Part 3: "Going Strong" - The Smart Approach to Strength Work
Let's look at how to approach any barbell lift (or even gymnastics skill focus).
First, understand there are quite a few styles of strength programs out there, with various macro- and micro-cycles to their name. Many have worth in any given fitness regimen, depending on desired goals and as long as the athlete is dedicated in following the progression.
In the CrossFit world, we want to build strength and skill while maintaining cardiorespiratory conditioning, so we put to use a generalized preparation program. Ultimately, let the coaches balance consistency and variance while you put in the work.
You've got your eyes on the prize, which is of course gains in muscular strength and endurance, so here are a few pointers that should allow you to ring that bell as you test your strength.
BEGINNERS: Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! Test your strength! Make sure to simultaneously develop range of motion as you develop strength. Take the muscles through proper ROM so that each joint gains stability at beginning and end range. Connective tissues like tendons and ligaments need to become resilient while the muscle fibers grow in number and size, so it should all go without saying: strength takes time. You're in this for lifelong fitness. Keep that in mind.
1.) Mechanics Watch videos, pay attention to demos, and listen to cues. Be vocal with questions for clarification. Coaches will focus on the basics of the movement, then a few specific points during the exercise, then back to the large movement pattern. (Globally, then locally, then globally again.) Keep the form early for gains in the long run.
Mechanics Example: heels down, knees out, chest up during Back Squats.
2.) Consistency Find and focus on the cues that seem to help-- without overthinking the lift or skill. Move with solid mechanics every time, not just once in a while.
Consistency Example: stay smooth through the shoulder joints on kipping Pull-ups or Toes to Bar. Work strict pulls with sound form, then kip through the midline, not just legs, so multiple reps are clean.
3.) Intensity If, and only if, a barbell lift or gymnastics skill is consistent in mechanics should we look to increase intensity. Be willing to reel yourself in during heavy 1rep tests or during a MetCon if your movement pattern is ever lost.
Intensity Example: are elbows dropping and lower back losing stability on high rep Cleans? Quite possibly an ego check is in order. No shame here; there's no crowd of onlookers egging you on to swing the heavy mallet. Either slow down, drop the weight, or both.
VETERANS: Big gun, coming through! No Rube here. Roll up the sleeves and give 'er a whirl! Don't neglect the above. Check form first, then ramp up and attack the rep sequence of the day. And have fun! This is a great time to socialize between lifts. Give some kudos to the new kids on the block-- they look to you for social cues. Plus, seeing others move, efficiently or not, can help with your own body awareness.
1.) Keep the Rep Scheme Sometimes, the programmed sequence doesn't seem like enough. Do not unnecessarily max out on a lift. Let the progression work for you. The No pain, no gain philosophy is short-sighted. Be smarter than that, and reap the benefits when it's time. Likewise, try to hold on during the tough days. Those are on purpose, so only give in to keep safe or prevent from overtraining.
Strength Example: Snatch work calls for 5 sets of 3 at 65%, touch-and-go. You feel good and increase the weight, but have to drop in between reps. You missed the concept of barbell cycling here, and the purposeful lighter load to achieve the desired stimulus. Can't complete more Snatch reps in a different part of the workout or on a different day that week? You missed the target completely. No prize for you.
2.) Know Your Body Are you the type that needs a solid warm-up on the barbell before getting into the working sets of the day? Or do you tend to fatigue early and need to make bigger jumps in weight? We understand our tendencies better with experience, so let's use that knowledge to get the most out of the strength session.
Strength Example: Deadlift options. 1) extended warm-up at #135/95 for 5 reps, then 5 more at #185/125, then 5 more at #225/155. Or, 2) quicker jumps with 5 reps at #135/95, 3 at #225/155, heavier singles up from there.
3.) Be Ready to Fail How can you know what's possible if you don’t test your physical threshold? Failure means we've tested the upper limits of our capabilities. The overload principle causes breakdown of the muscle by placing it under load, and the body rebuilds to resist future stress. We just want to safely find that failing point, and correctly do so periodically in programming, so we can approach our threshold again-- whether it be in power lifts, Olympic lifts, or gymnastics movements like pull-ups and handstand push-ups. So, embrace the failure in order to succeed. Then ring that PR bell loud and clear and claim your oversized stuffed animal. Don't worry-- you're strong enough to carry it.
Strength/Skill Examples: Strict Pull-ups to failure. Testing a 1rep Front Squat. Working on extra dips and transitions on the rings to finally achieve a Muscle-up.
RECOMMENDED READING: Giving Up Information on how to correctly fail by dumping a barbell.
Dedication Hard work is never easy. Work, build gains, and work again. Check tips on how.
Movements Click each link for pics, video, and other details.
This is part three of a six-part series entitled Maximizing Your Amplify Experience. Stay tuned for more.
- Scott, 7.14.2017