Have you ever wondered what exactly the Abercrombie models over at crossfit actually do?
By now, we all have heard of wall balls, WOD’s, Paleo and kipping pull-ups.
But the details to most strength athletes and fitness enthusiasts in general are still very foreign.
At Ironmill, we wanted to explore the very real possibility of how exactly Crossfit may or may not help us reach our goals of maximum strength and power.
To do this we called our resident “professional” in the sport of fitness, Zachary Brodis of Ogden, Utah. Zach is certified in Crossfit: Olympic Lifting, Endurance, and is a level 1 trainer who Co – Owns and coaches in his own gym: Crossfit Ascension.
We asked Zach to breakdown exactly what Crossfit is for us and IF it can help us become better strength athletes.
CROSSFIT = WEAKNESS INTO STRENGTH
By Zach Brodis
Weakness into Strength
When asked by my old hometown friend Lou, to write my opinion on how how CrossFit could help a struggling power athlete or strongman competitor, the answer to that question seemed simple to me.
We work on weaknesses and turn them into strengths, a paramount principal for any athlete.
In the following article I hope to show how that doctrine has helped me along with how it can help anyone to achieve better strength if they should decide to follow the way of attacking weakness.
I’m honored to be a guest blogger for the Ironmill site and hope to do more of this type of information “sharing” as I believe it will help progress both of our closely related sports; Strongman and CrossFit.
The Sport of Fitness
Contrary to the popular belief of chicken legged gym rats everywhere. CrossFit is not just for those of us looking to get super lean and have ripped 6 pack abs. CrossFit couldn’t be further away from the sport of bodybuilding where individuals are solely focused on how they look.
We measure ourselves based on performance.
Cutting a few seconds off a benchmark workout, lifting a few more pounds, gaining better form through practice and working on mobility, these are the benchmarks to which any good CrossFit or strength athlete should assess their progress.
We define fitness as an individual’s prowess within the 10 general physical skills. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regimen develops fitness to the extent that it improves each of these ten skills.
- Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
- Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
- Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
- Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
- Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
- Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
- Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
- Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
- Balance – The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
- Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.
Use Resources, Turn Weakness Into Strength
Weakness is a reserve of strength that has yet to be tapped. Here are some of my statistics from when I started CrossFit. I had decently strong upper body but weak legs, and definitely a weak core. I hated squatting because I had never taken the time to do my research and figure out the proper technique that the best of the best used.
Before starting CrossFit, about 3 years ago in 2009
- Bodyweight 280 pounds 17% body fat
- Back squat 315 pounds
- Bench press 365 pounds
- Strict press 225 pounds
- Deadlift 545 pounds
- Snatch 205 pounds (power snatch, no mobility for a full snatch)
- Clean and jerk 275 pounds (power clean, no mobility for a full clean)
Anyone who cares to search for the answers can find great resources for improving any of the 10 general physical skills. CrossFit headquarters has already done the work of seeking out the best of the best of “fringe” athletes (strongman, power lifters, runners, gymnasts, physical therapists, nutrition experts, etc.) These resources could help you achieve the progress every real athlete desires. They certainly helped me become a much better athlete. You can find tons of helpful articles and videos on anything fitness related by getting a subscription to the CrossFit Journal, there is also free content.
Nutrition is the Foundation
To get my nutrition under control and shed excess body fat I found these resources to be helpful. The key is to eat for performance and still find ways to make your food delicious. I know many people struggle with the whole food subject. I’m very thankful that I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy without much of a sweet tooth, much like many of you. I found useful information on nutrition from all of these resources, I practice a sort of combination of all the advice contained therein and do not strictly adhere to any one plan.
Nutrition has to be a personal journey of experimentation to find what makes you feel great and perform to your maximum potential.
Here’s a great recipe from CrossFit football creator John Welbourn’s blog Talk To Me Johnnie:
5 lbs pork butt or shoulder
2 jars of Mi Casa Salsa Verde Medium
7 oz can of diced green chili’s
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 – 1 tablespoon sea salt (depends on taste)
1 teaspoon of pepper
2 chopped cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
½ cup of water
Chop up the garlic. And brown the garlic and onions in a pan with some butter, add to the crock pot.
Sear the pork shoulder/butt in the pan for 2-3 mins a side. Put into crock pot.
Deglaze the pan with the water and pour into crock pot.
Pour Salsa Verde, diced green chiles, cumin, salt and pepper into the crock pot.
Stir up the ingredients.
Cook on low for 8 hours.
Mobile, Agile, Hostile
I am still a big guy at 6’2″ 240 pounds, so I’m always for ways to attack my weaknesses. To gain body awareness and increase my strength to body weight ratio I had to look no further than www.gymnasticswod.com. Carl Paoli’s progression videos and coaching are top notch. He breaks down the most difficult seeming movement into simple step by step instructions even a once big clumsy oaf like myself could follow. With a bit of time, practice, and a lot of sweat, I am now efficient at some of the most technically difficult movements that CrossFit has to offer. Handstand push ups (on the floor, with a deficit, and on rings), pistols (single leg squats), both bar and ring muscle ups, ring-dips, strict, kipping, and butterfly pull-ups.
