by Dan Trink T-Nation
You likely had one of two reactions after reading the title of this article.
If you're an avid CrossFitter, you're upset – upset that I've stolen from your beloved training modality, especially when you consider that I'm not a CrossFit certified instructor and I've never participated in CrossFit.
Heck, I've never even set foot in an affiliated facility.
On the other hand, if you're the type who's more than happy to post "CrossFit Fail" compilations on your Facebook page and discuss the reported high incidence of injury associated with CrossFit, you're probably confused – maybe even asking yourself what the hell Trink's been smoking.
For those that fall into the first camp, I ask you to take a long, hard look at your shirtless, high-socked self in the mirror. CrossFit has "stolen" from many fitness modalities including Olympic Weightlifting, sprinting, powerlifting, and strongman to name a few. So there's no harm in a more traditional strength coach such as myself re-borrowing a few of your ideas for my own program design.
For those on the other side, I don't subscribe to this "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" mentality. Almost every style of training has its limitations and downsides.
Bodybuilding has drug use, powerlifting has injuries. But we also know those styles of training have huge upsides if your goal is to get bigger or stronger, respectively. To put it another way, Guns and Roses aren't a terrible band simply because they released Chinese Democracy. You have to look at the big picture.
So as you read this article, all I ask from you is that you keep an intellectually open mind. There's plenty that we can all learn from each other.
Idea #1: Minute-On-The-Minute Sets
The one training variable that seems to get the least compliance of them all is rest intervals. Even though we know that adhering to rest intervals is an important parameter in developing a specific strength quality and that increasing work capacity is a key component in improving general fitness and body composition, the typical trainee is more concerned with checking out the hot chick squatting in her Lululemons than maintaining a strict rest interval.
Minute-on-the-minute sets are a great way of being held accountable and focusing on getting a certain amount of work done in a specific amount of time.
There are two ways that I use minute-on-the-minute sets. I'll use the trap-bar deadlift as an example, but this can be done with virtually any exercise.
The first is to load a trap-bar with a 3-5RM weight. At the top of every minute, perform two reps for a total of 10 minutes. You just pulled 20 fairly heavy reps in the amount of time most people would use for two sets.
This will drive up your work capacity while still using relatively heavy loads, which, if you prioritize being strong, may ultimately be more beneficial than simply banging out intervals on the treadmill.
The second technique would be to load the bar with your 10RM weight. At the top of the first minute perform one rep. At the top of the second minute, perform two reps. Keep adding a rep each minute until you can no longer complete the set within that minute.
This obviously gets tougher as the end of one set becomes increasingly closer to the beginning of the next set. Get to 10 reps and you're doing well. Get to 15 and you're a beast from another planet.
Idea #2: Training Multiple Strength Qualities Within One Session
Traditional block periodization dictates that you train one strength quality for a certain length (often 2 to 5 weeks) and then either switch focus or train the same strength quality with a different program for the next training block.
More general periodization schemes will often have trainees working on a primary strength quality for a similar period of time while also working a secondary strength quality. Both methodologies have proven very effective, particularly if the trainee is relying on developing that strength quality for a sport or to achieve a specific goal.
However, for the general fitness and body composition trainee, training several strength qualities in a given session can yield great results (although I still tend to keep the exercise order and set and rep ranges for each quality more in line with the traditional principles of exercise science).
In other words, I'll program higher-set, lower-rep power work, followed by compound movement strength work in the 4-5 sets of 3-6 rep range, then isolation/low CNS demand exercises in the 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps most associated with hypertrophy, and finish with either strength-endurance or conditioning. A sample program may look like this:
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A Single-Arm Dumbbell Clean and Press 6 3* 120 sec.
B1 Front Squat 4 4-6 90 sec.
B2 Weighted Chin-Up 4 4-6 90 sec.
C1 Cable Pull Through 3 10 60 sec.
C2 Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press 3 10 60 sec.
D Concept II Rower 2 500 m. 180 sec.
* per side
So you have a power movement followed by a non-competing strength superset, and then a lower CNS hypertrophy superset before topping it off with conditioning on the rower.
Idea #3: Using More Gymnastic-type Movements
One of my clients is a nearly 40 year-old corporate executive and father of two. He recently broke out a handstand in the middle of a dinner party. Everyone in attendance thought he was a superhero.
Not so long ago the movement skill portion of my training programs either consisted of developing technique in the Olympic lifts, working on running or sprinting mechanics, or improving technique in one of the major lifts. I've now added gymnastic movements to this list.
I'm finding exercises such as handstands, ring dips, rope climbs, and ring pull-ups are a great way to build isometric strength, train shoulder and core stability, and work the deltoids, lats, and triceps.
Given that these are bodyweight-only exercises, I like to make them part of a metabolic circuit towards the end of the training session (once the client is confident in performing the movement). Here's an example:
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
C1 Prowler Drive 3 40 m. 30 sec.
C2 Ring Pull Up 3 8 30 sec.
C3 Farmer's Walk 3 40 m. 30 sec.
C4 Ring Dip 3 8 60 sec.
It should go without saying that given the lack of stability of the rings themselves, you need to be somewhat strong in standard dips, pull-ups, and shoulder presses to pull these movements off well, particularly while fatigued. Remember, many of these movements are progressions from the basics, so don't jump into them before you're ready.
Idea #4: The X Factor
Even the most ardent CrossFit haters usually concede that if there's one thing that CF gets right, it's creating a dynamic environment that fosters a sense of community and encourages members to push their limits.
For a long time many people associated working out with either boredom or punishment. CrossFit has completely changed this relationship, so much so that people, both on the outside and inside, not-so-jokingly refer to it as a cult.
But how many people do you know who can't wait to bang out their back-and-biceps day at the local Globo-Gym? Sure, these people exist but only on the fringes. CrossFit has developed entire groups of passionate members who live to thrust, jump, run, and climb with their training partners.
I've never been much of a cheerleader, either as a coach or as a training partner. I've always believed that desire and motivation have to come from within and that my job was to design, coach, cue, spot and set my clients up for success.
But after witnessing the environment at CrossFit as well as presentations from the likes of Alwyn Cosgrove, Martin Rooney, and Todd Durkin, I do find myself trying to be more encouraging, outwardly rooting for my clients during their sessions as well as getting involved in their successes and struggles in the gym.
This has turned out to be the ultimate win-win. My clients and training community feel that I'm more vested and supportive of their success and I feel more engaged and present both while I'm training clients and working out.
Even if you train at a standard meat-and-potatoes gym, chances are you see the same people on a fairly regular basis. Don't be afraid to pop-off your noise canceling headphones and shout some encouragement to the guy who's about to break a PR in his deadlift.
And when this karma comes back around in a couple of weeks when you finally try to top 400 pounds in your bench, you'll be happy that you made the effort to become more a part of your gym's community.
Take What Is Valuable, Ignore The Rest
Is doing high-rep snatches when fatigued a good idea? Probably not. Is training multiple strength qualities the best way to prepare for a powerlifting meet? I don't think so.
But just because a system isn't perfect (and, let's be honest, every training system has its limitations) doesn't mean it's without any value.
I encourage you to take a deeper look at CrossFit (or Westside, or Poliquin, or Boyle) and determine what you can glean from their methodology that would benefit your own training.
Still not convinced? Feel free to leave your hate mail in the LiveSpill below.