Every once in a while we are fortunate enough to have the insight of gurus of varying strength and conditioning backgrounds. Tim Henriques is no exception. With the launch of his recent book, All About Powerlifting: Everything You Need To Know To Become Stronger Than Ever, regular contributor to educational blogs, and his position as Director of NPTI, he is a busy man to say the least. Somehow, he still manages to train and compete in powerlifting- his lifelong love and obsession. In this article he imparts his knowledge of strength training and shares his thoughts on what it takes to be CrossFit-strong.
CrossFit requires that one be good at a hell of a lot of things to step up on the podium. This is true even at a Regional competition let alone a National level event. One of those key elements - and likely the one that takes the longest time to develop - is strength. In this instance we are using the classical, practical definition of strength which is defined by one’s 1RM in a certain lift. If your front squat max is 105, you are going to find Fran extremely challenging. If your max is 365 then you’ll have plenty of strength to blast through that portion of the workout and now it just becomes a question of conditioning and efficiency of movement.
The question of the day is: Are you strong enough for CrossFit? Of course it is a loaded question and one that may not lend itself to a perfectly succinct answer but I shall put forth some standards that I believe useful in guiding one’s training. In my book All About Powerlifting I put forth similar standards for essentially all sports, separated out by their various strength requirements. One complete chapter of that book is devoted to understanding how and when powerlifting is applicable to all athletes, not just powerlifters. But today we are talking about CrossFit and hence forth the discussion will limit itself to that.
I find it useful to have to 3 basic categories of strength: Decent, Good, and Great. Decent means just that, your strength is okay, nothing spectacular. If you aren’t at the Decent level you are weak and your strength is definitely holding you back. Good is what one is striving for if you want to be reasonably proficient in the sport. Great means the athlete is noticeably stronger than most other athletes partaking in that activity. It also means the athlete should evaluate their training and it is possible they are spending too much time focusing on that ability and not enough time working on the other necessary traits and skills required by the sport. I want to be clear that this is a ranking of strength, not CrossFit ability. I might have a “Great” level of strength but that does not mean I am a great CrossFitter, it is just one spoke in the wheel. But if that spoke is missing even maximizing one’s other abilities will likely not be enough to make up for that glaring defect.
I am including the 3 classic powerlifts along with the Press because that overhead strength is so important to a CrossFitter. I have also lowered the standards for the Bench Press because that exercise holds less importance to a CrossFitter (although in my opinion it should not be ignored as it is in so many boxes because it has an excellent transfer over to many other upper body movements). I am separating out distinct guidelines for men and women for obvious reasons and I am going to provide both an absolute weight standard and a bodyweight relative strength standard, you can use whichever of the two gives you a lower number. Master lifters (those 55 and up) can take off about 15% from these standards.
Male CrossFit Standards – bodyweight 190 lbs
Decent/ Good/ Great
Squat 1.25/240 1.75/335 2.25/430
Bench 1.00/190 1.25/240 1.50/285
Deadlift 1.75/335 2.25/430 2.75/525
Press 0.60/115 0.85/160 1.10/210
Female CrossFit Standards – bodyweight 135 lbs
Decent/ Good/ Great
Squat 1.20/160 1.65/225 2.00/270
Bench 0.75/100 1.00/135 1.25/165
Deadlift 1.50/205 2.00/270 2.50/335
Press 0.50/65 0.75/100 1.00/135
The first number listed is the bodyweight ratio, the second number listed is the absolute mark. For example a 165 lb male needs to squat 205 (1.25x165) just to be decent, not 240. A 215 lb male needs to squat 240 to be decent, not 269.
I know and can respect the fact that CrossFitters don’t specialize, I am not urging that everyone abandon CrossFit training and taking up powerlifting just to hit these standards. But I am suggesting that there is nothing wrong (and often a lot right) with prioritizing – focusing on an area that is holding one back. If I can’t perform HSPUs then I should spend some extra time, maybe 10 minutes a day, just working on that ability. If you aren’t strong enough and you believe that lack of strength is holding back your performance then certainly spending some extra time training for strength is likely to beneficial. That is where the powerlifters and the CrossFitters can work together. Who else is going to know more about increasing raw strength than a powerlifter? CrossFitters can integrate some aspects of our programming in order to rectify their weak points. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that powerlifters could learn a thing or two from CrossFitters, namely that anything over 3 reps doesn’t have to be classified as cardio and getting fat just to get strong likely isn’t the best methodology to employ for long term gains.
We are all brothers and sisters of iron, drawn by the same need and desire to test oneself against the seemingly immovable steel. And when it does move, when you move a little bit more of it than you did last time, well that is a feeling that is hard to put a price on. Are you strong enough to move it?
Please check out Tim's latest publication: All About Powerlifting: Everything You Need To Know To Become Stronger Than Ever