In the past, I’ve gone on record saying that you NEED heavy strength work to be a successful CrossFitter.
I still do think that.
But I’ve come to understand that there’s more nuance to it than just “lift heavy thing get strong oogabooga.”
When you look at the musculoskeletal implications of workouts, there are three main types:
- Heavy workouts – emphasis on work over 80% 1RM – low rep (<20 total)
- Light workouts – emphasis on work under 50% 1RM – high rep (>50 total)
- Medium workouts – emphasis on work at 50-75% 1RM – moderate rep (20-50 total)
If you really want to, you can smash all three types of workout into a single training session…
but I wouldn’t recommend it, at least not at high dosage for all three. You’d be pretty wrecked.
Here’s what each workout type does.
[Note: I’m assuming you’re focusing on one of the three – not like “okay I did one rep at 90%,
then five at 75%, and ten at 50%! I did a super awesome workout!”
No you didn’t. You did three mini-workouts and didn’t really achieve anything.]
- example: 5 sets of 2-4 reps, all >80%
- high tension on muscle attachments, tendons, fascial tissue
- high CNS activation – facilitates neurological improvements in strength
- main damage: connective tissue
- frequency: once every 72+ hours if multiple reps >90% 1RM
- strength training effect: high
- endurance training effect: low
- hypertrophic response: myofibrillar (muscle strength; “dense”)
- example: 75 reps for time, using 30% 1RM
- high repetition – helps to thicken tendons & connective tissue
- main damage: metabolic (decreased blood pH, accumulated waste products)
- causes inflammatory response – breaks up scar tissue, promotes healing
- frequency: up to every day if volume and work density are low enough
- strength training effect: low
- endurance training effect: high
- hypertrophic response: sarcoplasmic (muscle endurance; pure “size”)
- example: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, all >60% 1RM
- moderate repetition – highest volume
- main damage: muscle fibers through repeated eccentric loading
- frequency: every 48-96 hours, depending on volume
- strength training effect: moderate
- endurance training effect: moderate
- hypertrophic response: both sarcoplasmic and hypertrophic
So how do we put all this together?
I will borrow from the late great Bill Starr and propose an adaptation of his “heavy-light-medium” model.
We need each type of workout for different reasons, and putting them in the correct order
will maximize the gains we can achieve.
We need the heavy workouts for max strength.
Light workouts help the connective tissues regenerate after being beaten to hell.
The medium workouts build the most total muscle, and prep the nervous system
for the loading of the heavy workouts.
We want more muscle, since a bigger muscle has more strength potential.
For example, using the squat…
- Monday: Build to 3RM, 5 sets >80% 1RM; max unbroken reps @ 80% 1RM
- Tuesday: 5 rounds – 10 front squat (40% 1RM), 10 C2B pull-ups
- Wednesday: Snatch – build to heavy double; “Amanda” (9-7-5: muscle-ups, SN 135#)
- Thursday: active recovery – rowing, wall-ball practice at easy pace
- Friday: Build to 10RM, 3 sets >60% 1RM; max unbroken reps @ 60% 1RM
- Saturday: Clean & jerk – build to max 3-position; “Helen” (3 rounds: 400m run, 21 KBS 53#, 12 pull-ups)
- Sunday: active recovery
Here we have Monday as the “heavy” day,
Tuesday is a very light day followed by another “light” day on Wednesday,
Friday is our “medium” day, and Saturday is a light-medium day.
This is obviously omitting any heavy upper-body work,
which could also follow a heavy-light-medium pattern offset to complement the squat.
Anyway, to answer the question posed by the title of this article:
Can you, in fact, get stronger with light met-cons?
No. Not by themselves, anyway.
You need them to HELP you stay healthy and in-shape as you get stronger.