Friday, 31 July 2009

Discussion Question: How necessary is specialized strength/power development to achieving elite levels of CrossFit performance?


There has been a lot of discussion lately about the role of strength/power in developing elite levels of CrossFit performance.  We all know it's important...strength and power are, after all, 2 of the 10 standards of fitness.  But just how important is it?

 Mark Rippetoe has said that he considers strength the most general of the 10 physical attributes, because "all of the others to some extent depend on strength or the process of its acquisition and strength depends on none of them."  Some seriously legit CrossFit names, including Dutch Lowy, Michael Rutherford, Robb Wolf, and Steven Low postulate that without a strength/power background, it is necessary to specialize in strength/power development in order to play catch-up with those athletes who have the advantage of being very, very strong.  And the amount of people doing programs such as CrossFit Strength Bias, CrossFit Football, and Max Effort Black Box seems to indicate that the general opinion has shifted more in the direction of developing higher levels of strength and power.

On the other hand, Josh Everett, who is possibly the highest level Olympic weightlifter who is also an elite CrossFitter, said in a Performance Menu article that if he were training seriously for the CrossFit Games, he would do the main site WOD.  Mikko Salo, Tommy Hackenbruck, and Moe Kelsey, respectively 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the 2009 CrossFit Games, all have deadlifts between the high 400s and low 500s, presses under 200#, and Olympic lifts that, while certainly respectable, are not indicative of strength/power specialization.

Is the idea that we need to specialize in strength and power contrary to CrossFit's prescription of constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity?  Or is it necessary to focus on strength and power in order to maximize performance across broad time and modal domains?

Post thoughts to comments.

34 comments:

Dale Saran said...

In one man's opinion, not necessary to strength specialize (with a hedge). This issue always reminds me that a lot of what people believe depends upon what you're background is. Here's my postulate: let's put aside CF for a minute and take the general population from which CF draws. Because CF has not been around forever, there are far, far more people who spent time running and/or working on their aerobic capacity before CrossFit. My assertion is based only on my own observations of health and fitness trends in the US. We have many more "joggers" and aerobic junkies (look at what is touted as "elite" by the general pop) than we do people who are strength junkies. Rip, Louie Simmons, et al, while respected within their own community, own an almost insignificant % of the "market share" of fitness.
With that as background, it doesn't surprise me that many folks come to cF much more "aerobic" fit than they are "strength" fit, or muscular endurance fit, and therefore they perceive that CF needs more strength emphasis (CFSB, CFFB, etc) rather than perceiving instead that they come with such deficits strengthwise (or we do as a population) that it's not a programmatic problem, it's a "them" problem and a patience problem. You can develop plenty of strength on CF alone, but not in 6 months. It may take a year or 18 months at the same time that you are gaining aerobically, muscular endurance, at other skills, etc.

It always looks harder to get stronger, but I find just the opposite. I would trade some DL/BS for a few minutes off of my 5K, but I'm probably genetically predisposed to strength work. People also tend to forget that training is an experiment of one.

Russ said...

I have a lot to say on this, but I'll save that for later and say just three points:

1. Speal's max deadlift is 375 and he's one of the best Crossfitters in the world.

2. The guys that everyone points to as successful strength athletes almost always also came in as very fast runners as well. On the other hand, in my experience, people who come in strong, but slow, very rarely see as fast gains. Josh Everett ran a 49 second 400m well before he started to focus on O-lifting. Yet for some reason I never see anyone insist on sprint specialization for new-comers to Crossfit.

3. I think most people fail to make sufficient strength and power gains on Crossfit because they don't learn how to competently perform the olympic and power lifts. With that technique base, I am not convinced that specialized strength or power training is necessary.

John said...

To answer this question precisely, I must consider my definition of fitness, which I have derived from the Crossfit definition of fitness: "Given a large selection of physical activities, chosen randomly but with a bias towards activities a human is likely to want or need to perform, fitness is the likelihood that a person will perform well overall on this selection." I define performing well in a similar statistical manner, but that does not matter because it's usually obvious to a trained observer when someone "performs well" at a selection of events.
With this in mind, some level of strength and power becomes necessary immediately. For most people, it is very difficult to jump high, hit hard, run fast, or carry things without proficiency in strength and power. A large random selection from my definition of fitness is likely to contain many activities that involve these actions, so training strength and power will indeed make an athlete more fit.
Specializing in strength and power training, therefore, will also make an athlete more fit. Getting better at stuff is getting better at stuff, no matter how you slice it, and if the strength and power training regimes are smart, which I assume CF Strength Bias, CF Football, and the rest are, then the athletes in question should not be losing much, if anything, in other areas of fitness.
So, the only possible beef I could have with focused strength and power training is that the athletes could be gaining more doing something else. In fact, I believe this is the case: the athletes could be focusing on their weaknesses. I fully support focused strength and power training, as long as strength and power continue to be weaknesses. Here's why training weaknesses is better than training strength and power after strength and power cease to be weaknesses: in any activity, the weakness is the deciding factor. So, if an athlete is performing a large number of activities, even if he is very strong and powerful, he will fail at every activity that has his weakness as a key component, even if strength and power are also key components. Consider the back squat. A guy who can deadlift N billion pounds but has weak flexibility cannot go past parallel with any real load on his back, so will not even complete one rep. Consider running with a 40 lb backpack. It takes some strength to handle 40 lbs even if you have good running form, but bad running form or endurance will kill you on this event even if you clean 400 and squat 650. There are other examples, I'm sure you all know them.
So, train weaknesses. For many people strength and power are weaknesses, and need to be trained. But continuing to focus on strength and power at the expense of other weaknesses when strength and power are no longer weak is not nearly as productive as assuring your general competence by focusing on your other weaknesses.

mfromano said...

as one who entered crossfit with a somewhat decent strength background, as well as a background in rowing, I have found strength training to be of the utmost importance in crossfit.

aerobic fitness, characterized as lung capacity, is fairly easy to attain. In fact, Rip and a couple of other strength coaches argue that simply lifting weights can endow one with a decent level of such fitness. What most struggle with is muscular endurance, which is much more difficult to build.

