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CrossFit Muscular Endurance & Movement Efficiency

Posted 30th December 2015 by Josh Schouten

What is one of the best ways to get good at CrossFit?  What’s the best bang for your buck training?  What’s the best way to “tone-up,” improve body composition, and become a machine in the gym?  We hear these questions at Momentum Training all the time, and the answer is not always what you might expect.  Many people believe the hype that High Intensity Interval Training (HITT) is the best way to achieve these goals, but this is not always the case.

MuscleEnduranceThe concept of workout INTENSITY is often misunderstood amongst many people because they use the term “intensity” to describe workouts that are “difficult.”  The fact is that the majority of CrossFit workouts use relatively light weights, compared to Power Lifters, Olympic style weightlifters and other athletes involved in strength-power sports.  CrossFit workouts are less about “intensity” and are more about MUSCULAR ENDURANCE.

Don’t get me wrong; CrossFit workouts are not easy, although they are certainly not as hard on the central nervous system (CNS) as certain strength-power training protocols.


What is intensity?

The intensity of an exercise is the weight on the bar. Intensity can be described in terms of an athlete’s repetition maximum (RM).  For example, the maximum weight that can be LIFTED WITH GOOD FORM for five repetitions without significant rest would be known as the athlete’s 5RM.

Bad lifting form leads to a reduction in motor unit recruitment and unfavourable fiber activation; this should be avoided at all costs.  Every bad repetition is a step closer to injury.

What is muscle endurance?

Muscular endurance is an athlete’s tolerance level to RESIST FATIGUE for the duration of an exercise/workout.  Endurance is often thought as the enemy of strength and visa versa. Training for strength and endurance at the same time is a delicate balance, however doing it properly will improve athletic performance and give you a physique to be proud of. #lookgoodnaked

Muscular endurance can be defined as the capacity of a muscle to maintain a certain level of force production during repeated contractions over time. Don’t be confused and start thinking about endurance sports like marathon running or triathlons, although these sports do require muscular endurance this is not the smartest way to train.  Endurance sports do not build lean muscle mass or promote a healthy hormone balance and are often detrimental to health.

The reality is most people just want to be moderately strong, sexy lean, and have the ability to play sport, go for a hike, or play with their kids without having a heart attack.  This is where a huge portion of the general population who are using CrossFit for “HEALTH & FITNESS” often get it wrong, because lower repetitions performed at high percentages of 1RM (80%+) are targeting neural adaptation and not muscular endurance.  Think about it!

CrossFit provided a unique model for training strength and endurance at the same time.  The fact is, higher repetitions at lighter percentages of 1RM (60-80%) target muscular endurance adaptation. The scientific basis for this premise has been proven time and again. CrossFit for the majority of the general public requires an increased focus on muscular endurance.  Novice athletes (<5years of lifting weights effectively) would be wise to use higher repetitions to deliver greater improvements in strength and overall sports performance.  These athletes can make significant INCREASES IN STRENGTH (I so wanted to write GAINZ here, but this word has been overused of late) with repetitions between 12-20 (60-80% of 1RM), because they are typically at the lower end of their overall training potential curve.

Training with submaximal loads provides greater opportunities for TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENTS and MOVEMENT EFFICIENCY, and will deliver significant strength improvements; hypertrophy (building lean muscle mass) and weight loss improvements for the novice athlete. Balanced training with good nutritional practices and excellent lifestyle practices will achieve 90% of everyone’s goals.  You can not have one without the other and expect to see results, lift smart, eat clean and get plenty of recovery = RESULTS.

Higher number of repetitions (increased volume) at submaximal loads develops the skill of activating muscle fibres that will increase maximal strength.  Yes, higher repetitions have the potential to improve your absolute strength (1RM), especially in novice lifters.  It is also easier to achieve strength improvements with slow speed (TEMPO) lifts than it is with high-speed lifts. Deadlifts, squats, strict pressing and strict pulling will increase maximum strength much faster than Olympic lifting and kipping movements.  You want to get stronger?  Start focusing on the tension in the muscles and stop using momentum to catapult you around.

Higher volume tempo lifting is hard work and will bring about greater METABOLIC ADAPTATIONS than low volume high-speed lifting.  This increase in metabolic demand is by far the best way to burn body fat, increase lean muscle and get toned.  If this is your goal it’s also very important to be aware that under-recovery can be the primary impediment to results with concurrent strength and endurance training sessions.  Be aware that this is not just the rest between workouts; it also includes nutrition, carbohydrate intake (glycogen stores), protein (amino acid) levels, and the type of training session (it takes 36hours to fully recover from an aerobic training session, most CrossFit WODS are aerobic).

Remember that high levels of strength coupled with high levels of endurance define muscle endurance.  The strength pyramid needs to be equally wide as it is high.  Muscular endurance is of particular importance in CrossFit workouts, as they often require repeatedly moving large loads over long distance in broad time domains.

Ask yourself, do you feel lucky punk…. or are you following a CrossFit program that is suited to your training age and your training goals?