What’s the logic behind our “strength bias” programming?

The Program:  Max Effort , aka. STRENGTH BIAS.

Ordinarily our CrossFit programming is highly randomized (in fact, we used a random number generator to build many of the WODs that you’ve done in the past).  However, random isn’t always the best bet, especially if you have a specific deficiency that you need to target.  For the next six weeks, our programming is going to be biased in favor of developing strength, while maintaining a decent level of metabolic conditioning.  We’re using a protocol that calls for Max Effort (ME) workouts 3-4 days each week.  Max Effort workouts feature a single barbell movement performed in sets of between 1 and 5 repetitions, where the final sets approach maximal effort or muscular failure.  Most Max Effort workouts will be followed by a brief metabolic conditioning (metcon) workout.

You need to do all of the ME days in order to get the full benefit of this programming cycle.

Reps and Loading Percentages:

In ME workouts, the prescribed weight will be given as a percentage of your one-rep max – i.e. the heaviest weight at which you can successfully/safely complete one rep.  For example, all of the ME workouts this week will be performed at a loading of 65% with 5 sets of 5 reps (denoted 5-5-5-5-5).  You should be trying to use the same weight for all five sets.  The optimal weight/loading will bring you very close (but not quite) to failure on final reps of the 4th and 5th sets.  If you overshoot and hit muscular failure, just lower the weight slightly on the next set.  Loading percentages will change each week; you’ll need to know your real or “theoretical” one-rep max in order to do the appropriate calculations for the ME workout.

Calculating One-Rep Max:

Many of you do not have established one rep maxes.  That’s ok.  You’re going to use this week’s lifts to establish a “theoretical” one rep max for each of the movements that we’ll use in subsequent weeks.  Your theoretical max will be based on the weight that you could sustainably lift across all 5 sets of 5 reps.  You will simply divide that weight by 0.65 in order to get your theoretical max.  BE CONSERVATIVE when estimating.  If you increased the loading from one set to the next, use the average score, not the highest score.  Failed sets will not count toward the average.  For example:  for shoulder press, Nate H. posted 104, 111, 121, 121, 126 for his 5 sets of 5 reps.  That puts his average loading for the day at 116.6.  We’ll round down to 116 and divide that number by 0.65, which gives us 178.  So Nate’s theoretical max on shoulder press is 178.  Be sure to calculate your max and keep a log your loadings for every exercise.

Rest and Recovery:

On ME days, rest in between sets should be no less than 2 minutes and optimally 3-4 minutes.  This will drive many of you crazy.  Take it easy – have a conversation with the people around you.  REST.

To reiterate: in order to get the full benefits of this strength-bias training cycle, you need to try to do all of the ME days.  With that said, if you are doing all of the ME days, you should only do one, or a maximum of two workouts on non ME days.  The metcons on ME days are optional – you should do two of these short metcons in the course of a week.  REST.

Bottom line: if you do absolutely every WOD that we post, you will be overtraining.  Don’t do it.

7 thoughts on “What’s the logic behind our “strength bias” programming?

  1. The reason we’re targeting strength as a deficiency is so that we can build people up to perform better with heavier weights. Being metabolically fit doesn’t necessarily correlate with being able to maintain power output over time. If your strength increases, moving weights as a smaller percentage of your max will allow you to produce more more power and complete WODs more quickly.

    Thanks to Jon for programming the next 6 weeks.

  2. Great explanation of the reasoning behind the ME programming. The best advice I can give is to make sure to utilize these ME workouts to really focus on proper form. We all have form issues on one lift or another (for me, it’s a lot of them, haha). A focus on form before the weight gets really heavy is the best way to improve form on maximal efforts.

    As a side note, I’d like everyone to know that 178 is not my max shoulder press! I wish. In reality, my goal for that day was 85% of my ME and my weights were scaled as such so I could hit that on set 5. Just don’t want anyone writing checks that my butt can’t cash!

  3. I was also confused by the “5-5-5-5-5 (~65% of One Rep Max)” on the workouts. I wasn’t sure if this was suggesting that 65% of Max should result in only 5 reps (more like 15), or if the weight should be set at 65% of Max even if this means all 5 sets of 5 are easy.

  4. Justin,
    I was at fault for you WOD on monday morning. it should have been scaled to 65% of your max. Yes, it should have been a little on the easy side. Does this answer your question?

  5. For Justin and all:
    Doing 5 sets of 5 reps at 65% will absolutely not bring you to muscular failure (unless you’re doing something wrong). In fact, none of this ME programming should bring you to full failure.

    On the other hand, if all of the sets seem really “easy,” you may have underestimated your max. People who rest insufficient amounts between sets have a tendency to underestimate their max. The first time that they try resting 4 minutes between sets, their 1-rep max suddenly increases.

    To echo Nate’s sentiments: this strength cycle is really about technique, technique, technique. Make each movement a masterpiece.

  6. Hi,

    Re: “Ordinarily our CrossFit programming is highly randomized (in fact, we used a random number generator to build many of the WODs that you’ve done in the past). However, random isn’t always the best bet, especially if you have a specific deficiency that you need to target. ”

    Absolutely. Greg Everett’s article “Plandomization” spells it out expertly. If you just do entirely random, that probably isn’t good for anything other than overall fitness (which is good, just not entirely goal specific).

    Of course no one said random means entirely random. You can have randomization within a category to obtain your goals. For example, make a list of exercises in the “Strength” category, and randomly select from those exercises, and do the same for each category. This would be a stratified sampling idea. Or assign certain exercises different probabilities of selection. This would be a probability proportional to size idea.


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