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Weight training Part 2
Why the ‘strength bias’ at CFD?
In Part 1 of this blog, I wanted to mainly address the audience of people who chose, in one way or another, that training at CFD wasn’t for them basically because of an aversion to weight training. Part 2 is directed more towards existing CrossFit athletes and coaches, and I wanted to go over some things that I think need to be addressed—a bit of quality-control, if you will. CrossFit keeps growing, and if we’re going to beat the stigma and find success, we need to be policing our own. There are plenty of poorly-run affiliates out there that give plenty of ammo to people who don’t like CrossFit. I have a whole page of my website dedicated to that topic. So here’s my concern:
I have a serious problem with facilities NOT focusing on developing absolute strength in their members. I’m well aware of the 10 general physical skills, and I understand very much the idea of a balanced fitness profile. However, not focusing a LOT on strength in your newer athletes is a mistake. I’ve been accused of being a ‘strength-biased’ gym for years. I disagree. I think a more appropriate label would be that I am a ‘function-biased’ gym. For the sake of trying to not be redundant, see my example given in Part 1 of this blog to understand more of what I mean by that.
A common mindset bred amongst CrossFitters is that new movements are developed through practice and tech work. While definitely not untrue, typically a huge limiting factor in having a particular benchmark movement that newer CrossFitters are always striving to check off the list (pullups, handstand pushups, muscle ups) is simply not being strong enough! We live in a world of immediate gratification, and anything not had is hoped to be gained immediately with a new technique or a ‘trick’ that can be passed down from coach to athlete in a matter of minutes. This is, in many cases, faulty logic and sets people up for frustration, failure, and injury.
Take this example that is a very common occurrence in CrossFit facilities worldwide:
When it comes to ‘getting’ a movement that requires strength (ex: the pullups), and the athlete doesn’t have enough raw, absolute strength to do the movement, what factor has to be introduced in order to achieve the movement standards? Typically it’s momentum, or some form of power transfer (in this case, a gymnastics kip). If someone is strong and stable, and the absolute strength requirements can be met (the strict pull-up), a minimal, tight, efficient kip is all that’s needed to complete the movement, and the risk for injury is very minimal.
What happens to an athlete’s already-underdeveloped position (using the above example where he or she is unable to do the movement without momentum) when a large amount of momentum is applied? The athlete’s already unstable position becomes compromised even further, and the athlete—while perhaps barely meeting the movement standard for a given movement—is at such a higher risk for injury. Add to that the fact that this rarely results in the athlete being able to develop the much-needed strength that he or she may be so lacking in order to do the movement in the first place! (i.e.: kipping pull-ups tend to do a very poor job of developing absolute upper-body pulling strength).
Does the risk in this case outweigh the reward? NO. WAY.
I’ve met a lot of seasoned CrossFit athletes locally and globally who can knock out tens of kipping pullups but couldn’t do more than a few (and in some cases, none) strict; who will do tens of kipping handstand pushups in a workout, crashing down on top of their heads multiple times in a handful of minutes, but couldn’t strict press barely half of their bodyweight or even do a few dips at a controlled tempo. NONE OF THESE SCENARIOS DEFINE A SAFE OR BALANCED ATHLETIC PROFILE, and the answer to fixing them all is absolute strength development. Sometimes the prescription isn’t exciting, creative, or sexy. Sometimes you don’t end your day in a pool of sweat and tears because you just finished some brutal metcon. Sometimes, MANY times, the key to becoming a better athlete is simply to get stronger!
- Don’t have pullups yet? The solution isn’t to learn how to throw your hips more violently. The fix is almost entirely two parts: Get stronger, and fix body composition.
- Don’t have handstand pushups? Get a bigger press (strict, push, bench). Get better at pushups, and eventually progress to dips. You get your handstand pushups by respecting the progression and developing absolute upper body pushing strength. It’s not tech work you need AT THIS STAGE, and it’s not learning how to throw your legs violently to make yourself momentarily weightless…it’s strength. A premature jump to handstand pushups in October can lead to an injury in November. Hey, congrats, you ‘got’ your HSPU’s. You’re also part of a statistic of what happens when you don’t respect the appropriate order of things, and the reason many (with good reason) make fun of the sport and methodology of CrossFit.
- Don’t have Muscle ups? Guess what the best solution is that applies to almost everyone who doesn’t have them? GET STRONGER! Believe it or not, strict muscle ups are actually a thing. There are people out there who can do multiples of them…and they might even weigh more than you do. Believe it or not, the 223 pound CrossFit coach who is typing this blog right now can pull his fat ass through multiple strict muscle ups. It’s not because I know a trick, and it sure as hell isn’t because I have a gymnastics background, it’s because I spent a lot of time and effort developing the absolute strength necessary to do it. Period.
If you’re a coach who allows for this kind of disregard for appropriate strength and conditioning protocol, you’re part of the problem. If you’re an athlete who is anxious to progress—your energy is appreciated, believe me! We’ve all been there and we all started there. But channel that work ethic in a direction that will keep you safe and is worth your time and energy investment.
Achieving a higher level of fitness is a journey, not a sprint.
No good things come from trying to rush progression or substitute strength development with erratic momentum.
Coaches: Get your athletes strong first, and teach them technical proficiency along the way. You’ll be amazed at how people—once they develop adequate strength and beyond—stop getting injured, stay healthy, maintain their membership, and find success in the program. And as an added bonus: It’ll take the ammo away from the haters who run their mouths. You’ll know you’re being part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Athletes: Respect the appropriate progression and find a facility that understands these concepts to train at. It won’t be easy, and it will take time–REAL time, not just a few weeks. Becoming a better athlete doesn’t happen in a boot camp or in a crash course. Be patient!
Disclaimer: As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, there are other important factors that I am not purposefully ignoring or trying to oversimplify the concept of appropriate strength training and everything that goes into it. I am making these statements and observations based on experience, and I understand full well that I am making generalizations. If an powerlifter wanted to pursue CrossFit, then absolute strength development would likely not be a deficiency in that person’s athletic profile!
Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear some examples from you! Anything from not needing two trips carrying things into the house to saving a life, having adequate strength comes into play every day of our lives. How has improving your strength positively impacted your life?