StrongFirst Versus CrossFit: The Dilemma of Power Optimization

StrongFirst Versus CrossFit: The Dilemma of Power Optimization

The StrongFirst team has been working with elite athletes for years now. Our mission statement is “To provide the best possible training experience to our clients.” While we are all passionate about strength and conditioning, it’s not just us; there are many other coaches out there doing great work too! One thing that I’ve noticed over time is that most of these coaches have had some sort of background in powerlifting or bodybuilding.

Many times they don’t seem to understand why their athletes aren’t getting stronger. They often think they’re doing something wrong when really it’s because their athletes are using the wrong exercises!

Powerlifters and Bodybuilders tend to use very heavy weights (and therefore high reps) for the same exercise.


Because those are the only two options available to them. If you want to get bigger, then you need to lift heavier weights than if you want to lose fat. Conversely, if your goal is strength and hypertrophy, then you’ll probably benefit from using lighter weight/reps.

When it comes down to it though, the question isn’t whether or not one should use higher rep sets versus lower rep sets. It’s whether or not one should use high rep sets of a single exercise, which may or may not transfer over to large amounts of weight on the bar versus low rep sets on multiple exercises.

In other words, does Crossfit’s method (high rep/single exercise) produce superior results than a traditional “powerlifting” approach (low rep/multiple exercises)?

You’ll hear this question in just about every strength and conditioning forum out there at some point. The reason being, similar to the “Glute Ham Raise vs. Deadlift” argument, people get hung up on single variables and choose one side of the fence no matter what evidence you present to them. In fact, I’ve found that basing your argument entirely on research works against you in these scenarios. People want to believe something that they’ve been doing for years simply works better than something else regardless of the facts. The reality is, basing your arguments on research and then applying them to real life scenarios is usually more effective than just calling people names and insulting their beliefs.

“But what if you’re a competitive powerlifter and your sport requires you to do high rep sets (i.e. geared) or what if you’re doing

Crossfit for the love of it and are NOT training for a powerlifting meet?”

These are great questions.

I’ll tackle them both.

Geared vs. Raw Powerlifting Competitions

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When it comes to powerlifting, one of the most controversial topics is geared vs. raw competitions. Many people believe that you should compete in whatever capacity allows you to train the best for your goal which in this case would mean gear for geared lifters and no gear for raw lifters. Other people think that a “good” or “true” competition involves everyone using the same equipment (in this case nothing).

In other words, the “strength” or athlete is being tested, not the equipment. This argument can be applied to any piece of equipment including knee wraps, squat suits, bench shirts, etc.

I’ve seen some very intelligent arguments on both sides of the fence so it really just comes down to what YOU believe is the best approach in this particular scenario for your own goals.

If your goals are geared towards lifting in a gear (and you feel comfortable and can achieve your goals within that equipment), by all means, use gear if you’re competing. If you’re a raw lifter, then you should compete raw. If your goals are geared towards strength or Crossfit, then you should probably use the “no gear” approach for competition.

The only problem with this line of thinking is that it’s one-dimensional in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” This is kind of what I’m getting at.

Whether you’re a raw lifter competing geared or a geared lifter competing raw, you’re STILL not training how you’ll actually compete for any significant length of time. So when the time comes for you to actually compete, you’ll be doing something different than what you’re used to and also need to get comfortable with that as well.

By all means, if powerlifting competition is your goal, then train like a powerlifter. If you’re a Crossfitter, train like one. If you want to be good at both, try to balance the two or even find a happy middle ground.

Crossfit and “Prowess” Training

This is Crossfit’s approach to it. And I’m sure anyone reading this who is or has Crossfit experience can back me up on this. When you first begin Crossfitting, the training is tough but you can do it. As you go on, it gets tougher and you need to modify, cut back, or even pause your workouts altogether to avoid injury.

StrongFirst Versus CrossFit: The Dilemma of Power Optimization - gym fit workout

This could be due to a wide array of factors such as overtraining, too much volume, not enough rest between workouts, improper form, or even just being out of shape to begin with.

The whole point I’m getting at here is, you can’t really be good at everything in Crossfit if only because you’ll always be sacrificing one attribute for another. So if your main goal is to be good at Crossfit, then that’s what you should focus on. If your main goal is to be good at Olympic lifting or powerlifting, then focus on that.

Whatever you choose to do, know that you can’t be good at everything. And that’s perfectly fine because that’s what specialization is for!

Prowess Training and Everything Else

When I first learned this principle, it really changed the way I thought about training. After learning this, I began experimenting with different types of training routines and saw great success from these experiments.

