The Secret to PRing Every Time We Try : My Column

The Secret to PRing Every Time We Try : My Column

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Truth is I love max week/weeks, not just because we get to see you all jazzed up over your PRs. I love it also because it’s another pile of data for us to look at for how to do this fitness thing better. Sidenote, if anyone has millions of dollars to not care about where it goes, employing the next graduating class of biology PhDs from Harvard or MIT to give real scientific analysis of the data we get day in and day out and how it explains what works and what doesn’t in fitness would be a great gift for me anytime. For some reason those people tend to not gravitate towards studying CrossFit results.

Until that marvelous benefactor emerges, however, we will have to stick, well my analysis. Almost the same?

One thing I have noticed already during this past week is that we can all benefit from a brushing up on the best way to actually get stronger. “Lifting” is certainly a great answer. For more in depth on how to perform that “lifting” thing, check it out.

“To Lift 500# You Have To Lift 460 and Higher, and Lift That Often”

This quote comes from a conversation I had from Mark Bell during a powerlifting certification years ago. He is one of the greats from the sport and though he is unabashed about his steroid use and the rampant use of drugs for enhancement in the world of powerlifting, I truly believe his methods as a coach are great. Powerlifting is an odd sport where it’s kind of assumed and accepted to be at the top you just WILL do PEDs and everyone seems OK with it. Odd is all I’ll say. Doesn’t mean all powerlifters, especially amateurs, do PEDs, but the limits of human performance are certainly reached before squatting 1000#. Anyways, Mark Bell, regardless of his competitive help when an athlete, knows a lot about how to get stronger.

Where this quote came from was I was asking about improving the Jerk and other overhead movements and how that related to Benching and Pressing. Basically it didn’t make sense to me to press for whatever amount of reps at 175# to make me jerk 300#. Mark more or less agreed just with a lot more reason and knowledge to back it up. Bottom line, he said, is to lift a certain weight you have to lift that weight, or close to it, many times. If you want to jerk 300#, then you need to lift and strengthen those muscles you need to lift that kind of weight for that movement for that weight, and often. This is where my belief in bench press for improving overhead strength, especially jerks, came from.


Working Sets : 80%-90% and Higher and Why

What I took from that for our programming, and use with individual athletes I work with all the time, is a simple overload principle based on working sets. You all hopefully have heard me reference 80% and working sets together. This is the aspect of a working set is general considered 80% of your max in that lift regardless of the rep scheme. This weight I feel is high enough to make you work hard enough to get something back from it stimulus wise. When moving this kind of weight with speed we create a reaction in our body to release more growth hormone aka the stuff that makes us stronger, repairs tissues, even makes our brain work better.

Take it up to 90% and higher for sets of 2 and 1 and you have a magical combination. If you want to lift a certain weight in the future, you simply need to lift close to that weight, as close as you can, as often as you can. When we take our lifts to 90% and beyond, as long as we can move it safely, we are overloading our Central Nervous System to a point where adaptation (getting stronger) occurs almost before we are out of the gym. If we do this for multiple reps, multiple times per strength cycle, then you better believe we are going to get stronger.



How do you go about doing this in a class setting? Simply work with the rep scheme you are given for that day and apply the percentages. I always talk about how the written reps are the working sets. So if its “3-3-3-1-1” for a front squat day, that means 5 sets of 3 reps where each set is 80% or higher. If you do all 5 sets like you are supposed to at 80-90% of your max, that is a TON of reps being done above that mandatory stimulus threshold. If you can take the last set or 2 to 90% or above, then you are adding in 2 hard fought reps at 90% or higher after already overloading your system for the 3 sets before it while in that strength zone.

I realized when talking with people in the community this past week that it’s hard to believe or grasp that so few reps can make a difference. Don’t get me wrong, lifting 2 reps above 90% won’t make you PR the next time you are in the gym. However, if you do that for 8-12 weeks that our strength cycles usually run for, you will have a multitude of days where you do this kind of overloading. Essentially, training and our response to it can be looked at through the lens of fight/flight/survival adaptation. When we go through hard training our system is left beaten down. It almost instantly starts working to recover and grow for a better bout the next time. It’s the pure essence of responding to a stimulus through adaptation. We are able to control the stimulus we are receiving, so why not push ourselves every day we can do overload so we recover and adapt to the maximum allowable level?

I all but guarantee you if you go about your lifting, regardless of the lift, in this way every day you will get stronger. Focus on this especially with squats. Squatting develops strength in the greatest amount of muscle in our body comparatively to the other lifts we do. Not only will this lead to the greatest amount of fat loss and improved fitness possible, but our legs and other muscles most affected by squatting are involved in many other lifts, as in almost all. Push Press and Jerks all have the dynamic leg drive involved to get the bar moving, and the Clean and Snatch obviously have legs needed specifically for squat versions but also the pull off the floor is very leg dominant as well.

This is not to say to not do this or focus on other lifting, but if you really want to build your strength, then squats are king/queen for a reason. Squats dominate.




Strength : Push Press
Find a 1 rep max

WOD : 15-12-9-6-3 :
Thrusters 115/75
Toes to Bar
Calorie Row/AB
Hang Power Snatch

S: 75/55, Knees to Waist
L1: 95/65, Knees to Chest
Rx+: 135/95, AB for Row



Lift : Push Jerk
Find a 1 rep Max

Accessory: Bench Press

Conditioning : 15-12-9-6-3
Cal Row/AB
Double Unders x3
Hang power snatch 95/65
Hang Squat Clean


The Program

1. Strength and WOD

2. EMOM 20m
O: 2 Front Squat
E: 2 Push Jerk

All heaviest able