I have seen this discussed a lot, especially in several scaling articles, where it is argued that "power is maximized" if one uses a certain percentage of their one rep max. The problem here is that power is a product of not only maximal strength, but also of muscular endurance. For instance, my good friend from college has incredible muscular endurance, erging a 5k in 6:30. His maximal squat? 135 lbs. One cannot argue that he is extremely powerful, but this is due to his muscular endurance.

Most workouts are essentially maximal work over minimal time, or power. One can either work on muscular endurance, maximal strength, or both to increase this end. It is much easier, I find, to work on the latter. There are many reasons, but primarily, strength, to a certain extent, is very general, and muscular endurance is very specific. A runner will have different muscular endurance than a gymnast, or than a rower, or than a swimmer.

So, do I think strength training is necessary? Only enough for maximal lift competitions, provided sufficient muscular endurance exists for all other movements. What it does accomplish is to create a lower percieved exertion in nearly every exercise, which would certainly lower times.

That being said, I think that it does absolutely depend on the person, like Dale said. I come from the opposite background, being genetically favored as an endurance guy. Thus, I find it much more beneficial to work on strength.

You will find that nearly every athlete in the games does something to compensate for a weakness. Even Miko says that he "included mainpage programming", indicating that he may have done additional work.

Russ said...

Romano,

No one is disputing the need to work on weaknesses, or that strength training is a vital component of Crossfit.

The argument is over whether specialized strength training in the vein of Starting Strength, or MEBB, is superior to traditional Crossfit, as exemplified by the main page programming, at improving work capacity across broad time and modal domains. My experience suggests otherwise, but some very smart and experienced people disagree with me.

TexasPatrick said...

I only think it's necessary when it becomes clear that it's THE weakness. Thing is, I kept getting stronger the first two years I did cfit, just strong enough. So I specialized with CFSB and am still doing so and will continue until I'm nipping at the bottom of Rx'd stuff.

And funny Russ that you mention the "working on your sprint speed". My bugaboo is distance running, particularly something like the 5k. I think it's the ideal running distance, fast, but cripes you're not out there all damn day and you're 3 miles away from where you started. But yeah, no one ever says "WHOA! Can't get under 20 minutes? You need you some more of that longer running!" You don't see guys saying "what's your 5k time?" like they do with Fran . . .

osatts said...

I think that one of the fundamental aspects of training should be to address any weakness of our physical capabilities.

Prior to finding CF my powerlifts were respectable - my Oly lifts were not, neither could I kip/butterfly to maximise my power output during WODs. Therefore, as an experienced trainer but novice XFitter, I specialised (concentrated) on learning to become proficient in the oly lifts and being able to kip.

Nailing the kip, took my Fran time from over 6mins to 3:19, then learning the butterfly kip took my time down to 2:12.

In conclusion, I would surmise that short-term concentration on strength/power development has a massive effect on performance across a majority of WODs and for novice XFitters it will prove to be worth it.

Just me opinion though!

eshlow said...

I posted this about a month ago on Dutch's blog:

"2 points.

1. MEBB, Gant’s hybrid, etc. are not inferior … they are programmed more for the strength deficient athlete to increase their capacity. We all know that the strongest athletes tend to have the best capacity as proven time and time again with people with strong athletic/strength or manual labor backgrounds doing well at the games.

For the majority of people who are not elite, strength biased or pure strength work is the best way to get their potential for capacity up to par. You can develop their metabolic pathways from there.

2. Insofar as mainpage goes I think it’s almost always going to be the case that a mainpage athlete will win the games. Why you might ask? That’s a pretty simple quesion to answer because the people who do the mainpage programming also have a considerable amount of influence on the game’s workout designs. If you are prescribing lots of chippers and long metabolic blowouts on the mainpage, and the game contains at least some of those vs. someone who is on a more strength biased regimen it’s obvious who is going to do better unless you just have some genetic freak come in and take the crown away (Icelandic Annie perhaps?).

In any case, basically what I’m saying here is that strength biased regimens aren’t “debunked”, and mainpagers have been winning the games for fairly obvious reasons. I’m sure that in the future there may be some people who can program more effectively for “broad time and modal domains” than mainpage, but we haven’t seen what works yet because the games are constantly changing so far. (well, that and the mainpage guys are making up the games workouts so yeah…)."


As I said above, the two aren't mutually exclusive. We are suggesting that the NOVICE and INTERMEDIATE strength athletes who do not have a sports or strength/power background would benefit more from specialized programming to bring up their strength levels.... THEN transition them into main page if they want to be good at CF.

I don't think you'll find any one of the people on that list who disagrees with this assessment if their goals are to solely win CF games. Spealler is no exception -- for his weight, he has strong lifts.


