Programming: Strength Bias
by Erik Castiglione
Part 2: Strength Bias
In last week’s article, we talked about the basic structure of the programming. If you look at the 6 day microcycle rotation, you’ll notice that we spend 4 out of 6 days working on our lifts. On one of the remaining days, we work on our strength through bodyweight movements, either weighted, or for reps. This means that we spend roughly 83% of our days doing some kind of strength work. As discussed last week, the focus of CrossFit is to build proficiency in all 10 general physical skills. If this is the case, why do we spend so much time focusing on strength? Well, there are a number of reasons for it, but the biggest reason is that I believe that strength is the most important of the 10. Before anyone starts protesting, think back to the last WOD you had to scale. Did you scale the reps, the range of motion, or the weight? My guess is that for 90% of you, you scale WODs because the weight is too heavy. When it comes to CrossFit Metcons, having a greater strength base is incredibly important. In fact, this year CrossFit HQ analyzed all regional competitors and figured out the main difference was between a regional level athlete and a games athlete. Guess what? It was maximal strength.
Now, why is this the case? The best analogy I’ve heard for this is that your strength is like a drinking glass. It creates a platform for everything else. Everything inside that glass is the rest of your abilities. Having a bigger glass allows you to fill it with more things. In other words, the stronger you are, the more other abilities you’ll be able to develop. Let’s think about this from a gymnastics perspective. While there is certainly skill involved in learning a muscle up, you need to be strong enough to do several pull-ups and ring dips before you can successfully do a muscle up.
Additionally, there are different kinds of strength. If you look at the strength continuum below, you’ll see five types listed. 3 of the 10 general physical skills fall into that continuum. On one end, you have absolute strength, and on the other, you have speed. Power is right in the middle of the curve. Power is the ability to generate maximal strength in minimal time. If you have a bigger strength base to draw from, you have the potential to be more powerful. This is well illustrated if you look at the top Olympic lifters in the world. They are able to clean and jerk roughly 77% of their max back squat, and snatch roughly 62% of their max squat. If you compare these numbers to your own, it’s very apparent that Olympic lifters can squat A LOT. (Obviously I am oversimplifying here and ignoring the technique aspect of Weightlifting, but that’s the subject for another article.) Thus building strength is important for building power as well.
In addition to power, building strength can help improve other physical skills as well. For example, having a dedicated time to work on our lifts gives us time to build proper movement patterns. This includes achieving full range of motion, which is important to build mobility and stability (topics for a future article). It also includes lifting with proper technique. Proper technique is safe technique, and it is the most efficient way to lift weights. Most of you have experienced the thrill of executing a great clean or snatch; it feels almost effortless. Imagine that every rep of a Metcon felt this smooth: you would be able to go faster and expend less energy, because you would be more efficient. This allows us to move harder and faster for longer. In other words, our stamina improves.
In addition to the physical payouts already discussed, I believe that programming with a strength bias adds value to the memberships you all pay for. First, it is a simple and objective way for you all to see that you are making progress. If you were able to squat 200 lbs for 1 rep last month, and you squat it for 5 reps this month, your stamina has increased. If you’re now able to squat 225 for 1 rep, you have gotten stronger. If you were previously unable to hit full depth in a squat and now you can, you’ve gotten more mobile. Additionally, the barbell is not subject to the same variables you encounter in a WOD. Either you lift the weight, or you don’t. You don’t have to worry about strategy, equipment placement, or transition from movement to movement. You’re also free from counting reps (well, somewhat). furthermore, strength work gives you better opportunities to learn as students. Instead of just having a coach yell “knees out, knees out!” at you repeatedly while squatting as fast as you can, you have time in between reps to actually receive some coaching and learn why we give that cue, and what we’re actually after when we say it. That way, when we tell you “knees out!” or “elbows!” in a WOD, you’ll actually know what we mean.
Finally, having a strength bias provides better structure and fills up your hour long classes better than simply having a WOD. If you as members pay for an entire hour, I believe you should be working for as much of that hour as possible. Our strength bias fulfills this goal. Instead of coming in, warming up, hitting a WOD, and being done 20 minutes early, we better fill that hour with higher quality movement.
I hope this article was illuminating for most of you and explains the rationale behind our strength bias. Until next week, Stay Relentless!