I have been practicing CrossFit since 2006. At the time, I was competing in an event called Fire Fighter Combat Challenge. Even though I was new at the “sport”, I was disappointed in my results at the end of the 2006 season. I felt I should have been more competitive but the type of training I was doing at the gym obviously didn’t transfer over to the combat challenge course. I discovered the website crossfit.com while surfing the internet for some functional training methods after the 2006 Combat Challenge season. I was certified as an instructor and started coaching people using the CrossFit method in 2007.
I was impressed by the strength and power of some of the top combat challenge competitors. Dwayne Drover could back squat 425 pounds for sets of 8 and finish the course in 1:18:04. I was also impressed by power output of CrossFit athletes Greg Amundson and was amazed by Annie, Nicole and Eva T from the old videos on crossfit.com. I was convinced that CrossFit could produce some very powerful athletes.
Today, Jason Khalipa and Rob Orlando are two examples of very powerful CrossFit athletes. Jason has a “Fran” time of 2:23 and can clean and jerk 325. Rob O can do “Fran” in 2:17 and clean and jerk 335 pounds. CrossFit athletes with the most strength and power seem to be the most successful in competition.
Tony Corallo and I visited Westside Barbell in March 2011. We lifted in the same gym and on the same platforms as some of the strongest men and women in the world. Tony looked up at the scoreboard in the gym and was comparing the strength numbers with those of his own. He thought he was doing alright until he realized that he was looking at the score board for the 120 pound females. We spent the entire weekend lifting with World Record holders. Louie Simmons gave us many examples of how athletes he trained blasted through CrossFit workouts like “DT” with ridiculously fast times. His position was that someone with a 700 pound Deadlift would be able to easily manhandle a 155 pound barbell in a workout and move it much faster than a weaker athlete.
CrossFit recognizes ten general physical skills:
1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – the ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen
2. Stamina – the ability of body systems to process, deliver, store and utilize energy.
3. Strength – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units to apply force.
4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power – the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed – the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination – the ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movements.
8. Agility – the ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance – the ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy – the ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.
I would argue that Strength and Power are the most important physical characteristics of a CrossFit athlete. That is why this CrossFit program is biased towards Strength and Power. An increase in absolute strength and power would make a CrossFit athlete better assuming the strength increase wasn’t accompanied by an increase in body mass (or a detraining effect on endurance and stamina).
Recently a few people have been asking me how I program the workouts on my website. “Why are we doing 5 sets of 5 deadlifts today? How did you decide that?” I will use this article to attempt to explain how my program works. No, I don’t just pull this shit out of a hat.
It all starts with a template. It is actually quite simple once you have a template to follow. I have used many templates in the past. I will explain the one I am currently using in this article. CrossFit coaches will be able to use this template to make your athletes stronger. Be patient with me while I attempt to explain this.
One of the components of Louie Simmons’ Westside method is the conjugate system. The conjugate system uses the frequent rotation of movements and their variations in order to avoid overtraining. The conjugate system also creates a form of volume periodization. The use of different exercises to work the same body parts forces a variation in the total training volume since different exercises will dictate different training loads. Performing the same number of sets of both back squats and front squats will vary the total training volume since most people can’t back squat and front squat the same amount of weight.
Another component of the Westside method is the maximum-effort (M.E.) day. M.E. training involves a progressive warm-up to 1 rep max. M.E. work combined with the variety of the conjugate system is what makes the Westside system one of the best at building absolute strength. On M.E. days, an athlete works with a load greater than 90% of their 1 rep maximum and that can be done year round. No other system that I know of allows the athlete to train heavy that frequently. At the end of the day, with all other variables being equal, the person that lifts the heaviest weights most often will develop the most strength.
The last Westside component I will write about is the dynamic effort (D.E.) day or speed day. On D.E. days, 50-60 percent of the 1 rep max load is moved for 2-3 reps as quickly as possible. The primary purpose of D.E. training is to teach the nervous system how to be more explosive.
In this program we will be using near maximal loads for all the weightlifting movements. The repetitions range from 1-5. There are three rep ranges on a three week rotation. The repetitions are 5 sets of 5 reps the first week, 5 sets of 3 reps the second week and 5 sets of 1 rep the third week. For Olympic style weightlifting movements, the repetitions are 5 sets of 3 reps the first week, 6 sets of 2 reps the second week and 7 sets of 1 rep the third week. We will also perform 8 sets of 2 reps or 10 sets of 1 rep for certain movements from time to time. According to the Prilepin chart you’d do 1-2 reps per set with anything above 90%, 4-10 sets with an optimal number of 7 sets. You switch movements on the fourth week.
We are switching movements after three weeks because anything less would not allow for the neural adaptations of increased efficiency recruiting motor unit patterns and optimizing firing sequences. These adaptations result in the ability to place greater stress on the muscular skeletal system, which makes a given exercise more effective. After three weeks the possibility of overtraining from performing the same movement at more than 90 percent intensity is possible so we switch the movement on the fourth week.
The M.E. movements are divided in to the following three categories:
1 - TOTAL BODY MOVEMENTS (T): Hang Power Clean, Power Clean, Clean, Hang Power Snatch, Power Snatch, Snatch, Push Press, Push Jerk, Split Jerk, Clean and Jerk, Overhead Squat and Thruster. Total body movements can also include variations of these movements such as behind the neck Jerks, Hang Squat Cleans or Clean and Thruster. There are too many variations of these movements to list so we’ll leave it at that and move along. I suppose now is a good time to mention that none of these movements are married to these categories. For example, you could move the Deadlift to the total body category and Push Press to the upper body category if you wanted to. This is only a guideline. Nothing is written in stone.