Personally, if you're a novice/intermediate (strength) athlete I believe the fastest way to get better would be to focus solely on Oly + sprinting + gymnastics (mostly upper body work) to build the overall strength/power base then transition into main page/metabolic work as you approach the advanced/elite strength range.

Edwin said...

I agree with much of what has been said in terms of training one's weaknesses. At the same time I have a feeling that you'd have a fairly hard time actually completing the main side WOD's with decent times without being pretty darn strong, especially some of the new WOD's. This leads me to believe that doing them over time would produce that strength.

I think a bigger issue is that people often struggle to bring the same intensity and desire to their weaknesses as they do their strengths. This leads to half-hearted/discouraged strength WOD's for the more aerobically trained athlete, and vice versa, further cementing the cycle.

RDCP said...

First, I am not sure what Rip means when he says that strength does not depend on other attributes of fitness. I can't imagine getting strong without, for example, squating heavy, which entails squating well. A back squat may not be a squat snatch, but the vast majority of people starting to squat are limited by poor flexibility and the inability to coordinate hip drive, with balance as another plausible issue. As the weight gets heavier, a good walk-out also becomes crucial, which requires other elements or fitness. A shaky quarter squat is not the foundation of massive strengh, and the squat, as well as any functional lift, is an athletic movement, as Rip knows well.

Now, logically, if your goal is to be good at CrossFit, specializing in strength or power would ONLY be necessary (as in, for everyone) if CrossFit itself was biased or specialized towards strength and power. Advanced (in training terms) strength requires special attention and stimulus, so if we needed to be in the top 1% for strength but only in the top 10% for speed to be elite, for example, then extended strength programming would be needed, which in turn would require a specialization. This is essentially the view that Rip holds and hence why he suggests athletes go through at least a novice progression and begin with a minimum of intermediate (again, in training terms) strength with only novice speed, stamina, etc.

I don't really hold this view, as I am not convinced, for example, that squating in the upper 3's is more valuable for a WoD than running a mile in the low 5s. That said, what sort of programming do I do? A strength bias. It did not take too long for me to hit 20+ rounds of Cindy, but even if I hit the advanced CrossFit standard of bodyweight press, 2x bodyweight squat, 2.5 bodyweight DL, which I am not that close to as is, I would still be too weak to be elite. For those who's main weakness is, well, weakness, strength work is like additional stretching for the inflexible- perhaps not absolutely necessary, but damn helpful and smart.

But let's address what I feel is the elephant in the room. For many people, myself included, strength and power work is fun, and a 10k really sucks, even though I would do(and, with crossfit alone, have done) better in a 10k race than a powerlifting meet. I know I am not alone in prefering 5-10 minute metcons to 20+ minute ones. Also, as strength work involves more lifting, it appeals to the deep-seated desire, even among CrossFitters, for HYOOGER GUNZ. Lastly, a lot of people care more about being really strong (or just strong) than being really fit. I am not passing judgement, and I think all of these are legitimate motivations, especially since most CrossFitters now are not soldiers, LEOs, first responders, etc, and I am not imune to these considerations either (except for GUNZ, Jacob and Russ can back me up that I already rock those). Josh Everett, for example, wants to enjoy his workouts, and is fine with being really fit rather than the fittest.

In the end, however, if many people on the biases and hybrids were fully honest with themselves and fellow athletes, they would admit that "developing elite levels of CrossFit performance" is not the main reason why they deviated from the mainpage.

Jay Ashman said...

As evident by the 2009 games, power and strength are a need to be an elite CrossFitter, period. Mainsite-style workouts just don't cut it anymore. CFSB, MEBB and other Hybrids are the way to go to maximize strength/power gains in the presence of maximizing workrate and cardio capacity.

Instead of typing a long-winded responce, one can only look at Speal.... a FANTASTIC CrossFitter, but lacking in overall strength compared to the top guys at this years games. He didn't make the final day's events the sole reason was overall strength.

Its a necessity to develop it, its the basis for all other areas of fitness.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

eshlow:

You say, "We all know that the strongest athletes tend to have the best capacity as proven time and time again with people with strong athletic/strength or manual labor backgrounds doing well at the games."
The winners of the games did mainpage stuff. The man who won the games deadlifted less than 500#. So who exactly are you talking about? I agree that some people whose specialty is strength did well at the games, but so did a lot of people whose specialty is not strength. And what do you mean by capacity?

You say, "mainpagers have been winning the games for fairly obvious reasons."
You are insinuating that the games are biased against strength and power, despite the presence of a deadlift competition, a max snatch competition, and a 70 second weighted sprint. I think the games were programmed well. They included a variety of time domains, different movements, and different load schemes. If you want the games to focus a lot on strength and power, which are only 2 of the 10 aspects of fitness, they cease to be the crossfit games, and become instead the strength and power games.

You prescribe a certain way for athletes to train. Do you have any examples of athletes that have trained that way and been successful crossfitters, or other evidence to back up your claim?

Jay Ashman:

You say, "mainsite style workouts just don't cut it anymore."
Mikko Salo won the games. He does mainsite style workouts. What are you talking about?

You also say strength and power are necessary to be an elite Crossfitter. I totally agree. Mainpage style workouts make you stronger, as evidenced by Mikko Salo and lots of competitors from the games.

Boosie Girl said...

You're all way too smart for me to even begin to make sense in my own head.