Bet you never though push ups were this complicated. One of the videos that helped me gain better body awareness and strength to body weight ratio.
Focus and Achieve
One could not master every gymnastics skill one could want in a short time. It is necessary to put your focus into one skill and stick with it until you are at least proficient. For example, currently my gymnastics focus is split between mastering the butterfly pull-up to use in competition settings, and getting better at handstand walking. Being heavy, I want to get my pull ups done fast and save energy. With handstand walking, the benefits to my wrist flexibility and shoulder strength cross directly over to my Olympic lifts. The gains from gymnastics have helped me make gains with lifting, the body awareness and flexibility required for gymnastics translates well to my Olympic and power lifting. Another example of how improving a weakness in one area of your fitness can improve your results in another seemingly unrelated area.
Endurance is Strength
Once upon a time I would look at workouts that included running or rowing with a panicked feeling of dread in my belly. Instead of avoiding my weakness I decided to attack it, I attended a CrossFit Endurance seminar and learned how to train for longer cardiovascular efforts like an athlete. Goodbye boring slow jaunts through the neighborhood, hello intense and brutal interval training. My favorite Endurance workout by far has to be the “Tabata” row, 20 seconds max effort, 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds. The goal is to start out in high gear then hold on for dear life as you try to match the same amount of meters rowed when you were fresh for round 1 for each of the next 7 rounds. 4 minutes and you’re done. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday www.crossfitendurance.com will post a new endurance workout under their workout of the day. Choose from running, biking, swimming, rowing, or ruck, and have a great time improving your cardiovascular endurance while maintaining your ability to gain strength and power. A strongman athlete could certainly scale these endurance workouts down into something that makes sense for their own goals.
Here’s a taste of CrossFit Endurance, pose running can help anyone no matter how big run faster and avoid injury.
Hate Squats? Work Hard and Love Squats
I also realized that I needed to focus on weakness in my lifts if I wanted to continue becoming a better athlete. I bounced around many different routines, even programmed for myself a bit, but only recently have I found a program that feels like home.
Rudy Nielsen’s “the Outlaw Way”
I’ve been following for a good five months now and the progress speaks for itself. Any good power lifter will recognize Rudy’s use of the conjugate method in his programming and if you read about his methods on his blog.
“When I began to delve into the sacred texts (sorry, I really love Louie) of Louie Simmons I began to realize that if programmed with intent, CrossFit could be directed in such a way that it would look very much like a high intensity version of the Conjugate Method.” – Rudy Nielsen
The Outlaw Way works, here are my results.
- Current weight 240 lbs. (down 40lbs) -10% body fat (down almost 10%)
- Back Squat 435 pounds up from 380
- Bench press 405 pounds up from 365
- Strict press 275 pounds up from 225
- Deadlift 605 pounds up from 545
- Snatch 280 pounds (full squat snatch) up from 215
- Clean and Jerk 315 pounds (full squat clean) up from 275
Can’t Work if you Can’t Move
I also have to give credit to Kelley Starret’s www.mobilitywod.com for helping me improve flexibility required for the Olympic lifts and deep squats. Without the added benefits of mobility and recovery gained from K Star’s tips, I would not be to the point I am today.
The first video on your journey to better mobility if you choose to. Start mobility WOD from day 1 and keep it going.
CrossFit Football, Forging Powerful Athletes
CrossFit Football creator John Welbourn is a big, strong, smart individual. His training program is as simple and effective as it is brutal. Starting a linear progression with your squat, bench, and deadlift will get you serious gains if you stick with it and focus on technique. For any athlete interested in becoming stronger and more powerful as well as gaining prowess in the rest of the physical skills, CrossFit Football is an outstanding resource.
Hybrid Athletics wants you to focus on your weaknesses, I think Rob Orlando may know a little something about programming that will keep Strongmen strong where they need to be and also focus on their weaknesses.
Great Resource for your community!
Conquer Your Weakness
In conclusion, turning weaknesses into strengths will make you a better athlete. The journey to better fitness starts with a decision.
You can choose to stick with what you’re good at, keep working on the aspects of fitness that you enjoy, I applaud anyone who dedicates some time throughout their day to any aspect of fitness, this is a perfectly acceptable decision.
However, you will always have the ability to be and do more.
Hate something related to your fitness? Do you have the fortitude, and the indomitable will required to learn to love something that you hate? Are you willing to test yourself day in and day out, learn new skills and apply them to your old skills? Attacking weaknesses will make you a more well rounded athlete. You will be physically and mentally prepared to take on any challenge. Start out slow, pick out one weakness and work on it for 10 minutes a day. Master that weakness and move on down the path. I hope that with this article I’ve provided pathways to the resources you need to get you going towards improvement.
Dare to take the road less traveled, for that is the territory of beasts.
CrossFit Olympic Lifting certification
CrossFit Endurance certification
Level 1 CrossFit trainer
Co-Owner and Coach at CrossFit Ascension