2 - LOWER BODY MOVEMENTS (L): Include Back Squat, Front Squat, Box Squat, Deadlift and Good Morning. The variations to these movements are also abundant. Remember, you can use bands or chains for the squats, you can deadlift from different height pins in the power rack, deadlift from a deficit, or from different height boxes. Bands and chains can also be used for deadlifts. You can do Zercher deadlifts or Zercher Squats. The list goes on and on.
3 - UPPER BODY MOVEMENTS (U): Include Shoulder Press, Weighted Pull-ups, Weighted Dips, Muscle-ups and Bench Press. Bench Press has many variations including Incline Bench Press, Floor Press, Board Presses, Pin Pushes, Wide Grip Bench Press or Close Grip Bench Press. You will not see those often in this program as they are not quite as useful as other upper body movements. We will throw them in there from time to time since we are aiming for something that is constantly varied. You can vary your grip on all Pull-ups and Presses just as you can vary your squat stance, use a weightlifting belt, not use a weightlifting belt, use dumbbells etc. The possibilities are endless. Switch it up.
Every week has three M.E. days (Day 1, Day 3 and Day 5). We rotate through movements on M.E. days. On the first M.E. day we will perform a total body movement (T), on the second M.E. day we will perform a lower body movement (L): and on the third M.E. day we will perform an upper body movement (U). We will use the CrossFit workouts placed in between to serve as our “Dynamic Effort” days.
CrossFit workouts are usually taken from CrossFit.com. We will alter them if necessary in order to compensate for any space and equipment limitations. We will place emphasis on monostructural metabolic efforts (running, rowing or double-unders) on the day following a M.E. workout whenever possible. We also try to precede M.E. days with gymnastics movements. The constantly varied approach should address any weaknesses in your athletic profile and provide the GPP (General Physical Preparedness) you require to elevate your maximum strength and power. This article will not discuss programming CrossFit workouts in detail. They generally will not include heavy, low-repetition movements. Be cautious to keep the total volume reasonable. In other words, choose your workouts carefully and train them with great intensity but do not do any work above and beyond them.
Rest is extremely important. This program is very hard. You will be doing two workouts a day three times a week and lifting weights 5 days a week. I don’t think I can improve the 3 on 1 off cycle as programmed on crossfit.com since it provides an excellent balance between volume, intensity and rest but since most of the athletes that train at my gym have a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. We are going with a 3 on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off, microcycle.
Here is how all the pieces come together:
DAY 1 – Max. effort total body movement (5x5), 3-5 minute CrossFit WOD
DAY 2 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting and gymnastics
DAY 3 – Max. effort lower body movement (5x5), 7-10 minute CrossFit WOD with a monostructural component
DAY 4 – Rest Day
DAY 5 – Max. effort upper body movement (5x5), 10-15 minute CrossFit WOD gymnastics based
DAY 6 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting, gymnastics and a monostructural component
DAY 7 – Rest Day
DAY 8 – Max. effort total body movement (5x3), 3-5 minute CrossFit WOD
DAY 9 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting and gymnastics
DAY 10 – Max. effort lower body movement (5x3), 5-10 minute CrossFit WOD with a monostructural component
DAY 11- Rest Day
DAY 12 – Max. effort upper body movement (5x3), 10-15 minute CrossFit WOD gymnastics based
DAY 13 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting, gymnastics and a monostructural component
DAY 14 – Rest Day
DAY 15 – Max. effort total body movement (5x1), 3-5 minute CrossFit WOD
DAY 16 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting and gymnastics
DAY 17 – Max. effort lower body movement (5x1), 7-10 minute CrossFit WOD with a monostructural component
DAY 18 – Rest Day
DAY 19 – Max. effort upper body movement (5x1), 10-15 minute CrossFit WOD gymnastics based
DAY 20 – 15-20 minute CrossFit WOD consisting of weightlifting, gymnastics and a monostructural component
DAY 21 – Rest Day
DAY 22 – Switch the three max. effort movements and repeat.
You shouldn’t really need any work above and beyond this program. If after a workout you are tempted to do another workout, don’t. Ask yourself if you honestly went after it as hard as you possibly could have. If you didn’t, then you need to develop the psychological capability to push yourself harder. If you did, and you still have energy to burn, go far a walk, throw a ball with your kid or go nail your girlfriend. If you really insist on doing more at then gym then work the muscles of the posterior chain. Do three sets of 20 back extensions or reverse hypers. Swing a heavy kettlebell or do some good mornings. I will leave ab exercises up to your discretion. There are many of them so pick one per max. effort session and have fun.
Hang Power Clean 5x3xM.E.
Rest 5 minutes.
Complete as many rounds in 15 minutes as you can of:
10 Ring Dips
20 Walking Lunge steps
Post loads and rounds to comments.
Coach Alex’s Notes:
We will be focusing on hang power cleans, overhead squats and ring dips for the next three weeks. I expect everyone to hit new personal records in those three movements during the week of Feb. 12. I’m very confident you will notice strength improvements IF you really challenge yourself during the strength training component of the workout. Here is how I’d like you all to approach the strength training component of this workout. 5x3xM.E. means you work your way up to a 3 rep max over 5 sets. Always do a general warm-up first, then a specific warm-up consisting of some lighter sets of the movement before starting your max effort sets. Start with something you know you can handle and then start adding weight. Rest between sets for this type of workout is generally 2-5 minutes. Rest 2-3 minutes between your first few sets and 4-5 minutes between the last couple sets. You are only doing 5 sets of one movement so don’t start counting your 5 sets until the weight becomes challenging. Try to achieve a true max effort by the fifth set of the movement.
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