Heavy Days

By Chris Spealler

In Coaching, Reference, Videos

May 10, 2010

Video Article

CrossFit isn’t just about strength, but strength is certainly part of the program. In this video shot at a Coaches Prep Course in San Diego, Chris Spealler talks about how to program strength workouts.

Going over set and rep schemes, Spealler goes on to outline different ways to fit strength training into your programming. For instance, Spealler has a lot of endurance-oriented athletes at CrossFit Park City, so he has to find creative ways to “trick” his clients into lifting heavy.

It’s also important to remember that strength training should show up regularly, but not at the expense of the other aspects of fitness. Strength is important, but it’s just one aspect of a GPP program.

The Coaches Prep Seminar builds upon the Level 1 Certification and is designed for coaches looking to take their training to the next level. To register for the course, visit CrossFit.com.

9min 11sec

Additional reading: Building the Base Pyramid of Strength by Bill Starr, published March 31, 2010.

Free Download


28 Comments on “Heavy Days”


wrote …

I want to be Spealler when I grow up. Seriously though, awesome lecture dude.


wrote …

Definitely an awesome lecture. I also now understand that 1-10-1-20-1-30 idea. Also, that idea of throwing Deadlifts into Cindy. Some interesting ideas that I would like to work into my workouts.


wrote …

Speal for president.


wrote …

Great lecture! Right on!


wrote …

Thank you Chris!

Having clearer guidelines about how to implement CF methodology into 'real-life' is brillaint.

It can only make CF Coaches and athletes better! Can't wait to hear more :-)

Thank you once again CrossFit!


wrote …

I like it! I would love to hear what Speal does for his own heavy days specifically, he's a beast! Speal's a great coach, definitely want more videos by him!


wrote …

Like Speal, if I could be like Speal...


wrote …

Yes, strength is just one aspect of GPP and fitness, but would we all agree that it is one of the absolute most important. This is why we are seeing so many affiliates begin actually focusing on strength- it's because it is working.


wrote …

I'm really looking forward to the coaches prep course. I'm all signed up for it, and itching to go. I love the 1-10-1-20-1-30. Great journal post.


wrote …

Great Video. Im curious what the verdict is on whether a the method of having 5 rep days, 3 rep days and 1 rep days for building strength as to all of the other methods that keep popping up in videos such as box squats, speed days with band deadlifts and what have you. I know alot of people are doing the speed days but there hasnt been much clarification on how to program it.


Rob Barrese wrote …

Really nice clip Chris. I really liked the rational on the 1-30-1-20-1-10 rep scheme and the breakdown (suggested) number of heavy day's per metcon days. Great stuff as always!


wrote …

One point I would like to make; When Chris is discussing the 1-10-1-20-1-30 workouts; he says that heavy singles in things like deadlifts are generally not all that taxing. For the average Cf athlete and the general gym goer I totally agree, but this is not true for all athletes.

While this may be true for most of the world, and crossfiters as well, this probably should tell us something about how well the nervous system is firing and how advanced we actually are. By the way, I'm including myself in this.

When you see competitive powerlifters dead or squat heavy, for singles, it is very taxing. If we go back and look at the Dave Tate series you will see him talk about this, that when Plers pull/squat really heavy it is very taxing on the body/nervous systems. While powerlifters are generally not nearly as conditioned as Cfer's, and this certainly accounts for some of it, it is not the whole story. Part of the explanation is that our nervous systems are not quit as advanced/developed for this type of lifting. When a Pler deads/squats heavy it is incredibly taxing on the body/nervous system because they have conditioned themselves to be able to fire everything at once to maximize the weight lifted. This puts a greater demand on their bodies and forces a longer recovery time between efforts and workouts. In the Tate series he talks about a two-week recovery for a heavy deadlift workout. Again some of that is due to general conditioning, but some of it is due to other factors.

Now this may not mean much, or be all that useful for a CFer or general athlete but it might also force us to reconsider how taxing we think heavy deads/squats really are, especially for athletes who are really good at them. If we have an athlete that is really good in a particular area like the dead/squat we may want to reconsider the amount of a beating they are taking when performing singles. I think for most of us heavy singles and doubles may not actually be that hard, and some of that is due to a higher level of general conditioning. But some of it is due to our inability to get everything to fire all at once inorder to maximise the weight lifted.