But...

What about those of us who make these tiny little gains as opposed to massive gains, doing just standard wods? My point is: I'm not genetically engineered to make great gains...I fall in the category of 'get the freakn bar on your back, in your hands, over head whatever, and start lifting'

I think strength training is necessary, for sure.

boosie out.

eshlow said...

John:

I don't know why you are selectively reading my posts.


1. "The winners of the games did mainpage stuff. The man who won the games deadlifted less than 500#. So who exactly are you talking about? I agree that some people whose specialty is strength did well at the games, but so did a lot of people whose specialty is not strength. And what do you mean by capacity?"

The fact that Mikko has a fairly good deadlift for his bodyweight AFTER getting 2nd place in a run is amazing even if he did get extra rest.

But anyway, that wasn't my point. I specifically said that if people are WEAK -- novice or intermediate strength range -- they would be more benefitted from strength/power biased programming to get to advanced/elite strength BEFORE switching over to mainpage.

This is not in conflict with anything you said above.

Capacity/potential with high strength = potential for increased endurance. Strength gives potential for increased endurance up to a point. This is not arguable. All sports training have this in mind.


2. "You are insinuating that the games are biased against strength and power, despite the presence of a deadlift competition, a max snatch competition, and a 70 second weighted sprint. I think the games were programmed well. They included a variety of time domains, different movements, and different load schemes. If you want the games to focus a lot on strength and power, which are only 2 of the 10 aspects of fitness, they cease to be the crossfit games, and become instead the strength and power games."

No.

8 events in 2 days (even such "strength/power" events as you call them) is definitely going to tax recovery significantly. The fact that people on mainpage are doing lots more chippers, heroes, and other longer workouts means they are training more metabolically against fatigue.

20 heavy DLs in 10 minutes is definitely metabolic. The weighted sprint was metabolic as well. Power biased, sure. But still oxidative and going to tax capacity significantly.

Another way to describe "work capacity" is the "ability to resist fatigue."

If it's not obvious why mainpagers tend to do well at the games when the programming of the main site is similar to the programming of the games... I don't know what to tell you. You train for your competitions like you train for your events.


3. "You prescribe a certain way for athletes to train. Do you have any examples of athletes that have trained that way and been successful crossfitters, or other evidence to back up your claim?"

Regarding power/strenth bias, sure. Just look at the affiliate cup.

Mostly the "average folk" from different affiliates. Note that these are MOST of the people that make up the majority of CF and not the firebreathers which are the people with sports/athletic backgrounds (who were competing in the main event).

Here were the top 7 affils:
Northwest Crossfit?
Crossfit Central?
CrossFit NorCal**
CrossFit Calgary*
CrossFit Invictus**
Oregon CrossFit
CrossFit SoCal**

Consider that at least 3 of these affils (denoted by **) have strength/power biased programming (couldn't really tell to well with Calgary but they do have a lot of Oly work). The ones with the question marks I couldn't find workouts posted on the web.

Josh Everett is a good example of Olys/sprints.... Jolie and OPT did more Oly work to bring up their level of abilities, etc.

I am not suggesting people with advanced/elite strength keep training for strength/power bias for the games because clearly it's not going to help them win. Mainpage so far has been proven in that regard to give that extra metabolic spunk to allow the top competitors to keep placing high after they did well in the first event.

Boosie Girl said...

training strength doesn't necessarily mean being the strongest. It means being stronger at the other stuff thrown at you. that's all.

Rich Vos said...

A lot of good responses. Saran and Ashman are closest to my opinion.

I feel it truly depends on the individual, but like Dale says, for the most part, people who begin CrossFit are usually weak. In fact, too physically weak to complete a .com WOD as rx'd. What I've seen when relatively fit people come in to try out CF is that they may have a pullup or two and can run a 5K in sub 22, but have never squatted below parallel or deadlifted with proper form. The fitness industry has created the mentality that the most fit person is the one who is thinnest from running the longest. It is very rare that someone will come in with a decent amount of strength to work with.

With that, I'd say that specializing in strength and power is very necessary up to a point and is applicable to most new CF athletes. Leaving it up to the main site to build up strength quickly is not the answer as it is designed to work the fittest athletes to the bone. The best program, I believe, for (most) newer athletes is a CFSB type program.

So, at which point do we switch an athlete from CFSB to the mainsite? Switch over when the athlete is able to complete most WODs as rx'd. It's nice to see an athlete smoke through Fran in 6 minutes with 65# and a white band, but there is a desperate need for strength. A CFSB program early on will help build it up so that an rx'd Fran would be completed in about 9 minutes, but still completed as rx'd.

I've also found that when the few strong people come in, their technique is shit. This is when I lighten the loads to about 60-75% and harp on form/depth of squat/lumbar curve/etc... I just point to Boz when people say you have to be big to put up big numbers. The guy is the master of technique and gets results. Give the strong folks technique at large loads and they won't need to waste the strength come metcon time.

So, my answer:
Strength First, Technique Always.

Russ said...

Nobody is arguing that strength training isn't important, or that strength doesn't transfer over to endurance to some extent.

People are missing that standard crossfit + serious nutrition and recovery leads to pretty good strength gains. Crossfit, done correctly, makes you stronger, while also giving marked improvements across "broad time and modal domains." Isn't that what we're here for?

