CFA Strength Training Theory

CrossFit styles of training have been around less than 20 years. We essentially combine the training styles of many different athletic events. As CrossFit Asheville, and CrossFit in general, have evolved, so too have the training methods. Giving a stimulus that allows someone to get fitter is an often challenging task. Anyone can make a workout that is “hard” and cause you to burn out over time, but few have the talent to repeatedly make them “successful” for progress. As we evolve, we are continuously experimenting with the best ways to provide you with an enjoyable and results-driven practice.

As such, the Strength/Skill portion of our workout was designed to add a component that is significantly lacking in many individuals fitness levels. This is often either a gymnastics, Olympic, or powerlifting movement. The latest evolution is as follows: Find a 5 Rep max every day that you enter the gym for a barbell lift.

CrossFit defines strength not as absolute but relative to body mass. By making the program varied, and including absolute strength with elements that use your own body, the fittest athlete will be the one who can move other objects because they are strong, and themselves because their strength relies on efficiency.

Your brain tells your muscles to shorten and you move. However, not all of your muscles shorten at once. Your body has multiple nerves that go to each muscle, each nerve telling a small piece of muscle to shorten. When you move an object, not ALL of the muscle tissue shortens, only a percentage of it, just enough to make you move yourself or an object.

Strength training is not always about getting bigger muscles, it is often about teaching your brain to fire greater percentages of your muscles. When someone who weighs 110 pounds moves something that weighs 220 pounds, and someone who weighs 220 pounds moves something the same distance at the same speed that weighs 220 pounds, the person who weighs 110 pounds is using a greater percentage of their muscle tissue. This is called neuromuscular efficiency for how much of your nervous system can get muscle tissue to shorten. This is why someone who weighs more than you may have the ability to move less weight than you.

It is common understanding in the strength and conditioning world that maximum strength of 1-5 repetitions (moving the most weight you can for 1 to 5 times consecutively) has a very similar effect on the body, it requires and improves neuromuscular efficiency. When you improve your 1-5 rep max and have the same muscle mass, you are improving your nervous system’s ability to shorten more and more muscle mass.

However, there is a difference in the volume and intensity of those lift numbers. For example, a 5 repetition maximum is approximately 85% of a 1 repetition maximum for certain lifts. If you perform a 1 rep max at 100 pounds you have done 100 pounds of work. If you perform a 5 rep max at 85 pounds you have done 425 pounds of work in just about the same amount of time. That is a much greater volume of work.

We believe that for our clients, who are relatively untrained in strength lifting (do a youtube search for the deadlift record for your weight class and you will realize we’re relatively untrained in that specialty) that the increased volume of work done each day will pay great dividends in the long run. Instead of trying 3-4 times and missing a 1 rep max, that hitting a 5 rep max each day will have much greater success.

There are a few rules to the progression and reasons for those rules. READ THESE:

  1. The 5 rep max should be 5-10 pounds greater than your previous, no exceptions. The method demands that you repeatedly hit successful lifts, not fail on number 4 each day. Therefore, attempting greater jumps and missing is worse than hitting something a little less than you “think you could”.
  2. You are only to hit one PR per day. If you go up ten pounds successfully and it “feels easy” you do NOT attempt another lift. Be happy with your progress and move on. A PR means it is something you have never done before and your body will have to recover from it. Even if it felt easy, let your body recover to get better, instead of repeatedly slamming it into the over-training wall.
  3. You will go through your warm-up and then do a basic progression as follows: 50% of goal x 5 reps; 70-75% of goal x 3 reps; 90-95% of goal x 1 rep; new 5 rep max. You can add in 1-2 sets along the way, but you do not want to be tired from a previous set and not hit the PR. Your attempt at your new record is your focus when you come in.
  4. Make it look good.

I will be producing a follow-up post in the weeks to come about your training sequence when you do not hit your PR that day. For now, follow the above guidelines when you come in.

Post thoughts to comments.

10 thoughts on “CFA Strength Training Theory

  1. Dawn

    Thank you for these “rules”. For someone like me who needs specific and defined goals, these guidelines will, I hope, keep me from constant injury. Understanding this whole NEUROmuscular concept is a challenge but helps get me past the thought that I just need to “muscle through it”. I’d really rather do it right….not heaviest or fastest…at least not until I can do it correctly. Better fitness really does come from getting the KB all the way over head during the KBS or the chest to bar during the pull up vs doing them half-assed but fast and heavy. Eventually with the CFA coaches’ help I hope to get these concepts embedded in my mind so that I maintain them even when I’m tired during a WOD. “Do it right every time” Love my coaches!!

  2. Shanna

    I guess appropriate to today’s post I hit a new 5 rep max in my deadlift this morning: 225lbsx5 @ BW of ~115lbs.
    Thanks to Corey who gave me the confidence that I was ready for this lift even though I had the awareness of sore legs from max rep back squats on Friday.

    Also, props to Daniel who hit an 800m PR going from 3:26 to 3:04 in a few months time! Getting stronger and faster…you will be a different man at this year’s Carolina Challenge! Enjoy the process!

  3. Tom

    Trust your coaches. It took my stubborn self a long time, but that’s my motto, and it has helped me big time. I look forward to more great coaching and more prs.

  4. hjudge

    Go Daniel Go! Shanna, Im imagining two of you, one on either side of the bar. You lifted that. Thats ridiculous!

    My motto has been and will continue to be ‘I am going to surprise myself’. it helped me laugh off my initial WOD fears but now it helps me not pause so many times during the pain. “You are going to surprise yourself, you’re not going to die, now breath ninja.”

    Thanks for this post. I have been guilty of going past the 10lb PR limit. When I feel ‘on’ with my form and everything feels smooth, I get caught up in the chase of it… luckily I was quickly brought down to earth by the coaches. No more misbehaving. Your attention to detail is making me strong and keeping me about as injured free as you can get.

    I will stop popping my head out like a turtle with my thrusters, I will use my hips, I will ‘snap’ up and stop bouncing my squats. Bring on the PRs!

  5. J$

    I was thinking about ths post while playing piano today. Playing piano is just another example of this theory, I think. When you learn to play the piano, you spend time training your muscles to respond in a very specific way (hit the correct key) to a specific stimulus (the notes written on the page). At first, it is awkward and requries a lot of thought and concentration and you still trip over your fingers and hit the wrong notes. After a while the movement, becomes more reflexive but still requires some thought and correction. Eventually, you can play Chopin. So, since none of us are Liberace, we need to practice our scales (5 rep maxes). Got it.

  6. Brent Drown

    Good words… I still mostly go with CrossFit HQ WODs, but I’ve been dabbling in 3 or 5 rep max efforts prior to the WOD, 1 or 2 times a week. The results have been measureable! You post is confirming and encouraging.

  7. Jacob

    I’ll watch out for your next article about after hitting the required PR for the day. ‘Coz it’s really tempting to attempt another lift when it feels easy after doing the first PR.


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