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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!
Part 1: Programming Basic Structure
This is the first in a series of articles about the CrossFit Relentless programming. I could probably talk for days on the subject, so I’m going to break it down into a series of (hopefully coherent and cohesive) articles to give everyone some insight into how and why I program the way I do. This article will focus on how I structure the programming. Next week will talk about the why. You’re about to get a glimpse into the maelstrom that is my mind, so good luck!
In an ideal world, everyone would have an individualized program custom designed to help them achieve their specific goals. These programs would be divided into blocks. The smallest block could be a day or a week, and is called a microcycle. A series of microcycles, usually 4-12 weeks, creates a mesocycle. A series of mesocycles creates a macrocycle. For competitive athletes, macrocycles encompass the competitive year. For example, with American weightlifters, macrocycles usually center around the annual American Open. For Olympic level weightlifters, macrocycles are as long as 4 years. For CrossFit athletes, the calendar year usually revolves around the competitive season: The Open, Regionals, and the Games. This is how Ben Bergeron and other Games coaches program.
We are not CrossFit Games athletes. We are general practitioners who do CrossFit to enhance our everyday lives. While some of us compete for fun, most of us do not partake in CrossFit as a sport. This changes the nature of the programming. Rather than target the Open in March of every year, our goal is to increase our proficiency in the 10 general attributes throughout the year, without having to peak for a specific event. These attributes are accuracy, agility, balance, cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, coordination, flexibility/mobility, muscular stamina, power, speed, and strength. We improve them throughout the calendar year, which is our macrocycle.
It is impossible to build all 10 physical attributes simultaneously. Instead, we build one or two at a time while maintaining proficiency across all the others. That is the goal of each of our mesocycles: 4-12 week blocks targeting specific attributes. For example, in the July Programming update, I mentioned that the goal of this mesocycle is to increase strength and stamina, specifically in our posterior chains. The additional focus on our upper backs will also hopefully help alleviate shoulder issues that members have been having, thereby increasing overhead mobility. The next mesocycle will focus on something different, but will still have posterior work involved.
For most programs, a week is a microcycle. Each day of each microcycle in a mesocycle has the same structure. For example, if you followed Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, every Monday might be squat day, with Tuesday as bench day, Thursday as deadlift day, and Saturday as press day. The percentages change each week, but the structure of each day is the same.
If we followed this format at CrossFit Relentless, I believe it would be detrimental for our members. Everyone has a different schedule, so if every Monday was squat day, and you could never make it to Monday class, then you would never squat. Instead, I operate on a 6 day microcycle. This allows the days to rotate through days of the week, and ensures that not every week day is the same each week. I’m still able to structure our mesocycles based on 6 day microcycles, so we can still spend 4-12 weeks building specific attributes.
The 6-day cycle is as follows:
Day 1: Snatch
Day 2: Squat
Day 3: Bodyweight/skill
Day 4: Press
Day 5: Clean
Day 6: Benchmark/Longer Time Domain
By structuring the programming this way, I can ensure that everyone makes long term progress. CrossFit is defined as “Constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” Constantly varied does not mean random. We still vary the movements performed, but put them within a framework that will make you a better all-around athlete, rather than haphazardly throwing stuff at you simply because it’s hard.
I hope this structure makes sense and that you’re all with me so far. I’ll get into a little more of the reasons behind the structure next week, but I’ve already rambled on for almost 700 words, so I’m going to end this article here. Enjoy your holiday weekend, and stay tuned for next week’s article.
July Programming Focus: Posterior Chain & Form
Greetings Relentless Family!
I have a few things to cover in today’s
blog post article. First, this week’s training article will be published tomorrow since it requires some video that I still need to film. Stay tuned for it!
Second, I wanted to give everyone a quick programming update regarding what we’ve been doing recently. We have been going light on the weights for the last 12 days in an extended deload period. Going forward, our deload periods will only be a week long. We went longer this time since we spent a good amount of time testing our lifts, and because it’s been a good 8 months since CFR has had a strength bias. For those requesting an article on my programming philosophy, I promise it’s coming soon. Well, they’re coming soon, it’s actually a series of articles.
Finally, I want to tell everyone what they can expect in July. Our strength bias in July is going to focus on building everyone’s posterior chain. Most of the movements in CrossFit are anterior chain dominate. That is to say, they use the quads, hips, abs, pecs, lats, and anterior deltoids (front of the shoulders). Furthermore, most people spend their time sitting, and if they have an exercise history, it involves running, which is a very anteriorly dominated activity. This can lead to muscle imbalances, resulting in back pain and shoulder pain. We’re going to spend July building the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and core to try to even things out a bit. Additionally, we’re going to focus a lot more on form in the deadlift and low bar squat, so that you can feel what it means to engage the posterior chain in your lifts.
Expect to see some new movements that you’ve never done before, and PLEASE give feedback through Wodify to let me know what you think!
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