After 2 years of intense crossfit training, with commitment to form and nutrition, we tend to see between low 4's and low 6's on the deadlift. Some data points:

Toren - 220 lbs. bwt, 600 lb. deadlift after 2 years of training, 245 lb. power clean first time he maxed after 1 year of crossfit training. Came in at 185 lbs. and struggling with sub 200 lb. deadlifts.

Jacob - 195 lbs., 460 lb. deadlift after about less than 1.5 years of serious crossfit training. Came in with serious hip function problems that prevented him from squat cleaning 135 for a long time. He squat cleaned 245 a week ago, and will get a lot more soon.

Alex H - after under a year of crossfit training, 345 lb. deadlift and 305 lb. back squat. This is at 175 lbs. bwt and 18 years old. A year from now, he will be in the low 400's.

Female X - 40 something years old, 123 lbs. bwt, 250 lb. deadlift, 40 pullups after less than 2 years. Came in with a triathlon background.

Of all the people I've trained or seen, only 2 were seriously in need of strength bias. They were severely underweight individuals. We put them on strength bias programs (that still had them doing very intense and some long metcons) and they saw big gains in strength.

One of them, Alex O., hit 155 X 3 overhead squat, 215 X 3 front squat, and a 335 lb. deadlift after less than a year of serious training at 145 lbs. bodyweight. He came in struggling with a 165 lb. deadlift. The other, Ben, hit 275 for 20 on the deadlift at under 150 lbs. bwt, in the middle of ultimate frisbee season. Again, both these athletes made these gains while performing intense metcons 4 days a week on top of intense sports schedules (boxing and ultimate frisbee.)

These experiences, except for one, are just from my personal experience pursuing personal training as a hobby. The professionals at Crossfit Monterey are making even more impressive results, WITHOUT strength specialization.

Tsypkin said...

eshlow:

I think you're making quite a blanket statement when you say that all athletes with novice-to-intermediate strength levels will be benefited by a strength/power biased program. That statement fails to take into account genetic predisposition, which is pretty important in my opinion and experience.

Like Dale, I am genetically predisposed towards strength. However, due to severe hip function issues, my lifts were VERY novice-to-intermediate for a long time. Furthermore, my running was below novice, and most of my gymnastics, with the exception of kipping pullups, were advanced novice-to-beginning intermediate at best. Had I focused on strength training, I would probably deadlift in the mid-to-low 5s by now. However, I probably wouldn't be able to run a mile without stopping, do more than 10-15 legit pushups, any muscle-ups or handstand pushups, and my "Fran" would probably be in the 8-10 minute range. As it is:

Bodyweight 195#
Squat 350# (Olympic)
Press 185#
Deadlift 460#
Clean 245#
1500m run - 6:54
49 pullups
6 muscle-ups
11 handstand pushups (not max, I stopped before I had to as this was in a WOD)
11 L-Pullups
"Fran" 4:53, in May of 2008 considerably less fit than I am now. I would estimate 3:30 now.

I achieved these numbers without strength specialization of any kind. In fact, at times I downplayed my strength training, focusing on light weight form work with heavy stuff about once a week, in favor of running and gymnastics.

There are certainly people who should make strength their focus, but there are also those who will stunt their progress by doing so. "Pursuing headlong those things we are worse at" implies that we pursue headlong those things we are going to be worst at in the long run.

Also, are you using Rippetoe's strength standards? If so, that means you think a male athlete at a bodyweight of 165# should have a press between 153#-186#, a squat between 342#-445#, a bench between 255#-319#, a deadlift between 411#-518#, and a power clean between 246#-288#. These numbers are ludicrously high: I have tons of athletes who aren't that strong who complete our WODs as rx'd (yes, my programming contains plenty of heavy barbells in metcon WODs, you can see it at crossfit-monterey.com if you wish.) Interestingly, they are all still making tremendous gains in strength...even those not genetically predisposed towards it! A few examples:

Athlete S came to us hardly able to push press two 25# dumbbells for reps in a metcon WOD. At a height of 6' and a bodyweight of 158#, he is certainly not built for strength...but now deadlifts 410#. By the way, the workouts he gets left behind on? Metcons, particularly those including moderate weight for high repetitions.

Athlete A came to us having never touched a weight. 17 years old, height 6', bodyweight 160#. Athlete A's biggest weakness is barbell strength. However, he has a genetic predisposition towards kinesthetic awareness: he learns movements quicker than all but 1 athlete I have ever trained. As a result, he quickly took his deadlift to 345# (within 4 months of starting training with barbells.) He also cleans a double at 195# and push jerks 210#.

Lastly, I don't buy the idea that MEBB is "strength biased programming." It's CrossFit, with a lifting day in every cycle (which is commonly seen on the main site.) It's just that the lifting day is always in the middle, and usually has several specific lifts, rather than one randomly assigned one.

eshlow said...

Russ, Jacob:

This is starting to get into the lines of "what exactly is CF"

MEBB is CF? If so, is CFFB or CFE or CFSB also CF? I don't think you can legitimately call all of those things "CF" under a blanket statement because of the differences in training. Remember, metabolic conditioning workouts are not exclusive to CF nor is weightlifting, intervals, etc.

The quality of the program matters a lot in accordance with the advancement of athletes just like good nutrition, sleep, low stress levels, etc. matter in their progress. It's nice to have merely "good" numbers via mainpage, but it still doesn't take into account the fact that the top CFers are tending to have strong athletic/proprioceptive backgrounds and more easily transfer into mainpage CF because of their ability to use their strength effectively to CF.

