Why Strength Class? Part 1: Mechanics Matter

I know I can only speak for myself here, but I believe one of the things that is appreciated most about starting to workout in a CrossFit gym is not having think about a single thing to do for the workout. Before I started CrossFit, like most guys, I would wander around the gym to see what machines were available then gravitate to the bench press (regardless of what machines were available).  But with CrossFit, as long as I showed up, I knew I was going to get a great workout.  About 18 months into my CrossFit journey though, I noticed my performance stalled out. Setting new PRs became a rarity. I came to the realization that if I wanted to continue to best my previous self, I had to get stronger. I was convinced that the only way I was going to be able to improve was by coming in early, or staying later to squeeze in more heavy lifting.

Lucky for you, I could not have been more wrong about that one! It didn’t take long before my body started to really hurt. In retrospect, lifting more weight was the last thing that I needed. I simply need to move better. There are dozens of training methods out there that will get you stronger, but the harsh reality of any training program is that if you aren’t performing the movement in the way that it was intended, you probably aren’t benefitting a whole lot from it.

Nine times out of ten, the first requisite step to improving overall strength is to master the basic lifts as best as you can. Gone are the days when meeting beginning and end range of motion of exercises are all we demand of you. Sure, that is the beginning of the journey, but not the end.

Lets use one of my favorite movements, the deadlift as an example. The movement is simple right? Pickup the barbell from the floor…Well, yes that is the idea, but there is a lot more to it. From the functional perspective, the deadlift is an exercise in which we are challenging your body’s ability to maintain a neutral spine as you hinge at the waist. Ask almost anyone who has come to the evening strength class, and they would likely attest to the fact that maintaining a neutral spine throughout the exercise is easier said than done. In fact, just getting into a neutral starting position is a hell of a task for most. We dedicate a lot of time, learning how to hinge at the hip properly. Deadlifting with sub-optimal form is not something that your lower lumbar will appreciate a few months down the line.

After technique is established, it must be made habit. It takes a lot of repetitions to make something a habit. Neural pathways are what make a movement pattern habitual or not. If this part of strength training is overlooked, imbalances in your body will develop, which will eventually leave you injured and frustrated. Once you are able to move well, the next step is to do enough repetitions so that the movements become automatic. The movements should become so engrained into your nervous system you’ll instantly know if you perform a bad rep. It won’t feel right. This is a good thing! Further into strength training, you will be challenged with heavier weights at higher intensities. Being able to self-identify if your back begins to round when you are deadlifting at 90% of your 1 rep max is invaluable.

Not only will improved movement quality serve you in strength training, it will be equally beneficial to you when you merge back into taking CrossFit classes. The movement principles that we can establish with the deadlift, squat, strict press, and bench press are directly translated to nearly every movement you will find in a CrossFit workout.

-Coach Tony