About the Upcoming 6 Week Strength Improvement/Aerobic Maintenance Cycle for CrossFitters

Who this cycle is for:

  1. CrossFitters who are slow or non-responders to strength training
  2. CrossFitters who want to do a strength cycle designed to lay a competitive strength foundation while maintaining some aerobic capacity in order to set  themselves up for accelerated progress upon returning to sport specific work
  3. Athletes who are ok with losing capacity in one area in order to directly address a weakness in another
  4. Athletes who enjoy experimenting with different approaches to training
  5. Athletes who do what they want
  6. People who want to lay themselves on the rails and get hit by the gain train



choo choo

For the “do I have to read all the words?” people:

General Description of the Cycle

-Designed to improve maximal strength in the back squat, deadlift, strict press and push press
-Designed to improve gymnastic strength (specifically strict ring muscleup, strict chest to bar pullups,  1RM deficit strict handstand pushups
-Olympic weighlifting is skill work at low percentage of max (<60%) on recovery days.
-Lower volume/higher intensity Lower Body, higher volume/lower intensity upper body
-Absence of high intensity WODs to minimize interference
-Use of RPE-based mixed modal aerobic work to avoid unnecessary local muscle fatigue and to keep movements fresh

All of the Words

For competitive CrossFitters, most of the time it’s a bad idea to “take a break” to focus on strength work (see my thoughts here and here and here). Most of the time – assuming the programming encourages it – general work capacity, specific work capacity and maximal strength can be improved simultaneously, making CrossFit a very specific “brand” but incredibly broad form of concurrent training. (If you haven’t read Alex Viada’s The Hybrid Athlete, you should). Because there are so physical attributes required (strength, power, endurance, etc.) and so many physical skills to be proficient at and maintain (weightlifting, gymnastics, monostructural movement, etc.) it’s a better approach to improve everything slowly over a long period of time rather than teeter-totter your way to the top.

Sometimes though, there are outliers and slow or non-responders that might need to drop everything and strength. These people typically will have huge engines, can withstand an high training volume, and will improve aerobically if they brush their teeth too fast, but they just can’t get stronger.

Important: they’ve shown that to be the case through multiple strength-targeted approaches to individualized programming. In other words, doing one WOD a day and not seeing strength gains doesn’t mean you’re a slow/non-responder, it just means you’re not doing enough of the right kind of work. On the other side of the spectrum, doing 7 WODS a day and not seeing strength gains doesn’t means you’re a slow/non-responder, it just means you’re doing too much of the wrong kind of work.

Examples of the right kind of work: An additional piece of strength work per day, a strength bias in training, identifying potential imbalance issues, higher strength training volume with lower intensity, lower training volume with higher intensity, etc. etc.

Assuming that these approaches are executed properly, if the athlete doesn’t favorably respond to stimulus, you might have a slow/non-responder on your hands.

For instance, this cycle is being written for a female athlete who currently holds the world record for the women AND the men in the Bergeron Beep Test with 31+20.

Yep, that’s seven thrusters, seven pullups, and seven burpee every minute for almost 32 straight minutes. The BBT is one of the best tests out there for CrossFit specific conditioning and she destroyed it. We tested it one week and got 29 rounds, smoking the women’s record and coming only 4 reps shy of the men’s record, so we had to reattempt the the following week and

 Regional level athletes might get 13+ rounds, Games level athletes might get 18+ rounds, people training specifically to improve their BBT/freaks might go 20+.

This girl went 30+. (Yes, we sent Ben a video and he approved her score.)

This is awesome. Unfortunately it is at the same time NOT awesome.


rain on the fitness parade

It’s a sign she’s been genetically banished completely “enduring” side of the powerful/enduring spectrum of athletic ability. This, combined with a bodyweight that is around 30 pounds lighter than the average female Regional qualifier, makes it very difficult for her to gain maximal strength or not get obliterated by events that max effort lifts. 

For example, her high capacity for endurance often turns strength work  into strength endurance work, performing 5+reps at 90% in the Back Squat without the actual one rep max moving up.

We’ve tried the approaches outlined earlier – adding a small amount of strength work, identifying imbalances, adding a high volume of strength work, a strength bias, etc. etc. over two years and haven’t seen the results we want.

She might be on an extreme end of the fitness spectrum, but that doesn’t mean there’s no escape…it will just take a new approach and a lot of work.

So, a couple thoughts specific to this athlete, hopefully giving you some insight as to the purpose of the cycle.

  1. I’m not concerned with improving aerobic capacity. Maintaining is ok, and honestly, if I could exchange 10 rounds of the BBT for another 30 pounds of maximal strength, I’d do it.  Aerobic work will continue in some form, both to improve recovery between sessions and to make the transition back into CrossFit-y things a bit easier.
  2. Back strength (upper/and lower) is a noted priority. Those are weak and preventing load from being carried by the legs, leading to too much stimulus to the back and not enough stimulus to the lower body. In other words, we get to a certain percentage and get BRICKED.  
  3. I THINK that there might be an issue with her generating and maintaining tension at end ranges of movements because when she fails a max lift, she fails hard. We can hit 97.5% easy and then go to 100% and get smashed by the barbell.  So we’re using PAILS/RAILS and functional range conditioning in the warm-up to teach the body how to do these things without being under load.
  4. Not concerned with lactic capacity (aka, GOSOHARDIWANTTOPUKE EVERYWHEREBLEGHHHHHH) at all. If a good strength and aerobic base is in place, I’m confident we could peak lactic capacity in 6 to 8 weeks, where that isn’t true with building and peaking strength and aerobic capacity.
  5. With the emphasis on strength, this is a good time to clean up some gymnastic skills because they will contribute to strength gains while not interfering with lower body recovery.



More words later this week.

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