I assume, of course, that we are trying to get CFers to the "elite" echelon of having them compete in the games and do well (however.. this is clearly not the goal of everyone that does CF).

As far as genetics go you don't really have to take it into account. Those that are predisposed towards gaining strength/power (fast twitch, great recovery, etc) does not make them an exemption to non-strength building phase in my opinion namely because of the fact that THEY would benefit the most from moving extremely heavy weights first. For example, Rob Orlando in this years CF games did fairly well even though he's only done CF for what 4-6 months-ish with an "elite" powerlifting background from moving super heavy weight. Of course, he's also lost strength on his deadlift so yes there is a point where you will see decreasing gains if you continue to focus on such. That number is much lower in non predisposed strength/power athletes such as us regular folk.

This is completely why I think strength/power biased programming is extremely important because if you've read my article building elite endurance ( http://eshlow.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-speed-work-is-necessary-for-elite.html ), you see a strong correlation with strength even to endurance biased sports. Strength being one of the 10 attributes of fitness that translates the best to everything.. it's important to focus on it first as metabolic ability is more easily built. That said as you improve towards the point where you're starting to plateau with decreasing gains towards your "sport" that is when it's best to transfer into more "sport specific" training. I feel the same way about CF.

Thus, I would say

1. strength first into a strength biased program into pure mainpage CF.

2. Strength composed of Oly + sprinting + gymnastics/rings


I realize it is fairly unlikely that we will convince each other to our respective points of view. But this is exactly why I am convinced of such.

John said...

Eshlow:

"I realize it is fairly unlikely that we will convince each other to our respective points of view. But this is exactly why I am convinced of such."

I for one am not trying to convince you of anything.
What I worry is that you will convince others that your ways are more effective than standard Crossfit. Your arguments are based on conjecture rather than examples, so this is a bad thing.

"If it's not obvious why mainpagers tend to do well at the games when the programming of the main site is similar to the programming of the games... I don't know what to tell you. You train for your competitions like you train for your events."

No doubt. So, if the competition is a randomly assorted array of intense physical tasks, mainpage crossfit would be your choice? I totally agree. That's why I think mainpage crossfit is a better way to achieve elite levels of crossfit performance than strength specialization.

"MEBB is CF? If so, is CFFB or CFE or CFSB also CF? I don't think you can legitimately call all of those things "CF" under a blanket statement because of the differences in training. Remember, metabolic conditioning workouts are not exclusive to CF nor is weightlifting, intervals, etc."

This bothers me because you've taken what Jacob said out of context. He only said that MEBB is crossfit. He did not make a blanket statement.

"As far as genetics go you don't really have to take it into account..."

Taking genetics into account allows one to focus on weaknesses. You are downplaying the importance of focusing on weaknesses, and playing up the importance of lifting heavy things. Don't get me wrong, strength rules and Rob Orlando is a fit, impressive athlete. But he did not win, and the fittest guys at the games were not the ones whose numbers suggested strength biased programming. In fact, only six of the top 16 males managed to pick up the final 505# deadlift. You say that Mikko Salo has an impressive deadlift for his bodyweight. No doubt, but nothing compared to a strength specialist. Like Russ said: Toren weighs 220 and deadlifts 600. This is just from doing mainpage crossfit, with no strength specialization.

You also argue that the deadlift competition was metabolic in nature. So is a 10RM back squat. The point is, strength was the limiting factor, as shown by the fact that several athletes PR'd their deadlift on that event.


The point I'm trying to make is this: if you're going to argue that all beginning crossfitters should do a strength program, get more data. If you're going to say the games showed that strength bias is effective, make sure they actually did.
Russ gave plenty of examples of impressive strength gains athletes have made on crossfit, without a strength bias, showing that crossfit makes you stronger. What you seem to be arguing is that first strength, then crossfit later pays off in the long run. Rob Orlando is the only data point you have, and while he is impressive as an athlete, he is not enough data. Please either give us more data, or make it clear that you are guessing.

Jay Ashman said...

Rob Orlando is one yes, but he also made it to Aromas, so he must be doing something right.

Plus, my goals aren't necessarily being the best CrossFitter alive. I know that at my size I am limited in what I can do against guys 50 pounds less than me. My goal is to be the biggest guy to place the highest at my regional, or if I am lucky enough, the Games.

That is what it is, goals. Each individual has to realize what they want to do, do they want to be a good CrossFitter or maybe a real strong guy with a good fitness base or just get in shape... its up to that person.

I will put my metcon times up against a lot of people's times and I am confident that I can hold my own with some very good CrossFitters, and that is with my programming.

I wouldn't say I do a strength bias, but I do add strength work. Its a couple sets of explosive lifts, a couple sets of slow lifts and then a metcon. My gains are gradual and slower than one would get with a strength program, but I am also not willing to sacrifice fitness for it.

There has to be an element of strength work in CrosssFit, whether you follow the mainpage programming with the 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 occasional work or you follow your own programming.

Without some semblance of it, you are just becoming more fit and only marginally stronger.

If you told me that your athletes are pulling 450 from metcons only, I would be incredibly surprised.

Josh Everett says he will follow the mainsite for the games, yes he is probably right and when the time comes that my MEBB programming is done, I will be doing mainsite work to prepare myself. But... Josh also has incredible strength already and I don't think he needs to work on that too much more.

for the rest of us not at his level, we have areas of lifting that need work and that is why a specialized program that brings those weak areas up is a necessity.

