Making Sense of Weaknesses in the Sport of Fitness

Photo Credit: Tim Sullivan, @timsullivanphoto

“NEVER BE AFRAID TO EXPOSE A WEAKNESS IN YOURSELF. IT IS THE BEGINNING OF A STRENGTH.” - Robert Anthony, Beyond Positive Thinking

If you want to get better at CrossFit™, your time is best spent addressing your weaknesses. A single weak link can be the source of a larger problem and turning it into a strength can have a domino effect. This is especially true of people who have been CrossFitting for 2-3 years and reached a plateau. Sometimes these weaknesses are glaring and the discovery process is as simple as asking, “What part of CrossFit do you like the least?” That doesn’t, however, always tell the full story. As a sport, CrossFit demands that you have full capacity in all expressions of fitness. I’ve broken down those expressions into three categories; energy systems, strength patterns relating to the strength-endurance continuum, and thirdly an athlete's proficiency in the absolute strength to absolute speed continuum. We’ll begin by looking at energy systems.

Athletes must be proficient in the 3 metabolic energy systems; alactic, lactic, and aerobic. Tests for these energy systems should be cyclical and of low technical demand. Preferred equipment is the flywheel bike or ergometer (rower). Baseline tests would be the following:

  1. Alactic: Max Wattage

  2. Lactic: Max Calories in 3:00

  3. Aerobic: 10:00 Calorie Test - Rest 10:00 - Repeat

Alactic measures your ability to produce power. Lactic measures your ability to sustain power and adapt to the buildup of lactate. Aerobic measures your ability to sustain activity. OPEX Fitness labels these systems as GAIN (alactic), PAIN (lactic - think “Fran” or “Karen”), and SUSTAIN (aerobic). Those descriptors capture the crux of each system well.

To bring some context to these tests you can think of it in the following way; a powerlifter will perform incredibly well in GAIN, but poorly in PAIN and especially SUSTAIN. A middle distance sprinter (800M) will perform best in PAIN, but less well in GAIN and SUSTAIN. A Triathlete will perform best in SUSTAIN, less well in PAIN and poorly in GAIN.

Secondly, athletes must be balanced in 6 strength patterns; upper body press, upper body pull, core, single leg, bend/hinge, and squat. Tests for these strength patterns can vary depending on biological age, training age, and current fitness level but the following are some examples:

  1. Upper body Press:

    1. 1-3RM Strict Press

    2. Max Strict Press with 50% of 1RM in 1:00

    3. Max Effort Unbroken Strict Handstand Push Ups

    4. Max Effort Strict Pushups in 1:00

  2. Upper body Pull:

    1. 1-3RM Weighted Pull Up

    2. Max Strict Pull Ups in 1:00

    3. Max Effort Ring Rows in 1:00

  3. Core:

    1. Max Effort Hollow Body Hold For Time

    2. Max Effort Sit Ups in 1:00

    3. Max Effort GHD Sit Ups in 1:00

  4. Single Leg

    1. 10RM Front Rack Reverse Lunge

    2. Max Pistols in 1:00

    3. Max Box Step Ups in 3:00

  5. Bend/hinge:

    1. 1-3RM Deadlift

    2. Max Effort Deadlifts at 40% of 1RM in 1:00

  6. Squat:

    1. 1-3RM Back Squat

    2. Max Effort Back Squats at 40% of 1RM in 1:00

    3. 1-3RM Front Squat

    4. Max Set Unbroken Wall Balls

Each test looks for strength as well as muscular endurance. If there is too large of a discrepancy between your 1 rep max and ability to sustain at a lighter effort, your focus should be on improving muscular endurance rather than absolute strength and vice versa (in most cases).

Thirdly, your strength patterns have to be considered in the context of the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum:

Absolute Strength → Strength Speed → Speed Strength → Absolute Speed

You must be balanced across the continuum. Absolute Strength representing slow strength exercises; deadlift, squat, press. Strength Speed representing explosive, fast strength dominant exercises; snatch, clean and jerk, push press, push jerk. Speed Strength representing your ability to generate speed in strength exercises; light barbell cycling, wall balls, kettlebell variations, higher skilled gymnastics, etc. Absolute Speed representing your ability to generate speed at bodyweight exercises; air squats, burpees, running, jump rope, etc. The tests for these are a bit more nuanced but can be better understood once the above tests are complete.

While this is not an entirely comprehensive approach, it can function as a baseline structure to discover your weaknesses and make sense of the demands of a CrossFit athlete. Interested in learning more and how to address those weaknesses once discovered? I provide individualized programming to athletes of all fitness levels. You can read some of their experiences at my website, benefoster.com and contact me for more information.