I know this article has been spread around a lot, but it has some very key issues that some people over look when looking at the broad spectrum of getting better at CrossFit.
“Are you on a strength program?
Over the last three months—the competition season—we have been slightly emphasizing conditioning in our workouts. “Conditioning” is sometimes referred to as “cardio” or “metabolic conditioning.” For others, it’s simply any workout that leaves you breathing hard.
What is conditioning? Simply: conditioning is used to increase the body’s ability to store and deliver energy for any activity. The body has a number of interdependent systems that produce energy for working muscles, and hence there are a number of different ways to train these systems. For instance, consider the effects on the body of a 5K run vs. a 5-rep-max squat vs. a 5K run and then a 5RM squat.
Example: why does a powerlifter who is able to squat 1,000 lb. stop to rest on the verge of vomiting on each landing of a staircase? Answer: he has trained one energy system and one aspect of fitness to the extreme and has huge deficiencies in the others. He is “specialized.”
The goal of CrossFit is not to specialize but to develop competency in any activity—and consequently that means we must train all energy systems and all aspects of fitness. We do this every week. Take a look back in our programming to see. In each week, you will find a wide variety of movements, loads and workout durations. Some are short and heavy, some are long and light, some are heavy and long, some have prescribed rest (intervals), some involve body-weight movements, some involve weights, some test strength while others test power and endurance.
So if you evaluate the programming from about February to May, you will see slightly more conditioning workouts. That doesn’t mean these workouts are simply light “cardio” workouts you might see in P90X or Insanity. Many of our conditioning workouts involved moderate weight, and many of them involved intervals.
Consider the April 28 thruster ladder where you performed 1 lift every 40 seconds. Was that a conditioning workout? Yes—and a strength workout, too. It asked you how long you could apply your strength in 40-second intervals. Some of us were limited by absolute strength; i.e., we could not have lifted 225 no matter how rested we were. Others were limited by metabolic issues; i.e., we were too tired to lift 225 even though we had the absolute strength to do so.
Consider the Feb. 18 workout of a max clean and jerk followed by 4 front squats every minute on the minute for 7 minutes. That workout tested absolute strength and power in the first part and then tested strength endurance in the second. How much weight can you get overhead? And then how much weight can you front squat for four reps every minute? Overall, the workout involved strength AND conditioning.
This was Tyson’s 16th lift in six minutes. Was it a feat of strength or of strength and conditioning?
Consider one final example: in the 2012 Regional, Tyson was able to come very close to his 1RM snatch in a ladder: he had to do 20 double-unders and one snatch of increasing weight every minute until failure. So why was he able to come close to his 1RM? Because he has strength AND the conditioning to apply that strength for a long period of time.
And that’s the key: CrossFit is a strength AND conditioning program. It will make you strong and train your energy systems to apply that strength repeatedly in a variety of formats.
We’ve been slightly emphasizing the conditioning aspect in recent months—but have we abandoned strength work? No. Far from it. Look at March 11, in the Open: 5 sets of 3 front squats—pure strength work. You can find one to three heavy workouts in the programming every week of every month of the year.
As a final “for instance,” we did a 1RM squat and 1RM press on June 17. If we had abandoned strength work, we would have seen zero PRs on the board at the end of the night. When we looked at the board, we actually saw 25-40 PRs—some of them quite large. It turns out people got stronger, even in a period that supposedly emphasized conditioning. Many others were within 10 percent of PR numbers, which is always a good thing.
But here’s the best part: the strength we earn does not come with a nauseous feeling when carrying groceries to the car. Nor does it come with a complete inability to train for 20 minutes rather than 20 seconds. Nor does it come as a tradeoff for gymnastics skills such as pull-ups. Nor does it come with excess body weight. Nor does it come with a need for a powerlifter’s diet of huge excesses of calories.
You, over the last five months, have increased your strength AND conditioning. You are a more functional athlete.
So are you on a strength program? Yes, you absolutely are. I have the numbers to back it up, and every workout is logged on this website. I also have the numbers to prove that you are faster and more powerful and have more endurance than before—you are fitter, overall, than you were before.
When you can’t tell if your legs or lungs will give out first, you are probably in the sweet spot of strength and conditioning.
Are you on a Wendler 5-3-1 program, a Russian squat cycle, a Westside-method pendulum wave, a Rippetoe Starting Strength program or any of the million other strength programs out there? No. But you are very much on a planned strength program that has aspects of all the strength programs out there—including increasing volume, periodization and a distinct lack of endless amounts of “traditional cardio.” All strength programs work if you stick to them. Our particular strength program contains aspects of conditioning only in precise, controlled amounts that are calculated to maximize strength gains without reducing your ability to apply that strength.
So where do we go from here, now that the official competition season has ended for all but one of our athletes?
From here, we are going to slightly emphasize strength in the programming. You can expect to see a bit more lifting, particularly on Mondays and Wednesdays. Expect to see more heavy workouts more regularly as we spend some time adding strength. But don’t expect all conditioning to vanish. Our definition of fitness does not focus on a huge deadlift to the exclusion of all other aspects of fitness, nor does our sport reward such a narrow definition. If you want to be good at CrossFit—and many of you are already talking about training for fall competitions and next year’s Open—you need strength AND conditioning.
As a word of warning, avoid the “strength trap.” A focus only on strength will not bring you instant success in CrossFit competitions, and we do not believe it will make you fitter overall. The Bridge City Beatdown is about two months away, and if you have goals of competing there, a blind focus on strength will not put you on the podium. You need—you guessed it— strength AND conditioning.
The best part is that you can train both at once if you do it right. Our top competitors are proof of this. They are stronger than last year, and they can apply that strength for longer periods (consider Brett’s unbroken sets of 21, 15 and 9 deadlifts at 275 lb. at the CanWest Regional). Our athletes regularly do very well in both strength, conditioning, and strength AND conditioning events in competition. This is not by accident.
Going forward, we are training to be fitter and to be better at CrossFit. In the next few months, that means more lifting and less conditioning—but only slightly. We will not emphasize one to the detriment of the others, as that doesn’t fit our definition of fitness.
But rest assured that you are on a strength program. And a conditioning program. At the same time. It works. If you need proof, check the CrossFit Games leaderboard and see where the gym finished in the ultimate test of fitness.
If you have any questions about the programming and why we do what we do when we do it, ask any coach. He or she will be happy to explain the purpose of the workout.
And keep training hard. You will get stronger. Guaranteed.
See you on the rubber!”
-Mike CrossFit 204