John said...

Jay Ashman:

Nobody is telling anybody not to do strength work. I am saying that strength BIAS is not as effective as vanilla crossfit.

I totally agree that everyone needs strength work, and I think the best way to do it is to follow a vanilla crossfit WOD.

I too would be surprised if an athlete deadlifted 450 from metcon's alone. However, vanilla crossfit got Toren up to 600, and he weighs 220. Read Russ' post for more interesting data.

About your numbers: I bet they'd be better if you did pure crossfit. If you want to compete with guys 50# lighter than you, you need the best training around, and the data shows what that is. I too am rather heavy (225#), and I do crossfit. Why? Because it works. Time and again, the data shows that it works.

eshlow said...

"I for one am not trying to convince you of anything.

What I worry is that you will convince others that your ways are more effective than standard Crossfit. Your arguments are based on conjecture rather than examples, so this is a bad thing."

While my personal recommendations are based on more conjecture than example, sure. But you can't ignore the athletic backgrounds of most of the firebreathers. Most of which come from strength backgrounds. To do so is more of an offense than my conjecture.

"This bothers me because you've taken what Jacob said out of context. He only said that MEBB is crossfit. He did not make a blanket statement."

MEBB is lifts with CF. Okay fine. CF is CF mainpage + more intervals. CFFB is basically heavy lifting metabolic work mixed with strength work. Sounds oddly like a hybridized program to me.

The point is you're saying a lot of things are CF. If you can't define what CF is then there's no point in this discussion. Saying something like MEBB is CF and mainpage is CF... that's dumb from a programming standpoint as the two programs focus distinctly on improving different attributes more.

"Taking genetics into account allows one to focus on weaknesses. You are downplaying the importance of focusing on weaknesses, and playing up the importance of lifting heavy things. Don't get me wrong, strength rules and Rob Orlando is a fit, impressive athlete. But he did not win, and the fittest guys at the games were not the ones whose numbers suggested strength biased programming. In fact, only six of the top 16 males managed to pick up the final 505# deadlift. You say that Mikko Salo has an impressive deadlift for his bodyweight. No doubt, but nothing compared to a strength specialist. Like Russ said: Toren weighs 220 and deadlifts 600. This is just from doing mainpage crossfit, with no strength specialization.

You also argue that the deadlift competition was metabolic in nature. So is a 10RM back squat. The point is, strength was the limiting factor, as shown by the fact that several athletes PR'd their deadlift on that event."

Specialized work on your weaknesses while it would give you the most gains bringing up your work capacity is good. But I don't see that listed in any of the definitions of what exactly CF is. I SUPPOSE it could be implied... but then that's just speculation like all of us are doing anyway.

Shrug whatever.

"The point I'm trying to make is this: if you're going to argue that all beginning crossfitters should do a strength program, get more data. If you're going to say the games showed that strength bias is effective, make sure they actually did.

Russ gave plenty of examples of impressive strength gains athletes have made on crossfit, without a strength bias, showing that crossfit makes you stronger. What you seem to be arguing is that first strength, then crossfit later pays off in the long run. Rob Orlando is the only data point you have, and while he is impressive as an athlete, he is not enough data. Please either give us more data, or make it clear that you are guessing."

Now this is the funny thing.

If you're actually going to tell me to present data showing that beginning CFers need to focus more on a strength biased program.... why don't you present me with some data of people with non-strength backgrounds doing extremely well at the CF games?

Since you don't accept any of the "good" athlete examples I give such as Orlando or Everett, OPT, Jolie, etc. who specifically focused on their strength given in the previous posts I assume this is going to be pretty hard to do. Nor do you accept my affiliate example of programs that focus on strength biased programming which I think is more compelling than the individual competition.

---------------------

I don't think I'll be visiting this post anymore. Arguing this topic is amounting to pointless every time whether here or on the CF message boards.

Jay Ashman said...

Last comment here, I don't feel like getting into a pissing contest about this. This was originally a open-ended blog question and has turned into a "my way (CrossFit mainsite) is better than your way", and that to me, is purely ego-driven and counterproductive to learning because egos get involved.

I come into CrossFit knowing how to train strength athletes, having coached strongmen, football players, powerlifters and highland games athletes, so I put a big light on being strong as it pertains to fitness. It is much easier to do 21 95# thrusters if your press is over 200# and your squat is 315# than if it is much lower.

Strength HELPS fitness, and as long as you don't sacrifice fitness for power, you will improve on all areas.

If Russ or John want to e-mail me, do so, I am open to suggestions and ways to improve my training all the time, so feel free:

switchfighter.ny at gmail.com

Russ, if you come into CrossFit and do mainpage only you will take forever to get up to a 2x BW deadlift or squat.

No kidding I have to do muscle-ups, I do "Angie" and other BW workouts, and I have started running more...

BUT... I also know that strength is fast becoming a thing that CrossFit is making SURE we have.

I'll take my chances with my programming, if I need to adjust, you can bet that I will adjust it according to what I know I need.

I'm very good at determining weaknesses and I am not afraid to tackle them.

Once I get rings, then muscle ups will be worked on.

As far as running... I am 240 pounds and ran a 25 min 5k, so far so good.

And if a lighter athlete beats me in metcons, he SHOULD... he is lighter. I expect him to beat me, but not always. I'm remarkably fit for a guy my size, but I still want to get my dead and squat back up to above 500 and I will be happy.

