When I signed up for CrossFit, one of my first goals was to be able to do one pull-up. Almost 16 months later, I can do one, but man, it’s still a struggle. Push-ups, snatches, cleans, squats, and deadlifts with heavy weights are also still a challenge, so CrossFit coach of Champlain Valley CrossFit and CrossFit competitor Laura Matuszak, who’s also a head swim coach, gave me some tips on how to get stronger. She trains thousands of athletes, so I really respect her advice.
I thought doing more reps would increase my strength, but Laura said to focus on doing fewer reps “at the heaviest load possible.” Say it’s pull-ups that you’re working on. Laura suggests working on the most difficult version of a pull-up you can do. Maybe that’s with a band, maybe it’s with your own bodyweight, or maybe it’s while wearing a weighted vest (go you!). Choose whatever feels hard for you and your body without worrying about what the person next to you is doing.
Try this three times a week: do five to eight sets of five or fewer reps, with two to three minutes of rest between sets. For example, you could do five pull-ups for eight sets with a two-minute rest between sets for a total of 40 pull-ups.
That works out to 120 reps per week — imagine how much easier pull-ups would feel after committing to this plan for just a few weeks! Of course, as your muscles get stronger, you’ll want to adjust the difficulty level so those five reps are as challenging as possible.
Are you ready to give this a try? Whatever your fitness goals are, in order to get stronger, instead of doing a crazy amount of moderately hard reps, try focusing on a lesser amount of really hard reps and see how your strength improves.