Why You Need a Dedicated Strength Training Program
Monday, August 11, 2014 at 12:00AM
David Osorio in Building Community, Business and Policies, Coaching and Class Management, Programming

By Katharine Reece

When Jeremy Fisher signed up for the 2008 CrossFit Games, there were no qualifiers and no stadiums—he was enlisting in a weekend at Dave Castro’s ranch in Aromas, California involving only four workouts: chest-to-bar “Fran,” five rounds of deadlifts and burpees, and as Jeremy describes it, “that fucking hill run.” Sunday was a heavy squat clean version of “Grace.” A lifelong athlete and intense competitor, he was both fast and strong, and he placed a respectable 33rd out of 196 male athletes. But CrossFit had begun its weave into the fabric of the mainstream fitness world and the following year, he only made it as far as Regionals. His main takeaway from competing and being part of the CrossFit world years before the 10,000-affiliate milestone and the Games airing on ESPN? There is no training adaptation more important than strength.

Jeremy now works as a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn, where he piloted a popular eight-week program specifically geared toward building just that: strength. CFSBK has always taken strength training seriously, and has more Starting Strength-certified coaches under one roof than any other gym in the world. As we’ve written about before, we heavily program our CrossFit group classes with a strength component, which we’ve found to be the most effective way of training general population CrossFitters. But soon after affiliating in 2007, David and Jeremy saw the need for even greater strength from their members.

“It was the most common weakness among our clients,” Jeremy says. “Some lacked flexibility, coordination, or stamina, but strength was the most glaring shortcoming—as well as being one of the easiest to fix.”

Beginning the Program

Jeremy had been powerlifting since 2006, when good intuition and an impressive ability to search the Internet led him to Mark Rippetoe, Jim Wendler, Andy Baker, and others like them. Within a year, he was pulling in the low 400s, benching around 300, and squatting in the low to mid-300s. Jeremy incorporated CrossFit into an already robust lifting regimen, not the other way around, so beginning the strength program at CFSBK was a natural fit. As someone who had trained himself on lifting for years before getting any real coaching, he was also eager to help people avoid the mistakes and misconceptions that he had.  

CFSBK primarily caters to people who are walking through its roll-up gate with the working lives you’d find in any city—teachers, programmers, lawyers, moms, graduate students, freelancers—not athletes with their eyes on the current Games. But even if your goal isn’t to bust open entirely new realms of fitness like Rich Froning or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Jeremy insists that without strength, other physical attributes are useless, or at least limited. “Strength is about force production,” he says, which has an unquestionably positive impact on all other training components, from endurance and mobility, to all forms of conditioning. “Without strength,” Jeremy says, “power and speed are impossible.” 

Details of the Program

Strength Cycle is based on Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program adapted to fit a 90-minute class: it’s an eight-week program with options of meeting twice or three-times a week, priced accordingly. Each session involves three to four movements, with squats each session. The other two movements rotate between presses—bench and overhead—and pulls—deadlifts, power cleans, and chin-ups. 

Unless participants have followed a Starting Strength program before, they all begin with basic linear progressions, where a little more weight is added each week to exhaust initial novice gains. The goal is to dial in technique and standards. Jeremy determines the specific numbers of each person’s jumps each session, programming increases in loads that are small enough to not feel completely disjointed from previous workouts, but heavy enough to allow a significant accumulation of weight by the end the eight weeks. More advanced lifters will follow intermediate level programming, which may include variance in volume, assistance exercises, or higher intensity work. 

As David explains, “An important distinction to make is that this is geared toward general strength—it’s not a powerlifting program.” Even so, many Strength Cyclers go on to successfully compete as powerlifters, and the program thus opens an entirely new horizon of athletic engagement for them.

Each Strength Cycle culminates in a Sunday afternoon meet called a CrossFit Total, during which participants attempt to PR their squat, press, and deadlift, and the community gathers to celebrate their gains. Jeremy says the Total at the end is important for a few reasons: “It provides a culminating event for the cycle, which is nice, since it gives the lifters an end goal—something they are working towards.” He says it’s also useful from a community standpoint, since it brings together all the different strength cycles (of which there are now four): morning and evening, beginners and intermediate. And of course, it’s the ideal way to test the abilities of each lifter and demonstrate the progress they’ve made—and perhaps even show off a little.

Jeremy is quick to add that the Total is also not important in some ways, since anyone who has competed before knows the fickle and unpredictable nature of Game Day. “Nothing that happens that day validates or invalidates the work that's put in the previous eight weeks,” he says. 

Why Strength Cycle is Important

One of CFSBK’s members, Amanda McCormick, heard the scoop on Strength Cycle from another member and her first question was something along the lines of, "Can someone like me—who can barely lift anything—do it?" The other member said yes and soon after, Amanda says she found nothing but encouragement and inspiration from Jeremy and all her platform mates. “Not only did it make a huge, huge difference in my ability to lift heavy things,” she said, “I also got immense psychological benefits out of coming to class and learning to be patient with and focused on incremental progress. I took three cycles back-to-back about a year ago, and many of the things I learned there remain valuable and useful to me both in and out of the gym.”

The success of Strength Cycle demonstrates something critical to David that he wants to share with ITA’s readers: “Strength Cycle was the first program we offered beyond CrossFit group classes,” he says. “What we quickly learned was that we had a subset of our population who really thrived in that program and ended up either staying there or making it a major part of their long-term training. As an affiliate owner, offering a variety of programs allows you to cater to a larger population of people and help more people achieve their strength and conditioning goals.” 

More than anything, Jeremy wants participants to take away a love of training and enjoy the process of doing something difficult in order to make progress toward a particular goal. “Sounds simple,” he says, “but grinding your way through a tough set of squats just to earn yourself a slightly more difficult new set of squats 48 hours later takes some guts.”  

Some parting advice from Jeremy: “Commit to developing your program. Start small, with a group size you manage, and don't panic if takes a bit to catch on. Use that time to develop your eye, learn to recognize the issues that commonly occur, and learn the cues and corrections that resolve them.”

We want to share the methodology behind CFSBK’s Strength Cycle in the interest of you stealing it and implementing something similar at your affiliate, or, if you’re a coach, incorporating it into the workouts you program for your clients. Next week, we’ll be back with the nitty-gritty of how to run a similar program at your affiliate.

Article originally appeared on Inside the Affiliate (http://www.insidetheaffiliate.com/).
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