Monday, February 4, 2013

Implementing MEBB and 5/3/1 into CrossFit

Hi Barry,
I see you have done both 5/3/1 and Max Effort Black Box at your gym. How has the 5/3/1 been working for your guys so far and how do you mix among the 8 different strength movements you are using? How do you determine which strength movements to incorporate for the given week?  Also, how would you incorporate someone who comes in during the middle of one of the cycles? Say we have a new member who joins when we are in the middle of lift 1 cycle 3? I know there isn't an easy answer for this and probably a lot depends who that person is.  I would handle things different with someone who is new to lifting andsomeone who has lifted before or who is experienced with CrossFit.  As we all know, "I have done CrossFit before," can mean just about anything depending where that person worked out before.  Any input would be appreciated. Thank you. -Bryan, CA

A strength training program should be the cornerstone of every CrossFit program and a stronger CrossFitter is a better CrossFitter.  Period.

How a coach implements a strength program is up to them and many claim that they have the best program around.  But a solid strength program that institutes progressive overload and uses basic barbell movements will get you stronger each and every time.  There is NO MAGIC PROGRAM!  Lift heavy and you will get stronger.

Episode 2 of the SSC touched on the details of the Max Effort Black Box and Wendler 5/3/1 programs and outlined the pros and cons of each.  For today’s post, I wanted to dive into the use of those programs in a Strength and Conditioning program and more specifically, in a CrossFit box.  

At CrossFit Generation, I use both the Wendler 5/3/1 and the Mike Rutherford Max Effort Black Box (MEBB) programs.  In five years of programming, I have found that these work best with athletes of all levels and can be manipulated to suit those levels, regardless of age.

  We lift on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and this does not change throughout the year because the strength program serves as the foundation of the gym’s programming.  Without sharing CFG’s entire programming template, the strength template breaks down as follows. I'll start with a yearly overview in conjunction with the sport of CrossFit:

  • May to October: MEBB - time to get maximally strong (1-3 rep maxes)
  • November to April: 5/3/1 - time to handle heavy loads for higher rep ranges (3-12 rep ranges)

The MEBB program works because it allows people to find their maxes in the 12 Olympic-style lifts that I use with the program, specifically squats, deadlifts, and overhead movements.   Within the program, some athletes do not go after a new max because, in some cases, they shouldn’t.  With certain individuals, I recommend that they perform “sets across” at a lower percentage (75% - 80%) for around 2-5 reps of a previous max, depending upon the lift.  That range allows athletes to maintain their strength without putting too much wear and tear on the joints. 

With the MEBB, an athlete can lift based upon “feel” for the day.  If they “feel” like maxing, they go for it.   If they don’t have it in them, just hit up some sets across and call it a day.

The 5/3/1 program, on the other hand, works because of the progressive overload principle and the sub-maximal loads you work with during the program.  As with the MEBB program, you can dial back the intensity and Jim Wendler advises that you stick to 4 lifts per cycle. I use 8 lifts, but break them down into the 4 per cycle, which allows me to follow the plan, while putting my own spin on things.   

I perform the 5s, 3s, and 1s for the first 4 movements, switch up the movements and repeat.   After completing both cycles, I start over with the first set of movements and add more weight to the training max.

I also break the cycles down into movement patterns rather than body parts.  This allows me to implement a Lower Body Push, Lower Body Pull, Upper Body Vertical, Upper Body Horizontal.  The Upper Body movements can be both push and pull and I can even include pull-ups with this approach.

Introducing someone to any strength program can be a bit tricky, but handled correctly, it can build tremendous lifting confidence.   You just need to exercise caution.  If an athlete has never lifted before, you shouldn’t have them immediately go for a new max.   These athletes are at a greater risk of injury than those with a base of strength and need to build things up with submaximal loads first.   Only then should they go for a max.

For athletes with that good base, encourage them to find a heavy single to see where they are with the lift and stress form to ensure that they can do the heavy single properly.  As a general rule, I use a % of their body weight to determine what load to go of for the lift, depending upon the individual.  The following standards should work:


  • Back Squat: 75% of body weight
  • Deadlift: Bodyweight to 1.25x body weight
  • Shoulder Press:  50% - 60% of body weight
  • Power Clean:  60% - 75% of body weight

Every gym gets new members every week and most of them have no CrossFit experience.  If they say they have done CrossFit, ask them if they have done Clean & Jerks or a Snatches.  Ask them to define an “AMRAP”.  Chances are, they’ve done a high intensity interval or boot camp program, but not CrossFit.    If they seem to have some experience, find out if they are coming from another box and hopefully, they’ll have some numbers for you to work with.

You can easily implement a strength program if you safely and intelligently do so in conjunction with your the rest of your CrossFit program.  Just make sure that the complete program makes sense and that strength does the driving. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Episode 4 - Protein, Resting, and A New Feature

Episode 4

In this episode, the Suburban Strength Coaches tackle:

  • Protein, Protein, Protein
  • Supplements and Rest Days
  • How Do I Make Faster Progress in CrossFit
  • "Things I Have Heard In The Gym"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Episode 3 - Getting Abs, Going Overhead at Over 50 and Wave Loading

Episode 3

Happy Thanksgiving!