If you want to be good at something, you need to practice it a lot. If you want to be good at many things, you need to still practice them, but not all the time. This seems counterintuitive because most people think that in order to get good at something, they need to do it all the time. But as I stated before, specializing is important too.

Let’s use a baseball player as an example. In order to get good, you need to practice. A lot. For a long time.

Most professional athletes start practicing their sport at a young age. Say they practice 3-4 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s around 1500 hours a year. Now let’s fast forward to when he’s 22 years old and he’s made it to the MLB. That’s nearly 40,000 hours of practice.

Do you really think that in the off-season he’s going to want to practice?

No. It wouldn’t make any sense. He needs to give his body rest to allow for proper recovery and adaptations to take place. He’s been doing the same thing over and over again for nearly his entire life, so of course he’s going to want a break every once in awhile.

But this is different from specialization, right?

Wrong. The baseball player still needs to practice, it’s just he only practices the specific aspect of his game that he needs improvement on. So if he has problems with his swing, then he’ll go into the cages and just hit. If he needs to work on base stealing, then he spends a few days working on that. In season, out of season, you need to always be focusing on one thing in order to get better at it.

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This is also how you become really good at many things. You pick one sport and one sport only (no matter how much you like football, soccer, tennis, swimming, etc.) and just focus on getting really good at that one sport. If you’re a wrestler, then wrestle.

If you’re a weightlifter, then just lift. If you’re a runner, then just run.

So you see, not only does this apply to team sports, but it also applies to everything else in life too. It’s really the basic fundamental of how you get good at anything. But I’ve saved the best for last.

Prowess Training and Life

This is really the kicker to everything we’ve discussed so far. Everything we’ve discussed leads up to this conclusion. I can’t believe it took me this long to come to this realization, but here it is.

In order to be good at everything, you need to focus on one thing and then use that as a foundation for everything else.

So let me explain. Let’s go back to my baseball example. When the baseball player is focusing on his swing, everything is related to his swing. He’s thinking about his swing while he’s eating, while he’s watching TV, while he’s taking a shower, and even when he’s sleeping.

Everything is focused on improving that one thing. That’s prowess training.

But what happens when the season is over? Does he just stop thinking about his swing all the time and forget everything he learned?

No. Doing this would be really stupid. Think about all the time and energy he put into becoming a better baseball player. He’s not going to forget all that just because the season is over. The physical exertion may stop, but if he wants to keep his skill level up over the off season, then he has to continue to focus on his swing. Maybe not as much as when the season was in full swing, but if he really wants to become a better baseball player, then he needs to think about his swing and how it connects with the ball.

The same goes for everything else in life. When you learn how to play the piano, you don’t just forget everything after you never touch the piano again. When you learn something about history or science, you don’t forget everything when a new semester starts and you have to focus on a different topic.

This is what I call prowess training. When you’re in kindergarten up until high school, most of what you learn has very little application in real life. Even in college, most of what you learn is meant to prepare you for your “professional career”. What I mean by this is that most of the things you learn are very specialized.

In other words, there are very few careers where you’re going to use what you learned about the French Revolution on a regular basis.

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Now let’s say you’re a doctor. You’re going to use what you learned in biology and chemistry on a daily basis. These are the things you’re going to focus on putting a little extra time into and really making sure that it’s solidly stuck in your head. Think about it.

If you’re a doctor, you’re probably not going to be using what you learned in college on a regular basis (with the exception of medical related stuff like biology and chemistry). However, if you didn’t learn it in college, you’ll wish you did because your patients will expect you to know what you’re doing.

When you’re young, you have a lot of free time on your hands. This used to consist of playing a lot of video games and watching a lot of TV. Nowadays there are a lot more distractions such as the internet. I’m sure everyone has heard the complaint “I just spent six hours looking at memes on Reddit!”

But let’s take it one step further. Think about what you were doing before you started your Reddit addiction. Most people will tell you that they were “bored”. You were bored because you didn’t have anything to do.

I’m going to coin a phrase right now and if you find this phrase offensive then I’m saying you’re probably an SJW:


The reason why you’re bored is because you have a limited attention span. The only thing you can focus on for extended periods of time is television and movies. Everything else bores you because you lack the focus to learn anything that takes more than a few minutes of your time.

For example, I still play Fallout: New Vegas on occasion. My character is at level 32 and I’ve been playing the same character for about four years now.


Because I’ve focused on only one thing and I’ve tried to master it.

