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Turns out 80% of us are lazy CrossFitters, making bugger all GAINZ!

Posted 13th December 2015 by Josh Schouten

If you already know everything there is to know about strength and conditioning training, please don’t waste your time reading this article.  For those of you still here one of the major points to take away is that training specifically for conditioning without a well-developed strength base is a waste of time.

N0Gainz What is the best way to burn body fat? Increase your work capacity!

What is the best way to “get lean” (build lean muscle mass and burn body fat)? Increase your work capacity!

What is the best way for 80% of us to build strength? Increase your work capacity!

What is the best way to improve your cardiovascular fitness? Increase your work capacity!

There is simply no better way to increase your work capacity than by increasing your strength. No matter your goal, the correct type of strength training contributes much more toward your goal than any other aspect of training. Before we go any further lets take a minute to define work capacity.  Work capacity is the ability to perform work, which determines your level of fitness that will, in turn, determine your level of preparedness.  So what is work?  In physics work is calculated as:

Work  = Force x Distance

More CrossFitters need to start thinking about their work capacity and stop chasing weights and pointless kipping exercises.  In doing so, athletes need to take ownership of choosing the correct training program.  Strong athletes (Strong = deadlift 2 x bodyweight, squat 1.7 x bodyweight, press .75 x bodyweight, perform 12 unbroken bodyweight strict pull-ups) can lift large loads (high force) over long distances with good form efficiently. Weaker athletes who cannot lift large loads need to increase their work capacity by lifting lighter load for higher numbers of repetitions (increase the volume not the intensity).

For example, let take the following workout:

A. Move 2200kg+ of Back Squats in 12 minutes
Fitness: E3MOM 12reps @70% = 48reps
Performance: E3MOM 8reps  @78% = 32reps
Competitor: E2MOM 3reps @90% = 18reps

Most CrossFitters make the assumption that doing the heavy sets with low repetitions in better for them…. REALLY?  Stop being LAZY and start thinking about your work capacity levels.  The table below shows each athletes 1RM Back squat and then calculates the percentages of the above sets and reps to determine the total work completed in each program.

Athletes 1RM Back Squat Fitness program Performance program Competitor program
140kg weight: 97.5kg
total work: 4680kg
weight: 110kg
total work: 3520kg
weight: 127.5kg
total work: 2295kg
100kg weight: 70kg
total work: 3360kg
weight: 77.5kg
total work: 2480kg
weight: 90kg
total work: 1620kg
80kg weight: 57.5kg
total work: 2760kg
weight: 62.5kg
total work: 2000kg
weight: 70kg
total work: 1260kg

The stronger athlete can choose to complete this task in any of the above formats, but the weaker athletes have less options, as they require a higher volume of repetitions to meet the task.  This is where a lot of CrossFit athletes go wrong; they start chasing big weights with lower repetitions and simply don’t working hard enough to see strength adaptations.  STOP chasing weight on the bar and start working hard, your taking the easy option and seeing no GAINZ!

The reason behind this should be no surprise. The limiting factor that slows us down, or stops us from moving is muscle fatigue and not cardiovascular fitness.

High levels of strength make submaximal tasks much easier and repeatability possible.  This is what we mean by “work capacity.” Lets take a look at a second example in a typical CrossFit WOD.

8min AMRAP of:
5 Cleans
10 Wall Balls
8min AMRAP of:
5 Deadlifts
10 Wall Balls
Work Capacity % difference between A and B
Clean (kg) No rounds complete Work Capacity Deadlift (kg) No rounds complete Work Capacity
Athlete 1 80 11 880 115 11 1265 30.43%
Athlete 2 70 10 700 105 10 1050 33.33%
Athlete 3 60 10 600 95 10 950 36.84%
Athlete 4 50 9 450 85 9 765 41.18%
Athlete 5 40 7 280 75 7 525 46.67%
Athlete 6 30 6 180 65 6 390 53.85%

Athlete 1 is the strongest athlete and athlete 6 is the weaker athlete.   Each athletes selected weight and total number of rounds is displayed for both WOD’s.  For this example, lets assume all athletes get the same number of rounds in both WOD A & B and the loads selected are submaximal loads and easily repeatable for each athletes. Everyone should agree that they would get more rounds in WOD B as a deadlift is a shorted range of motion movement than a clean, if this was the case the percentages would be even higher.

The work capacity for WOD A is lower than the work capacity for all athletes in WOD B.  However, the percentage difference between the work capacity for WOD A compared to WOD B is significantly different for each athlete.  The stronger athlete has a 30% difference in work capacity, and the weakest athlete has a huge 54% difference.  Can you see how critical selecting the correct workout can be to the development of strength?

The best way to adapt your body to deal with repeatable efforts of submaximal loads is to increase your overall strength and this is not going to come from met-con classes or the WODs.  This is the MOST important point to understand and remember: strength is the most general of all athletic adaptations, all physical aspects such as speed, power, balance and coordination depend on the production of force within a certain time domain and environment.   If strength improves, all other aspects improve to a certain degree, including body fat percentage.

For an athlete who is not strong, time spent getting strong will deliver more improvement in overall physical capacity than any other aspect of training!  Yes you read it correctly; strength training can actually improve VO2max scores (aerobic fitness), due to improvement in muscle efficiency and increased work capacity.

It very important to realise that there is a major difference between strength and conditioning training and adaptation.  Strength improves very quickly at first, but will quickly slow down and ultimately can take YEARS to develop – it’s a long-term investment because it requires the body to construct new muscle tissue and the neuromuscular system to develop to the correct training protocols.  Many athletes struggle to see continued strength improvements, as they don’t follow a training program that suits their current level of strength. They simply do not work hard enough and try to take shortcuts.

You may have heard the term muscle memory?  It’s worth noting that strength is a very persistent adaptation that doesn’t disappear quickly.  Once an athlete gets strong, they always stay stronger than they were before training, because the long-term adaptation (strength training for years) sticks around.  Remember getting strong is a long-term investment, and long-term investments are typically worth the return.

On the other hand, conditioning develops very quickly and goes away just as fast.  A healthy athlete can get into good shape in 6-8 weeks.  Lay off a couple of months and they will start again from scratch.  It will however come back quickly.  Conditioning training negatively impacts strength gainz, but strength training – if done correctly – can improve conditioning.

A load of cardio training or met-con classes will destroy your strength progress; whereas strength training has the potential to improve youy work capacity, if done correctly.

Many of us are training to get stronger – why the hell not, “strong people are harder to kill and far more useful in general” – Mark Rippetoe