Three years ago when I first began CrossFit the goal was – learn the olympic lifts, have fun lifting big weights and do some conditioning to look fit and feel good. Little did I know what it would become.
Nowadays it seems like the average CrossFit athlete wants more than one hour a day of general fitness. Most boxes have olympic weightlifting classes, offer bonus workouts to help people get better at skill work and more people are participating in open gym to improve their weaknesses.
As a personal trainer of nearly six years and as a CrossFit L1 coach, I would have a difficult time telling someone that they could be a strong, competitive CrossFit athlete by doing standard classes for an hour a day, five days a week.
Classes are great, do not get me wrong, but you are also relying on your coaches to provide great programming that will include time for skill work, drilling those difficult olympic lifts (CORRECTLY) and providing you with metcons that really push you. And you are relying on yourself to not skip out on the days’ workouts that you really don’t want to do.
Since I began CrossFit, I started off in the regular classes, then after my first competition where I placed in the top 5 of scaled women, I began following competitor’s programming and added in my own skill work on things I struggled with such as chest to bar pull ups and certain snatch drills as it was one of my weakest lifts.
I also learned from doing a competition that bench press was a weaker lift for me as well, and one that is rarely programmed in general CrossFit classes, so I started adding in bench press once a week with accessory lifts to help me increase my bench. In three months my bench went up about 20 pounds which just goes to show, you can’t just avoid something if you care to improve.
All in all, following this programming I was in the gym for about two hours a day, five days a week, which included a warm up, the competitor’s programming, extra skill and accessory work, mobility and a little social time.
I have also followed CrossFit Invictus’ competitor’s programming and CrossFit Conjugate programming as well. I had amazing experience with the latter and much of this article is based on what I learned from those twelve weeks.
When beginning this programming my goal was to get strong and potentially compete in a powerlifting meet. It includes two days a week of upper body strength and accessory work, two days a week of lower body strength and accessory work, and two days a week of olympic lifting and accessory work. Not to mention one metcon a day.
Over the course of twelve weeks I increased by deadlift by 10 pounds, my snatch by 5 pounds, my push press by 5 pounds, 5 seconds off my Grace time, 18 seconds off my Fran time, and got better at chest to bar pull ups and handstand walking.
The key? Accessory work.
In a general class you may warm up, do 5×3 back squats then do your metcon and that’s it. With this programming, if you are back squatting then you will warm up, do your back squats, then you will have 3 – 4 accessory lifts to do like 3 x 10 step ups, 3 x 15 glute bridges, 4 x 20 glute ham raises, then core work like 4 x 10 GHD sit ups or 5 x 20 kettlebell side bends, then a metcon, then a cash out like 200 banded good mornings.
This is not something that is the norm to CrossFit, but it works. Think about it.. powerlifters, figure competitor’s.. most people doing general fitness at the gym are doing these kind of lifts and they get stronger. It builds a very strong foundation to make you better at CrossFit.
Sure, many people do not have this kind of time, but if you could add in 20 minutes a day to get in 3 x 10 step ups and 4 x 10 GHD sit ups then wouldn’t you get stronger than by just doing 3 x 5 back squats?
These moderate volume, moderate weight lifts are the kind that build muscle and strength via hypertrophy. Not only that but doing unilateral work (single leg/ single arm) stuff helps because you have to use your own strength to stabilize and that will keep your joints healthy and keep your body balanced. Sure barbell work is great and that is going to help you move the most weight, but how strong can you be when you are out of commission?
For most of us, our bodies are not perfectly balanced. My right arm is far stronger than my left, and I have some instability in my left shoulder. If I only pressed a barbell overhead at some point I would stall out because of my left side. But when I press dumbbells or kettlebells overhead, I can only rely on my left side to press that dumbbell up and eventually, both sides can be equally as strong.
Not only that, but in olympic weightlifting you don’t always just do a clean and jerk and call it a day. It’s very normal protocol to some days do clean pulls, some days do squat cleans, some days do hang power cleans, some days to front squat, some days to split jerk, some days to push press.. these are just some of the accessory lift for olympic lifts and based on where your weakness is in the clean and jerk you may need to work some more than others. So if we are doing this for the oly lifts, why would we not do these for back squats or deadlifts?
So what are some suggestions on what else you could add in on a lower body day or an upper body day that won’t take ALL DAY? Here are a few examples..
Squat/ deadlift variation day:
3 x 10 front/ back/ overhead lunges
3 x 10 bulgarian squats with dumbbells
4 x 12 good mornings
3 x 1 minute weighted plank
Overhead/ bench press variation day:
3 x 10 strict dumbbell presses
3 sets max effort ring rows
4 x 15 clapping push ups
4 x 20 medball Russian twists
You could do these circuit style to get the work done quicker and it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes if you move fairly quickly. Not like in a metcon, because you want to focus on form first, not intensity whatsoever, but I know you don’t have all day either.
Choosing 2 – 3 accessory lifts for each lift of the day and one thing you can do to increase core strength will help you make phenomenal gains in your overall strength as well as your gymnastics skills. And if you need help choosing some accessory lifts, follow me on Instagram @KyraWilliamsFitness.