We Stopped “Strength Training” and People Got Stronger
18 CrossFitters got 31 PRs in the CrossFit Total, a year and a half after we ditched “strength training.” Which is to say, we ditched the old model of “strength” or “metcon” or “strength + metcon” and just got serious about good movement and the right intensity. And started out-sourcing our programming.
Like many CrossFit gyms, we spent many years diligently programming workouts for Rocket with the classic “Strength + Metcon” formula. If I’m honest, there’s still days when I miss it, because I love the intensity and feeling like every minute was packed with an obvious purpose. But after 7 years of programming, Brady and I were burnt out on it, so we started talking to everyone out there who sells programming.
That was worse than online dating. So much braggy bloviating. So much focus on “shape” and “PRs.” So much bullshit.
Brady and I knew what we valued: inclusivity, accessibility, intensity, safety. We wanted people to get more strength and fewer injuries. We were less concerned about big numbers and more concerned about increasing and maintaining true fitness as people age. I mean, we’re a GPP gym, not a fitness factory. We needed a programmer who would protect our members’ bodies while also pushing them outside their comfort zone. And programming that was easily adaptable to our unique space and community. (Tiny gym, and we don’t use RX at all.)
The only person we spoke to who we jibed with philosophically offered us programming that was totally different from what we had always done. In short, none of this “Strength + Metcon” everyday stuff. The stuff that we had done every day for 7+ years, and loved doing.
Basically, what they proposed was "just" a thorough warmup during which members actually learn something about their bodies and do real movement prep for whatever the workout will be. Then, a workout. Just one. Sometimes it’s “Strength,” which seems to mean “lifting” in CrossFit Lingo. Sometimes it’s a metcon, or “metabolic conditioning” which is akin to what people think of as “cardio.” But almost always using weights of some sort, and gymnastics of every sort.
Which I guess makes sense, because the programming is called
, from Pat and Taz Barber. Not only are they OG CrossFitters who have both competed in The Games, they also built some of the biggest brand-name gyms programs out there from behind the scenes, and Pat's on the Level 1 & 2 seminar staff. Like, these guys know their shit.
It hurt my brain to think about this. It seemed like so much “less” than we usually did. But Pat and I talked for close to an hour, and everything he said jibed with what we believe. (Hearing him tell about this first phone call cracks me up. Apparently I was somewhat direct and abrupt. In my defense, I had talked to so many people whose ideas were so NOT okay with me, that were really everything I think is wrong about CrossFit.)
When I hung up the phone, I knew I was in love.
Armed with time, and an incredibly thorough document explaining the new philosophy to our members, we switched things up. Abruptly and completely
No more Strength + Metcon.
People panicked a little. (I panicked a lot.) People were uncomfortable with the idea. Change is hard.
But we stayed the course. And here’s what I’ve noticed:
* Fewer injuries that are keeping people out of the gym. For sure. As evidenced in our attendance numbers and classes that are consistently full because people aren’t too sore / injured to come to class.
* Better movement, all around. The focus on skills and warmups is translating into how people move in their metcons (which is part of the injury reduction)
* People are going “harder” in metcons because they’re not spent from lifting immediately before. That means they’re choosing harder scales. That means they’re able to push themselves into intensity more readily. That is where growth happens. (And ya’ll, lots of lightweight reps of something is classic hypertrophy. It’s just snuck in on ya in the form of wall balls or something.)
* Our coaches are more involved and armed with more information and ideas. This may seem simple, but the WUWO programming comes with a minute-by-minute lesson plan as well as links to resources to understand joints, muscles, movements and WHY we are doing what we are doing. It’s like sending them to grad school.
* Our members are more involved with their bodies. I don’t know how to quantify this for you, but I see it for sure. They’re asking for more mobility (our yoga classes are filling), doing more personal training, doing more specialty classes.
* We’re seeing so many PRs. Pat and Taz work testing into their programming, and sure enough, people are PRing all the time. There is trackable improvement in general fitness.
BUT WHAT ABOUT STRENGTH?
Look, we love lifting. Given my choice, I’d only lift. And I get it, people like to see their basic lifts go up. So…..
So we did The CrossFit Total yesterday in the gym. 18 people got together on a Saturday afternoon and tried to find their max Back Squat, Strict Press and Deadlift. 18 people. 31 PRs. Basically, everyone who comes in regularly (and isn’t recovering from childbirth or otherwise out of the gym) PRd at least one of the lifts.
And that is without any dedicated “strength cycle.” That’s just using the GPP programming from Warmup and Workout.
While far from a scientific study, I can tell you that there was so much cheering in the gym yesterday, and we were all saying “woah, it works.” IT WORKS.
And just so you can hear the proper tone, it was like when a child watches a magician or something and is amazed. It was like “wow, that’s amazing, how did that happen?” And you should see the smiles on their faces when they realize it happened because they are stronger than they knew. Because they’ve been working at it.
And it works.
If you are safely and regularly pushing your intensity in all the core movements, focused on the
, you will get stronger.
I was so pleased yesterday. With the PRs, with the collective joy, and with the knowledge that we can do less, do it better, and get way better.
You know the old saying, "train smarter, not harder." Or, I dunno, "less is more?"
However you look at it, it works. All those PRs prove that it works. More than that, the reduction in injuries and burnout shows that it can keep working. Cuz life is long, You gotta show up for all of it.
*It's worth noting that CrossFit itself, as in
does this also. Like, this is what CrossFit is. Carefully planned, constantly varied, the RIGHT intensity.