How do I get STRONG!?
I get this question more than any other question… other than, “Will CrossFit make me bulky?” (girls)
There’s more than one way to skin this cat but most strong coaches and athletes would have one piece of advice in common for getting really strong: TIME
It takes time, consistency, and dedication to get good at almost anything and strength is no exception. CrossFit has made millions of weenies into strong and useful humans. Most athletes see The CrossFit Games on TV and see just how freakishly strong these peeps are and figure, “I better stop everything, go on a crazy strength kick and catch up!” The only problem with this is (and I’ve tried it and watched many others make the same mistake trying it) you can chase strength gains but sacrificing all other aspects of fitness just to get stronger takes a long time to recover from.
CrossFit is a freaky thing. I see it all the time and it doesn’t even surprise me anymore… We won’t back squat for 3 weeks, it pops up in the programming, and a handful of our athletes will PR their squat by 10 pounds. “How? I haven’t gone ‘heavy’ in 3 weeks?” I’ve even seen folks get off of an aggressive squat program, CrossFit with us for 6 weeks, then PR their squat. This is not the norm, but it happens, and again, I wasn’t extremely surprised.
All that being said, I love a good strength program for super dedicated athletes that corresponds with regular CrossFit programming. So if you just have to begin a strength program, make sure you’re picking the right one.
My 2 favorites:
1. Starting Strength by Rippetoe
The ultimate linear progression, simple, freaking hard, strength program for regular people like you and me. 3 sets of 5 for back squat, shoulder press, and bench press. 5 sets of 3 for power clean and a single set of 5 for deadlift. Same weight across all sets and increase the weight each week.
The pros: It’s simple and it freaking works.
The cons: It’s really hard to keep the linear gains coming if you’re doing CrossFit several days a week with it. But if your ego can take it, it’s worth it.
2. 5/3/1 by Wendler
Based on a percentage of your one rep max, 3 weeks of building cycles of lifts followed by a de-load week. Add a bit of weight and do it again. The nice thing about 5/3/1 is the weights used are much more manageable at first than many other programs but there’s a max-rep ‘finisher’ each session that determines if you get to increase weight next cycle. So if you’re doing CrossFit in conjunction then your max-reps may suffer but you’ll most likely be successful on the rest of the lifts for months and months.
These are hilariously simplified descriptions of these programs that volumes of books have been written over.
I’ve personally had success with both at different points of my fitness journey. Using Starting Strength as an absolute weenie and beginner, I went from back squatting 185# for 3 sets 5 up to 370# for the same just by slowly increasing weight every single session. But I was training with guys who were warming up with my work set too. Later, a few of us did 5/3/1 in the AM and CrossFit in the PM 4 days a week in order to build up to my goal of a 505# deadlift.
So, in the end, we all need to get stronger. It’s the people that stay dedicated to their training program the longest that find the most success. If you’re not having fun with it, you’re probably not going to stick with it, so keep it fun and surround yourself with other amazingly motivated people.
Sam Steen is the owner and head coach at CrossFit Pampa.