What is strength? An online search defined it as "the quality or state of being strong". No help there. So I looked up the definition of what strong meant. The same website defined that as "having a lot of strength". Vicious circle much? It's obvious that I needed a precise and measurable definition of what strength is, if my goal is to gain and increase it.
Specifically, I looked to what the definition of what muscular strength was. Here's what I came up with:
- a muscle's ability or potential to generate force
- the contractile potential of a given muscle
- the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force
Furthermore, an electromyogram can measure how much force a muscle can produce via electromyography. But in CrossFit, these traditional definitions are very limited.
It's not enough that a muscle can produce force, or has the highest potential to generate force. Because if you can't do anything with that contractile potential, or do not possess the ability to accomplish a task with the strength you have...then what good is it? What benefits are there if you can generate the most amount of force, yet can not accomplish work? What good is it to be the strongest person around, but can't get from A to B?
"I have the potential to lift that weight, but I can't find a way to do it right now" sounds the same as "I have the potential to do the dishes, but I can't find a way to do it right now".
In CrossFit, it's not enough that one has this potential or ability to generate force. Without task accomplishment, there's no value or worth. The goal of CrossFit is not only quantifying how much work you can get done, but also how long it took to get done. This is power output. But you're not very powerful if you can't accomplish work, yet have all the potential to do so.
Let's take the gymnastic movement of the ring muscle-up and break it down to its essence. The ring muscle-up is nothing more than transitioning from hanging below the rings to on top of the rings with both arms locked out in support. Essentially, it's a deep ring pull up into an extended ring dip. One person might have all the muscular ability (potential) in the world to do both a ring pull up and a ring dip, yet still cannot accomplish or complete a full muscle up. In other words, they can't accomplish the task. Which means that they aren't producing any power output (the time rate of work, in this case, is zero power output).
The reason is simple enough. This individual is lacking the skills necessary to accomplish the task. In CrossFit, those skills, positions or movements that allow us to accomplish tasks are called technique. In this case, this person lacks the technique required to transition from the pull up into the dip. Therefore, strength for us in CrossFit is technique dependent. Having all the potential ability and contractile force won't do you any good in our program if you can't productively apply it. This is why the CrossFit definition of strength is measurable. Our definition is the productive application of force; not just it's ability or potential.
This concept is universal to us in our program. It's not limited to gymnastics. We need the same productive application in weightlifting and in our "cardio" efforts, or monostructural metabolic conditioning. If I improve my technique, I can efficiently move more weight in that single particular effort, OR, over the course of repetitions. This translates into completing more work in a faster time, which again, means we are producing more power, which translates into a higher level of intensity. This is why CrossFit is efficacious and the reason why people are getting the results in an efficient manner.
So what's the point of this article? One doesn't necessarily need to lift heavy weights more often to get stronger. Increasing volume and lifting heavier more often, will definitely improve your muscular ability to generate force. But let's not neglect the technique factor. Improving the way our bodies interact with external objects, in a more efficient manner, will manifest itself as strength by eventually adding more weight to the bar. Practicing to improve said technique usually demands minimal to no weight and/or low intensity and speed.
DON'T GET CAUGHT UP INTO LIFTING HEAVIER MORE OFTEN! Biasing with this approach, will cause imbalances in your overall physical preparedness and fitness, which is not our goal with CrossFit. We don't want to get so strong and increase our strength at the expense of other skills and attributes. In contrast, we don't want too much endurance or stamina at the expense of our strength, either. We strive for a balance and an increase with that balance, as a whole entire unit.
So if I'm suggesting to not necessarily increase the volume of your heavy lifts, then how does one get strong(er)?
By completing more work, faster. Whatever weight you're moving in the workout, move it faster. If it's 75lbs. for high repetitions, get the task done quicker. Refrain from resting as much as you are during the workout and keep working to complete the reps, while utilizing enough technique to provide economy of motion. If you are resting more than you're working, then it will take you longer to complete the task. This means your power output is lower, which means you're relative intensity level is down, which means that you are delaying the results you are seeking out of the program, to include....STRENGTH. Safety is an important factor to consider, for sure, however there is a universal tension and balance that exists with not only safety, but efficacy and efficiency need to be considered as well. Minimizing risk is accomplished by prioritizing mechanics, first and foremost. Once you are able to move correctly, then you must strive for consistency with those mechanics and fundamentals. Once consistency has been proven with volume, then and only then one can expect to add speed and additional weight to the object.
Our programming at CrossFit JAX allows a sub-maximal/maximal lift at least once, if not 2 times a week. Don't miss out on these opportunities and workouts to increase your raw strength. But don't neglect the amrap's and workouts that are 'for time' either, because they too, are an opportunity to get stronger. It just so happens that moving faster hurts more. Maybe that's why people would rather lift heavy weights...because it doesn't hurt as much.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE UNCOMFORTABLE.