Strength? Skill? Both? - The Box

Strength? Skill? Both?

Let’s play a game. Because I’m largely unoriginal, we’ll call the game “Strength, Skill or Both?” Whether you’re reading this from the perspective of an athlete or a coach is irrelevant, because the lesson

Let’s play a game. Because I’m largely unoriginal, we’ll call the game “Strength, Skill or Both?” Whether you’re reading this from the perspective of an athlete or a coach is irrelevant, because the lesson is just as important for both.

The game’s name makes it pretty clear that we’ve got three options to choose from, but let me explain more. What the game revolves around is finding out what’s missing from an athlete’s arsenal about a particular movement and to use the information to make quality training choices.

Take, for example, a man in his early thirties. This is his second CrossFit workout, and it’s “Grace.” He’s out of shape but works construction and has a background that includes regular attendance at the local globo gym. He’s a big guy and claims he’s got a 190-pound strict press. By the looks of his one other performance in your gym, you believe him.

In this scenario, in choosing his scaling, you’re evaluating the crux of “Grace,” which, especially in this case, is going overhead. What is this guy missing from his game? Strength, skill or both?

Given that you’re accurate in your evaluation, this guy is one of the stronger people in the gym in the strict press. He’s got strength. He doesn’t even know a jerk is an option. In this case, he’s lacking skill.

In another example, let’s take a look at the same workout, except this time a woman enters her first class. She’s rail-thin and likes to work out, but her routine usually includes long runs and yoga. She’s intimidated by the barbell and is nervous to try this out for the first time.

Of the three options, where does she fall? This looks to me like a clear case of lacking both the strength and the skill.

Now that we’ve categorized these two athletes, what do we do with this information? Well, given that the goal is improved performance, we can tailor the scaling of today’s workout to get both athletes further along in their journeys to competence overhead.

In our first example, I’d encourage the man to push-jerk on every single rep. The context here becomes about grooming a new skill (even if that means choosing a load lighter than he feels comfortable push-pressing or strict-pressing), because he’s got strength and he needs this valuable skill. It wouldn’t do this athlete much good strict-pressing or push-pressing his way through “Grace” and getting back into his car with the same skill set he had when he arrived.

In our second example, we’ve got two areas to develop (strength and skill). If I could prioritize one over the other, I’d choose strength 100 times out of 100. In the same way that I’d like to get this athlete strong enough to do a strict pull-up before adding a kip, I’d like to get this athlete competent with even an empty bar overhead before I worried about her perfecting the push-jerk, for example. Why not have her push-press for the workout?

The pull-up is a great place to start for the athlete who has some skill but is lacking strength. Take for instance an athlete who is new to town with a new job promotion and has six months under her belt at another box. She’s fairly competent in class. She’s the type of athlete who uses the world’s largest kip to take on pull-ups without assistance, but doesn’t have the strength for strict pull-ups.

In this example, where the athlete has some skill but lacks strength, the most responsible thing would be to take a step back to build a foundation of strength before expanding on her skill set to butterfly pull-ups, for example. Maybe scaling for this young lady includes taking on workouts with pull-ups in a strict fashion with banded assistance, even if that means slower workout times.

Though this isn’t a blanket prescription for athletes and coaches to implement as a rule, playing this “Strength, Skill or Both?” game does raise awareness to things often left neglected. Considering the session is a training session and not a test or competition setting, I do think many athletes and coaches would benefit from this type of thinking. Who knows? Maybe this way we can all do this stuff until our senior years.

— Logan Gelbrich