Should I Take a Break to Work on Strength? Part I

A question that comes up with some frequency is, “Should I take a break from CrossFit and just work on strength?”

It’s time for another Black Anvil Therapy Session.


if you compose me some theme music for these therapy session with black anvil posts i will pay you $5

Your reason: Because I want to get better at CrossFit.
My Answer: No.

Do CrossFit. Don’t lose focus on the fact that strength is just one part of your sport.

Is strength important? Absolutely. You need to be able to move a heavy barbell, and move it well in order to be successful.

But here’s my point – Regionals 15.7:

15 muscle-ups
1 squat clean (205 / 135 lb.)
1 squat clean (225 / 145 lb.)
1 squat clean (245 / 155 lb.)
1 squat clean (255 / 165 lb.)
1 squat clean (265 / 175 lb.)

15 Muscle-ups is not a lot of muscle-ups, so you could look at this workout and think, “Yeah, the cleans are what makes or breaks this workout.”  But some STRAWHNG athletes were OBLITERATED by the rings, and not because they didn’t have the ability to do 15 muscle-ups well.

They didn’t have the ability to do 15 muscle-ups well in that workout. 

Why? Regionals 15.6:

5 rounds for time of:
25-calorie row
16 chest-to-bar pull-ups
9 strict deficit handstand push-ups

Part of CrossFit is context, and the context doing a crap-ton of other things alongside being strong.

15.6 was 125ish hard pulls on the rower, 80 chest to bar pullups, and 45 strict deficit handstand pushups in the event immediately proceeding the one “with the cleans”. If your upper body muscular endurance, aerobic capacity, gymnastic skill, and competitive strategy isn’t in pristine condition, you’re not making it off the rings.

Out of seven events at Regionals, you could make the case that ONE of them was primarily strength dependent (Event 5: 1RM Snatch), but that came immediately after a 250ft handstand walk.

If an athlete was proficient and enduring inverted in a handstand walk, their potential for their snatch went up.

They increased their snatch by practicing handstand walking in the offseason.



it kinda looks like a puzzle

Check this out this pyramid thing from Evan Peikon over at It gives you a breakdown of the importance of different energy systems in regards to competitive fitness. Strength is foundational. But so is aerobic capacity. And only slightly less foundational is higher intensity aerobic work and “repeated strength” work with the CP- Battery and muscular endurance.

All of these qualities need to (and can with good programming) progress together. These are things you will not address by focusing your efforts only on strength.

If you “take a break” to work on one block, you take away four blocks from our Nifty Green Pyramid of Competitive Fitness.

And then what are you left with? A weird-ass quadrilateral.

Sidenote: This is where programming that is too biased toward olympic weightlifting goes wrong. It’s dying off, but there’s still pockets of “If you’re great at the snatch and clean and jerk you’ll be great as CrossFit.” Are top level competitors great at these lifts? Yes, but they’re also great at everything else. Correlation is not causation, which basically means people that think olympic weightlifting is the key to the Games are dumb. 


these lines could be “skill in CrossFit” and “skill in weightlifting” but pirates are funnier

Forget about energy systems. What about gymnastic skill? Strategy? Nutrition? Pacing? Competitive experience?

If you want to be “good”, all of these things need to be “good”, and getting to that point will take time and practice.

Let’s say that your strength really, REALLY sucks. You’ve been tested and evaluated by a coach who knows their stuff and they have determined that your primary limiting factor is aboslute strength. Programming could be biased towards strength (and depending on where you’re at in the season, it should) but keep in mind anytime you try to accelerate progress in one area, you’ll decelerate it in another area. Trying to bring up the area that lags because of the emphasis on strength COULD undo some of your strength gains, leaving you with a net strength gain of zero, rendering your little safari into the jungles of gainz a giant waste of time.

Summary: If you want to get better a sport, you need to practice the sport. No, don’t take a break to focus on strength.

Click for Part II: “But I’m not getting any stronger.” 

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