making at least one of the above mistakes. Getting stronger will aid your CrossFit to no end. I know that I would MUCH rather be lifting a weight that is 50% of my 1rm in a conditioning piece than a weight that is 75-80%