Strength Cycle: August – October, 2019

Congratulations to all our members on an insanely successful testing week!! We were blown away by your intensity and effort in everything from front squat 1RMs to “Fran” on Friday. It is always really rewarding when weeks like this come along and so many people exceed their own expectations. We hope you all take at least a few minutes to look back on where you were a few months or years ago, and how far you have come in your CrossFit journey.

In our survey last month, a number of people indicated that they would appreciate being able to see more of the big picture as far as programming for the gym goes — to see behind the curtain, so to speak. It is so cool to have members who are interested in that process and care about the thought behind the workouts, and we want to encourage that engagement. We are switching up our strength programming starting on Monday, so we wanted to provide you with information about what to expect and some of the rationale behind the change. You are always welcome to check in with Monica to discuss if you have questions — she loves geeking out over this type of stuff, and welcomes conversations about it!

I. Overview

The structure of our strength programming will change starting next week. Our priority lifts will be back squat, deadlift, and strict press, and will fall on standardized days each week, following a two-week rotation:

Week A: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Week B: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Previous cycles loosely followed a nine day rotation, meaning major lifts appeared an average of once every two weeks. Being on different days each week ensured no matter which day(s) a person attended class, s/he would be exposed to each priority lift at least once in awhile. This has been working overall, and members are continuing to get stronger. Case in point: almost every single person who tested their 1RM front squat on Monday PRed! At a minimum, people were exposed to all the movements, and members who attended more frequently reaped the full benefits of the progressions. However, because lifts fell on different days each week, sometimes it was hard for members to see the progressions and understand how each session fit in the broader scheme.

CrossFit trains people for “the unknown and unknowable,” and we will not lose the challenge and fun of varied group programming. We are still aiming for “constantly varied, functional movement done at (relatively) high intensity.” But just because life’s tests might be random or unpredictable does not mean our training should be unpredictable. When people know what is coming, they will be able to prepare and maximize their training. Then when unpredictable tests arrive, they will be as prepared as possible. Training is not testing. While we do test our fitness in the gym, the bulk of our gym time should be training that will prepare us for the tests of the real world.

Although we will now be lifting every other Saturday, weekends will continue to involve mostly partner workouts and will maintain their fun, more freewheeling atmosphere compared to weekday classes!

II. Why strength?

A. Performance

CrossFit defines fitness as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

Work capacity: the ability to complete tasks (to do work)
Time domains: short, medium, and long periods of time
Modes: ways of moving (running, jumping, throwing, carrying, and so on)

Strength is not the only important dimension of fitness, but it is a prerequisite for full expression of many of the other dimensions of fitness. Power and stamina are two examples. Power is the ability to exert maximal force in minimal time. Think of a heavy clean and jerk where you have to be both strong AND fast to successfully complete the lift. If you do not have a base of strength with which to exert maximal force, it does not matter how fast you are — you will not be able to maximally express your power. Stamina, or muscle endurance, is the ability to apply submaximal force repeatedly over a period of time. Think of high-rep push ups or wall balls. The stronger you are, the bigger range you will have in what is considered submaximal. Imagine doing “Karen” (150 wall balls for time) if your 1RM squat is twenty pounds. Now imagine doing “Karen” if your 1RM squat is 420 pounds! If those numbers are too far outside your realm of experience to be useful, imagine doing “Karen” with a six pound ball versus a thirty pound ball.

B. Lifestyle

Mark Rippetoe famously said, “Stronger people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” Increased muscle mass makes you more durable and resistant to injury. If you have twice the muscle mass of someone else your same height, who do you think is going to fare better after being hit by a car? And as far as physical tasks go, a person who can carry 200 pounds a given distance is going to be more useful in most real-world scenarios than someone who struggles to lift twenty pounds.

In addition to physical durability, strength training combats many effects of aging. The biological process of aging involves entropy: a gradual decline into disarray. There are multiple factors in entropy; two key factors are loss of muscle mass and decreased bone density. Sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, affects ligaments and tendons as well as muscles. Osteopenia, or decreased bone density, can contribute to osteoporosis and brittle bones. Older people can often be living independently for a long time, but often an incident like a fall which leads to broken bone(s) will trigger a rapid decline that proves difficult to recover from. Our ability to create new neural pathways also decreases as we age. Strength training actively works against this tendency and can defend against a decrease in mental acuity. Strength training in your 20s, 30s, and 40s will contribute to your health decades down the road. If you want to remain functional and independent as you age, you need to take strength training seriously now.

I haven’t yet touched on what I like to call “physique goals.” Many people initially come to us because they want to look a certain way: “tone up,” “lose ten pounds,” “lean out,” “get more muscular,” and so on. The cool thing is strength training will help achieve all these physique goals when paired with appropriate nutrition and lifestyle protocols. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look a certain way; we all choose how to dress, how to style our hair, and so on, so why should our bodies’ appearance not matter to us? However, while we tend to focus on external appearances because those are the most visible, the more meaningful mark of success is whether you are doing things now to increase your health in the long term.

It is my hope that people who come into the gym focused on physique goals will, in time, prioritize their function and long term health. It has been my experience that engaging in strength training helps shift people’s perspective in this way.

III. Practical Application (aka What to Expect)

A. Sets and reps

We will do five working sets of each lift every week, while reps will decrease in each four week block. Warm up sets do not count toward your total number of working sets. Sets should be building in weight, and each week should end up heavier than the week before. When you see a rep range, your first set should be heavy for the higher number in the range; then increase weight until you get to a heavy weight for the lower number in the range by your last set.

Rep ranges will vary based on your experience level with the lifts. People who are newer to the lifts need more practice compared to someone who has already been practicing the lifts for years, so they will do more reps in each set. Doing more repetitions at lighter weights will allow them to build new neural pathways and reinforce correct motor patterns. More experienced lifters have already established those neural pathways and motor patterns; since they can now elicit changes to their central nervous system through higher intensity (weight) rather than volume (reps and time under tension), they will do fewer reps in each set.

We will use the following rep schemes:

Weeks 1-4 Weeks 5-8 Weeks 9-12
Beginner 5×8-10 5×6-8 5×4-6
Intermediate/Advanced 5×5 5×3 5×1-2

B. Tempo

Tempo will remain @30X1 for back squat and strict press. There is no tempo associated with deadlifts, other than a pause to re-set at the bottom of each rep. 30X1 tempo means the following:

3 second lowering phase
0 NO pause at the bottom
X “eXplode” up
1 second pause at the top

The more consistent you are in applying the prescribed tempo, the more accurate and measurable your progress will be from week to week.

C. Missed sessions

If you miss a day, we encourage you to make up your missed lift(s) during open gym times. Plan to come in before class or on a day when you are not taking class, as you will experience the most strength gains if you complete the lifts when fresh.

D. How to individualize

If you have a right/left imbalance or an injury that does not allow you to do one or more of the main lifts, we will provide you with an alternate movement that will still allow you to reap the strength benefits. For consistency and to ensure measurable progress from week to week, stick with the same movement throughout the next few cycles. Depending on what you have going on, one of the following substitutions might be appropriate:

Back squat – box squat, goblet squat, belt squat, split squat
Deadlift – sumo deadlift, kettlebell deadlift, trap bar deadlift, rack pull
Strict press – dumbbell strict press, bench press, landmine press, weighted chin up

Check in with Monica for guidance if you think you fall into this category. She will help troubleshoot and make sure you come into each class with a plan.

We’re coming off a really exciting week with PRs flying right and left. We are so impressed with the effort of all our members, and can’t wait to see your progress over the next three months!


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