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The Fastest Way to Get Better At CrossFit – PART 2

Posted 16th March 2017 by Josh Schouten

If you are going to play at CrossFit, you better be willing to learn to move efficiently. In part 1 of the fastest way to get better at CrossFit, we discussed the importance of movement quality and how it dictates performance. This week this we continue to talk about performance and take a look at another significant element, strength.

“My goal is not to fail fast. My goal is to succeed over the long run. They are not the same thing.”

It’s important to understand specific training parameters can be modified to apply different types of stress to the body. These stresses can be used to develop individual strength capabilities. You’ve heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” There are four main categorisations of strength types; absolute strength, speed-strength, explosive strength, and strength-endurance.  Despite their inherent specificity, all of them are interrelated in their production and development.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I often read over CrossFit programs and see the key element of strength development very low, or even missing.  Why?  Because many “coaches/ business owners” are afraid to program the fundamentals that are required to improve athletic performance. Far too many CrossFit coaches sellout to the high-intensity endorphin producing workouts, as they believe this is what the general public wants. In all honesty, the high-intensity workouts do not build strong athletes, they only build slow, weak and potentially injured athletes.  The general public is once again being misguided by marketing and false concept that HIIT training is the answer to everything.

It’s Time Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Trust me, we all need this kind of ‘in your face’ honesty.  A good coach will tell you where your weaknesses are and force you to improve in these areas. Far too many of us are weak, soft and squashy. Real growth and strength development occur’s at the edge of your comfort zone. It’s pushing your limits; it’s facing the hard truth that you suck, and going back to the fundamental to improve.

We all need to be pushed so that we can expand and get outside of our comfort zone. However, the high volume crazy endorphin producing workouts are easy, anybody can do them!  Your not training, you are simply working out, and there is a massive difference!  You are selling yourself short by only focusing on your aerobic conditioning and not improving your athletic performance. You are applying a ton of aerobic stress to your body, but that’s about it.  100reps of one movement,  plus 100reps of anther movement is slowly fatiguing your muscles, producing poor movement quality, elevating cortisol, and delivering broken knees, shoulders, hips, lower backs, wrists, and more. I love to tell people to get outside their comfortable zone, but there is a difference between being uncomfortable and causing damage.

One of my pet hates is the “coach” who says “but they need to work hard, and it needs to be fun.  This coach is delivering a disservice to their clients, as they don’t care for their healthy or their performance!  If someone can not squat with proper form (feet stay flat on the floor, knees stay out, gripping the bar just outside shoulder width with a closed grip, hitting full depth, and maintaining an upright torso) how is 100 squat with shitty form going to help them?  We could argue the same with pull-ups, cleans, snatches, and even burpees.  It’s never fun to tear your meniscus and spend the next 3months not squatting, and then following three months doing partial repetitions, and the rest of you life having an increasing chance of further knee injury.  Enjoy the “fun” while it lasts!

We all need to be training, growing, changing and improving, don’t ever settle and think you have arrived, with this mentality you will never achieve anything great. There is no limit to your growth and your potential if you face your weaknesses and take the time to improve in these areas.

The Strength Speed Continuum

Are you aware of the strength speed continuum (see below) not to be confused with the strength endurance continuum?  On the left side of the graph we have the absolute strength (ability to produce force), and on the right side, we have speed strength (velocity).  Strength and speed are closely related, and you can not have one without the other.  However, the stronger you are, the faster you can potentially move, especially when we add an external load. Stop and think about this for a moment, the STRONGER you are, the faster you can move.  Strength training also offers us:

– improved body composition (less body fat, more muscle mass)

– increased levels of metabolic rate, burning more calories than cardio (aerobic training)

– lower chance of injury, due to high levels of strength in muscles and connective tissue

– better hormonal balance than cardio training (improves insulin sensitivity, improves epinephrine and norepinephrine resulting in increase metabolism and fat burning)

– builds strength in muscle, connective tissue, and bones

– builds confidence

– improve posture

– makes you look good naked

Attention should be paid to the fact that the explosive characteristics (how fast you move) with which strength is displayed, is determined by the presence of absolute strength and its transfer into speed-strength abilities.


The exercises to the left of the scale have the potential to deliver greater results across the scale, especially when performed with slow TEMPO’s.  Improving absolute strength will increase speed, whereas speed training does not necessarily have the same impact on absolute strength.  Many of the elite level CrossFit athletes have spent years developing their absolute strength by performing functional bodybuilding type movements.  Those who have not come from a college team sports environment have spent years performing strict gymnastics movements, or advanced Olympic weightlifting sessions focused on building absolute strength in the squat and the pull.

From the table of percentages below, you should quickly be able to see the relationship between strength and power.  The stronger you are in the back squat, deadlift, bench press, dip and pull-ups the stronger you are going to be in the clean and snatch. It makes sense why high-level Olympic lifters also perform huge numbers of squats and pulls in their weekly program.

Lift Percentage
Back Squat (BS) 100%
Front Squat 85% of BS
Deadlift 125% of BS
Power Clean 66% of BS
Power Snatch 51% of BS
Close Grip Bench Press (CGBP) 66% of BS
Strict Press 64% of CGBP
Seated DB OHP 29% of CGBP in each hand
Pull-ups 87% of CGBP (including BW)
Dip (male) +33% of BW
Dip (female) +20% of BW
Chin-up (male) +33% of BW
Chin-up (female) +20% of BW

Athletic performance can often be distinguished by the following factors:

  1. The absolute strength of the athlete
  2. The ability of the muscle to rapidly display starting-strength
  3. The ability of the muscle to quickly develop acceleration-strength
  4. The general ability to display explosive strength

After many years of absolute strength training the elite level athletes generally require less frequent and less variety in their training program to maintain, or even improve strength.  We often see social media post of athletes performing explosive movements and talking about their power/speed training cycles.  Olympic lifting, kipping gymnastics, and explosive movements are the sexy moves that we all want to see and do, but are they the movements that are going to make you better at life or better at sport?

“Strength is a big foundation for power.  You can not max out your power improvements if you are not making a conscious effort to increase strength.”

In the above video, Eric Cressy talk significantly more about the left side of the strength-speed continuum than the right.

How does your training program stack up? 

Do you focus on the best bang for your buck exercises, or are you simply going to the gym to workout?  Those of us who go to the gym to better ourselves should know that the real results come from strength training.  Slow controlled quality tempo movements have the potential to deliver significantly more value to strength development and performance than explosive speed movements or crazy cardio sessions.

High levels of lactic training can often have a negative impact on strength development, and those who go to the gym to perform one or two strength exercises and then follow it up with a lactic producing WOD often undo their hard work.

99.8% of CrossFit members could significantly improve their health and performance by spending more time focusing on absolute strength development over the development of explosive strength.  Yes, functional bodybuilding may not be the fun and sexy part of training, but honestly, we would all be much better off if we spent more time developing our strength and less time doing WODs.

My challenge for you today face your weaknesses, get somebody to push your limits, stop being weak and go after a lifelong quest to learn, move and improve.


In the next block of Blue Bear Performance Training, we will be focusing on “Functional Bodybuilding.” Our aim is to establish a broad base of hypertrophy in preperation for the periodise blocks of absolute strength and speed strengtht to come.