Again, much of this has to do with the difference in focus as to what we are looking to accomplish. The CFer generally wants to be good at everything while the Pler only really cares about how much weight he can get on the bar [I know from personal experience on both fronts.] BUT we may just want to take the next step when planing out and considering heavy-days that for some athletes those heavy workouts may be more taxing than for other athletes, and not due to a lack of overall conditioning.


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Very helpful & informative, Chris!


wrote …

With respect to the Westside style work of box squats and speed days, there hasn't been much programming because there can't be in a certain sense. In other words, Westside follows a pretty specific template with 1 speed and 1 ME day per week by major lift variant (squat or deadlift variant and bench variant). In order to do it 'correctly' you need to follow the template exactly (no additional CF or any other form of work).

Now, for those who wish to incorporate some of the Westside principles into their CF training what I recommend is the use of ME days for strength and skipping the speed work. Standard WODs etc. should be done in lieu of speed work. ME work should be done on its own day with some accessory work to follow and NOTHING else.

For a very little bit of history, the origination of the DE or speed day was due to the fact many trainees could not handle 2 heavy (or ME) days per week. The DE day therefore both acted as a form of active recovery AND to help build speed.

So, in terms of programming, you would have 2 ME Westside style training days per week (one upper and one lower)and 2-3 more traditional CF workouts. This may result in overtraining, so I would vary the load of CF work individually depending upon how things go. Of course, I am assuming the individual is adding the Westside style work because strength is a primary focus for them at that moment.


wrote …

By the way, my comment above was in response to Neil's #10 comment.

I would like to address the idea of working up to a 1RM being taxing or not. Chris is right in a sense in that working up to a 1RM will not generally fatigue you like killing a WOD etc. 1RM attemtps ARE very taxing on the nervous system, but that is not experienced as an immediate feeling of general fatigue or major oxygen debt.

There is also something to be said regarding how strong one is and how taxing a 1RM is on their body. Pulling a 7-800 lbs deadlift definitely takes more out of you than when you could only pull 3-400 lbs, but with that said, it still if you truly just work up to a 1RM and stop you will not feel overly fatigued in a general sense.


wrote …

Hey guys, I was just wondering, if using 80-85% of your 1RM, should you be only doing about 3-5 reps? Or are you supposed to go to failure on each set? Usually, I start a little below my max for that rep scheme, then up the weight until I fail to do the reps as RX'd, then lower to do the right reps. (Example - Back Squat: 3 X 245, 255, 265, 275(FAIL), 270) How do you guys usually work heavy days?


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wrote …

It seems sensible that if you want to get good at crossfit type workouts and competitions then you have to have a solid base of strength. In an earlier journal entry Chris Spealler talks about working on his weaknesses by doing a strength session every week. And he says something like "but it's all Crossfit".

The Heavy Days article talks about endurance-based athletes. Who are these people and in what way are they "endurance-based"?

In response to Drew: If you are working somewhere between 1 and 10RM you are working at strength to a greater or lesser degree. If you can do 12 reps of an exercise then the load is too light to challenge your strength and you won't make any significant strength gains at that loading. Training to failure has some proponents but I don't know of any personally. For an understanding of strength training you'd be better looking at stuff by Rippertoe etc.

We work heavy days like: squat 4 sets of 5reps. Try and push your 5RM heavier once every 4 weeks. Have a lighter week following your heavy week and build up to another attempt at beating your best. However for whatever reason if you are feeling really strong and up for it then don't miss the opportunity and have a go.



Damon Stewart wrote …

In my experience doing sets of heavy singles, doubles, & triples, as well as 5's haven't increased my work capacity as much as doing Crossfit (WODs) has. I enjoy lifting heavy and do strength-bias my training but have found it's at the expense of met-con. The time it would take to move my squat from 350 to 400 in order to increase my "Elizabeth" time would be better spent training cleans with higher rep schemes. Muscular endurance isn't developed by lifting heavy.


wrote …

Ok, have to comment here. Damon, you are INCORRECT. Muscular endurance (if defined as anaerobic endurance) certainly can be built with heavy training. If you can bench 400 lbs then you can bench 200 lbs for a lot more reps than the person with a 250 lbs max.


