Re-Order Your Priorities: Strength First, Then Cardio!

CrossFit is a strength sport that requires endurance, not an endurance sport that requires strength. Read that line again. The way you approach that statement and the sport will clearly dictate how much success you will have.

Think about this: If you get off the couch and start working out, you will be able to run a 10k race competitively long before you will be able to squat 500 or bench 400. Why? The human body will adapt to the stresses of aerobic training much more quickly than it can adapt to anaerobic stress. In other words, you will get “in shape,” so to speak, faster than you will get strong.

Yet in CrossFit, people often flip out over their endurance concerns and met-con work, but they do not show nearly enough concern for absolute strength. I say again, absolute strength is the king of all sport requirements. Many of you are worried that if you slow down or stop your met-cons or cardio work, you will quickly lose ground in that area, and those concerns are valid, to a point.

Cardio shape is quickly gained and begins to diminish just as quickly. In only a few weeks you can get in decent aerobic conditioning. Equivalent strength gains take much longer to build, but they also hang around much longer after you slow down or stop focusing on them as a priority. If you don’t train strength for two or three weeks, you will still be okay strength-wise, whereas you will feel it much more missing the same duration of met-cons…and that is where the trap lies. Athletes panic, put all their eggs in the met-con basket, and the result is fit athletes who are not as strong as they need to be in order to be competitive.

Pictured: David (CrossFit Westgate member)

Pictured: David (CrossFit Westgate member)

Let’s say you are a coach and working on putting together a team for the Games. You have athlete A who is 170 lbs and can whiz thru the met-con phase of training, yet he is weak in all the strength movements. He likes bodyweight movements only and light Oly lifting WODs. He concerns you in events where you need to be strong.

Now you also have athlete B, who is 195 lbs and bull strong and fast, but he lacks the cardio endurance to smoke the met-cons. This athlete can crush some big numbers, he cleans huge weight, and he does thrusters with 275 lbs but needs technique work.

If you have eight weeks to get them ready to compete, which athlete will you choose to represent you? Most of us will say Athlete B because you can get him in pretty good shape and deep down you know Athlete A is not going to get strong enough in eight weeks.

That is it in a nut shell: it is easier to get in cardio met-con shape than it is to get strong and fast.

The Reality of Strength

I work with college coaches who recruit players and offer large scholarships to play for them. If you are strong and fast, they feel they can make you a player; on the other hand, if you have skill but no speed or explosive power, they show little interest. That is because they know that process takes a long time to build and to teach you a position is an easier task. Same concept as CrossFit.

Most facilities have the main focus on technique and met-con endurance rather then making their athletes strong. I do seminars all over the world and find the same thing over and over again. The coaches and athletes tell me “we are just not strong enough” and therefore they fail when it comes time to meet on the field of play. I have seen CF athletes with body composition that is crazy good — they look like they are in great shape and they are. Yet they cannot lift to save their lives, so when it’s Games time you find them all dejected and hanging around the bottom.

Pictured: Chelsea (CrossFit Westgate member) and Yevgeniy (Weightlifting Coach)

Pictured: Chelsea (CrossFit Westgate member) and Yevgeniy (Weightlifting Coach)

You are far better off, as I have said repeatedly, to get strong — really strong — first, and then worry about getting in shape. Strength train like you are possessed. The order of focus must be switched around: strength first, then cardio.

Just to prove my point: I had two of my guys at UA do “Lynne” for fun: 5 rounds of bodyweight bench into bodyweight pull-ups. They were both in the 20’s on both throughout the workout, and neither of them have ever done it before. How can it be? Absolute strength is the answer. Stronger with a greater power output rating.

If the need to get in met-con shape was the only ingredient needed to be a superstar, then CrossFit would be full of them. No doubt that these athletes are very fit, so I am not saying not to work on getting in shape. What I am saying is that you must work harder on becoming stronger rather than only focusing on cardio fitness.

A "Need" Application Approach to CrossFit

I believe in need application and think CrossFit should be approached that way. Need application is simply this: when you are doing something and you see a need in order to have further success, you then apply the requirements to fix it. Need application. If you are a race car driver and your car is too slow, then you need to make it faster. You need to have more horsepower. If you are a football team and you can’t block well, you need better linemen. If you are in a strength sport and your strength is not up to par, then that needs to be your focus. It’s not science and it’s not theory — it’s need application.

CrossFit athletes should spend the first year of training doing light met-con style workouts and focus on Oly technique with moderate weight. The main focus should be getting strong — really, really strong. Training should resemble a power-fit workout more so than a standard current CrossFit approach. The met-con work should be trained, of course, but not nearly with as much intensity as raw power and absolute strength, using the powerlifting lifts as the main strength focus.

Pictured: Jess (CrossFit Westgate member)

Pictured: Jess (CrossFit Westgate member)

This approach will allow for greater strength gains and allow you to develop a higher power output rating to bring to your game. The higher the power output rating, the less effort it takes to complete a task. An athlete with a 200 power output rating will use less energy than an athlete with a 100 power output rating, therefore leaving more in the tank for the next event.

In addition, the lesser percentages in the Olys will allow for better development of technique and will keep injury risk lower as well. This is not that hard of a concept to understand: the need to develop a greater power output is essential to the CrossFitter. Look at all of the top finishers: they are all stronger than you but not necessarily in such greater cardio shape. You can all do the same events and you can all finish them, yet they do them with greater weight. How come? Because they are stronger and have a greater power output rating. If you were stronger and in the same met-con shape, wouldn’t you do better than you are currently?

Bottom line: worry less about cardio and more about your strength. Remember that CrossFit is a strength sport that requires endurance, not an endurance sport that requires strength. PowerFit. I like that.

This article was originally posted by Tabata Times