Be Strong, Be Kind

Strength coach, trainer educator, writer, mom to three awesome kids, pie enthusiast. Creating monsters since 2009.

Pulling Back the Curtain, Part 3: Strength and Base

Mike McKenna and Dave Van Skike

This article can really be applied to any sport where improving performance is a priority, but we’ve been asked to specifically address training for the CrossFit Games and so a good subtitle might be:

Why you didn’t make it to Regionals and what to start doing now to improve your chances for next year.

Most of us at Practical Strength have been involved with the Crossfit community on one level or another in the course of our fitness and training careers.  Some of us still continue to train Crossfitters who want to get better at weightlifting, strongman, power lifting, or just get stronger in general.  We’ve seen many of them improve both in both their specialities AND at Crossfit because of the kind of training we’ve employed.  We’ve made some observations over the years with the folks we’ve trained that can be of great help to those Crossfit folks who wish to be more competitive  at the Crossfit Games.

The Games are two weeks from now so if you didn’t make it past Regionals, you have already begun your off-season training period.  The things you do in and out of the gym now can make a big difference in how you perform next year, but the first thing you have to come to grips with is that you need a goal.  And it has to be more specific than “make it to Regionals”.

If you’re using a canned program to try and improve things at this point because you think its worked for others, Congratulations…You Just Failed to Make Regionals in 2013.  What you need right now is a plan that specifically targets your weaknesses and prioritizes the qualities that will improve your performance the most.

The qualities that you most likely need to improve right now are those that take the longest to develop are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Strength and an Aerobic Base.

Let’s talk about Aerobic Base or Endurance.  Endurance is Strength over time.  Aerobic base is the ability of your heart, lung, and muscles to sustain work over time.  A great deal of endurance is required to put in the kind of training that allows for high intensity repeated efforts over the course of a day or three of competition.  You know why wrestlers run?  Running in and of itself does not make one a better wrestler, but it gives a wrestler the stamina to get in the higher intensity practice on the mat that makes for a competitive athlete.  When you take an honest look at folks who are good crossfitters, they generally come from a background of sports and/or endurance training.  Someone who practiced soccer for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, has a HUGE aerobic base as well as leg strength endurance.  A person who has trained for and run a marathon or maybe was a competitive swimmer has a similar advantage.  The also have postural endurance, the ability to suffer not for 20 miniutes but for hours while keenly focused on one of the key elements of Endurance training:  Form and Efficiency.  In short, high intensity workouts, there is Zero place for 20% slop.

Learning new skills, getting a little stronger, and adding intervals can enhance what these athletes already have, but their ability to go long and strong comes from hundreds of hours of just putting in the time.  And if you know anything about short and middle distance runners, cyclists, or rowers, its that hundreds of miles go into training to be competitive for those few short minutes on the track, road, or water.

And then there’s strength.  Strength is the foundation of pretty much everything.  If you’re strong, you have more endurance, power, joint stability, coordination, balance, etc. An excellent strength base is what the winners at the competitions have and it’s what most people lack.  It is also the quality that is simplest to develop but takes the most time.  So, why would you sell yourself short by not getting as strong as you possibly can when you have the time to do it?  Combining strength with conditioning circuits may be a good way to maintain your strength and make marginal gains while training for crossfit competition, but its not the best way to just get strong.  And when you are strong, you will not struggle to put a bar overhead without pressing out, or deadlift your bodyweight for reps.  You will also recover better, and have a lot more left in the tank for whatever comes your way.  The catch is, if you are training for strength, your strength sessions should have room for little else.  No finishers, no accessory work, no skill practice.  Just the lifts ma’am.

So, if you really truly want to perform better for next year, you’re going to have to put away the stopwatch and put in some serious time on the road and under the bar.  You’ll probably find this to be a much greater challenge than you are anticipating and you will have to train a lot smarter to balance your endurance volume, lifting intensity, and recovery, but if you do this right, you will have a base of endurance and strength that will make you much more competitive, not to mention less prone to injury.

Now, is this all there is to it?  Of course not, this is just the foundation. Foundation is part of an individualized program that will optimally prepare you for your competition or sport.  We discuss this in depth, especially the concept of individual programming, at our seminar.  If you can establish a rock solid foundation, the remaining qualities and sport specific demands are much easier to improve.  No matter how shitty the standards of form may be in various sports and competitions, good form, efficiency, and consistent movements make for a better competitor.  Very seldom do we describe our top athletes in any sport as clumsy or sloppy  There is a value in developing grace at high intensities and this is entirely dependent on strength and endurance. 

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