612-644-9781 info@crossfitslipstream.com

The Importance of Foundational Strength

Whether you just started CrossFit or you’ve been at it for years, it can be extremely tempting to want to jump into the skills we see elite athletes doing like muscle-ups, handstand walking, and one-legged squats. But behind this “sexy” side of CrossFit lies one common denominator: a high level of fundamental strength.

Related: Continuing Education: Benefits of Learning New Skills

Traditionally, the metcons we do in CrossFit are classified as aerobic endurance training, since nearly all of them last longer than 2 minutes. However, most of these workouts involve some sort of resistance based movement, whether that be a barbell or our bodyweight. Therefore, strength comes into play and confounds the principles of physiology that say you don’t have to be strong to be a high-level endurance athlete. But if we have the goal of increasing the loads we use during a metcon (like striving to complete the Open workouts Rx), we have to be comfortable moving the weights they require for multiple repetitions. For example, a workout involving 30 squat cleans at 135 lbs/61 kg will be much easier for an athlete who’s one rep-max (1RM) is 275 lbs/125 kg vs. one who’s 1RM is 175 lbs/80kg. The stronger athlete will exert less energy per repetition, rest less between reps, and do more in less time.

But the benefits of increasing our baseline levels of strength transfer outside of the gym as well. When our muscles, tendons, and ligaments get stronger and are able to withstand more force, we become less likely to become injured. As we age, many times we lose the strength to do certain tasks like carry grocery bags or stand up out of bed, but by focusing on strength training we can significantly decrease the chances of this happening. So now that we know that increasing our overall strength will help us both in the gym and in life, let’s take a look at how this really happens.

Strength is a general adaptation, which means that when we increase our strength in one movement, that strength tends to transfer to seemingly unrelated movements. This is because strength gains come mainly from improvements in the function of our central nervous system (CNS). When we perform compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses, our CNS starts to recruit more muscle fibers at the correct times, and can do this faster than before. As our CNS gets more comfortable under heavier loads in a back squat for example, you don’t just get stronger in the back squat. Many other movements from thrusters to rowing benefit as well. Therefore, strength training ends up helping provide a base that transfers to all other movements in CrossFit, including gymnastics movements where the only load we’re moving is our body.

Related: Zero to Hero: Drills for Your First Pull-Up

The other main reason strength training is extremely beneficial is because it helps develop proper body mechanics. In order to lift as heavy of loads as possible our form has to be spot on, both because proper form is safer and more mechanically efficient. A prime example of this is that when we learn how to do heavy deadlifts, we can use the same form anytime we have to pick up boxes when we’re moving or an infant up off the ground. Within the gym, this focus on correct form will transfer to similar movements that come up in metcons, leaving us less likely to get injured and more efficient during the workout.

Related: Why Motor Control Makes You Stronger

Strength training truly does provide a one-two punch to improving our fitness by providing general neural adaptation and teaching proper body mechanics. Building a strong base by focusing on strength training will help improve nearly every aspect of our fitness, as well as our daily lives from the moment we step out of bed in the morning to the minute we crawl back into it at night. A couple days a week for multiple weeks is all it takes to see dramatic improvement in strength numbers. Our strength program starts up on January 15th, and is the perfect opportunity to see for yourself how improving strength will set up the foundations for you to feel better and move better both in the gym and outside of it.

–Jay Alexander