Introduction to Strength Training

Why do we do those same movements week in and week out? I thought CrossFit was constantly varied. And what's with the 3 sets of 5 reps. Why does the programming read: add weight from last week?  I can't remember what I did last week.

It is called strength training and EVERYBODY can benefit from being stronger. It will help you lift heavier weights during your metcon or make the weight you are using feel lighter, thus enabling you to move at higher intensities and do more work! As Mark Rippetoe so eloquently puts it: "Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general." Not only does it improve your work capacity, it also improves (to name a few):

  • Improves bone density
  • Promotes fat-loss - as you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more efficiently.
  • Increases strength of muscle, connective tissue and tendons - protects your joints.
  • Improves quality of life, particularly for the sedentary

The linear progression, or adding weight every week, is a great way to improve strength. The loaded barbell (resistance) introduces a stress on the body. Subsequently, the body will recover from the stress by returning to its press-stress condition, plus a little more. If you stick with it regularly, your body will adapt to the increasing stress and get stronger. This isn't the only method, but it is easy to understand. Week 1: Establish a baseline: Warm up to a heavy set of 5 you can maintain for 3 sets with good form. Week 2: Add weight from last week... For this reason, it is important you remember your previous weight so you can progress. Write it down! This process can continue for some time before a plateau occurs.

3 sets of 5 reps at the same weight ("across") is considered an optimum combination for volume and intensity, while still allowing the muscles to fire in a coordinated manner. 5 reps allows enough weight to be used that force production must increase, but are not so heavy that the cardiovascular component is completely absent from the exercise. Sets of five may be the most useful rep range you will use during your training.1

To understand if you are doing it right, the 4th and 5th rep of each set might feel a little sticky, but you should rest enough to be able to complete all 3 sets. Don't be in a hurry to find a weight where you will get stuck - that is, you can only get 3-4 reps in set 2 and 3. It is better to start with perfect form and add weight in smaller increments each week than it is to start at a weight that doesn't allow you to progress. If you get stuck or don't understand what "heavy" means, ask your coach!

Dan Benson

1. Practical Programming for Strength Training, 3rd Edition. 2013