Most athletes who train in gyms with strength and conditioning coaches understand how important strength and power is. It is important to go beyond the definitions and understand what is really behind those words other than numbers and percentages. In the world of strength and conditioning, specifically in CrossFit, athletes are asked to perform extreme movements such as hang-cleans, power-cleans, deadlifts, and other highly technical movements. While those movements exist in a lot of programs, from NCAA programs to CrossFit boxes, these movements are very specific to the sport of weightlifting and the numbers behind the sets and reps of the lifts mean something. Understanding the components of power and strength will not only help you lift more but will open your eyes to the reasons your coach includes these movements in your program.

Power is defined as the time of rate in doing work. In most cases, it is where work is the by-product of an object and the distance it moves in the direction that the force is being exerted. A little more simple:

Work = Force x distance

Power = work/time

When we’re talking about movements such as cleans, jerks, squats, and other multipoint movements, we have to consider the definitions above. How fast are we moving the bar and how much force are we implementing into the ground to get the work we need?

Strength is defined as the maximum force that a muscle or muscle groups can generate at a specified velocity. While power is looking at force pro­duction of the body, strength is really concerned with what the muscles can generate at a specific velocity. Some programs that use those high-level moves are based on percentage, and this is where the art of coaching and programming comes into effect. There are many subcategories of strength that are included in different programs, such as West Side Barbell, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, Will Fleming’s Olympic book, Bob Takano’s book and many others. Instead of diving into those programs, you can use charts to determine your rep scheme and illustrate why your strength and conditioning coach is using certain rep schemes and numbers.

Below is the NSCA Load and Repetition Assignment Chart:

NSCA Load and Repetition Assignment Chart

As you can see from the chart above, there is some crossover with most of the power and strength components.

Anything more than 12 reps is considered muscular endurance. For CrossFit, rep schemes can be high in many WODs, but strength and power are crucial for getting the recom­mended weight. For example, the snatch ladder or clean ladder uses high weight with high reps. Athletes who have great power and strength output will have a good time in those ladders. Athletes with poor technique or low power and strength will reach muscular failure faster. Athletes who are stronger and more powerful might reach technical failure before mus­cular failure. Based on the schemes above, training in strength and power is vital for performing well in those high-rep, high-weight movements.

Training in muscular endurance and hypertrophy is also important and should be added during or at the end of your WODs. Hypertrophy is great for increasing muscle size and is generally seen in a preparation phase called GPP (general physical preparedness). This phase is important for newer athletes or those coming back from injury or time off. This allows the athlete to get used to the basic movements again with a heavy load.

Another famous chart is the Prilipin Chart, which was derived from re­search in Russia and is used by many weightlifting coaches, specifically in the genre of Olympic lifting. The main difference here is that this chart uses a rep range. This is very useful for programming Olympic lifting and accurate volume. This chart is also great for checking total volume of lift­ing, especially with strength exercises, so you do not over train in any area.

Some famous strength coaches and many facilities use this chart as the basis of programming weightlifting. The advantage of this chart is the volume aspect, which allows for variance in the program. Coaches such as Louie Simmons have used this. While he has modified some of the charts throughout the years to make it his own, he was very successful using this model.

Below is an example of a typical lower-body, upper-body split, with this being the lower portion:

typical lower-body, upper-body split

  • A1 – Hang Clean 3×5 (70%/75%80%) volume = 15
  • A2 – Cable Chop or Med Ball Rotational Toss 3×6 each side
  • B1 – Squat 8/6/4/4/4 (60%/70%80%/85%/87%) – The first 2 sets should be warm ups volume = 26
  • B2 – Corrective movement based off of FMS screen or a Core Movement 3×8
  • C1 – Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat 3×8 with a tempo of 3 seconds down, 1 hold volume = 24
  • C2 – Single Leg RDL 3×8 volume = 24
  • D1 – Waiter Walk with Lunge 3×10 yards volume = varies
  • D2 – Bridges with a 3 second hold 3×10 volume = 30
  • D3 – Reverse sled pull 3x 20 yards volume = varies

You can see that both charts are used and that is fine. This is obviously a leg day focusing heavily on strength with some power in the first ex­ercise. Traditionally, unless you’re doing a WOD or specific work for an Olympic weightlifter, you will have some variety of work. This is set up for someone on a four-day split and conditioning is not shown. Some strength coaches will put a WOD at the end of this workout or move to a three-day split with WODs on off days to hit conditioning. Another method, if you have the time, is a two-day split. This could be very useful but may cause over training.

After looking at these two charts, you should have an appreciation for the why and what behind your sets and reps. Next time you’re given a weight or a set and rep scheme, try and look at the why behind it so you understand what your coach is trying to manipulate, whether you’re working toward your strength, power, endurance, or a little combination of each.

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