Jul 14, 2013

Weekend Discussion - Strength Training

"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general."
- Rippetoe

CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program that seeks balanced adaptation and improvement across the 10 physical domains. This balance is crucial to the concept of developing general physical preparedness (GPP) and competency at all physical tasks.  IMCF's (and CrossFit main site's) base programming is designed with this GPP in mind, and includes activities to cause adaptations across the board, including strength.

That said, you could make a convincing argument that strength is one of the highest priorities for development.  A solid strength foundation enables development in the other domains, and strongly factors in an athlete's ability to generate power and speed.  Many programs and athletes, including some of our own, supplement or cycle their traditional GPP training with additional strength training.

Keep in mind that for most (especially new) athletes, this kind of specialized training is not needed. You will make tremendous gains performing our base programming consistently and with intensity. However, as your fitness objectives evolve you may choose to add this form of bias into your training. If you are going to do it, you may as well do it intelligently.

Our own Jake Atkins has been reading up on some of the "gold standard" strength programs out there, and sharing executive overviews of the methodologies with our programmers.  Posting them here to help spread some knowledge...you can locate this and future articles using the "Strength" tag.  Any questions, experiences, or insights to share?  Post to comments!


I'm starting this discussion because strength by and large will make you a better CrossFitter. There is a lot of information out there from sources with different degrees of legitimacy. I am no expert, but I am interested in getting stronger - a lot stronger. So my intent is to provide some reviews of solid strength programs outside of normal CrossFit work. Basically, I'll read a book and give you the nuggets free o' charge. Hopefully this will pique your interest and perhaps lead you down the path of getting stronger. Other reviews to look forward to the next few weeks include:
  • 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler
  • Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
  • The Bulgarian System
Again, I'm no expert -- just looking to share information and start a productive dialogue.

Chalk Up,
Jake Atkins


I. Westside Barbell's Book of Methods.

"It’s important to understand the Westside system is, first and foremost, designed to develop strength. It was not created for optimal fat loss or to improve general health. Plain and simple: Westside trains for strength. If this doesn't fall in line with your goals/area(s) of interest this may not be the optimal training system for you."  ~ Jordan Syatt, from Syatt Fitness
Louie Simmons' Westside Barbell gym and system has, quite simply, produced some of the strongest men and women in the world.  For those interested, here is roughly what they do:


They use Prilepin's Chart for their set/rep and volume scheme. If you don't know what that is and would like to know, just pipe up.

They use a 3 week cycle that Louie Simmons calls a pendulum because it goes up for 3 weeks, then resets percentage wise.

They have a maximum effort day for upper body and lower body, so it would be Squats/Deadlifts, then Bench Press (they're powerlifters that's all that matters to them). They get a 1 to 3 rep max, for a major barbell exercise that is related to those three big lifts, such as sumo deadlifts or barbell good-mornings.  The list of different versions is massive and is completely up to you as to which ones you do, the only necessary part is the exercise has to be related to the ones you are striving to improve upon.  They do the maximum effort days twice a week, one day a week for the deadlift and squat together, and a separate day for the bench press.

They also have a dynamic day. If you are following me this implies correctly that they only do main workouts 4 times a week, with upper and lower body each having 2 days trained a piece. So another way to put it is they are squatting twice a week. Dynamic day is all about force production. They use sub-maximal weights from 55-65% but they do the repetitions fast - greased lightning fast - to build great force production, power, and General Physical Preparedness (GPP). The sets will have a time limit between them from 30 seconds to a minute, and will generally be 10 to 12 sets of 2 reps. 

The rest of their work-outs, both on ME and Dynamic days are specialty movements such as triceps extensions, Glute Ham Raises, the reverse hyper (an invention of Louie Simmons), Ab work, good mornings, and a host of other things that they go to repetition failure for 2 or 3 sets on after the main workout. The specialty work is the stuff they claim accounts for the significant portion of the gains they make throughout the year, as they are designed to specifically improve the main lifts.

They use a conjugate system for rotating exercises through the waves. This means they use many different versions of the classical lifts, but rarely the lifts themselves in the waves. They use this in order to combat what Louie calls accommodation, which is simply saying diminishing returns from training the same lifts over and over. Louie says after 3 weeks of training the same big exercise at 90% accommodation will set in and gains will no longer be made.  To be clear, the rotating exercises on max effort day, and rotating the exercises in three week waves on dynamic day is the conjugate system.  It’s not a separate thing but the “thing” itself. 

Louie is also big on Box Squats, bands, and chains. Bands and Chains give what Louie calls accommodating resistance. They will get tougher or easier as they stretch or hit the floor. This allows for amazing acceleration (the concept is the bands and chains are equivalent to putting a weight at the end of a baseball bat, when you take the weight off the bat seems lighter, they strive for that feeling all the time).  Box Squats are just harder than actual squats, they force hip strength and rapid acceleration through sticking points in the squat. But a quick note on box squats, they are highly tailored low bar back squats, and the strength you will gain from doing them will significantly help the low bar back squat by building the hamstrings, hips, and glutes.  Some Olympic lift purists believe that somehow that strength doesn’t transfer, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.  The good thing with box squats, there is no doubt as to how far down you went.  Add or take away depth and you have a new exercise for the ME day. Add bands or chains to make up the percentages from maximum during maximum effort days, or roughly 30% of the weight on dynamic days and your squats are going to shoot through the roof according to Louie.

That's their method, and if world records and 1000 pound squatters are an indicator of successfulness, they are top of the line.  

So what does all this mean for a CrossFitter?  This is simply another way to get stronger.  Do you need to do box squats and use bands and chains?  That’s up to you, but remember, Louie devised that stuff specifically to improve the three lifts for powerlifting.  He’s a competitor and his gym is all about competing and winning powerlifting meets – period.  That being said, with some modifications it can be used to improve the Olympic lifts, as The Outlaw Way (a CrossFit affiliate) is doing, and it can be used to just to get stronger and faster for general strength.  Louie trains other athletes besides powerlifters.  He has distance runners, cyclists, long jumpers, football players, and swimmers.  It’s all about knowing what sport you are competing in and using the conjugate method to tailor exercises that are specific to that sport. 

- Jake Atkins

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