The SSC podcast is back...just in time for your long drive home from your turkey day extravaganza.

In this episode, we talk about "Wave Loading," advice for a recent college grad, having some abs and overhead lifts after age 50.  We even get a little background on the picture of Coach Weidner that you see here...

2:57 - Wave Loading
7:57 - Advice For A Recent Grad
14:24 - Wanna Take Your Shirt And Have Abs?
28:25 - Overhead Lifts and Over 50 Years Old

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Suburban Strength Coaches’ Super 7...

Can you guys talk a little bit about what supplements I should be using while training with a combination of CrossFit and Barbell Club cycle (like protein, BCAAs, fish oil, etc) and the timing of when to use/take the supplements each day? I plan on training 5 days of CrossFit and 2 days of Barbell Club.

This is a question I get all the time, so before I dive in and start recommending all kinds of magic pills and potions, I would like to preface this conversation with this statement: YOU CANNOT OUT SUPPLEMENT A POOR DIET! 

With that being said, nutritional supplements will only enhance a sound dietary plan.   

I should forewarn you, the details below are long and get a bit technical, but I think you need all of the details in order to really understand what we’re talking about here.  Plus, I’m a technical dude.  So break out your blender bottle, shake up some BCAA’s and take it all in...

The Suburban Strength Coaches’ Super 7.


A vitamin is an organic substance that cannot be synthesized by the body, so we must ge these from food and/or supplements. Both vitamins and minerals are responsible for a wide array of metabolic functions and other things such as oxygen carrying capacity,fluid and electrolyte balance, and bone health. I assume most of us reading this blog are “Paleo” and eat, what we think, is a good amount of vitamin and mineral containingfruits and vegetables.  Realty check: you don’t come me. 

So take a multi-vitamin/mineral as a baseline supplement. What kind? To this day, I’m not convinced as to which one is the best, pill, liquid, powder, etc.  Just make sure you take them with a meal so you properly absorb all of the fat soluble ones.

Fish Oil
Fish oil serves as a great source of Omega-3 fats, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  It is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been shown toimprove cognitive function as well as a host of other benefits. As far as I’m concernedthis is another baseline supplement and should be part of your daily routine. If you participate in high-intensity activities such as CrossFit or any type of Olympiclifting/power lifting, your joints will experience a little discomfort.  It just comes with theterritory and taking fish-oil will help with that.  I suggest taking anywhere from 5-10 grams per day, specifically the EPA and DHA.  But remember, you get what you pay for. If you pay for a cheap fish oil there will be very little EPA/DHA.  If you spend a few bucks, you will have a very potent source of exactly what you need. I personally take a liquid fish oil that is very potent and I have had great results with it.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been shown to improve mood and bone health (by increasing calciumabsorption), regulate hormone levels, and increase immune function as well as a hostof other things.  Vitamin D can be found in very few foods and we get most of it whenultraviolet rays from the sun hit our skin.  

Most people say they get enough sun and drink milk, so they do not need to supplement with vitamin D. There are two  problems with this: 1) If you live north of Georgia, which I am assuming most of you do, you will never get enough sunlight for appropriate levels of Vitamin D. 2) Most species stop drinking milk after infancy, so why do you find it necessary to drink milk from another species into adulthood.  Weird….just saying.   

Hormone function for both men and women is so important, especially when dealing with folks that participate in high-intensity activity.  I strongly recommend taking some Vitamin D3 (liquid form), about 3,000-5,000 IU in the morning to start, with a fat containing meal.  Go crazy, as this stuff doesn’t get toxic till the 50,000 IU level.  I take about 10,000-20,000 IU daily, and will titrate down in the summer months when I’m walking through downtown Jamison, PA with no shirt on.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

BCAA’s contain the amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine. But, why do we need these? Our body is always trying to find a balance between protein syntheses (helps us get jacked) and protein degradation (helps us stay fat). There is much more to it than that, but for our purposes, let’s keep it right there.

When we exercise at high intensity, especially with weights, we increase protein synthesis, but at the same time, we also increase protein degradation to a greater degree. To look good and perform well, we must keep our bodies in a positive state of protein synthesis to offset the amount of degradation. Very simple. One way to do this is the ingestion of BCAA’s. Leucine, specifically, is most renowned for its ability to increase protein synthesis and has also been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown.

Currently, supplement companies have not found a tolerated method of isolating leucine for consumption without combining it with the other amino acids that make up BCAAs.  So, if these things interest you…get your self some BCAAs and take them 30-45 minutes before you workout, sip on them during your workout when you can, and take them after you workout with your protein shake.  I have seen supplement recommendations of about
12-18 grams around the specified workout times I stated, basically 6 grams pre, peri, and post. I have also read things about people taking up to 25 to 40 grams with great success, so give it try and see what works for you.  

