Laying Strong Strength Foundations in Crossfit

Strength is a vital necessity of all athletic performance. The stronger you get, the better you will perform. In Crossfit, there is no exercise that does not involve the requirement of strength, and the benefits of strength training will echo throughout everything else that you do.

THE BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING

  • Improved mental toughness
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Increased skeletal strength
  • Increased tendon and ligament strength
  • Increased power

Additional Benefits:

  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased bone density
  • Improved balance and stability
  • Reduced the risk of diabetes
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress and anxiety

STRENGTH IS YOUR STEEL FRAMEWORK

Visualisation is a great psychological technique in sport to help you achieve your goals. The idea is that firstly you imagine yourself doing the activity, PR ing on your Snatch for example. Then, when it comes time to perform the lift itself, you are mentally primed for success. In the same way, think of strength as an unbreakable steel framework that holds your body together, that makes you powerful and able to destroy any lift and WOD that is put before you.

Suprfit Rig
Suprfit Rig: Strong German craftsmanship allows you to build even stronger strength foundations!

Strength is your structure, like a steel rig or rack that holds you together, and this structural foundation is what you must weld together through great equipment, dedicated training and hard work. So how do you build this vital aspect of your fitness?

BACK TO BASICS

At its most basic, strength training comes down to three compound exercises:

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Press

If you program these into your training, and work on short sets of low reps at progressively heavier weights, all with great form, then you will get stronger. Of course, the Olympic lifts and heavy Cleans and Squat variations etc will also increase your strength, but in the interest of clarity, this article will focus on these 3 exercises as the core compound strength exercises to discuss.

1 SQUAT

The squat should be a cornerstone of you training. No excuses, no whining around, you need to be Squatting. In case you are wondering why, I don’t think anyone has ever so eloquently described the phenomenal benefits of squatting as well as Mark Rippetoe:

‘There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full Squat.’

Strength foundations
Building solid strength foundations with the Squat

2 DEADLIFT

The Deadlift is a primal and raw exercise. It is often the lift that most of us can shift the largest amount of weight with and it will, amongst other benefits:

  • Build an iron back and core
  • Improve your grip strength
  • Strengthen your arms and shoulders
  • Toughen your mind

3 PRESS

The Overhead Press was previously included as a main lift alongside the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk in the Olympics until it was removed from competition in 1972. Powerlifting concentrates on the Bench Press as a marker of upper body strength, which it is, but the Overhead Press should always be included as a welcome part of your strength training program.

For solid lifts you need quality equipment
For solid lifts you need quality equipment

It is an excellent full body compound exercise, and here are a few of the effects it creates:

  • Develops your chest, shoulders, arms, back, rotator cuff,
  • The movement translates well to improve Handstand Push Ups, Pull Ups, Muscle Ups, Jerks, Wall Balls, Thrusters and many other exercises requiring explosive power and strength.
  • Reveals muscular imbalances
  • Develops your core and stabilizing muscles in your trunk

STRENGTH PROGRAMMING

Strength/Powerlifting athletes and coaches such as the English legend Andy Bolton (first man to ever Deadlift over 1000 lbs / 453.5 kg), Mark Rippetoe and Jim Wendler, ALL espouse the importance of building your strength up slowly and progressively over time.

Regardless of their respective methods, these guys know what they are talking about and practice what they preach. Although they each do it slightly differently, it comes down to core principles of low reps of progressively heavier weights, involving Squats, Deadlifts and Presses. They generally train and teach in linear or cyclical progressions.

Strength foundations
The calm before the WOD, nothing better than new equipment!

CrossFit by its own definition is ‘constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.’ This definition doesn’t leave much room for systematic, ordered strength progression, but the beauty of Crossfit is the way that it accepts and tests ALL forms and elements of Fitness. Many Crossfit athletes incorporate specific Strength programs into their training, in the same way that they do for mobility or endurance. There is no reason why you can’t do the same. Work with your coach to identify the best way to do this.

Taking the time to specifically target strength as one aspect of your training will have huge positive effects on the vast majority, if not all, of the other areas of your fitness. It will help you to build your own steel strength foundations! 

THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF STRONG STRENGTH FOUNDATIONS ON CROSSFIT PERFOMANCE

With Atlas Stones cropping up in the Madrid Invitationals last year, WODs such as King Kong and the recent heavy Cleans (after Toes-to-Bar and Double Unders) in the 16.2 Open Workout, its shows that you have to be strong if you want to perform well in Crossfit. Clean ladders, Gymnastic movements, Handstand Push Ups, Bar complexes, Rope Climbs, every single one of these exercises requires a solid foundation of strength.

There are the obvious benefits and links between the foundational compound strength exercises of Squat, Bench and Press and certain movements within Crossfit. For example, it is clear how a Deadlift can help the initial stages of the Snatch. But all the other positive additional effects must be taken into account as well. Deadlifts also improve your grip strength and they are a great exercise to strengthen your core, consequently making your Rope Climbs or Muscle-Ups more efficient.

Strength foundations in Crossfit
We all know that German engineering is trustworthy  – looks like its WOD time!

CHANGING YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT CONSITUTES ‘HEAVY’

When you improve your lifts by raising how much weight you put on the barbell in the Squat and Deadlift, it changes the way that you perceive other weights. If you can Deadlift twice your own bodyweight for example, it serves as a mental reminder that you are physically and mentally strong enough to generate enough force to control and move the barbell at that weight. When you then come back to the barbell on a different exercise (the Snatch for example), your body already has a sense of confidence that comes from knowing that you are capable of moving the weight, even if it is through another exercise. This allows you to see other weights in relation to your heaviest lifts, and it makes them seem smaller. This because in relation to your Deadlift, they are.

If you do not Squat or Deadlift, and thrusters, or some other barbell movement are the exercise in which you move the most weight, then when it becomes time to Snatch or Clean and Jerk, the lift will only seem much, much heavier, because your body has no comparable stress to use as a psychological buffer. Doing these compound strength exercises will raise your game and make you tougher because they are hard, and if they aren’t hard for you, then you aren’t going heavy enough.

 ‘Success comes to those who persevere, not to those who complain and give up.’ Jim Wendler

STRENGTH AND MOVEMENT

Strength and movement are often separated when they are talked about, and academically, this is necessary in order to be able to study, analyse and train them. But physically, they are always inextricably tied together. The human body cannot move or function without strength and movement working together.

For example, a single Squat requires a full range of movement, the basic strength and coordination to perform it, and the additional muscular strength to support the additional load of the barbell and the weight. Without movement there can be no strength, and without strength, there can be no movement.

Suprfit Rigs
Suprfit Rig: Train on quality equipment and perform on foundations of strength

PLAYING THE LONG GAME

‘The iron game is a marathon and not a sprint’ Andy Bolton

When you build your steel strength foundations, you must think long-term. Think quality not quantity. Rushing to increase a heavy Deadlift PR and letting your form suffer as a result is a surefire route to injury. Trust in the process and celebrate the small gains. Over time, these will add up and manifest themselves as impressive new PRs and higher standards in your Crossfit performances.

At the same time, put your trust in quality equipment as well. When buying a rack / rig for your Box or your personal gym, choose the best handcrafted, German-made rack / rig that you can get your get your hands on, because it is also a physical steel foundation that will last for a lifetime, and become an intrinsic part of your long term Strength goals that you will achieve.

SUPRFIT AT FIBO

Check out the Suprfit stand at the forthcoming FIBO event in Cologne on the 7th – 10th April. There you can create and design the perfect rack / rig combo for your Box or personal use, learn more, and continue to build your own solid strength foundations!

STRENGTH FOUNDATIONS: A FEW FINAL TIPS

  • Never ever skip Squats!
  • Small gains add up to big gains
  • Build up volume over time
  • Recovery is key
  • Train hard but train smart
  • Always stay tight when you lift

Images © Suprfit

Image © Christian Zenger

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About The Author

Editor-In-Chief at BOXROX. I come from a background of rugby and weightlifting. Growing up in the English Lake District, I spent a great deal of time swimming in its stunning lakes and rivers. In 2015 my brothers and I became the first people to swim the 145km length of the River Eden, from source to mouth, in 9 days. We also swam the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and Crossfit is a huge part of my training for these events.

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