Damon Stewart wrote …

Chris, that's a big if. If you can bench 400lbs you can bench 200lbs for more reps. But as Crossfitters we're rarely called upon to bench 200lbs for reps. I'm going to guess that every one of your lifts is at least double mine but in a typical Crossfit WOD like Fight Gone Bad I'll move 75lbs for a lot more reps than you will. Especially in rounds 2 & 3. So my statement isn't that muscular endurance can't be build with heavy training, it's that if you have intermediate strength work capacity is not best developed through strength training.


wrote …

Damon, what about heavy WODs? If your max is say 370 on deadlift, a workout that has 300lb deadlifts in it is going to be much more difficult than if your max was 400+, simply because the weight is a less percentage of your max. This is, of course, assuming you're still keeping up with metabolic conditioning and stuff. It's just that you see that people that come in to CrossFit already very strong, usually do pretty well very quickly by building their metabolic conditioning, but people who come in without a good strength base have a hard time with weights as prescribed on some WODs.


wrote …

I have to agree with Chris Mason on this one. At my gym, we all started a linear progression based program consisting of squats, deads, and press. We backed the metcons down to twice a week for approx 5 months. In that time, my CF total went up over 200 pounds. The best thing was that we did Fran one morning and my time dropped from 6:55 five months earlier to 5:03. We only did thrusters one time in those five months. I was tired as hell at the end of that wod, but I could blast through it (for me anyway) because I was a hell of a lot stronger.


wrote …

This is a great discussion. One flaw in much of the reasoning, though, is that you are describing situations with very small n's. We need to look at larger pools of people and some of the extremes to draw any real conclusions.

Strength, strength-stamina, stamina, speed, and strength-speed are all different elements. We see this all over the place:

Jeff Tincher had one of the lowest 1RM clean and jerks of the top 25 athletes at the 2008 CrossFit Games. Yet he had one of the fastest times in the 30 rep, 155lb squat clean and jerk final workout.

In the 09 Dirty South Regional qualifier, they had a max reps in 2min of 275lb deadlifts. There was not a direct correlation between 1RM DL and finishing order.

The finishing order of athletes with 65lb Frans, 95lb Frans, and 135lb Frans will not be the same.

Furthermore, each athlete is in a different stage of development. If you are relatively weak in 1RM lifts, improving your 1RM lifts will carry over into almost all your performances. If you are biased toward heavy lifting and are very good at it, bringing up your Total most likely won't make a difference in other domains.

The goal of CrossFit is increased work capacity across BROAD time and modal domains. Our methods are constantly varied, functional movements executed at high intensity. Best results are found with a slight bias toward chasing weaknesses, not avoiding them.

This means that we should all train heavy some of the time. We should also train light some of the time. We don't see top performing CrossFit athletes training narrow bandwidths for extended periods: It simply doesn't give the best overall results.


wrote …

Definitely agree on the chasing weaknesses thing, it's kinda funny how working on your weaknesses will often build your strengths as well, even if they're not seemingly related


wrote …

Spealler mentions that "variable" and "repetitive" (for lack of better terms) strength programming are just two different styles of planning your workouts. However, is there any consensus on which is better given certain parameters, such as athletic development, (games) competitor or not, in-season vs. out (games and otherwise)? Do certain people just respond better to repetitive programming and vice-versa? Does something determine that?

"Variance" seems to be hard to define, but its requisite degree has implications for which of these programming styles is "better."

p.s. Variable - press one week, clean and jerk the next in a Max Effort fashion
Repetitive - press every monday using progressive overload


replied to comment from Neil Warnock

neil i had some questions about this as well the best resource i found was Jim Wendlers 5/3/1 system book you can download it and he answers a lot of questions about programming. for strength work he doesn't advocate speed work or band usage. Personally, i have been doing the 531 three days a week and doing WOD's four days a week and have noticed significant improvement in the benchmark WODs.

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