Strength is King

Strength is King
by Erik Castiglione

In CrossFit we build 10 general physical skills: accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, cardio/respiratory endurance, flexibility/mobility, power, speed, stamina, and strength. (CrossFit actually took this list from Dynamax, the company that makes wallballs, and fleshed it out a bit more, but hey, it works!). Of these 10, strength is king.

Now, we’re not saying that strength should be 100% prioritized at the expense of everything else. A powerlifter who can waddle up to a monolift and squat heavy, but who gets winded walking back to his car is not a paragon of health. But, strength greatly impacts every other physical skill. It’s the center of the web, if you will.

Strength is King
Courtesy of Jason Brown and BP Training Systems

There are many different kinds of strength, but that’s a topic for a different time. For today, let’s take a look at each of the physical skills and see how strength plays a role:

Accuracy: The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

  • The key word here is “control.” If you lack strength in a given direction, you won’t have control. Strength is specific, and we train to get strong at various joint angles. If you’re strong in the bench press but not overhead, it’s clear you’re lacking in a given direction. Increased strength in that direction will give you more control.

Agility: The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.

  • In other words, can you be accurate repeatedly and successively? We’re increasing the number of directions here, so control in multiple planes of movement becomes important here. You need to be strong in all of them to keep your body under control and prevent injury. In sport, changing direction (cutting, breaking, turning, etc.) is where many injuries occur, because the athlete’s joints and tendons are not strong enough in that given direction.

Balance: The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.

  • Control is a common theme in these first 3. We’ve covered this.

Cardio/Respiratory Endurance: The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.

  • We use this oxygen in cellular mitochondria to produce ATP, our bodies’ energy source. Strength training can increase mitochondrial density and mass, making our mitochondria more efficient at processing oxygen.
  • The best way to improve this type of endurance is through cyclical work – rowing, running, biking, skiing, etc. You know, typical “cardio” movements. If you’re easily gassed when performing longer bouts of these movements, a large part of it is likely due to an inability to maintain efficient posture. If your running form breaks down, you expend more energy. Same for rowing, etc. Strength is important for maintaining said posture to keep you efficient.

Coordination: The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.

  • The snatch and clean provide excellent examples of coordination in action. In each, we have a lower body pull/hinge (pull off the floor, acceleration during 2nd pull), an upper body pull (start of the 3rd pull when we turn the bar over), and a squat (overhead or front). While these lifts are excellent examples of the expression of power (see below), we need strength throughout these movements. You need to be strong enough to hit your positions on the way up. Weak hamstrings? You probably won’t be able to keep your shoulders over the bar. Weak lats? You won’t be able to keep the bar close to your body. All the technique work in the world won’t help fix these issues; they’ll still express themselves when the weight gets heavy.  Strengthening the lagging muscles is the only resolution.
  • Bonus: mental strength! If you’re afraid to commit to a lift and drop under the bar, toughen up!

Flexibility/Mobility: the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.

  • There is a difference between active and passive range of motion. That difference is muscular control. If you’re relaxed and someone bends your arm in a certain direction without pain, you have passive range of motion there. If you’re not able to recreate that position by yourself, then you lack that active range of motion. While some of us may have scar tissue and other legitimate issues preventing us from achieving these ranges, in many cases, it’s due to lack of strength in a particular muscle or group. There’s a reason that much of physical therapy involves strengthening the smaller muscles in your body – you’re trying to restore balance and function.  

Power: The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.

  • The greatest analogy I’ve heard for the relationship between strength and power, is that strength is a pool, and power is the hose from which you’re pulling water out of the pool. The bigger the pool, the bigger the hose that can be used. A big hose empties a small pool quickly, and a little hose in a big pool is not efficient. In other words, the stronger you are, the more potential you have to be powerful.

Speed: The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.

  • If we look at the Force/Velocity curve, we can see that speed and maximal strength are at opposite ends of the spectrum. However, they are connected. Theoretically, the greater your maximal strength, the faster you can cycle submaximal weight. To someone who can thruster 300 lbs, 95 lbs at a steady pace is no big deal. (Obviously stamina and endurance would play a role here for repeated efforts, but for 1 fast set, you get the point.)

Stamina: The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.

  • As in cardio/respiratory endurance, this is where cellular mitochondria come into play. We’ve already established that we can increase their density through strength training. Through interval training, we can increase the number of mitochondria in our cells. We interval train not only in use of cardio equipment, but by training for strength-speed. This manifests itself in things like the box squat EMOMs we do – short bouts of work with comparatively long periods of rest.

Strength: The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.

  • ‘Nuff said

Strength is king. That’s why it’s in our motto, “Find Your STRENGTH.” Until next time, see you in the gym.
-Coach Erik


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