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Developing Strength & An Engine Together

January 5, 2023 by

Synergistic Systems

It’s rare that an athlete is plenty strong enough to compete at the highest level in CrossFit and only needs to work on their conditioning.  Likewise, it’s rare that they have the “engine” to compete at the highest level and only lack strength.

This is (a) a testament to how strong and how fit CrossFit athletes have become, and (b) shows how some qualities have a synergistic effect in the Sport: their sum is greater than the parts.

Within CrossFit, this is true strength and the aerobic system.

You Must Have Both

The way that strength is tested in CrossFit, it’s rare that success in strength events is solely based on unfatigued, maximal strength.

Typically, there are elements of fatigue prior to it being tested.  

Sometimes it’s a heavy implement built into a MetCon.
Sometimes it’s a strength event right after a metabolic event.
Sometimes it’s a complex with multiple attempts in a small time window.
Sometimes it’s multiple lifts in succession before reaching a max.

The Aerobic System Bails You Out

I like to think of the Aerobic System like a sump pump: It’s always running in the background.

While it can only handle so much, without it the entire system floods. 

For Powerlifters and Weightlifters, their aerobic system needs little development because they get -at least- a few minutes between attempts.

For the CrossFit athlete, repeatedly hitting near-max effort lifts (aka. battery) is heavily reliant on the aerobic system for success.

Training Implications

This means that for the CrossFit athlete, strength development cannot happen in a vacuum.  It need to be trained in tandem with the aerobic system.

No, this doesn’t mean Back Squats and Assault Bike Sprint intervals
…but it could.

Often this means following sound principles of concurrent training, where sessions are split, to allow the athlete to target a single quality at a time.

In other words, pick times to drive high mechanical tension & neural firing density, and pick other times to build volume, sustainable pace and cardio-respiratory endurance (e.g. AM = Strength Development, PM = Conditioning)

This is best for off-season athletic development.

Sometimes training these two systems in tandem means putting a little bit of extra toll on the aerobic system by simply limiting the amount of rest between working sets of strength work (e.g. E2M x 8 Sets: X Back Squat, EMOM 10: 2 Snatch)

Other times it means building intentional progressions for qualities of sub-maximal strength, like Strength Endurance or Battery.

Related: Adam Klink: The King of Concurrent Training (Podcast)

Need help figuring out how to balance getting strong and building an engine?
That’s what our coaches do!

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