What Is Strong? And Why Is Strong Important

As a Crossfit “addict”, since March of 2012, it’s important for me to share a few thoughts about where Crossfit is today… And where it was in the beginning, prior to the Games.

I’m an L1 coach and I’ve completed the CrossFit Kettlebell and Power Lifting Courses. Also, since I will be 70 years old in September, I feel I’ve earned the platform to make a few observations, regarding our sport. In making these comments, I’ll begin with the fact that I served for 20 years in the Army. Fifteen months of that time was with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam, in 1968-69.

It was during that time that it became clear to me that:

Strong is better than fast… and that strong and fast is even better.

In his amazing book, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien renders an eerily accurate account of what we “humped in our ruck sacks.” Suffice it to say that even a minimum load of food, water, medical supplies, ammunition, weapons, radios, grenades, and all supporting gear was heavy! Being strong was a blessing, as each man would carry 30-40kg, depending on the mission. It could also be a curse, since the crew-served, 10.5kg, M60 machine gun, affectionately known as “the pig,” was also carried by the strongest guy on patrol.

I vividly remember hauling heavy loads down ropes and up steep grades in jungle terrain.

And there was an incident, where being strong first… and then fast, saved me from becoming a captive.

Related: Going Strong at 69 – Frank Zedar and his Story

Tricky is trumping strong or fast 

So, where am I going with this?  I am seeing a trend in competitions, where “tricky” is trumping “strong or fast,” as the primary objective of the movement.

So, if I was to make some suggestions for the Crossfit community of box owners and coaches, I’d say that we pay special attention to the following:

1. Make sure your athletes develop a strong basis in the Olympic lifts, before you allow them to do WODs like Grace or Isabel. These movements require a strong core and efficient technique to avoid injury.

2. Get your people “strong” in their basic pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups, before adding more advanced movements. Strict, dead hang pull-ups before kipping or butterfly. Have them hold planks with weight and get their triceps strong, instead of doing push-ups on their knees. Also, get those abs strong with weighted sit-ups, levers, and roll outs, before attempting any GHD work, like those Med Ball throws in the 2012 CrossFit Games!

3. I’d be very careful of the Sumo Dead Lift High Pull with new athletes. Body builders stopped doing them long ago. A far more useful lift is the Snatch Grip High Pull.

4. When working on developing a hand stand push up, I’d ask coaches to watch for athletes “resting on their heads.” This places far too much stress on the neck and spine.

So, what is important?

Strength is the most for the most pure form of functional translation, we need to be strong. Ask any military operator, or construction worker, or farmer, or lumberjack, or warehouse worker, or beer keg delivery man, and they will tell you.  Also, it may seem silly if you are 25, but wait till you are 60 or 70 to see what I mean.  Opening a heavy door, carrying groceries or a bag of mulch, getting in and out of a car, pulling yourself or an ailing spouse out of a tub, etc., require real strength!

And power is important. That means being strong… fast!  I like the joke, where the guy asks, “In CrossFit, you lift weights, but what do you do for cardio?”  And the guy answers, “We lift weights fast!”

Frank
Frank during his training.

And to be sure, mobility, flexibility, balance, and agility all are important in supporting roles.

I recently read a comment from a special forces soldier, who said, “If you can’t carry a wounded buddy, your weapons, and your necessary gear, a few hundred meters to safety, I don’t care what your marathon time is!” His message was that real life is not scalable… and that we should consistently train “under load.”

Here’s how I’d program:

1. When you are new, you first get stronger and technically correct. You work to get a few strict pull-ups and push-ups, a rope climb, half body weight press and a body weight dead lift and squat.  You do Olympic lifting technique  drills with light weight.

2. After that, women wear a 5kg vest and men a 10kg vest for WODs.

3. We focus our lifting on squats, dead lifts, presses, snatches, clean and jerk, overhead squats, power cleans.

4. We do lots of farmer carries, overhead carries, racked KB carries, heavy Russian KB swings, tire flips, weighted pull-ups, push-ups, rope climbs, and heavy sled drags.

5. We sprint. Not just an occasional 200m in a WOD.  We do speed work.  We wear our vest for all of this.

And we would keep score. Twice a year, we would devote a full week to testing the following (without vests):

Maximum: Dead Lift, Squat, Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Press.

Time trials for: 200 meters, 400 meters, 1600 meters run.  And 100 meters Farmer Carry (2x33kg KB men/2x24kg KB women).

Standing Broad Jump.

Maximum reps in One Minute: Pull-ups (no butterfly), Hand Release Push-ups, Squats, Abmat Sit-ups, KB Russian Swings (33kg men/24kg women), Thrusters (20kg bar men/16kg bar women), Body Weight Dead Lifts.

As you can see, the program would place emphasis on maximum strength, power, and speed.  Most work would be done “under load” (a weight vest).  Each training session would include an element of “core strength, mobility, agility, or balance.”  It would de-emphasize or eliminate elements of high risk or movements with little functional transference.

 In conclusion, my goal for “every day, average” CrossFitters: the moms and office workers and emergency services professionals, etc., would be to “Get Strong,” above all else.

Twenty years in the Army and 70 years of enjoying life have shown me something… It’s good to be fast and flexible, with great endurance, but it’s best to be strong first.

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About The Author

Frank was born in 1945 and grew up in New York State. He joined the Army at age 21, in 1966. He was a Platoon Leader with the 196th Infantry in Vietnam. During his 20 years service, he saw duty in Southeast Asia, multiple US bases, and in both Bavaria and Berlin, Germany. He ran the Berlin Marathon in 1980. Always a fitness enthusiast, he found CrossFit in 2012, after having a hip replacement and triple bypass open heart surgery. He is an L1 ...

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