Imagine if you applied that same mentality towards your school work. Instead of watching TV for six hours a day, you spent three of those hours truly learning something. Imagine what you could learn in a year if you truly dedicated yourself towards learning one specific subject. You would probably learn more than most people do in college.

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There is one problem with this idea though: your parents are going to be pissed at you if you start watching less TV or playing less video games. You’re going to have to educate them on this idea, maybe not right now, but eventually they’re going to need to buy into this mentality.

One of my favorite sayings is this: If your parents don’t support your passion then who the hell is it important that it’s supported?

The answer: no one.

If they really love you, they will support your goals. If they don’t, then it’s time to cut the cord and move out. Trust me, if you can survive on your own without needing any financial help from them, then it’s not going to be too hard to get them to support your ideas.

At this point, it’s natural to be concerned about how you’re going to afford college without any loans or scholarships. Don’t worry about it right now. It’s not like you have anything better to do with your time than work.

If you start working right now, you’ll have more than enough money to get through college. If you can graduate from college, then finding a job shouldn’t be too hard for you because you’ll have actual skills unlike most people who graduated with a liberal arts degree.

Now that we’ve gotten the big problem out of the way, let’s talk about some smaller ones.

For once, you’ve decided to at least make an attempt to talk to a girl. The problem with this is you don’t really know any. Well actually that’s not true. You know a few from your classes, but you’ve never really spoken to any of them or at least not more than a few words.

Let’s focus on one in particular: Alison Weaver. Alison is in a couple of your classes and you actually have a couple of friends in common. You know that she’s on the softball team as well. You remember a while back in first period history class when you were staring out the window and not listening to Mr.

Dorfman’s long winded rant about the effects of the Mayan Empire’s overpopulation on their civilization, you caught Alison staring at you. You don’t know if it was a friendly “Hello new person” stare or if it was something more.

You remember that she was wearing a maroon colored shirt that day.

After school, you should go find her and try to talk to her if just for today. Maybe it’s because you’ve decided to finally break out of your social shell or maybe it’s because you’re interested in her, but you need to try to talk to her.

After all, if you don’t try to make friends now, what are the chances you’ll try later?

And so begins the story of how you finally tried to make friends and it came off less than ideally…

StrongFirst Versus CrossFit: The Dilemma of Power Optimization - gym fit workout

“Hey Alison.” You say which causes her to turn around in surprise. She’s with a couple of her other friends.

“Oh, hi…” Her eyes briefly scan past you as if she’s expecting someone else to be talking to her.

“I’m Nick.”

“I know.” She says maintaining a certain distance from you. Her friends have wandered a few feet away and seem to be intensely interested in whatever is going on over at the snack machine.

How do you know me?”

You ask, already starting to panic that she knows you from somewhere you don’t know her. Maybe you insulted her at some point and don’t remember it. That would be typical of you.

She just looks at you as if you’re being stupid, which wouldn’t be entirely out of the question either. “You were in my sixth period History class. We had a project together about the origins of gunpowder weapons.”

“Oh yeah.” You say remembering now. She was the girl who wasn’t interested in your flashlight trick. “I never really spoke to you before though.”

“No, I guess you haven’t.” There is an awkward pause before she continues. “

Why did you talk to me?”

“Well, I’m talking to you now.”

She smirks a bit. “Fair enough.

So what’s up?”

“Nothing…” You say trying to think of a reason to talk to her. “…I just haven’t seen you around before. I assume you’re new here since I don’t remember you from earlier years.”

She nods. “Yeah, we just moved here at the start of the school year.”

StrongFirst Versus CrossFit: The Dilemma of Power Optimization - gym fit workout


“My dad got a new job.”

“Oh… I’m sorry.”

She shrugs as if it’s nothing, but you can tell it’s something. You remember when your family moved here when you were little and how you didn’t make any friends for about a year. It was pretty sad. “

Where is your dad working?”

You ask trying to be polite.

She tells you and you recognize it as one of the factories in town. It’s not a fun job and the pay isn’t great, but it provides for the family. You try to remember some of the other kids from school who have parents that work there, but none of them really stood out to you as being friends with. In fact, they all seemed to have similar personalities as their parents and you never interacted with them.

Do you like it here?”

You ask since you can think of nothing else to say.

“It’s OK…” She says, but you can tell she’s being apathetic. It’s apparent that she’s trying her best to not be asocial, but she’s failing.

So… do you hang out with anyone?”

You ask, trying to lead the conversation towards making a friend.

She shakes her head. “Nope.”

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Well, do you want to go do something then?”

There, you said it!