How many times have you walked into the gym, looked at the whiteboard and saw the workout called for 275/195lb deadlifts or 155/115lb shoulder to overhead and you just died inside?
CrossFit is tough. Really tough.
For most, just being able to do a workout Rx’d is a huge accomplishment. Maybe your technique isn’t half bad or you’ve got decent stamina but you lack the strength to move some real weight.
If you want to take your workouts to the next level, you may want to consider taking a step back to develop your strength. The good news is that building strength might be simpler than you think. There are some tried, tested and true methods that bodybuilders, Powerlifters, and professional athletes have used for decades to develop world-class strength. It will take hard work and consistency to make some serious gains, but you can get there. Here are 11 ways to build strength and dominate your workouts.
Focus on the “Big 3”.
Getting strong means moving weight, and lots of it, on a regular basis. There’s arguably no better way to do that than with the squat, bench press, and deadlift aka the Big 3. The bench press may be one of the most overlooked exercises in the CrossFit community but it is still one of the best ways to build upper body strength. Do these movements or variations of them at least once a week to build a solid foundation of full body strength.
Focus on the overhead press.
Overhead strength is not something to overlook. The overhead press keeps the shoulders strong and puts the finishing touches on your upper body strength. Strict presses, push presses and dumbbell shoulder presses are your best options.
Use Deficit Reps.
By simply increasing the range of motion on a given exercise (creating a deficit), you increase time under tension and can better target weak points in the movement. Deficits work really well for exercises like push-ups, handstand push-ups, deadlifts and lunges.
Use Pause Reps.
Similar to a deficit, pause reps can also help strengthen weak points. For example, you can use the pause technique with the back squat where you pause for 2-3 seconds at the bottom before coming back up. This will help to build strength at the weakest point in the movement. Remember to use lighter loads with this technique since it is more demanding.
Use Tempo Reps.
The speed at which you move through a given range of motion can also affect your strength gains. Using various tempos such as three-second eccentric/one-second concentric are great ways to tax your muscles. Again, more time under tension will force you to work harder making you stronger in the process.
Use Single Arm/Leg Exercises.
Dumbbells aren’t used enough in CrossFit. There’s no better way to address muscular imbalances than with unilateral training. Training one limb at a time helps to improve joint stability which will directly transfer into more strength on bilateral lifts. Bulgarian split squats, single-leg deadlifts, and one-arm rows are some of the best unilateral exercises.
Build Grip Strength.
Never let grip be the limiting factor in a lift. It has been said that there is a very high correlation between grip strength and overall strength.This makes sense since so many movements like deadlifts, pull-ups, and Olympic lifts all require fundamental grip strength to be proficient. Farmer carries, rope climbs and even heavy dumbbell rows are surefire ways to develop raw grip strength.
Train to failure.
As a CrossFitter, muscle fatigue is nothing new to you. This is a tried and true technique among bodybuilders and for good reason. By performing a set to failure, you are forcing your muscles to work their absolute hardest. This gives your muscles no choice but to get stronger to adapt. Training to failure should be programmed sparingly since it is very taxing, especially in higher rep ranges.
Don’t underestimate rest days.
Strength is primarily a product of fine-tuned nervous system. The nervous system can take up to three times as long as your muscles to fully recover. If you are too sore or fatigued, your output will be significantly compromised. If you start to feel sluggish or a little beat up during the week, that’s a tell-tale sign you need to recoup. Getting strong is more about quality than quantity. Consider not training more than three days in a row if building strength is your primary focus.
Moving light to moderate weight explosively can sometimes be more brutal than moving heavy weight slowly. This type of training helps to develop power or speed-strength. The boys at the powerlifting mecca, Westside Barbell, refer to this as dynamic effort. This provides huge benefits while putting less stress on the joints that heavier loads tend to do. Plyometrics are also a great method for developing explosiveness.
BONUS TIP: Be Consistent.
Getting strong takes time. One of the biggest differences between someone who is strong and can cycle a barbell like all day and someone who can’t deadlift his own bodyweight is the simple fact that the former guy just didn’t stop. He stayed on the wagon and put in more time.
Whatever your training split looks like, stick to it. There is more value in sticking to a program and seeing it through to the end than constantly “switching it up”. Just because you didn’t see any gains in two weeks doesn’t mean your program didn’t work. Think of strength development as strategically varied functional movement performed at controlled intensity.
Best of luck with your strength gains. Now go dominate!
Photo credit: Rafael López/ CC BY-NC -ND 2.0