Whey Protein
We are made of proteins and they play a role in virtually every process within our cells,as well as providing us with the 9 essential Amino Acids that we cannot make ourselves(we can synthesize the non-essential amino acids).  Basically, if you don’t get enough of this stuff you can say goodbye to any body composition or performance goals. If this was a perfect world, you would sit down to a nice meal (one containing a nice hunk of protein) immediately after a workout, but we all know this is almost impossible. Can you imagine picking yourselfup off the floor after the filthy 50 and eating a slab of flank steak?  No...nasty.

This is where whey protein comes in.  Its quick, convenient, and your
body can more immediately tolerate it following a workout. Take about 30-40 grams within 30 minutes of finishing a workout and that should do the trick. There are a million varieties of protein out on the market.

When we exercise at high intensity, especially with weights, we increase protein synthesis, but at the same time, we also increase protein degradation to a greater degree. To look good and perform well, we must keep our bodies in a positive state of protein synthesis to offset the amount of degradation. 

Very simple. 


The word itself has a negative connotation and harkens back to the days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  But, don’t be fooled...first ask does this stuff work? 

Well, when one participates in high intensity activity they use Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP) as an energy substrate.  As we workout, ATP is taken away and turns into Adenosine Di Phosphate (ADP). In order to continue to create energy, the body must turn ADP must back into ATP. To make this happen the body uses a phosphate from the "phosphocreatine” stored in the muscle.  Unfortunately, the body only stores so much and stores are deleted quickly, so supplementing with Creatine, is a must for anyone interested in sustaining high power out-put activity, like CrossFit.
95 % of Creatine is found in our muscle cells and can be synthesized by our liver and in small amounts by our kidney and pancreas.  We can also get a little bit through our diet from fish and red meat.  I suggest supplementing with 3-5 grams per day of Creatine Monohydrate post workout. I know I said that you could get it from red meat and fish, but a half pound of raw red meat only supplies 1 gram of Creatine. Good luck getting your 3-5 grams that way.  Just supplement.

There has been plenty of talk of the negative side effects of Creatine, but it's bogus!!!! There has not been one scientific research study demonstrating that Creatine causes any negative long term serious side effects. There have been some reports of digestive "issues" and stomach bloating, however I would assume that eating 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of red meat per day (3-5 grams of Creatine) would probably have similar digestive "issues" and stomach bloat, no?

During high intensity activity like CrossFit, the body produces a large amount of Lactic Acid. During times when Lactic Acid concentrations in the blood are high and/or ATP is broken down in our short term energy system (weight training), Hydrogen ions are released in our muscles. This brings the muscle PH way down (acidic) and exercise performance will start to decrease as a result.

Your muscle fibers, specifically Type 2 muscle fibers, contain the di-peptide called Carnosine. Carnosine solely serves to soak up all the excess Hydrogen ions to return the muscles to a normal PH.  However, we only have so much Carnosine and eventually, during high intensity activity, the body will not be able to keep up and performance will  be compromised. This is exactly why we need Beta-Alanine. 

We can obtain trace amounts of Beta-Alanine through eating most animal based proteins. Research studies have demonstrated that supplementing with 3-6 grams of Beta-Alanine split between pre and post workout doses can increase muscle Carnosine levels by as much as 80%. The more Carnosine you have the more exercise performance degrading Hydrogen ions you can soak up. Makes perfect sense.

So why not just take Carnosine? Unfortunately, most of the Carnosine you ingest in broken down and eliminated through the digestive process. You would have to take substantially more Carnosine, compared to Beta-Alanine just to have a small effect on its levels in the muscle. You want your Fran time better? Take some Beta-Alanine.

That’s it.  The Super 7.  Remember, you cannot out supplement a bad diet, but if your diet is dialed in and you add these gems, you will be on your way to awesomeness.  Maybe even super-awesomeness.

Good luck and train hard!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Episode 2 - Weight Belts, Lessons Learned, Lactic Acid, and More


Episode 2 of the Suburban Strength Coach Podcast is online!

In this episode, we hit four of your submitted questions, chat it up a little about Halloween, and run into some issues with our censors....

3:15 - Coach and Athlete Lessons Learned
11:45- Weight Belts - When Do I Need One?
16:36 - Max Effort Black Box vs Wendler 5/3/1
26:53 - Fighting Fatigue and Lactic Acid During Multi-Event Competitions

We'll post answers to more of your questions over the coming days and weeks right here on the website.  So, check back!  And if you want to get involved in the conversation, click the link on the right to submit something to us.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In our recording studio

We've received some great questions and have scheduled the next podcast recording for October, keep the questions coming!   We will get to as many as we can during the podcast, but keep your eyes on Facebook and the website for answers to questions that we didn't have time to answer during the recording.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Episode 1 - Introduction to the Suburban Strength Coach

Episode 1

Episode 1 of the Suburban Strength Coach Podcast is up and running!  In this episode, we'll introduce ourselves and the format of the podcast, so that you can participate in upcoming episodes.

If you have a question for us, make sure to use the "Ask A Question" button on the right to submit something...we'd love to get you involved!