I used to pull 660 and squat 525 before I tore my hamstring and hurt my back in a strongman contest in 2004, so I was fearful of doing those type of lifts for a long time.

Strength is a component of fitness, I know you know that, the fact that I do an abbreviated strength program helps me, it doesn't hurt.

If all my metcons were bar complexes or CFFB stuff, then I would be worried, but I try to mix it up as much as possible to keep it varied.

Jay Ashman said...

Russ, not saying they are not important but there is far more than one way to do CrossFit, which is why people do their own programming, why we have MEBB, CFFB and CFSB and why all of them work in one degree or another.

I'm glad people you know have success with that, I really am. Its good to see CrossFitters come on board and have phenomenal gains, it makes me happy.

I didn't say it was impossible, I said it takes longer. And obviously those are athletes who are genetically better than the average because I can cite for you many examples of CrossFitters who cannot do even 400 pound deadlifts after a few years of it, Spealer is one, Petranek is another. And both of them are phenomenal CrossFitters.

We both can prove our theory, Dutch Lowy is a MEBB disciple and can back up what he does with solid results, Rob Orlando MADE the Games and trains with heavy weights often, he didn't win, but he made it. Khalipa is another example of an athlete doing strength work more often than the average bear.

Please don't think your way is the only way, because it sure isn't. Different athletes require different methods, there is NEVER a one-size-fits-all approach to this, it is always based upon what an individual needs.

I'm sorry you can't agree to this, but its a fact.

Data points, examples? Let's call it look around and ask other affiliates and elite CrossFitters and see what they do. I am all about learning, I ask those better than me often and I take advice and do my best to incorporate it, but everyone has their own way, and it is up to me to find my best way.

I'll stick to what I am doing, we'll see in 2010 how well I do.

Russ said...

I did not say that my way was the only way. Strength-focus Crossfit is effective programming, as evidenced by your and other results.

What I disputed what the assertion which you, and many others have made, that strength focus is near universally the superior way to train for Crossfit, or that a strength background is necessary to succeed on mainpage-type programming. I quote you: "Mainsite-style workouts just don't cut it anymore."

I believe I have provided sufficient counter-examples to these assertions to show that this statement is untrue.

Lastly, what is your source on the statement that Khalipa trains extra strength work? Last I heard he did mainpage WODs prior to his 2008 win.

Jay Ashman said...

Prior to the 2008 win yes, but didn't he do extra strength work for 2009? Or am I offbase on that one.

and I don't believe mainsite will make a champion, I think they will make a champion better, but if you want to be elite and are not at that level, I think you need to program yourself to reach that level by attacking your weak areas.

Russ said...

You absolutely do need to attack your weak areas. This is, however, not at all a new element to standard Crossfit training. Furthermore, attacking weak areas does not have to mean diverging from main-site style WOD programming. You can add you weak point work before or after the WOD.

Five years ago, before there even were Crossfit Games, Greg Amundson had a shitty overhead squat. What did he do? He overhead squatted before the WOD every single day until it improved.

Again, practicing and training weak points is not new to crossfit. If you read the other posts on evolveyourfitness.blogspot.com, you will discover that Jacob has covered this topic extensively and in detail.

Jay Ashman said...

I believe he has, but I am going to stick to my way for now and explore mainsite options closer to the Games to ensure my training is diversified enough.

I'm bringing up what I need to for now and finetuning it in a few months.

Jay Ashman said...

furthermore, if you want to comment on my training aspects and offer constructive advice as I go, I am always open to suggestions, I'm not impossible to deal with. :)

RDCP said...

Don't want to beat a dead horse, but I do want to make a quick point. Most people come into CrossFit weak, yea, which would seem to suggest that they need a strength bias. But they also come in slow, unconditioned, etc. They don't always come in weaker than they are slow, and often have other issues. How about all of the failed bodybuilders, who may be weak, relatively speaking, but have NO real metcon base? Though weak, their strength might be their best asset. Would focusing on strength again make sense here?

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Jonathan said...

John:

"The point I'm trying to make is this: if you're going to argue that all beginning crossfitters should do a strength program, get more data. If you're going to say the games showed that strength bias is effective, make sure they actually did."

Examples
Mikko Salo (1st):
"My basic training day starts with running or rowing 30-45 min with high intensity (interval training) in the mornings. In the evenings, I do some kind of strength training (different squats, cleans, snatches, deadlifts, all major lifts), with sets of 5x3, 5x5, or 5x10.

After the strength training, I usually do two different metcon workouts with 5-10 minute rest in between. For these, I use broad time domains from 1 minute to 30 minutes. I also try to use big weights and my body mass in the metcons. I always hammer the metcons with full intensity."

Moe Kelsey (3rd):
"When I work at the Fire Department, like Mikko, I tried to do around 1/2 hour to one hour of swimming, running, cycling, or rowing in the morning, but sometimes a WOD. In the evenings, I would do some type of heavy lift (squat, clean, dead, bench, etc.), then a WOD. I work every third day and sometimes more."

Those both sound like they have a trength bias to me. Heavy lifts before WODs. Of course, they sound like they have endurance biases as well. Then Tommy Hackenbruck (2nd) sounds like only did normal WODs just with more volume sometimes.

Looks like what it takes to win the games is not avoiding specialization, but specializing in everything.