Shattering the Strength Ceiling.

Contributed by Coach Scott. Train with Scott in the Wednesday 5:30 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Strength & Power classes at Elite Athletic Development / CrossFit Arlington Heights.

Strength is a lifelong endeavor that benefits everyone, regardless of fitness goals. But many athletes bypass strength training because it lacks the excitement and fast pace of metabolic conditioning (the MetCon), or because they question how getting stronger will help them perform better in the Workout of the Day (WOD). Here’s the bottom line: A stronger athlete will always perform better if equally as fit and mobile as their opponent.

Increasing strength is a unique adaptation that requires a progressive stress to be applied to the body over time. This stress is most effective in doses of compound movement that utilize as much musculature as possible. Movements like Squats, Deadlifts, and Presses get this job done in a very efficient way. These movements must be trained on a regular basis with enough resistance to disrupt homeostasis — or the body’s need to maintain balance — while providing enough recovery to complete each training session.

After an athlete — whether experienced or new — has utilized key compound movements for a length of time they will exponentially increase overall strength and have a hypothetical strength level we will refer to as their “strength ceiling.”  This ceiling represents an individual’s maximal strength that can be applied to all movements.  The higher this ceiling is built, the easier all sub-maximal movement will become.

ScottGraphicRevisedAn example that illustrates this point is a male athlete who begins training and works up to an initial max Deadlift of 315 lbs. Now, after several months of training, this athlete is able to increase his Deadlift up to 495 lbs.  With this new found strength, this athlete will be able to better handle a Power Clean of 135 lbs for multiple repetitions during a WOD. Even with imperfect form, this athlete can approach the Power Clean with more ease due to his ability to generate enough force to overcome a Deadlift of 495 lbs.

The movements that allow an individual to lift the most weight will have the greatest impact on the height of this ceiling. This concept applies universally with all activities, but the direct impact when looking at biomechanically similar movements is very apparent. If we can train the movements that allow for the most weight to be moved using a certain movement pattern we will see the most carry over.  Training the Front Squat and Overhead Press until significant progress is made will most certainly make a great impact on an athlete’s ability to complete 95 lb Thrusters.

An athlete that is able to improve multiple lifts such as the Deadlift, Squat, and Press will be much more well rounded and have an overall strength level that can be applied to everything he or she may encounter in sport or during a WOD.  The idea of the ceiling is not new or ground breaking. Strength is a necessary component of all training and activities. A stronger athlete will always perform better if equally as fit and mobile as their opponent. Metabolic conditioning can always be added into training to increase endurance. Most athletes should focus on getting stronger initially since this process takes longer and a stronger foundation will make it easier to acquire better overall fitness.

Scott Mezzano is an EAD / CFAH / CFAX performance coach. He earned his BS & MS, Exercise Science, from Western Illinois University. He is a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine and USA Weightlifting. Scott is a Fitness Education adjunct instructor at McHenry Community College.