In this arena, Strength and Skill are as important as Conditioning. -by Coach Roman
I started doing CrossFit in 2009. During the first few years of taking classes, the structure was usually the same: a long & intense warm-up, followed by some coaching & instruction of the WOD movements for those that needed it, finished off with a MetCon. To give you an example of what I mean by a “long & intense warm-up”…I would visit affiliates in the area or and the warm-up for the daily WOD would be something along the lines of – 1-mile run, 5 Rounds of “Cindy,” 1000m Row, 30 Burpees, and then maybe some mobility/instruction. I’ll admit, that’s one of the longer ones…but not by much. And that was normal. It would take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, and the MetCon would be about the same duration.
Every so often, I’d look on the CF main site and, instead of a MetCon, I’d see something like “Deadlift 1-1-1-1-1-1-1”. When I would bring it up to my gym-mates, they would simply say that it must be meant to be done before a WOD because it seemed like a waste of a day. If the main site WOD were “Squat Snatch 1-1-1-1-1-1-1”, they’d reply with: “…but I can’t even do a ‘squat snatch’…let’s do Murph.” It became clear that most affiliates and their members put a high premium on Metabolic Conditioning and jettisoned the Strength and Skill elements of the program like so much flotsam.
Until…that is…Games athletes, like Rich Froning, admitted to devoting a large chunk of their training to ONLY Strength Development…or ONLY Olympic Lifting training programs…and some even to ONLY improving their Gymnastic movements. All while putting Conditioning aside (or keeping it at a MINIMUM) to get the full benefit of whatever modality they were focusing on at the time. Can you improve your Strength and Skill while incorporating Metabolic Conditioning at the same time? ABSOLUTELY. Will you get the full benefit of building a modality when it is done concurrently with others? Probably not.
So, what does that mean? We make the classes 3 hours long to work in all areas of fitness every day? Make everyone wear a singlet, lifters, and a belt? Make our competitive athletes have loaders and spotters walking next to them at all times? Stop it. Now, I know that whenever an affiliate takes a couple of days out of the week to work on any type of Strength program, it can be viewed as … (GASP) … A STRENGTH BIAS!!! Hide your kids…Hide your wives! Tell Grandma to stash the fine china! Tell Uncle Joey to make sure the plastic is covering the WHOLE couch!
I’m not talking about making every class reminiscent of the old Outlaw programming…or the current CompWOD program, either. Not at all. With effective class management and a good base of knowledge in Strength Development, Olympic Lifting, and Gymnastics…along with the realization and acceptance that MetCons don’t have to be 20-30 minutes long every day…it should be no problem to implement an effective Strength/Skill Development program during your daily WOD (1 hour). A simple layout for a class like that is: 10-15 minutes for warm-up, 30-40 minutes for Strength/Skill work (squat/deadlift/press, Olympic lifting, or Gymnastics), 5-20 minutes for Conditioning. Times can be adjusted if needed. Let’s say that it’s a Deload week for the Strength Program, or that there is NO Strength Development that day, or NO MetCon for the day…adjust the times for each portion of the class.
A couple of things that I hope some of you realize are 1. You…OBVIOUSLY…cannot be a lazy coach if you plan to use this format. It takes active coaching, good class management, and the ability to keep athletes on-task. This might be hard for some of the coaches that I’ve seen in the past because it would mean they’d have to put their phones down and they can’t check out the Instagram videos that their gym crush posted up while they’re coaching. I’m going to step up onto my soapbox for a sec and say: Pay attention to ALL members in your class…not just the good athletes…not just the attractive people…and not just the people that you like. Ok, I’m stepping down now on to #2. MetCons DO NOT have to be 20-30+ minute endurance/oxidative endeavors EVERY DAY. Regular 5 minute Conditioning sessions – or even LESS – are more than adequate. Especially after an intense Strength session. Some simple examples are 500m/1000m/2000m Row for time, 1 Mile Run for time, 50/100 Burpees for time, or even 50/100 Cal Assault Bike.
Greg Glassman stated that he didn’t invent any of the movements in CF…he simply took elements from sports that had, in his eyes, the fittest athletes (sprinters, gymnastics, Olympic lifting, crew/rowing, etc.) and combined them all in a program intended to increase work capacity. It was against the traditional way of thinking in the “fitness world” because it was so against the notion that endurance athletes were the fittest people on earth. He wanted to show that cardiovascular endurance was only one aspect of fitness and that marathoners, endurance athletes, even triathletes were lacking in certain areas. I’ll say again – I’m not saying that doing Metabolic Conditioning will not make you stronger. It will, particularly if you’re previously untrained. It has been proven time and time again since the emergence of CrossFit, that MetCons increase your competency in all of the ten General Physical Skills. That is the intention – to improve your GPP (General Physical Preparedness). However, it should be said that time should be devoted to Strength Development with Squats, Deadlifts, and Presses…as well as developing technical proficiency in the Olympic Lifts…and improving competency in the Gymnastic movements.
To sum everything up, developing your overall Strength and Skills in modalities utilized in CrossFit can only improve overall performance for competitive athletes, and overall fitness (GPP) for everybody. You will become more efficient at MetCons, and perhaps even discover a love for weightlifting, powerlifting, or strongman as well as a desire to compete in those sports. Lastly, unlike Conditioning – Strength and Skill take a great deal of time (months…even YEARS) to develop. You can improve your work capacity in a matter of weeks. Don’t be fooled by the huge jumps in your lifting capacity when you start training after being untrained. Your initial gains and big PR’s are more from neurological adaptation. You didn’t automatically turn into one of the Avengers.
Whether your goal is GPP or not, develop overall strength, develop overall skills (Olympic Lifting & Gymnastics). Some days it’s okay to do a short MetCon or even NO MetCon. Some days it’s okay to do ONLY a MetCon. Be smart about your training. If you need help, ask somebody who knows more than you about it. Don’t train intuitively with little to no knowledge on the art of programming.