Maximizing Your Strength with a CrossFit Strength Training Program
If you think about it, the fitness of modern humans in developed societies like the US presents a weird dichotomy.
Although we have never been more obsessed with diet, exercise, and being in shape, nonetheless:
– More and more Americans are functionally sedentary, meaning they get no meaningful exercise outside of that which is necessary to attend to their basic needs.
– The modern crisis of type II diabetes is unprecedented
– There are states where obesity affects nearly 40 percent of the population.
– And if you count people who are overweight along with those who are medically obese, over 70 percent of the population is affected.
Yet despite these deadly, preventable, very modern maladies afflicting so many of us, there has never been a time when fitness and health have been better researched and understood.
While you could make the case that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were likely in better physical shape than us – what with running down game, fending off saber-toothed tigers, and (by definition) eating strict Paleo diets – there has absolutely never been a time when we knew more about how our bodies work and what it takes to keep them functioning optimally for years and decades longer than our ancestors ever imagined.
And CrossFit is one of the most useful tools modern humans have at their disposal to keep them in shape.
But one often overlooked aspect of CrossFit is its utility in not only general fitness training, but also in strength training, a vital part of maintaining a healthy body into middle age and beyond.
While most people who are familiar with CrossFit know that the program is built around “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement” and daily workouts that utilize jump ropes, plyo boxes, chin-ups, handstands, kettlebells and staggering variety of other exercises that are designed to improve fitness as well as strength, there are also CrossFit workouts specifically designed to promote strength.
The great thing about incorporating a CrossFit strength training program into your workout routine is that, in keeping with the principles of CrossFit, a well-designed strength program won’t set out to isolate a few muscle groups or joints, but instead target a broad cross-section of muscles that in turn will help your overall fitness.
And for those who are still a little leery of targeting strength, we should probably review a few of the benefits of strength training.
First of all, there are more and more emerging studies showing that it’s strength training as much as, or even more so than cardio that helps you burn fat.
Especially for men who are hitting that “special” age where your metabolism has slowed and your gut grows as fast as your muscles atrophy, strength training is essential if you want to stay in shape, enjoy a healthy sex life, and keep it going into your golden years.
Secondly, other studies show that strength training doesn’t automatically translate into huge mass gains.
Women who are encouraged to incorporate strength and weight training into their fitness routines are often hesitant for fear they will end up ballooning out into massive hypertrophy like a professional female bodybuilder.
While of course this can be achieved with the right program, the fact of the matter is professional bodybuilders work constantly, meaning day in and day out, 24/7, including meticulous dieting to achieve that kind of body.
This simply isn’t something that is very likely to happen if you hit the weights three times a week and nothing more.
Another important note about incorporating more strength training into your CrossFit routine, especially if you’re new to weight training, is that form is key to getting the desired results and avoiding injury.
People unfamiliar with weight training can get themselves in big trouble lifting heavy weights too quickly, or feeling that in the competitive nature of CrossFit, they allow themselves to rush through the weight exercises.
So BEFORE you go into a box or a separate gym and start working with weights, look up proper form of the following exercises online. There are tons of videos out there that will show you exactly how to perform them properly.
And make sure you ALWAYS warm up adequately before pushing weights. Having the patience to spend a few extra minutes warming up could save you weeks or even months of stubborn low-key joint pain that prevents you from working out properly, or even from a severe injury.
With that in mind, there are a wealth of tried and tested strength training programs for CrossFit out there. But some common exercises you’ll find incorporated into them usually include:
The boring old grandaddy of the weight room is actually a staple of high-caliber athletes and weekend gym warriors alike for good reason: it works.
There is simply nothing else out there that builds upper body strength in the arms and chest as rapidly and effectively.
Coming in a close second is the squat. Though long considered an unglamorous exercise only used by mega-gym rats, these days you’ll see all kinds of people at all kinds of fitness levels incorporating squats into their routines.
The exercise not only works the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves, it secondarily forces your back and core to do some work as well, helping to build all-body strength. SUPER important: do NOT try these without researching proper technique first!
These are also not terribly glamorous exercises, but we’re here for strength, not showing off oiled-up hypertrophic muscles, right?
The barbell row – or alternatively dumbbell row – helps your upper and lower back strength a ton, increases your stability, and reinforces the strength of your shoulders while building your lats.
All these muscle groups are vital to overall strength and will help you with the other strength exercises you work into your routine.
While this isn’t meant to be a definitive CrossFit strength training program, hopefully it helps to introduce some key principles and basic exercises you can start using right away.
For more detailed, specific workouts, check out StrongLifts 5×5, the classic Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, or for a more advanced program, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1.
It can’t be said enough, put the stress on your safety, comfort, and proper technique first, and incorporating strength training into your CrossFit routine can take you to entirely new levels of fitness!